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Monday, November 23, 2009

The Object of His Affection

He sat in 3F. First Class, that is. Poised, fairly quiet, giant stylish sunglasses hiding his close to 60-year-old eyes. But it was his wearing a suit with a jacket that struck me. Not so many folks dress up any longer. And a pink dress shirt to boot. Now, the dress shirt was unbuttoned further than normal -- probably just about where I'd, personally, wear mine. Just enough to show off whatever happens to be on my chest at any given moment in time. Some giant gold piece of expensive jewelry hung around his neck.

"I'll have a tomato juice with ice and two vodkas, please" he uttered when I asked him what he'd like to drink. Fine. One drink down, another ordered in a fairly short amount of time. Somehow, we got on the subject of where we were from and where we were going -- typical conversation in my business. I reach my slender hairy forearm across and rest his second drink on the stand next to him. He catches my attention and dives into an animated, theatrical version of "Perhaps you've heard of "Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.....'." Why yes. Yes, I have heard it. He goes on to tell me that he grew up west of Boston in some proximity to where Longfellow lived and wrote. He is dramatic and looks me squarely in the eyes with his wrist held limp and his arms up in the air a bit -- much like he's performing on a stage.

We get to the uncomfortable time where's he's ordering his third double drink within an hour of starting. Now, that's six drinks at a cabin altitude of around 8,000 feet above sea level. That's like going from zero to sixty in a short amount of time and drinking while you're doing it. And we have, like, four hours to go in the flight ahead of us. He tell me that "I'm planning on being well oiled by the time I reach Boston so just keep the drinks coming." Oh boy. So, I take his third double drink to him and tell him that the airplane probably isn't the best place to become well oiled.....that we are not permitted to let anyone get to that point on a flight. He's very kind about it, thankfully. Many times, people aren't nice to me at this point. He nods to me and sort of waves me off -- not in a bad way but, rather, in a "I know" sort of way. A bit later, he's headed to the restroom and says to me, "If you had a son like I do picking you up in Boston, you'd want to be well oiled too." I tell him that I totally understand -- and that family members can many times be the ones that drive one to drink. He laughs. I laugh. It's all good.


He hands me a section of a magazine that he's torn out and written down some information on: Longfellow's Wayside Inn in South Sudbury, Massachusetts. There's a phone number there too. And it also says to ask for him, by name. A very nice gesture, don't you think? I appreciated the interaction by a stranger. He tells me that I need to stop in sometime.

At that point, he sort of fades out into la-la land for a little nap. Six drinks in an hour will do that to you. I notice that he's sort of almost to the end of his third drink and that it's almost to fall out of his hand while he rests with his head back and mouth open. Next thing I know, his linen napkin is covered in tomato juice. He's obviously spilled the last remaining bit of his drink on himself and had to wipe it up in a napkin that now looks like a murder took place. I remove his glass and napkin from his lap while he's resting peacefully.

He wakes a bit later and orders a brandy. I space it out as long as I can before delivering it to him. And, finally, nearing Boston, I hear him say to me "I'd like another brandy," while I've got my back to him and speaking to the folks across the aisle. That's his last drink. Eight in one flight. Clearly in need of drinking his relationship with his son into annihilation. Believe me, my heart went out to the dude. I'm sure he was gay. And clearly enamoured with me. I was flattered, believe me. But I honestly felt sorry for him. Because I'm sure that his son has given him hell in his life. And that his son has probably struggled as well with this man that I've just spent the last five hours with.

I've still got the phone number and address of the place he said to drop his name at. Maybe I will sometime. Maybe he will buy me a drink this time around.

14 comments:

Princessa lil mexico said...

Wow, such a touching story. I can honestly tell you i started to get a bit muffled when reading this. You are a wonderful and strong person. i'm glad that this man found your ways of working and telling him that he had too much to drink. Maybe this man wanted more from you.. perhaps... perhaps...?

annie said...

isn't it interesting that we can never know someone we talk to everyday, but can feel as though we know deeply someone we barely meet. there is a wealth of living inside this man. drinking to that level isn't the problem, merely a symptom of the problem(s).

that's all he drank? wow, that's just a pick-me-up! ;-) i used to have a 1/2 bottle before i even went to pick up friends to go out. then i would have triples at the bar. i hope, wherever he is tonight, that he is safe and finds peace.

David said...

Ouch. That's a tough one.

Stephen said...

I din't realize that you might have a bit of a "thing; for an older gentleman. Hmmmm...

When I was growing up we would always get slightly dressed up to fly. Now, people are practically in their pajamas.

I love cocktails, but never whenI fly.

As always, I enjoy your writing.

Ur-spo said...

Is there some sort of policy as to how much alcohol can be served in one flight?

bridgeout said...

Thank goodness he was in the care of a graceful soul such as yourself. You looked out for a stranger... and he returned that spirit to you ... dear spirit of saint Lewis... w/ contact info... we never know just how we touch others. Maybe... just maybe... something about your time w/ him made it a softer landing when he was met by his son...
here's hoping...

wcs said...

Ah, the joys of first class. That much drink in coach would cost more than the ticket.

It's a shame that the automobile and puritanism have done so much to destroy good social drinking.

I'm all for personal responsibility and being mindful of one's health, but I also miss the days of lubricated office parties, and being able to walk (stagger?) home after good night out.

And I like to have wine on the plane.

Lemuel said...

You tell the tale of the incident with great compassion and understanding, Lewis. Kudos. I would not commend the man's way of dealing with his pain, but it is obvious that he is dealing with a lot of pain in his life.

Birdie said...

You are the Stranger On A Plane to thousands of people. You must have hundreds of stories like this.

I'm glad he had you to talk to. So many have put up a wall and become inaccessible to strangers, out of fear or too much going on, I don't know. But you allowed him in and gave him the connection he needed, a brief respite from his anticipated pain. Sad and beautiful story.

tornwordo said...

I sat next to a guy like that on my last trip when I got bumped up to first class. Same thing, three doubles and he passed out. Kinda sad, but then he paid for first class and probably wanted his money's worth, haha.

Mark in DE said...

Very interesting! I'm sure you're right about him being gay and having a troubling relationship with his son, who is probably a conservative redneck. I'd feel sorry for him, too. Sounds like you handled the situation with grace and good judgement.

Ryan said...

Very interesting!

Drinks, A flight sounds like the time I join the mile high club oh wait thats another story! hehe

U know I love ya!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Kelly said...

Hope yall have a great Turkey Day!!

Geoff said...

Everyone has a story don't they? You told that SO well....it was beautiful. I hope his thanksgiving turned out better than he anticipated, and that yours was spectacular!