Friday, November 20, 2009

The Accidental Companion

I'd intended to write this earlier, but time slips away. Then F-Train posted his airplane talker story, inspired from CK's tweet about airplane talkers, and I thought I'd totally get off my butt and steal the theme.

I'm used to airplane talkers. My mother is an airplane talker. I lived with my mother for over 18 years. I can live through nearly anything. Same way I deal with my kids droning on and on. Smile, nod your head, don't make direct eye contact.

This time, I inadvertently broke the third rule before I even got on the plane. He happened to be ahead of me in the security line - a head taller than the people around him, he caught my eye when the line snaked around the corner. He's one of those guys that looks directly at you, unashamed, with no concern for how you'll perceive him. In other circumstances, I would probably have thought he was attractive. But I was in my own head, and I looked away. Not in the mood to engage; saving my energy for my extended family.

I got on the plane, only to find a woman in my seat. It was one of the jets with the 2-3-2 configuration, and I had a window seat. She was in my seat - asked if I minded sitting in her seat - the aisle ahead. I didn't care. Seating really wasn't a high priority. I had other priorities. Like getting my one small carryon stowed.

The overheads were all different - and people had thrown things in willy-nilly. So I stood there, trying to rearrange everything like a big puzzle. That's when I found him behind me. Waiting. For the seat right next to me.

He was a big man. 6'4, probably 200 pounds. Lean though, dressed casually. He spoke when he sat down, a slight accent. Which explained why he seemed pained at my attempts to fit my luggage. I could hear him thinking "stupid American."

I sat down, pulling out my Blackberry. Sent a message to the nanny and kids. Message to the husband. A message to relatives. Confirming flight details. It was going to be a tight timetable and hard to coordinate around the wake.

The pilot came on . . . mechanical problem . . . indeterminate delay. I pulled out the phone, sending information off to relatives, trying to reconfigure the pick up and drop off plans. He was watching me the whole time. An odd look on his face which didn't make him look more attractive.

He commented about Americans' addiction to electronics - our cell phones, computer, etc. - that we couldn't wait to pull them out as soon as the pilot announced the delay. I thought about just ignoring him, but I started to lose it. Tried explaining that while he could interpret things however he wanted, it happened to be the only link I had at the moment as I was trying to help my family coordinate relatives from all over the country flying into Chicago for a funeral, while leaving my kids in the Bay Area with my nanny, getting ready for the new nanny coming in 3 days, and a husband still in Seattle. I started to get teary. And that must have softened his Euro disdain.

He started to talk, and I tried to calm down and recompose myself. He talked of life and death and philosophies. Got me talking about family. Talked about values and ethics and what we learn from others and teach to our own.

He was a Spaniard; independently wealthy through the accident of birth. His compensation for being orphaned at 5 was a legacy of property around Europe, which provided him enough income to travel, study, see the world, all with only few stops here and there to tend to his holdings. He held two degrees, spoke 5 languages fluently, lived in Cataluna near the French border, lisped his "s" sounds so that it sounded like he said "Franthistco". Spoke of his parents growing up under Franco, of European politics and policies that were only vague memories of some long-forgotten World Civ class in college.

Each conversation led from one philosophical journey to the next, at dizzying speed. I'm a smart girl, but my brain started to hurt. Religion, philosophers, philosophies, authors, musicians, dictators, governments, political parties . . . you name it, he covered it. Had me writing in a notebook at each suggestion, until I was exhausted.

At one point, as I rolled my shoulders, trying to shrug off an impending migraine caused by stress and grief, he mentioned he did yoga, and how much it helped his back pain. He reached up to touch my neck and back, pinpointing sore muscles and explaining how the yoga moves would relax and stretch the muscles, tracing the lines to demonstrate the movements. After 4 hours of talking, it didn't seem strange at all that this stranger was demonstrating yoga movements in the close confines of a plane, seated beside me practicing breathing exercises with me, touching my neck or my spine to demonstrate the perfect alignment.

I never got the impression he was hitting on me, though at one point he mentioned a past girlfriend . . . and her husband. Don't know if that was for my benefit or not, given our previous discussions about my children, husband and marital bliss. As if to say "well, if you are interested in extramarital affairs, I have had experience". But I didn't pick up that thread of conversation, and he was content to jump back into philosophy and death and materialism and socialism and a variety of other isms.

Six hours. 4 1/2 hours of flight, combined with more than an hour on the ground. 30 hours of liberal arts classes crammed into one eclectic conversation; the overriding Eurocentric arrogance and body odor excused only by the inadvertent relaxation benefits of the stretching, breathing, and accidental massage.

Grief and sorrow and death in the background for a short part of the day; and a strange tale to tell, as well.

Respectfully submitted,

The Wife


DrChako said...

No good! I've known too many Spaniards...


F-Train said...

You never mentioned if you found it welcome, annoying, intrusive, or anything other than odd...

The Wife said...

Normally, on a short flight, it would have been very interesting. After six hours, I was EXHAUSTED!

DrChako said...

But it was like a post-coital exhausted.