6. Jet Airliner

August 1986

If I thought everything would be smooth sailing, or flying, from that point on, I was wrong. Bart and I had a hell of a time pulling up to the terminal because of the weird clusterfuck of road and driveway at TF Green airport, but I hadn’t even begun to realize the hassles that awaited a nineteen year old with overlong hair and no driver’s license or passport trying to travel. Maybe it was just something about me, but the airline folks decided they wanted proof that I was who was named on the ticket, and were unable to comprehend that not everyone takes Drivers Ed when they’re sixteen. And besides, I’d grown my hair since then and if I’d had time that week I would have changed my fucking name, anyway.

Eventually a supervisor’s supervisor decided my expired RIMCon student ID was good enough and gave me a boarding pass. I went and sat down in the waiting area, at the end of a row of weirdly colored seats, waiting for my flight to take me to LA. A big man in business suit and cowboy hat squeezed by me, his garment bag hanging over his back like a tortoise’s shell. Two adults with two children attached stopped in front of me, then circled back the way they came. A loudspeaker overhead called out a string of names, numbers, and cities, all meaningless.

I have dreams sometimes that I am in an airport, or is it a shopping mall? I’m a small child, lost, looking at everyone’s knees. It’s never the same place twice. Maybe that’s why I hate airports. No, that’s not why. A uniformed airline employee made an unintelligible announcement into the microphone at the counter. I looked up to see her changing the departure time on the board under ‘Flight 235: Los Angeles’ from 9:20 to 10:30. I sank down lower in my chair.

I hadn’t even reached my seat yet before I got into an argument with a flight attendant over the guitar. His gold name tag read ‘Carl’ and from his tan skin and blond hair I guessed he must be from Los Angeles. Mr. Neatly Groomed insisted I send it down to be checked with the rest of the luggage. I insisted that it be placed into a compartment in the cabin. “Look, this plane is a DC-10, isn’t it?” People were beginning to back up in the aisle while we argued, and I glanced back to see a lot of eyes searching ahead for row numbers and rolling up in heads.

“Yes. But I don’t…”

I put on my best grownup voice, my best I’m-not-a-total-idiot voice. “Then I know you have a compartment this will fit in. I booked onto this flight because of that.” He pursed his lips at me. Helpless, I resorted to joking. Being aggressive has never gotten me very far. “Look, Carl,” I resisted the urge to touch him on the sleeve. “I’m sorry I’m not a trumpet player.”

He put both hands around the black case, and gave me half a smile, half a wink, and a pat on the shoulder that was almost more of a swipe or a caress. “Alright. But let’s not have any more trouble out of you, young man.”

I sat down hard in my seat. Did I imagine that, or was that a come-on? I watched him maneuvering away down the aisle, the black bulk pressed between his hands. I gnawed my thumbnail and tasted salt. I pulled an undersized airline blanket around me and let my hair fall over my face. With my head against the oval window shade, I feigned sleep.

I was not good at ascertaining a man’s interest of level in me. Maybe it was a skill that would come with practice. It had been a couple of weeks since I’d last tried to get laid, a difficult affair that involved a tricky bus excursion to Providence’s one and only gay bar, a hopeful but fruitless trip to a Brown University dorm, and a long walk alone from College Hill down to where I lived. I’d leave it up to Mr. Neatly Groomed and his suntanned smile, I decided, as the plane moved toward takeoff and I drifted into real sleep.

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