Drunk on Airplane

Sunday, December 25, 2005

What if? Start with a simple question and develop it to see where it takes you. Focus on the telling, and worry about the editing later, when you have less energy and the world is not as bright or meaningful. Even if your inner editor is crying to get out, don’t let him out until the world is dark; only then should see what he has to say about some of your earlier works. Until then, however, start saying something and worry about what you’ve said only later.

Random thoughts fling off my fingers as I look for something to say. It’ll come to me soon, the idea, the spark that will drive me through the day. I should get used to this, to opening my creative valve and catching something that looks writeable. It could be a name (Herbert), or an idea (not being able to share clever ideas w/the girlfriend or they’ll disappear). Whatever it is, I’ll catch it and try to turn it into something.

***

Drunken guy behind you on airplane, he’s trying to impress his coworker. His boss, the twenty-two year old in the front row of first class, he’s a good guy.

The drunk is bald with tightly cropped tufts of hair near his ears. It makes him look older than his thirty five years. His face and head glow a red sheen. He’s not overweight, but because of the size of his head, which looks bigger because of the loss of his hair, when I first saw him, I thought it was fat. I heard him long before I saw him, he had the voice of a skinny man, older, unrefined. I sat in front of him on the first class flight from Seattle to Dallas, visiting Doolies’s family.

Possible story idea: Commotion on the plane. Befriends then scares the flight attendant (former teacher). Heart attack. He turns out to be much better than you thought, in his obituary. Most of what we share is animal sounds. Noises made to reassure or share some inconsequential information.

The airplane is overbooked on the day before Christmas and the ticket takers? are having difficulty selling people on the offer to take a flight the next day to allow everyone who wants to fly to fly. The offer is up to a five hundred dollar travel voucher, a first-class flight the next morning, and hotel and food accommodations for the night.

The passengers already seated in first class don’t know about this. They boarded before the ticket takers? began bidding up to find how much other passengers thought of the worth of being home for Christmas.

That’s me, sitting in seat 5B and visiting the in-laws during my few days off. My wife and children are already there, in Dallas, having left four days before.

He’s bald, sitting behind us in the airplane next to his colleague. Their boss, a twenty-something overachiever, sits in the front of the page. The baldman is drinking heavily, he is making friends with the flight attendant, and, he thinks, with the rest of the plane.

“I always try to be nice to those with the worst job because I used to have the worst job and I know what it’s all about.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Any job where you have to wait on people is the worst job.”

The flight attendant helps the people to their seats, talking into the microphone. Make her sound like a schoolteacher, because that’s what she was before she started flying. Everyone has their own story.

“Where are you from?”

“South Dakota.”

“What are the chances, I know someone from South Dakota.”

The baldman thinks he’s funny, and he thinks the rest of the plane shares in his humor.

“Our luggage gate will be 4C,” the former teacher turned flight attendant says into the microphone.

“Yes,” the baldman screams, as if his team had just scored a touchdown.

“Shut up,” someone in the back of the cabin answers, causing much hooting and agreement.

“What did he say,” the baldman asks his coworker.

“He said for you to shut up.”

“Did he now,” the baldman says, “did he really.” His coworker does not answer.

Two girls sit near me. They both wear purple plaid pants and gray sweatshirts. They must be related or playing a joke on the rest of us.

I judge throughout the flight. The baldman has a heart attack. A doctor sitting nearby performs CPR. The baldman dies, and I read about him in the obituaries the following day. He’s a good man. Lived a tough life, died an ignoble death. How do I feel about it?