I never looked for his book online or in a bookstore. He showed it to me, or he showed me a galley proof of it. And now I do not remember his name or much about the book.
We were on a plane, and 98% of my personal air travel history dates from the years 2000 to 2004, when I moved from upstate New York to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and twice a year I returned home for holiday visits. The typical route was Eastern Iowa Airport to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to Stewart International Airport or Logan in Boston, because there are no direct flights between Iowa and anyplace else I have ever lived.
Sometimes I am a tense passenger, one of those who grips the armrest so tightly that I may as well pocket it and carry it home, and sometimes I am relaxed and almost human. Air travel offers an intensification of experience; one deals with emotions not often felt on the ground, from the fear of permanent change to the excitement of temporary reunions.
I have experienced emotions that I have not encountered elsewhere in my life in airports. I realized that I had fallen in love with someone sixty seconds too late in an airport once upon a time. More correctly, I think that I thought I ought to have gotten the phone number of the woman with whom I had been chatting from Boston to O’Hare, a two-and-a-half-hour flight. When we parted, when she said she was heading to her next terminal and I realized that I was already at mine, we gave each other a look I have not encountered since. After all, we had enjoyed talking nonstop and now our time together was permanently over and we knew it, unless one of us would simply say or do … something. Neither did. I almost missed my next flight in indecisively wandering around O’Hare while debating whether I should run after her “just like in a movie” to the terminal that I thought was the one she had told me her next flight was leaving from. (If you do not know this, O’Hare is too large an airport to be indecisive in.) The quotation marks around “‘just like in a movie'” were quotation marks in my mind even then, which is a good indication that one’s indecision is not to be regretted.
The book author whose name I can not recall was across the aisle from me. He attracted my attention at first because he was reading the 9/11 Commission Report, which had just been published and which did not strike me as an enjoyable in-flight time-waster. (My in-flight reading is limited to happy stories of enjoyable things that happen to contented people on the secure ground, ground that is described as being nowhere near cliffs, volcanoes, or airports.) He replied to my glance at the book cover with a statement-question: “I want to learn everything I can, right?”
“I’m a student and I study everything.” I nodded with no change in my facial expression at this and looked out my window. There was only sky out that window and only ground out his window, which is something I hate, so I made the snap decision to truly enjoy this one-sided conversation with the self-declared student of everything who studies it all.
He was young, bearded, an earnest hipster. As serious as those who believe things are serious can be. Unrelenting.
He was pulling pages out of a briefcase. “I’m a writer,” he told me. “With a book coming out.” The pages were poems. They were each loudly violent, with “eyes unseeing” and “pleas rejected.” And they were being published in a book with an actual price on a real cover–which was another sheet he made sure to show me.
I found myself in the psychological and social trap of trying to include myself in someone else’s monologue. With him not asking me anything about me, I informed him that I was a writer, as well, which at the time I was: a professional technical writer. He nodded with no change in his facial expression and told me about his publisher’s plans for his poems.
My one sentence, “I’m from New York but I live in Iowa now” yielded five sentences of his ongoing explanation about how Capital L “Life” works and why people do not understand the importance of it all. Five to one was pretty much the ratio through the entire conversation.
I no longer feel the defensive need to insert myself in other peoples’ monologues when I am near them.
A friend once told me that early in recovery, when it was time to tell his story to another human being, he was on a flight to South America. When he discovered that he was seated beside a person who did not speak English and that they were going to be beside one another for several hours, he knew he had found the person who was going to hear him tell “the exact nature of his wrongs.” Perhaps I was receiving the hipster poet’s fifth step.
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The WordPress Daily Prompt for March 23 asks, “If you could have any author–living or dead–write your biography, who would you choose?”
The Occupy Daily Prompt for this week asks about strangers: “We are strangers. All of us. We are strangers at the airport. We are strangers on the train. We are strangers waiting in the queue at the store. When was the last time you were a stranger? When did you cease to be a stranger to someone? Do you possess a mild case of ‘stranger danger’? Do you enjoy striking up conversations with strangers? Share your story. Share your tips. What should be avoided? What’s a must when breaking the ice with a stranger? You could tell us why you don’t like talking to strangers.”