Dallas to Denver. Seat 23B. It's in the middle. I sat between two men, one young, one old.
(Young = high school. Old = retired.)
(At least in this story.)
The young man looked out his window, looking back at the airport. "It's depressing to leave my family."
(I don't talk much to strangers anymore, but this was a sentence I could acknowledge.) "Oh, I'm sorry. Yes, I bet it is."
"My family lives in Texas, but I go to school in Colorado. Are you from Texas?"
"No, I'm from Denver."
"Oh. 'Cause you sound like you're from Texas."
(I had handed him 12 words. And in them, he found a Texan accent.)
I raised my eyebrows in response, not really sure what else to say. In another season, I might have fluttered with paragraphs about where I'm originally from, how interesting accents are, the Salad Bowl of the United States - really, any number of topics.
I simply raised my eyebrows. Nodded slightly. The unspoken, "No kidding? Texas. Huh."
But he was finished with his observation anyway. Back to his longing looks out the window.
Once we had reached prime elevation, I broke out the laptop. Type, type, type. Click, click, click.
"So, is that like some summary or something you're writing for a class?" asks the young man.
He had been reading over my shoulder. (I can't say I haven't done the same thing. There isn't much privacy in the forced intimacy of plane flights.)
"Oh, no, I'm working on a manuscript."
He looked at me squarely. "Dude. You're a writer?"
"Oh. That's weird."
I raised my eyebrows. Nodded slightly. The unspoken, "Weird. Well, huh. Nobody has actually ever responded that way."
He looked out the window. I typed and clicked. I'm sure he kept reading. Over my shoulder.
"We'll need you to power down now, ma'am," says the airline attendant, gathering one last round of trash.
I shut down the laptop and exchange it for my current paperback, another from the collections of Madeleine L'Engle. Man, I love her.
The older man speaks from the other side, "So, as a writer, don't you worry about reading other people's stuff? Like you might plaigiarize it or something?"
This was our opening dialogue, at the end of the flight. We hadn't exchanged words yet, although I had retrieved several things for him from the floor between our seats, since he didn't have a left arm and kept dropping things.
"Well, I'm pretty careful."
"My goodness, if I were a writer, I'd never read anybody else's book ever again. All I'd do is write. So I could make sure it was my own stuff. I mean, don't you ever write something and then think, wait, did I think of that, or did it come from somebody else, something else I read?"
In another season, I may have launched into a diatribe about the benefits of a writer's reading, about building one's thoughts on the inspiration of others, about the truth that good writers are good readers.
Instead, I said, "Well, I've always got a few books going at once, so I guess there are always a few voices speaking into my writing."
"So, do you write for children?"
"No, mostly adults."
"What do you write about?"
I should have said, "A public journal of the perils of dog walking." But I wasn't quick enough on the draw. I was honest instead.
"I am recently widowed. I'm writing about this first year without my husband."
"Ah. And what did your husband do?" (Not typically the first response, but I'll roll with it.)
"He was a corporate trainer for Farmers Insurance."
"Oh, so he probably knows that actor who does the Farmers commercials about their specialized training."
(Wow. Um, just, wow.)
"Well, no, he doesn't know the actor, but he was on the team that wrote that curriculum." (And he traveled 20,000 airmiles that year, as I recall.)
He elbowed me with his half-arm.
"I'm just kiddin' with ya'. Just joshin'. You know, that actor? He used to play the psychologist on one of those law and order shows, and he has always played such a smart guy until he played that one role in a movie with Tom Hanks. I'll tell ya, in that movie he played such an idiot, a real know-it-all. Blew off his own dog's face."
Oh. My word. I open my book. Madeleine is so much safer than this. (Robb would say, "Tricia, this is what you get for talking to the person next to you. Just keep your headphones in. That's what I always did.")
He paid no attention to my nonverbal cues. He plodded ahead.
"You know, the bottom line is whether they sell more insurance."
(That's really the bottom line. Really?)
"You know, I'm old enough to remember the old beer commercials with sophisticated humor, and those commercials were a really big hit. But the problem is that the people with sophisticated humor weren't the ones buying all the beer, so really their ad campaign didn't work at all. The bottom line is whether they sell more of their product."
"Yes, I guess it is."
I opened my book. I put in my headphones, even though the FAA denies the use of all electronics during take-off and landing.
Madeleine and I cruised together to a safe landing, between these two oddballs.
I'm taking her with me everywhere.