Sunday, January 10, 2010

Airplanes and row-mates

This Christmas I flew east to Cleveland to spend time with my girlfriend and her family in the quaint Western Reserve village called Gates Mills. My path from Hopkins International to the village took me through little Italy and Mama Santas pizzeria and into the Bird Sanctuary of Gates Mills, the sign with a red cardinal notifies. The street lamps in G.M. are festooned with a red spiral up the pole and greenery on the lights. On Christmas Eve a bonfire burns on the common green next to the Hunt Club. It is a quintessentially genteel American Christmas. I remember it with fondness.

What I do not remember with fondness is the guy who sat next to me on the leg from Denver to Chicago. He came in late, just as the doors to the airplane were being closed. He wore gym clothing, running shoes and a leather jacket. All in new condition. He looked to be in his late thirties, with a good build and a reasonably handsome face. He was from Iowa, somewhere along the Mississippi in a city that I can't recall. I can't recall his name either. Probably repressed as I tried to forget our pathetic interaction.

I was reading a book by Krista Tippet called Speaking of Faith (the same name as the radio program she hosts on NPR) when Mr. Iowa arrived at the row indicating that the vacant middle seat was his.

"What are you reading." Mr. Iowa said.
"What am I reading?" I thought, a little dismayed by the interruption.
"People still ask this inane question?" I thought to myself, along with, "Get your own damn book and you won't care what I'm reading."
I gave the title and clarified who the author was and that I found her radio program quite interesting as week to week she conducted fantastic interviews with thinkers, scientists, religious types of all kinds, and pretty much any one who had made a mark in consideration of the human endeavor for good.

Mr. Iowa either thought I was sympathetic to his religious views, on account that I was reading a book with faith in the title, or he wanted to lecture me and the woman seated next to the window, because he began his wisdom-giving to me in a loud voice.

Things were only exacerbated when he asked where I lived and what I did. I always love this question, right along with: what are you reading? What do I do? I wanted to say, "The same things you do. You know, the usual, I eat, sleep, pet my dog, kiss the people I love, read (he could see this one), fly on airplanes (this one too), celebrate Christmas, drive a car." I knew what he meant, what do I do, and I played the game. I told him I was moving to Oregon to be the organizing leader of a new faith movement within the Presbyterian church.

Mr. Iowa's lecture to me, guised as a conversation with a co-conspirator, continued. He spoke of the difficulties of being a leader of the faith, the many pitfalls that lay in waiting such as the homosexual agenda, and not reading the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God.

Mr. Iowa didn't know me any better than the woman who sat next to the window, who I sensed was melting into the wall of the airplane, not wanting any part of our conversation. She might have thought silently to herself: "Oh, yes. The Christians. Once again ripping into the gays and the liberals."

Should I have said something? Challenged him? Been provoked? Perhaps, but I was not in the mood and I simply let Mr. Iowa rant.

I let Mr. Iowa say his peace and slowly reached for my other book, War and Peace, always a good conversation starter, or in this case decoy for other conversation.

Later in the flight I had my headphones on watching Two and a Half Men, starring the always bad-boy Charlie Sheen (recent scuff up in Aspen, CO with his wife). The show was about the womanizing ways of Charlie Sheen's character - big surprise. Mr. Iowa woke up from his nap, put his head phones on and appraised the show in less than two minutes. He pulled his headphones off and stuffed them into the seat pocket and returned to a napping state with an air of disdain (or maybe I imagined so).

Mr. Iowa's parting words to me were something about my going with courage and valor into the fight - or something like this. What I was happy to do was go away from sitting and speaking with Mr. Iowa and remember how not to presume that others love my opinion and that searing critique of large swaths of people is not genteel nor does it leave anyone with fondness.

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