Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Tales From the City
Two absolutely true stories:
Monday on the flight up to New York City, Inara and I got seated in the bulkhead row right behind first class. This worked out well because it gave her some room to wander if the mood struck her -- since no one was sitting alongside us -- and it of course allowed me to stretch my legs a little.
About twenty minutes into the flight, Inara passed out in the seat next to mine. I scooped up her stuff and moved it out of the way, then relaxed and opened a magazine. A few minutes later, I notice something out of the corner of my eye and look up to see the guy seated right in front of us, in first class, reaching back to hand me -- sneak me -- a bottle of water. He's a clean-cut, slightly older gentleman and he's got what I guess passes for a mischievous smile on his face, so I smile back, reach up and grab the water, and give him a nod of thanks -- assuming of course that he's engaging in this breach of airline protocol as a favor to the little girl sitting next to me.
I go back to reading my magazine.
Then maybe ten minutes later, I hear him quietly signaling to me again -- trying to get my attention. I tilt my eyes up and once again see him looking over his shoulder, flashing me the same impish grin and handing me back a bag of the high-end potato chips they get in first class (which stands in stark contrast to the tiny packet of Alpo we get in steerage). He's nodding, as if to entice me -- like the unspoken words are, "Here, it's okay. Take it."
So, this time returning a slightly confused and suspicious look, I go ahead and again reach out and take his charitable gift from the consecrated land of Elysian air travel. I pull open the pocket on the bulkhead divider in front of me and stuff the chips in next to the bottle of water.
It's an hour or so afterward that I happen to glance up through the space in between the sheer curtain that's now been pulled across the aisle to separate first class from coach, and notice that my mysterious benefactor has his laptop open and is casually typing out a message of some kind. Because I'm nosy, I lean forward slightly and crane my neck to get a better look.
It's a response to a Craigslist ad titled: "Younger Man Seeks Generous Late-40s Father Figure for 'Education.'"
I chuckled to myself, then leaned back, took a swig of the water and turned to my daughter with a warm smile and the open bag. "Here, honey -- that nice man gave us potato chips."
Fast forward to later that night:
I decided to spend a few hours tooling around Manhattan, getting back into the groove of the city, so I hit a couple of old favorite haunts -- the first of which was an Irish pub called Kennedy's on 57th and 8th. (Readers of Dead Star Twilight will recall why this particular bar holds such a place in my heart.) After all the time that's passed -- being just a few days out from another 9/11 anniversary -- Conor the bartender is still there. He greeted me like an old friend and poured me a pint of Guinness -- and at that moment I couldn't find much to complain about.
So after a while, I'm sitting there at the bar sending out various text, Facebook and Twitter messages on my Blackberry -- marveling at how going to a bar these days alone doesn't really mean being without your friends -- when I notice that an attractive blonde has at some point taken a seat on the stool next to mine. She doesn't seem to be with anyone and she looks pretty drunk -- a rather dangerous combination around these parts. I go back to my Blackberry and don't give her much thought beyond the first impression -- until she reaches over and taps my shoulder.
"Who are you writing to?" she asks with a sleepy grin, her words noticeably soft around the edges.
I return a careful smile. "Friends."
"What do you do?" -- a standard question.
I set my phone down on the bar next to my pint. "I'm a writer, for the most part."
"Do you live around here?"
"Not anymore, really. I alternate between here and Miami."
She's swaying slightly in her seat, as if she were the mast of a sailboat and the waves had just picked up. She's still all smiles. She extends a hand, which I meet with my own. She introduces herself; I do the same.
"So what brings you here tonight if you're not from here? I mean, like," she gives her head a quick shake like she's trying to break the right words loose in her mind, "why this bar?"
"I started coming here a long time ago and never stopped."
"Yeah, is great," she says, removing the "t" from "it's." "I live out in Jersey -- Montclair."
"Very nice. So what brings you here?"
"My husband's out of town."
The destruct sequence has now been activated. You have five minutes to reach minimum safe distance.
"I see." I palm my phone, eager to get back to it. "What does he do?" I ask, just waiting for her to say: "He's in 'waste disposal.'" Instead, she waves her hand and dismissively hisses, "Sales."
I glance up at Conor, who's watching this scene unfold with an amused smile.
"Sales," I repeat to him.
He just nods.
"So, do you work around here?" she says, asking a slight variation on the question I answered less than sixty seconds ago.
"No, I'm a writer," I repeat. "I used to work right around the corner -- at the Time Warner Center."
At the mention of one of the most exclusive pieces of real estate in Manhattan, her eyes light up.
"Oh really? What did you do there?"
"I was a producer for CNN."
"Wow, that's so cool. That must've been really --" she has trouble getting the word out, "in -- teres -- ting."
Over the years, I've gotten this kind of response quite a bit. People always think television news is a more fascinating, powerful and, most importantly, profitable job than it actually is.
"Yeah, it wasn't bad."
"You're not fucking with me because I've been drinking, right? You really worked for CNN?"
Once again, I'm baffled as to why anyone -- certainly a potential pick-up -- would think I'd aim so low if I were going to lie about what I did for a living.
"I'll bet you traveled a lot," she continues.
"Because my husband's in East Temple."
Although I don't immediately recognize the place she's talking about, I'm at least sure I heard her correctly."
"Oh yeah?" I nod. "Where's that -- Jersey?"
She pauses for a moment, then withdraws, her face looking like she's suddenly smelled something very bad.
"You don't know where East Temple is?"
I return the bad smell look. "No -- should I?"
"And you say you worked for CNN."
The fact that I'm kind of giving her a look that silently asks if she's crazy probably doesn't help the situation. She seems like she's waiting for me to smile and admit that I'm kidding around. When I don't, she reaches over and takes the last sip of her drink, then grabs her purse off the bar and stumbles up from her stool.
"Well, nice meeting you," she says -- dripping a confusing amount of contempt -- while brushing past me and pushing through the crowd and out the door into the night.
I watch her walk past the front window, my face a solid mask of bemusement.
I look up at Conor without saying a word for a few good long seconds, then -- "What just happened?"
"I think she thought you were messing with her."
"Why the hell would she think that?"
And that's when it hits me.
She's already down the street when the realization comes over me that makes me -- just for the sake of my own pride, so this woman doesn't go to sleep tonight thinking I'm a liar or an idiot -- want to get up out of my seat and run outside and shout after her, like Jerry in the legendary "Mulva/Delores" episode of Seinfeld.
"Oh -- ISTANBUL!"