Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Tale of Two Seatmates

*IT WAS the best of flights, it was the worst of flights, it was the age of reason, it was the age of insanity, it was the epoch of Atlas, it was the epoch of Alice. There were gifts received (one rather reluctantly) and I share the tale of both flights and their associated seatmates so that you may compare.

Standing by gate A2 at the El Paso International Airport, I was looking forward to the journey home. It had been a good trip and the four-day weekend was just ahead.

I noticed him immediately.

You don’t see many people walking through airports in their socks. Sure, there are lots of visible socks and bare feet in the TSA security areas but folks normally return their shoes to their feet before entering the concourse. Not this guy. Clad in knee-high, white, athletic socks, shorts and a striped t-shirt, he had both arms wrapped around a large overstuffed bag while one hand gripped his sneakers. He had a conservatively short haircut and a scraggly beard. He appeared to be in his late 40s or early 50s. His escort was a TSA agent.

“Can I get on the airplane now?” he asked.

“You can when they call your group number,” the TSA agent replied.

A few minutes passed while everyone in the boarding area waited to hear his or her group number. The gate agent announced first class and priority boarding.

“How about now? Can I get on now?”

“Sir, I’ll let you know when you can board.”

I was in group two so I made my way down the aisle, breathing a sigh of relief when I realized I was a good ten rows behind the baby who would soon be loudly and painfully confused about air pressure and earaches.

I tucked my laptop into the overhead bin, my purse under the seat, and my water bottle into the seat pocket in front of me. My iPod was in reach, my phones turned off and my book resting on my lap. I glanced up the aisle to see how boarding was going.

There he was - shoes in hand, feet in socks, overstuffed bag in arms. He was looking at the seat markers and mumbling loudly to himself.

“25A, 25A, 25A.”

I glanced in horror at the seat beside me. It was 25A.

“If you’re naturally kind, you attract a lot of people you don’t like.” William Feather

I immediately felt guilty. I didn’t know this man. I didn’t know if he was mentally disabled, crazy, drunk or a combination of all three. I decided not to pre-judge. I think we (the general public) try to pretend crazy, disabled, drunk people don’t exist. I try to be kind. I was not going to ignore this man. I would be polite. I would be kind.

I stood up to allow him access to his seat. The overstuffed bag would not fit under the seat and there was no more room in the overhead compartments but the flight attendants let him leave it partially wedged. They seemed unwilling to risk upsetting him.

Since he didn’t seem to know he should, I told him he’d need to put on his seatbelt. When he seemed confused, I handed him the piece between us and told him the other half was probably under the armrest. He dug around a bit, found the other section but then appeared to be confused about how to put them together. I helped.

He told me I was a nice lady.

I said, “My name is Ima.”

He said, “My name is Kit.”

“Oh,” I said, “like Kit Carson!”

“No. I’m from Kentucky.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Kit from Kentucky.”

We chatted the fellow-passenger chat of where-are-you-traveling-to-today-and-is-this-home. Kit from Kentucky said he used to be in the Army, lived in El Paso, had lived overseas for a time, and was now on his way to visit family in Jacksonville, FL. I shared that I had been in El Paso for work and was flying to Huntsville, AL (“No, Kit from Kentucky, not Huntsville, TX, not the prison.”).

He told me again that I was a nice lady and said he had a gift for me. I assured him that I did not need a gift. He continued to dig around in his bag and pulled out my gift. At the sight of the gift, I even more strongly, yet politely, assured him, “no, no, I’m good, thanks!” He insisted.

Not sure yet if he was crazy, drunk, disabled, or the combo and because I didn’t know what else he had in that bag and didn’t want to upset him, I thanked him and put the gift in my purse.

The gift? You want to know what the gift was? Really, now, does the actual gift matter? Isn’t it the thought that counts?

Oh, all right.


According to one of my colleagues, who was also traveling back that afternoon and heard this story in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, there’s a little-known fact about this sequence of events. Because I assisted Kit from Kentucky with his seatbelt and then accepted his gift of sardines (in Spring Water!), we are now betrothed.

Kit from Kentucky told me that the security guards had taken his whiskey. He’d had it tucked into his waistband. I think he said it was Old Crow. At this point, I decided to keep drunk on the list of possibilities. Based on the other bits of conversation, crazy and disabled were still on the table.

He asked if he could buy me a beer. I declined. He asked again. I said no.

Thankfully, the captain authorized the use of approved electronic devices so I put in my ear buds, powered up the iPod, and opened my book.

From time to time, Kit from Kentucky would lean over, touch the page of my book, and say something. Even though I could hear him, I made a point of pressing pause on the iPod and taking out my ear buds each time.

He asked me if I was married. Reconsidering the value of truth but unwilling to abandon it, I told him I was not. He proceeded to ask if he could have my address and phone number. I said no and he asked why not. I didn’t explain but just said no again. Firmly.

I got back to my book and music and several minutes passed. I drank some of my water. Kit from Kentucky asked me if I was a catfish.

“No. No, I’m not a catfish.”

I continued reading and listening to music. Then, Kit from Kentucky told me that I was pretty and smart. I thanked him.

Kit from Kentucky seemed content, for the most part, to look out the window at the clouds and patches of visible ground. The interruptions were, thankfully, not excessive. However, the last interruption was a doozy.

Kit from Kentucky made a comment that I heard perfectly well, even with the iPod playing. I ignored him. He said it again, louder this time. Realizing that if I continued to ignore him, he would get to the point where he was yelling, I decided to acknowledge the fact that he had just said, twice, “I’d be fine if I could just get this tampon out of my ass.”

I slowly closed my book, paused the music, removed the ear buds, channeled a dear friend who would never be questioned about her catfish status, turned to my left and gave him my best “oh, no, you didn’t” one-raised-eyebrow stare.


“Aw, nuthin’. I was just funnin’.”

Kit from Kentucky seemed to realize that I was not interested in more conversation with him and, fortunately, we had begun our descent into Dallas.

Crazy? Check.

Drunk? Probably.

Disabled? Still not sure.

I got away from the arrival gate as quickly as possible, determined the departure gate for the Jacksonville flight so I could avoid it, and found my fellow business travelers. I shared with them the story of Kit from Kentucky. I’m mostly- partially- almost not at all certain that they were laughing with me, not at me. When I slipped outside to have a cigarette, they insisted that I leave the sardines (in Spring Water!) with them. We were not about to risk having such a lovely gift confiscated by the TSA.

For the second leg of my flight home, I had an upgrade to first class. So nice. My seatmate was wearing shoes and proper trousers. He was reading, then napping. Before we took off, I had to call my mom and tell her about the long, strange trip it’d been. Very quietly (at least that’s what I thought), I whispered the whole shoeless-catfish-sardine-inappropriate-comment experience to her. Then, I settled into my comfy, roomy seat with my complimentary gin and tonic. For the first hour of the flight, I enjoyed uninterrupted music and reading. At the end of that hour, my seatmate sat up, opened his eyes, and turned to toward me.

“So, tell me about Kit from Kentucky and the sardines.”

I did. We laughed. His name was John. It turns out that we have mutual friends and business acquaintances.

John also insisted on presenting me with a gift.

Did you know that banded penguins eat sardines?


The colleague who clued me in about my unintended betrothal knew that I was going to write about this and suggested a few alternate titles.


"Don't accept Sardines from a shoeless Kentuckian: Betrothed on a flight from El Paso to Dallas"

"A New Wife in Kentucky: How Sardines and a Flight from El Paso to Dallas changed my Life"

"Single in El Paso and Betrothed before landing in Dallas: How a chance seatmate turned into my lifemate"

"I Don't Like Sardines Anymore: A Tale of A Betrothed Kentuckian's Wife"

"Stay out of my Feminine Hygiene Products!: A Betrothed Kentuckian Wife Speaks Out"

"Does Anyone Know How You Annul a Sardine Betrothment?: One Woman's Fight To Be Free”

*I’ve borrowed shamelessly from Dickens’ first lines in A Tale of Two Cities because the title inspired mine and the first lines provided the perfect template for depicting the differences in the two legs of my journey last week. Confession: I have never read A Tale of Two Cities. (the.shame!) Although I’m a voracious reader and even though it was required for one of my high school classes many years ago, I just couldn’t get into this book.