I decided on breakfast at the Andiamo (Let's Go) restaurant. It was full of business travelers, as you'd expect at Chicago O'Hare's Hilton. The host seated me smack dab in the middle of suits and fruit, Blackberries that is. Not five minutes in my chair and I heard the word strategy, twice. Sweet lord, where am I? In moments like that, which happen occasionally, I need something to remind me of the ground of my being, the who of who I am. And suddenly, there it was, on the menu - corned beef hash, potatoes and onions. Excellent choice, sir. I'll have it right out.
Oh, and I'd like ketchup with that, please.
Catsup? Certainly. Andiamo.
Uh, yes...catsup. 10-4, good buddy.
I arrived at Gate K11 with thirty minutes before board-time. I thought it'd be an opportunity to read (Jim Harrison, The Woman Lit by Fireflies). And then they arrived, choosing seats on each side of me. I was then smack dab in the middle of two rather large ladies who'd been wheelchair-ed to the gate. The attendants locked the wheels and the ladies stood with much drama, took deep breaths, and then slowly stepped to their seats. The first of two wore sweat pants and a t-shirt: Eat More Chickin'. The second two-handed a tapestry carry-on while delicately balancing a 24 oz. smoothie between her breasts. Had I not seen it with my own two eyes, I would not have believed.
Any thoughts of semi-solitude with a woman lit by fireflies were quickly dispelled by two women grunting through life. I will refer to them, ever so briefly, as Chickin' and Smoothie. Chickin' had just experienced a knee replacement; the other to follow in a month. Smoothie's knees were both replaced last year, so they might as well've been two sisters, separated at birth, reunited in an airport.
Chickin': You know what bugs my doctor? He said it's that guy on House, the doctor who uses his cane on the wrong side.
Smoothie: That was the first thing I noticed about that show. I don't know why he does that; seems like the producers would know how wrong that is. That's Hollywood, I guess (sigh).
Chickin': You know, that attendant wheeled me all the way from the curb. Sweet girl. Said she never took breaks, just kept on working. I could tell she smoked though.
Smoothie: Well, I had to tell my helper every last thing to do. I guess if you want help, you've gotta ask for it (sigh).
It was then a strikingly handsome Hispanic lady in a white sweater dress and black knee-boots walked up and parked her rolling luggage right in front of me. She seemed truly lit by fireflies. Her dusky knees would not need replacing anytime soon. The relatively sweaty atmosphere evaporated as something like jasmine filled the air. Why in the name of all that's sane she chose to stand before me, I do not know. Maybe, sometimes, the prayers of a marginally righteous man availeth enough. She gently smiled at me, then answered a call on her cell phone.
My boarding pass had indicated my seat would be assigned at the gate.
Mr. Blase, are you o.k. to sit in the exit row?
Ah, the hero's seat. I said sure.
The flight attendant needed a verbal, so I had yet another chance to declare my intentions.
Are you willing and able to assist in case of an emergency?
The corned beef hash mingled with the vision of the lady in white to produce a hero's response: Yes, Ma'am, I am.
As she wiggled into the seat behind me, I knew there'd be trouble. She was all of eight and must've had a case of Red Bull for breakfast followed by a Mountain Dew pre-board snack. Her parents sat in the row behind her and promptly inserted iPods and closed their eyes. If she kicked my seat once, she kicked it twenty times from Chicago to Denver. Not gentle, white-sweatered kicks mind you, but hard so-you-wanna-be-a-hero-huh? kicks. After about kick ten of twenty, I turned to try and catch her eyes. As our gazes met, she stuck her tongue out at me. I did what any good hero would do; I stuck my tongue out right back at her. The last ten kicks of the trip felt harder, full of spite. Fireflies would stay the hell away from this girl.
A very anti-hero thought crossed my mind. If she keeps that stuff up, she's gonna have to have those knees replaced. I'm just sayin'.