Mr. Campbell in 8D

Today on the plane didn’t start out well. Steve was feeling terrible and as a result I had to be the responsible one, which would never be my first choice. Given any choice, the word “responsible” would never be used in conjunction with me in any situation.

I gave Steve the window seat (I did it once before in a fit of selflessness and am afraid I gave up my window seat rights forever as a result), so once again I was sitting in the middle seat. Seat E. The rows may vary, but I am always seat E. An elderly gentleman sat next to me in seat D. We were still taxiing (don’t bother: I already looked it up–it’s the correct spelling) when he laid Question #1. “Are you studying or just reading?” I rolled my eyes in anticipation for a long ride of Q&A with the stranger you’ll never see again.

What I wanted to say was, “if you find a class that studies this smut I’m reading, let me know. I’d like some credits for reading these trashy memoirs.” But at the same time, I wanted to protect him from the words and sentences my eyes were sending to my mind. I don’t know how they handle panic attacks on airplanes but I certainly don’t want to be responsible for one. God, that word just keeps appearing today and it puts me on edge.

I’m reading

about a drag queen who is dating a whore and didn’t know how to explain it in G-rated terms. I’ve had all day to ponder this, and I do not think there is a possible way to explain it that wouldn’t make heads roll.

“Just reading,” I answer sweetly, instinctively pulling the book closer to me, hoping he isn’t reading over my shoulder. He is not going to figure out from the cover that the goldfish featured belongs in the drag queen’s water-filled, see-through tit, is he? I wonder. Nah. That’s a very unlikely conclusion for anyone to draw from an innocent looking gilled-creature.

This man is one of the few people who understands that responses under three words mean the askee doesn’t want to be bothered any further. I was so grateful when he smiled at me and returned to his Direct TV in silence. My head was spinning with explanations of why on earth I would ever pick up a book like this and I still hadn’t thought of anything better than “the swirls hypnotized me.”

112 very intriguing pages later, I realized a plane is much too stuffy of a place to wear a fleece onto. It is very difficult to strip of anything in an 18 inch space. 8D seemed to anticipate the struggle I would have and I quickly felt canned air on my left arm and realized I had been de-sleeved. I wasn’t sure if this was creepy or polite, but I nodded in acknowledgment of his action that was still hanging undecidedly in my mind without an adjective.

I assigned “polite” to his action after he proved his good intentions later in the flight. The stewardess rushed past me in her overambitious speed of collecting trash and he grabbed her elbow and pulled her back, forcing her to wait for my trash before he released her arm.

Another stewardess grabbed the intercom and announced the Campbells in seats 8C & 8D were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I looked instinctively at my row number to realize that yes, I was sitting next to one of the two celebrities of this flight. I smiled at Mrs. Campbell, across the aisle; The same sweet smile I had given Mr. Campbell in the ground in Seattle.

The smile said I’m pleased to see there are people who are still able to be genuinely courteous and kind in spite of all the chaos around them. That all those years of people treating him aloofly or rudely has not wearied Mr. Campbell into the same behavior. That all the terrible tragedies he has lived through himself have not calloused him into pessimism.

I smiled because we all hold our secrets, and occasionally, one slips out. It slithers right past you while you watch, and you see nothing more of it until another person acknowledges it. And the secrets of people we sit next to are not always bad or evil or malicious. Sometimes, they bring a nice cool breeze and a smile.

He who is of calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden. – Plato

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