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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Stuck in a loveless marriage: Story of Randall & Joan


My eyes darted back and forth as I crept up the aisle of the Boeing 737 Southwest flight from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas.

My initial eagerness for an unassigned aisle seat was overcome when I was surprised to see a vacancy right behind the bulk head. Those extra six or seven inches is a veritable legroom extravaganza.

One problem: it was the dreaded middle seat.

Who’d be at my elbows would decide.

Window seat was a gruff looking old babe, maybe just north of 60. She stared out the window the way convicts who’ve been screwed by chump public defenders stare through the cell bars. 

Aisle seat looked even more standoffish. About the same age, he had the bearing of  someone who’d been in the military maybe 40 years ago.

As I was to learn somewhere over Nebraska, he was a war veteran, all right.

So with my choice of seats, what did I do?

I dove right into that middle seat between two people who appeared to have perfectly sour dispositions.

Why? Because I find sourly disposed passengers make perfect seat mates.

Although I prefer chatty folks in most any other situation, one next to me on a trans-continental flight would give me kinks in my neck, so I’d rather just stare into my book.

And that’s just what I did for the first 90 minutes when window seat piped up and said, “Randall, get my purse.”

At this, aisle seat got up, reached into the overhead bin, pulled out a big purple purse and handed it past me.
“Here,” he said.

They were married! To each other!

I couldn’t believe it. 

I tried to think of any reason my wife and I would sit separate on a cross-country plane ride and not acknowledge one another for nearly two hours. I came up blank.

Then I thought of a million reasons why we’d want to sit together, everything from making sly fun of the parade of absurd hairdos to wanting to hold hands in the event of a white-knuckle emergency.

So now I’m fascinated and attuned to any communication, verbal or non-verbal.

She pulls a book out of her big purple purse, but the cover jacket is reversed to conceal the book’s title. I squint out the corner of my eye and catch the title on a page: It’s “12 Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies to Build Trust, Resolve Conflict & Increase Intimacy.”

I wonder if one of them is, “Sit next to each other on the plane so you don’t have to grunt through strangers.”

I learned her name was Joan when the drink cart pulled up next to Randall. She was too immersed in her book about improving communications to notice he was trying to get her attention.

“Joan?”

She looked up and said, “Tomato juice.”

Those were the last words I heard either of them speak in either’s direction the remainder of the flight.

It’s a pity I’m a stoic on flights because it was an historic missed opportunity for me to stick my nose in someone else’s business.

I don’t know what I would have said to them, but I would have tried to help them focus on the sunny side of being together for so long, and that’s my assumption. 

What’s odd is I think because of my book, I’m being approached by people who think I have the answers to a happy marriage.

These people think I’m wise. That I’m well-adjusted and deserving of austere respect.

Note: my own wife never looks at me like that and she’s the inspiration for Colorful item No. 322: “Understand that a long marriage is a terrific antidote to excessive ego.”

I’m guessing these people aren’t reading the book carefully enough or they’d appreciate that the over-arching lesson of “Use All The Crayons!” is that most of us could benefit from a little less work and a lot more bourbon.

Just the other night a friend who was feeling a little down about life said he’s been morose because he realized that this might be all there is to life.

I think he wanted me to turn fortune teller and say, no, there’s so much more! And it’s just right around the corner!

You’re future holds harems! Gas back to $2.25 a gallon! The advent of the 20-hour work week and bosses who appreciate your endeavors with weeping bestowal of bonuses!

But, no, I’m afraid this is all there is. 

Life is short, riven with disappointment, each one greater than the last, leading inexorably to the grave.

That’s the most pessimistic line I’ve ever written -- maybe the most pessimistic line anyone’s ever written. And I believe it’s true.

I also believe that’s why you need to celebrate the many moments when life doesn’t suck.

Revel in your friends. Squeeze the ones you love. Laugh while you can. Understand that throughout the history of mankind life’s been a historic struggle and that at least most of us born in the 20th century had access to Three Stooges re-runs.

Enjoy it while you can because, man, that’s all there is.

You’re lucky in life if you have just one person who’ll sit next to you on the plane and hold your hand when you hit some turbulence.


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