Sunday, November 21, 2004

Bad Trip in Houston

It was 1982. I noticed her when I boarded the airplane in Los Angeles. She was sitting near the front of the coach cabin. “Hm,” I thought. I moved toward the back of the cabin, holding the image of her face in my mind. I was tired, and fell asleep as the Boeing taxied out. Upon waking an hour into the flight, I watched for her, thinking she would surely leave her seat at least once on the flight to Houston. However, she never revealed herself until we landed and taxied into the gate, when I caught the merest glimpse of her as she exited. “Yeah, right,” I thought to myself. “Like you’d make a point of introducing yourself to her.”

And yeah, at the age of twenty-six, I probably wouldn’t have broken that ice, even given the opportunity. I’d always had a shy streak around women I didn’t know, and the fatigue I felt just made things all the worse.

I’ve usually brought along only carry-ons during my airline travels, but I'd checked a duffle bag on that flight. I sleepily walked to the baggage claim area, still seeing the image of the woman’s face in my mind.

Standing in baggage claim, I looked through the crowd to my left. There she was! My pulse quickened, and I suddenly felt very much awake. “Go talk to her,” I thought to myself. “She’ll just think I’m another dork, trying to pick her up,” the defeatist part of me answered. “Aw c’mon,” I thought to myself, “she might actually be glad to meet you. Are you really going to let this moment go by without ever knowing?”

I looked her way again. She was about thirty feet away, looking at the baggage conveyer, waiting. She wore glasses, had medium-brown hair, wore a simple green dress, and looked to be in her late twenties or early thirties. She didn’t appear to wear a wedding ring. I had a feeling, as I looked at her, that I’d met her before, although I knew I hadn’t. “Of course,” I said to myself, “she’s your Fantasy Librarian.” Ah yes, my fantasy librarian: I’d long felt drawn to women who had that plain-at-first-glance-until-the-glasses-come-off look. And, there was something else, something I could use in the argument with Mr. Defeatist.

“She’s tall,” I thought to myself. Actually, she was quite tall. “Hey,” I admonished Mr. Defeatist, “she might be delighted to meet a taller guy.” That did it. It was time to gather my resolve and quit being such a chicken. I glanced her way again. By this time, more people had collected their baggage and moved away, so I had a mostly clear view of her.

Whoa! Did I see what I thought I saw? Did she really meet my eyes and smile at me? Wow! “Maybe she was looking at someone else,” Mr. Defeatist chimed in. “Shut the hell up,” I told Mr. Defeatist. I looked at her again. She was looking for her baggage, not at me. “See, ya dork,” came that grating inner voice again, “she wasn’t looking at you. It was wishful thinking, hombre.” I willed myself to look her way again. She was talking to an elderly lady. Her facial expressions, and body language, prompted the thought, “She’s not only good-looking, she’s kind.”

Sheesh, I was melting in place. Was she too good to be true?

I looked at the conveyer again, although by this time I’d nearly forgotten what my bag looked like. Once again, I glanced her way. Then she looked my way, met my eyes, and smiled. Willing myself not to enter the geek mode, I smiled back then forced myself to wave. She waved back. SHE WAVED BACK!!

I thought, “Dammit Hal, quit acting like you’re fifteen years old and GO TALK TO HER!”

Meanwhile, more people had moved between my position and where she stood. I would have to zig and zag a bit to get to her position. “It’s now or never,” I told myself. I did an abrupt 180 degree turn on my heel, and adopting my best yes I’m suave, debonair, and you’ll be so glad to meet me stride, I began my mission.

I didn’t see the pile of baggage until it was too late. I was so intent on casting off my chicken ways that I was hardly aware of anything but her. Sadly, I hadn’t made more than three or four masterful yes I’m suave, debonair, and you’ll be so glad to meet me strides before I found myself falling, with my legs mired from ankles to knees in a sea of baggage. Everything went into slow motion. (You knew I would tell you that, didn’t you?) Then, I saw the paper cup of coffee on the floor. My navel was on a direct course to that cup of coffee. “This is not happening,” I thought. It was happening.

As I smacked onto the floor, facedown, I learned something. That “something” was that navels are quite sensitive to abrupt changes in temperature. I learned this when my navel crushed the cup of coffee. I jumped back off the floor. Several feet off the floor, or so it seemed. “YEEEEEEOWWWWW!” I bellowed. People moved away from me, looking frightened. As I then gathered myself, a few people timidly approached me, asking "Are you okay?" Holding my shirt away from my abdomen, I assured them that yes, I was okay, other than a scalded navel.

I could feel myself blushing, wondering if blushing could be fatal, but I hadn’t forgotten my librarian. I looked to where she had stood. Gone! Then I spotted my bag. I scampered to pick it up, and rushed away from the baggage claim area, ready to resume my mission. I scurried toward the exits, looking for her. Then, I spotted her as she walked out of a restroom. She looked at me, looked at my coffee-stained tan shirt, and began laughing. Laughing hard. Laughing very hard. I began to walk toward her, but she held her hand up in a way that signaled, unmistakably, “Don’t even.” I stood in place, with only my scalded navel for company, and watched her leave the building.

Oh well. Maybe she wasn’t so kind after all.

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