“You a married lady?”
Aw, shit. The smoke-worn, alcohol-fueled voice sitting two seats down is addressing me. Can’t he see I’m texting? Doesn’t that protect me from random strangers beginning conversations in airports with me? After sneaking a glance his direction, noting his rheumy eyes, outdoor-sculpted face behind his bushy mustache, knock-off Red Wing Romeo slippers, and Faded Glory jeans, I perform a quick stereotyping: nope, he doesn’t know from texting. His wife is forty feet away getting him a cup of coffee at the Starbucks shop that is one of the few storefronts still open at the airport at 10:30 at night. She doesn’t leave his side, though, without instructions: “You stay right there. Don’t you move. You want a muffin, too? A muffin, you know. You know what a muffin is. With blueberries in it?” “Yeah. Dohn worry bout me. Ah ain’t goin nowhere.”
Oh, well, what the hell:
“Um, uh huh,”
but I don’t look up from my Very Important Texting (I’m smsing Google for word definitions, something I do to pass the time while waiting for anything, or when I’m reading The New Yorker). His wife is right there, I’m at a place where a SWAT team would materialize should I try to circumvent Homeland Security by walking past a conveyor belt with 3-1/2 ounces of shampoo in my pocket, I recognize a sheriff’s spokesman from TV who is standing between us and this guy’s wife, I can easily get up and leave, he’s probably too drunk to do any harm. These are the kind of people that I, with my generic looks of a certain vintage, attract (when acquaintances can’t remember my name, it’s usually “Debbie” or “Linda”).
“Yeah, that lady right there really takes care of me.”
“I really take advantage of it, too. Shit. No, really, heh heh, she’s great. Something, something, high line, logging, something, live, fork of the Snomaqualmimashie River, hate the city. Heretuh pick up someone?”
“Waitin f’daughter. Rack. Year.”
Now I look up and there’s no way to avoid eye contact. The liquid in his eyes is threatening to run down his cheeks.
“Yuh know high-line logging?”
“Yeah, sort of.”
No, but I think I can figure out the relevant bits from context. The slippers were the first clue. The jeans, the second. Not a very successful logger, it looks like.
“Heh, heh, bacon, eggs, line, shit, heh. She morning something early. Shit.”
Apparently there is a way to send breakfast foods up or down a line that is high? While logging? And that’s something his wife does for him? That his wife takes care of his drunken ass is obviously very important to him.
“You must be happy to have your daughter home.”
“Yeah. I think. She’s a shit. Heh, heh. You know what I mean. Happy. Yeah. Don’t know.”
He’s wiping his eyes with the backs of his fists.
“Son’s been there f’three years.”
“Three years. You must miss him. Is your daughter home for good?”
“Think so. 21. Wants to have baby. You know. She’s a shit. B’I love her. Course.”
“How old is your son?”
Uh, oh. I think I’ve asked a question he doesn’t know the answer to even when he’s sober and I feel bad about that.
“Twenty, six? Five? No, six. I think.”
“Son’s stayin. Marines. Three years. He’s been Afghanistan, too. I was Nam f’year. Then three years prison camp. You. Know.”
How can I not look now? He’s stopped wiping. His cheeks are wet. His watery eyes are not here with us.
No, I’m sorry, I can’t begin to know.