People fall asleep over Kindles and Macy’s bags filled with Christmas presents. I’m using the big luggage — the sporty one a friend of a friend left at his apartment two years ago, filled with size 43 golf pants and men’s dress socks. He chucked the clothes and gave me the bag. I aired it out for two weeks. Just in case.
I’m sweating in my coat. It’s always the same thing – leaving twenty minutes late and running for the train, standing in front of my luggage, back aching under the weight of iPads, iPods, copies of The New Yorker. L Train to E Train to Air Train. JFK to LAX.
Waiting on the platform, I had this random flash, a thought that heated up and spread through every cell like wildfire, a feeling of this parallel reality, something that could have been had I not made a certain choice a few years ago, standing on a street in the middle of frozen February. And in that thought, I wasn’t going home to Los Angeles for Christmas; I was going to London. I felt everything within seconds: the tired familiarity of inconvenience, the dulled enthusiasm knowing that whatever was waiting for me at the other end was going to take me eight hours to get to, the realities of some long distance relationship that never happened.
Five dollars for an AirTrain card and I’m sitting next to two traveling salesmen in their late 30s, talking about their holiday plans. “Chillaxin’” the one guy says. Twice. He talks loud enough for me to hear. I turn sideways, praying to not be somehow invited into this conversation. We slides through Brooklyn neighborhoods with their thinned out trees, traffic on the highway cut into immovable veins of red and white. My reflection is an opaque thing on the glass in front of me, wrinkleless and ethereal, reality minus ten or fifteen years.
“When’d you get married?” the one guy asks the other.
“See, I got married at twenty-five and it was a real eye-opener. The bills started coming in. I mean… that was reality.”
There is a pause here, where the other guy – the one sitting next to me who says things like “chillax” – does not know what to say, how to empathize or contribute or generally make his friend feel as though he’s not the only one in the world who has ever felt this way. After six seconds of silence, he simply fills the void with “What was your first sales job?”
It must be hard being a man sometimes, running towards and away from feelings, in denial of things that are clearly there. Or maybe they’re not there. Who knows. I’m not a man, and after dating in New York for three years, I’m vaguely convinced they have no feelings, no heart. That’s the bitterness creeping in.
The airport isn’t busy yet because I’m leaving a week earlier than everyone else. One of the TSA employees talks to me while I pull back on my jackets and boots on the other end of the security screening. “So tell me,” he asks, “are you still modeling?” Yeah yeah yeah, I say, and then I mention my writing. “Good for you,” he says. Then he says how he can spot the girls – these models – a mile away. “They’re like unicorns,” he says. They’re always the same: tall, happily disheveled, little to no makeup. It’s good to know there are other people wandering around the airport looking like genetically gifted homeless people.
“None of that stuff matters anyway,” he says. “When you get to be my age, all you want is a girl who can make you a good cup of coffee. You understand what I mean?”
I do, sort of. The part of me that sort of doesn’t makes a joke about putting my French press in the fridge overnight.
“You come to just want a friend,” he says.
“When does that happen?” I ask.
“Around forty… fifty years old.”
“Oh, good,” I joke. “I only have to wait ten to twenty more years.”
And then I jam my laptop into my carry-on, wish him happy holidays, and head towards my gate. I feel like I am always having these conversations in airports or with cab drivers — pulling my shoes on, wiping sleep out of my eyes, juggling baggage, saying “uh huh, uh huh” while someone tries to kindly impress upon me some meaning of life.
(Photo: Courtesy of Tandem Research)