He wore a bright, short-sleeved button-down shirt with a mosaic pattern of Playboy covers in all their all-but-nakedness.
It was the kind of shirt older men wear to look relaxed, often with dress shorts, usually with Hawaiian patterns rather than near pornography.
And so in the first moment he crossed your vision, he announced his lack of discretion, his need for attention. The shirt made it clear, as did the strangely shaped Y of hair on a partly shaved, partly balding head.
The second thing you noticed is that he spoke non-stop, a machine-gun burst of words that piled into sentences, paragraphs, pages before you could slip in a stunned acknowledgement.
“I was on a cruise on the Carnival Glory and I spent two days in my room because I was depressed but I took my medication and came out for the New Years party and everyone said they liked my shirt and have you ever been on a cruise?”
A one-word answer from the white-blonde youth beside him, oversized headphones that would surely come in handy on this three-hour flight slid just off his ears.
“What’s your name? Killian? That’s my last name, Killian, Jerry Killian, I’ve never heard it as a first name before. I just got off a cruise, were you on a cruise? Do you have a girlfriend?”
The man’s hand was shaky and the way he spoke, you’d start to wonder if he was crazy or high or both.
We taxied away from the gate, finally, took our position and waited our turn the way you always wait your turn on flights leaving Dallas-Ft. Worth and the youth, he pulled the headphones over his ears and the man in the Playboy shirt turned to the window.
The baby cried, struggling to find sleep in this strange place.
But when her lids finally closed and her breathing slowed I heard him again, talking out the window to himself. He narrated the details: leaving Dallas, going to Pittsburgh, just got off a cruise, took the overnight hotel stay and nearly missed his flight, in the same rapid-fire burst of staccato words that mostly stayed quiet but would rise suddenly loud. I don’t think he stopped talking the entire flight.
Twice a stewardess responded to something he requested, and stood for what seemed like ages in the aisle, trapped by a monologue.
Halfway through the flight he dropped his credit card, told the stewardess every bill attached to that card and how he’d have to cancel everything if he couldn’t find it and she nodded, promised to find a flashlight so we could find it.
She asked me to look and there it was, trapped between the wall of the plane and his seat. The baby woke when I reached for it.
“Thank you,” she mouthed. And “would you like something to eat? to drink?” And so we had supper after all and the baby didn’t even cry though we waked her in the credit card retrieval effort and we landed just 30 minutes late in Pittsburgh, old snow reflecting the lights.
He turned around and saw us and “Aww, he flies good? It is a he?”
She, I corrected.
“Aww, well he flies good,” he insisted. “I was on a flight and there was a man with a military dog and he didn’t bark, he flied good too. Were you on a cruise? I was on a cruise.”