I’ve always been jealous a bit of those who could sketch. Which is extra annoying since my wife and daughters sketch better than I could if someone gave me decades to practice. But at least I write, and I enjoy that. While sketching seems to be a term initially limited to drawing, I think it’s fair to talk about sketching in other ways. I’ve been working on a novel for some time (I know, I know, it’s taking forever!)…and I thought I would share some of the recent sketches I’ve been working on. Like drawing sketches, they are incomplete without rhythm or reason.
She was a tall, thin woman with an old brown, long-haired Chihuahua. She reached for the dog wrapped up in a pink and black, TSA approved, dog carrier and held him in her arms. The carrier was tattered and well-worn, much like the woman. She had a slight shake to her hand as she cradled the dog in a blanket on her lap. They sat across from me in the airport waiting lounge.
I was tired, coming off a red-eye flight from LAX. We were in Chicago and headed to Philadelphia. A young, black woman sat down next to her on the right. She started playing YouTube videos with the sound turned up way too loud for a public waiting room and was clearly oblivious to this social folkway. The dog eyed the black woman.
She stopped looking at YouTube for a moment and turned to look at the dog. The dog growled at her and the tall woman pulled him close within the pink polka-dot blanket and said “Aw, you stop that now” in a vaguely condescending and reproachful way. The dog snuggles deeper into the blanket and regard the black woman with disinterest.
The tall woman addresses the black woman. “See, he don’t mind you.” And then to her dog, “Don’t know why you are growling. They are the same.”
I find this statement slightly racist, like the tall woman was clarifying all of this out loud to convey she hadn’t raised a racist dog. Which, for me, made it seem like she had, in fact, raised a racist dog.
She held him even closer, “Mama will keep you warm.”
While I’ve always had an affinity for long-haired Chihuahuas, I did not have as much of an affinity for the owner. As I watched her more, I noticed most of her teeth were gone and she had a poorly done script neck tattoo that was faded and difficult to read. I figured meth was the likely culprit here.
She cooed again to the dog and I remembered this story from a Buddhist teaching. It implied that all people were all really the same people. There was no death, but instead we would come back as another person. There was no self, but instead this universal connection between everyone. There is no individual, but we are each other. I thought about this some. Could it be that I was this tall woman, that I was the young black lady watching her YouTube clips turned up too loud? That we were all the same. Maybe. I closed my eyes and waited till we boarded.
I sat up near the front of the plane and I watched people line up and wait. The line slowed down as passengers attempted to cram their bags in the too small spaces.
I noticed a young, blonde woman waiting for her turn to progress in the narrow aisle. I was drawn to her sad eyes, like she had reached for help too many times and always came up empty. Her hair came down in tangles and she wore an over-sized sweater that hid her frame. It didn’t surprise me when she stopped and paused two rows down from where I sat. I had seen this before. She would look down at her ticket, and she did. She would calculate which number and letter combination lined up with the window or aisle seat, and she did. She made eye contact with me and I stood, letting her make her way to the window seat in my row.
I used to like the window seats. They were cozy and they felt like losing yourself in a movie as the plane took off and flew through the clouds. I suppose current aisle preference on flights echoed my current malaise. Now, I just wanted an extra few minutes to move to the front of the plane when the bell dinged at the end of the flight and the plane was settled at the gate. The plane gave this kind of bounce right before the bell and then the race was on. There was a loss here, I suppose. The same kind of loss when you stop marveling at the wonder of flight and think more about whether or not you will make your connection. I thought back to that point where I stopped looking out the window at the clouds and started to look more towards where I was going when I landed. It made me sad, too.
She settled in with her green, Jansport backpack pushed neatly under the seat. We smile again, briefly, and I wondered some at this. The convenience of kindness, the shared stuckness between Minnesota and Salt Lake. Embarking to in-between towns and cities, hubs people passed through. I thought about her cable-knit sweater and how it would be too warm for most people on the plane, but she seemed to disappear underneath its warmth. I closed my eyes as the plane hatch was closed, as we rolled back from the gate and flew to our in-between places.
State of Siege
I open my eyes and there is an older woman with a red-sweater moving across the aisle in front of me. She has on homemade jewelry, round-aqua stones with gold circles closing in on themselves in a kind of fractal design. She coughs twice. It’s that kind of deep chest cough that is the either the early stage of bronchitis or pneumonia. I’m sure it would have scared the country doctor in the early 19th century, but apparently is not as debilitating as it once was. She launches immediately into a story about cough drops, sharing too much, with everyone around her.
“I hate those people who cough all the way through the show. I usually remember to bring cough drops, but I didn’t this time. And I feel just terrible.
She continues to move across the aisle in front of me. She is a large woman, but not enormous. She struggles to fit in the seat and announces to everyone again, “my hips used to be able to fit in these seats. But that was a long time ago.”
She settles into her seat and begins to scratch at the back of her head with an intensity – as if searching for some kind of relief that never comes. Her breathing is labored from the coughing and she inhales deeply, as if never quite getting enough oxygen. She apologies to the two elderly women sitting next to her and claps her hands together in an odd gesture, with her fingers outstretched.
“Would you like some gum?” one of the elderly pair asks her. “I don’t have any cough drops, I’m afraid. But I have some gum.”
“Oh! I suppose that might help.” She takes the trident gum from the woman and repeats herself for no clear reason. “I hate those people who cough at the theatre. I find it very annoying. And then when they have a cough drop, they take so long to open it. Just rip the wrapper off, I say. Be done with it.”
She carefully unwraps an extra piece of gum and places it in her pocket. She says, “I’ll save that for later. And it’s unwrapped. So that won’t be a problem.”
I wait for play to start. It’s by Camus. I haven’t seen it before and I wonder if it might have already begun in front of me.
I’m walking outside of the theatre and someone calls to me. “Hey.” I keep walking.
“Hey! I smoke cigarettes. It’s a bad habit, but you know. Do you have any?”
The voice is slurred and I walk by quickly. The guy stumbles and his friend holds him up and back some from pursuing me more.
“Nah, man.” I say without skipping a step. I’m not scared, more annoyed at the hassle of them.
“Billy!” his friend chimes in, he’s been drinking too, but isn’t drunk. Not yet. “Billy, you sound like a crazy person asking for cigarettes that way out here.”
The conversation fades out as they stop walking. I keep moving and glance back across the 20 yards separating us. The friend is trying to hold it together but it’s clear he’s fighting a losing battle. Billy focuses on his feet, somewhat amazed that they seem to hold him up.
“I just need a smoke.” Billy says.
“I know, but when you ask like that you sound like a homeless, crazy person wandering in the Gaslamp.” The friend replies.
As bad luck would have it, the pair pass a tall-lanky man wearing ill-fitting sweat pants and a ram’s t-shirt says, “What the actual fuck did you say?!?”
Billy’s friend goes into overdrive. “Oh no, man. He wasn’t talking to you.” Billy looks around confused, clearly lost on the nuisances of the miscommunication.
“I’m not homeless,” sweat-pants says, raising his voice. “I have a home right over there at Covenant house.”
Their voices fade as I continue to walk away into the night.