I knew it would be a bad flight when I stepped onto the the airplane, wearing my Red Sox shirt, and saw that the man in the seat next to mine had on a Yankees hat. But he seemed more interested in his rum and Coke than in arguing about the ancient baseball rivalry.
At 10 a.m. the flight attendant brought breakfast and my neighbor's third rum and Coke. I was almost done inhaling my food when my buzzed friend thrust his strawberry yogurt in front of my face.
"Sure. Thanks." I was tempted to ask for his bagel, too, but restrained myself.
A minute passed in silence, and then the deluge: "I can't eat lately. I think my girlfriend's cheating on me. How old are you?"
"You're about her age. Listen to this and tell me if you think she's cheating on me."
He spent the next hour or so telling me about his illegitimate children, child support payments, and 19-year-old girlfriend who lived in another state and never answered the phone when he called.
"Do you think she's cheating."
How should I know? "Whether or not she's cheating, it sounds like you have some problems to work out in your relationship."
"She's cheating. I'm gonna find out for sure when I get to Dallas. I'm getting in 5 hours early. I'll call her and tell her I'm getting on the airplane. Then I'll follow her."
"That doesn't sound like a good idea. I think it would be better to confront her directly."
"I'll confront her after I follow her."
"Clearly, there are trust issues between you two, and if you follow her, it will only perpetuate that problem. I don't think you should follow her."
"Just think about it. Okay?"
"I'm gonna go to a bar first. I need to get real drunk so I can relax. I don't know if I can confront her unless I'm relaxed."
"That sounds like a bad idea." At this point I felt a rush of gratitude that this man and I lived in completely different worlds.
"I gotta relax."
"There are other ways to relax. I'm in this class right now where we practice ways of relaxing." Group therapy counts as a class, right? An airplane seemed like a bad place to teach progressive muscle relaxation, so I was debating whether to teach him imagery or controlled breathing when the captain announced our descent. Controlled breathing it is. That would be faster. We worked on breathing for 10 or 15 minutes. As we deplaned, I asked, "So what are you going to do?"
"I don't know. Maybe I won't go to a bar. But I still think I should follow her."
Better he follow her sober than smashed, I guess. I wonder what happened. I wonder whether that flight would have been better or worse if we had discussed baseball.