The Conversationalist

I struggled through the aisle, tossed my backpack into the overhead bin, sat down and buckled my seatbelt.

“Wonder if my Viper could beat this plane,” he said, looking out the window as we taxied down the runway toward takeoff.

Okay, I thought. I’ll play along.

“Oh, you have a Viper?” I asked, vaguely aware that it was some sort of fast car.

“Yup. She can do 180. I’ve only taken her to 125 or so, but I was drunk at the time, so that’s not really a good idea.”

“No, I wouldn’t imagine.”

He was bald, tan, probably in his early 60’s. Over the course of my 3+ hour flight to Albuquerque, I would never learn his name, but I would discover so much more.

He was retired, but not really. He liked to keep busy, so in the summer he was a gardener. A master gardener, in fact. And in the winter, he was an aerobics instructor slash personal trainer.

“I teach a class on Michigan Avenue sometimes. The women come into class with their necklaces and dangly earrings and never take them off the entire time.”

“Huh. That’s crazy.”

“Yeah. And then we all go out for drinks afterward. It’s great.”

He told me several times that he was a ‘gearhead’ and talked about Milwaukee and Harley Davidsons. I can’t recall how he worked this into the conversation, but at one point, told me about a woman he met who was into Harleys.

“She would get all decked out. Wore a leather bustier. But she was totally flat chested,” he said, glancing down at me quickly. I put in my headphones, but it didn’t matter. He kept on.

He was a single dad, had a daughter who was either 32 or 33, he wasn’t quite sure. She broke up with some guy and moved back home. He also had a son. I discovered this bit of information when he told me he had a ‘crotch rocket’ but didn’t like riding it so he gave it to his son. But then he worried his son was going to kill himself on it, so he made him get rid of it.

“Are you just visiting Albuquerque?” he asked.

“Yes. No, actually I’m staying in Santa Fe.”

“Santa Fe? I usually only go there to buy Indian stuff. Lots of good deals. You gotta bargain with ‘em. It’s part of the fun. You going with friends?”

“Yes, I’m meeting a group of friends down there. We rented a big house.”

Why did I say that? When are they coming with the drink cart?

“Oh, man. So a whole bunch of you are staying down there? Guys or girls?”


“Oh, man. Bunch of girls drinking margaritas. I’d love to see that.”


“I go to Albuquerque every couple years. Got some friends down there. We’re going to this place called Sophie’s. Sophia’s? It was on this show called Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Gotta check it out.”

He told me I would like New Mexico. He told me they have a hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, and all sorts of antique stores. He liked antiquing. He collected antique brass sprinklers and had one that looked like a frog that cost him $1,000.

“Once, I went to an antique store in Albuquerque and asked if they had any sprinklers. The guy looks at me and goes, ‘Do you know where you are?’ I just about died. Boy did I feel dumb.”

“Oh… right. The desert.”

I would see roadrunners all over, he promised. He told me he had chased roadrunners before.

“They’re fast,” he said, “but they don’t go far. Usually just hide behind a bush.”

And coyotes, too. I would see coyotes and roadrunners, but no sprinklers.

He told me about his girlfriend who owned a restaurant in Marco Island. He was a silent partner in the business.

“I have an interest in the restaurant. Well… I have an interest in her. Heh. She’s young. Very young. She’s 30 or 31.”

He wasn’t quite sure, but he didn’t mind the age difference.

“I like physical labor. You know, working outside? I helped a buddy of mine build an adobe house down in New Mexico once. It’s pretty neat. You just throw the mud and straw and water and shit all into a pile, and we mixed it up with a back hoe. Cut it into blocks, let it dry, brought it to the site, put the damn thing together.”

He warned me about the sun. It’s a lot more intense there, he told me. His dermatologist told him he had some pre-cancerous spots on his head that he has to get taken care of every year. This time, he remembered to wait until after Easter to get them removed. The family photos, he said.

His best friend’s name was Jen, and she weighed about 400 pounds.

“Amazing cook. Amazing. She taught me a thing or two. Her margaritas will blow your mind. I don’t know what she puts in them, but I have one and a half and I’m done for the night.”

His newest specialty was an appetizer that you could make a meal out of. Red potatoes, hollowed out and stuffed with chorizo. Then he would put some sliced chili peppers on top and bake them.

“Three ingredients. Best damn thing I ever made.”

“That actually sounds pretty good.”

Did I just say that out loud?

“It is. You have that with an ice cold beer? Little piece of heaven.”

We were preparing to land in Albuquerque, so he left me with a final warning.

“Watch out for the altitude. One drink will hit you hard.”

“Guess I’d better just have the one margarita then.”

“One? Hell no. You girls just call a cab.”

13 Responses to “The Conversationalist”

  1. Dave2 Says:

    That’s your new boyfriennnnnnnnnd!

  2. jenny Says:

    Ah nooooooo! Id’nt he dreamy?

    [and thank you so much for fixing my site! i swear, i need to be put on a timeout…]

  3. You can call me, 'Sir' Says:

    Did you demand at the front desk to be seated next to an aging douchebag? I wasn’t aware that they could make such dreams come true.

  4. shari Says:

    Ugh. You are to be commended for such good behavior in the face of such boorishness. I mean, people are fascinating and all, but… ugh.

    Thankfully, it sounds like Santa Fe more than made up for the pain of getting there.

  5. Capricorn Cringe Says:

    You just throw the mud and straw and water and shit all into a pile, and we mixed it up with a back hoe.

    I wouldn’t want to live in a house made of mud, straw and shit. But maybe that’s just me.

  6. jenny Says:

    sir: actually, i’m a premier member with united, so they already keep track of all my preferences in my file: aisle seat. front of plane. next to douchebag. CHECK!

    shari: i’m not sure that’s commendable, but i tried fake sleeping and it didn’t work. then i decided it was better if i kept my eyes open. plus, it always makes for good fodder.

    capricorn cringe: ah, just throw a nice coat of paint over the walls and you’ll never notice!

  7. Karen Says:

    I’m pretty sure I’ve been stuck next to him or his evil twin on nearly every flight I’ve taken in the last year.

  8. Tracy Lynn Says:

    It’s like you have a buglight over your head, except for weirdos.

  9. Jenny Says:

    karen: please, let him not have a twin! that’s just cruel!

    tracy lynn: no kidding! i need to switch to a flystrip, or something.

  10. claire Says:

    First time I went to NM I was in college. I met up with a friend of mine from school and when I saw her house, and particularly her family’s lush, green grassy lawn, I thought, “Ah, this is what having money in Albuquerque looks like.” All of which is to say, there are sprinklers to be had. ;)

  11. churlita Says:

    Oh, man. I’m a freak magnet, so that guy sits next to me everywhere I go. I’ve learned to plug into something and pretend I can’t hear. I like the “smile and point to the earbuds and apologetic shrug like it’s all out of my control” maneuver. You might want to practice it before you fly again.

  12. mike Says:

    Jenny, it is my not-so-secret hope that someday you will be engaging me in casual, endless, polite conversation like that. Also, I hope I am as batshit crazy as he is.

  13. Jenny Says:

    claire: we must have been in the poor part of town, because i saw an awful lot of brown grass and tumbleweeds!

    churlita: i will DEFINITELY give that a shot next time!

    mike: it would be an absolute delight to be stuck on a plane for 4 hours next to you, because i know we’d order some scotch, and then you could tell me all the master gardener stories you wanted to. :)

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