My Cardboard Box


with 2 comments

Seeing this photo at Most ExeRent bRog took me back to late 1977, at a dingy gate in the United terminal at O’Hare airport. It was crowded, the flight to Seattle was delayed and the overflow, including me, were ending up on the seats that lined the concourse. Those chairs – the ones deliberately designed to cause you discomfort from the moment you sat down, driving you to seek safety in one of the nearby bars. It would have been a great idea, but I was nearly broke. The drinking fountain mounted on the column next to me would have to do. The ‘Zumwalt suit’ uniform I was wearing was too warm; the combination cap a bit too big. The cheap, hastily-purchased carry-on between my knees already looked like it had traveled the world, twice. I was headed for Puget Sound and my first ship. It was yet another ignomious but appropriate step in what seemed would be a lousy enlistment. At least I still had the three stripes that marked me as a Seaman and I wasn’t going to a carrier as originally planned.

A group of a half-dozen passed by and took the chairs just down from me, across the opening to the waiting area. One, and the only caucasian, was a thin, balding nervous man in a sportscoat, who paced back and forth and chain-smoked. A second man leaned a bass fiddle in its case against one of the seats and stood nearby looking bored. Two other men, one sitting and the other standing, conversed in low voices. The women, who looked like sisters, were seated closest to me. They talked occasionally but mostly sat and watched the crowds go by, bags at their feet. The bag which belonged to the lady closest to me had ‘ELF’ on it in gold letters.

We waited. At one point, a young boy ran out of the waiting area and came to the fountain. Even standing on tip-toe he couldn’t reach it. So he climbed the low railing that separated the gate from the concourse and started leaning over, toward the fountain. It looked like a disaster in the making, a face-plant into the dirty linoleum.

“Whoa, kid! You’ll kill yourself doing that. Here-” I picked him up under his arms and held him while he drank. It was something you could do thirty-plus years ago. He wiped his mouth, said ‘thanks’, and scurried back into the huddled masses in the waiting area.

“What a nice thing to do,” the woman sitting closest to me said. I returned her smile with an embarrassed look and said something along the lines of not wanting to see him get hurt. We talked for a while – she asked me where I was from, where I was going, how long had I been in the Navy, did I like it, what was my rank, and so on. I gave her somewhat cheery answers. No mention about washing-out of electronics school, the purgatory of the transient barracks and cleaning damn near every head (bathroom) at Naval Station Great Lakes; the whole sheer, cruddy, impersonal process leading to a future (or so I thought) of chipping paint and handling lines. Somehow, despite my eighteen year-old cluelessness, I reasoned that she really didn’t need to hear it.

Our conversation kept up even as we went through the gate and up the jetway. As we passed through the jet’s door, she wished me luck and headed with her group toward first class. The flight attendant gave me a curious half-smile.

“You know Ella Fitzgerald?” she asked.

“Was that who it was?” I replied. The attendant looked at me like I was being a smart-ass.

“Honest,” I said. “She was just a nice old lady who I was talking with while we were waiting for the flight.

“I didn’t know who she was.”

Looking back, I think Madame Fitzgerald liked that it was that way.


Written by PappyBro

December 15, 2011 at 20:48

Posted in Music, Musings

2 Responses

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  1. That was lovely, Pappy. You have a writer’s eye.

    Thank you.

    trailing wife

    December 24, 2011 at 09:37

    • Thanks, but it’s more a matter of a cooperative memory.


      December 28, 2011 at 20:14

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