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The great (mesh) divide

She was adorable, delightful and all of, maybe, 5’2” with her practical and airline approved navy blue high heel shoes. Her smile was magical and for a moment I thought blue birds would surround her and sing. She cheerfully welcomed everyone including the man with the notice-me-girls bulging biceps and an absurdly tight black tee shirt. He knew the rules about carry on luggage but overtly continued flexing while shoving an oversized back pack in the overhead compartment. It was painfully obvious that he was flirting with her like he imagined himself the Grease rendition of John Travolta or one of the other slick backed, pomade coiffed T-Birds from Rydell High.

I might have actually felt a little sorry for him for a brief and very fleeting moment. It was like watching Nat Geo’s brilliant documentary of the Red-Capped Manakin. The male bird, with his velvety black body, bright red head and nape, bright yellow thighs, pale yellow chin and wing linings performs one of the most extravagant mating dances among his fellow feathered friends. His signature ‘moon walk’ is legendary among the other fifty plus species of Manakins. In this courtship ritual he must simultaneously compete against other contestants for her affections. After the strutting and flirting and flexing in anticipation of getting jiggy with it, if his moves aren’t mirrorball worthy, she’ll fly away with nary a nod for his effort. Rejected and dejected, his conjecture of copulation has been, shall we say, anticlimactic.

Meanwhile, as Mr. Delta DonJuan stood there watching the diminutive attendant struggle to accommodate both his Brobdingnagian luggage and macho ego, I saw him wink at her. He winked like he really was Danny Zuko! Suddenly, as quickly and decisively as Miss Not-Impressed lady bird denied the Not-So-Manly Manakin, any thought of sympathy on my part flew right out the proverbial (but securely sealed) window.

She didn’t reprimand or criticize this man-child who was more than old enough to know better nor did she accept his adolescent come hither invitation. Instead, she insisted it was no problem and managed to find a place for his suitcase and the ski jacket he handed her at the last second asking if she could just put it on top of his luggage. She could not as there was less space between his suitcase and the top of the tiny compartment than between his…well, his jeans were very tight. She calmly found a place for his Patagonia parka in the next compartment all while keeping that beautiful smile and positive demeanor. He took his seat and tried to put in an early order for a scotch and soda. I wanted to intervene on her behalf.

That’s not entirely true…I really just wanted to stand up, smack the brim of his stupid backward baseball cap, point my “I’ve raised teenage boys who are now respectful men” mama finger at this arrogant little twit and demand he apologize to the flight attendant and everyone else on the plane for his rude and condescending behavior! I wanted to make him turn around and take a good, hard look at the inconvenience he was causing her and the line of impatient passengers waiting for his ridiculous shenanigans to end.

But I let her do her job. And she did it with impeccable, professional decorum. I, however, rolled my eyes at him when he looked my way.

End scene.

As the second act begins, all luggage has been stowed, the passengers have taken their seats and belts have been fastened. Collectively, we pretend to watch the safety video and settle in, as best we can, bumping elbows with the strangers to our left or right, quick apologies as the cabin lights lower.

As we reached cruising altitude it was the cue for our attendant to perform the next phase of her duties. She walked center stage and began attempting to close the dividing curtain. It wasn’t a thick, velvet curtain like the luxury symbol of days past that prevented those in economy from even sneaking a peek at the chicken cordon bleu and glasses of chardonnay being served to those just feet from the discomfort zone. This is in no way a criticism of flying first class. I’ve done so and it’s fabulous! Sometimes, when I’m not flying the friendly skies, I eat at a fancy restaurant and order lobster and creme brûlée and other days I celebrate Taco Tuesday with $2.00 tacos. This isn’t a story of rich or poor. This is a story of human kindness.

Budget cuts took the spotlight as this show curtain looked like cheap fishnet stockings discarded from a long retired cabaret show. It was functionally ineffective and yet, the meaning was quite efficacious.

As our country endures a difficult time on the economic front many of us have had to forego or cut back on some of the creature comforts we, perhaps, previously took for granted in our every day lives (like, I don’t know, 2-ply toilet tissue or filling our cars with gasoline without taking out a 2nd mortgage). Commercial airlines are also feeling the squeeze causing passenger, themselves, to squeeze into smaller seats. Jeans aren’t the only tight fit. No more free fresh baked cookies that became a signature perk of one particular airline. No pillow or blanket for each passenger and no complimentary deck of playing cards like my father collected from his business trips when I was a child. Arm rests have become custody battles and there are up-charges for things that used to be standard parts of airfare. “Oh…you want to breathe fresh oxygen on this flight? That’ll be an additional $347.00.”

But some of the snaps seemed to be broken on the blue mesh curtain. She could barely reach the top despite standing on high heel tip toes and her repeated attempts to close the proverbial gap between haves and have-lesses were futile.

As I watched, feeling helpless, from a few rows back, myself only 5’2”, hoping this excruciating scene would end for her, the tall man in the first seat of the first row in our class section, the row that formally delineated the separation, unbuckled, stood up and took hold of the top snap securing the first of many. She looked up at his 6’ plus frame and the panic that had taken shape, like the despairing mask from the Phantom of the Opera, melted from her face. The audience in first class, for whom this scene was being enacted, was unaware as to what had taken place backstage from where they sat. They didn’t know the desperation she must have felt trying to perform her duty. They didn’t know some unknown extra, who could have easily let his own ego take the lead in this unsolicited role, became the hero to a struggling actress in the role of delightful flight attendant. As he slowly and methodically secured the remaining snaps, the final act was over, the curtain was officially drawn.

The great divide was not the curtain. It wasn’t the division between first class and economy but between arrogance and humility, between entitlement and selflessness, between concern and apathy, between choosing to act in the moment or turning a blind eye.

The applause was silent and yet in our silence we shared a resounding ovation. Bravo!! Bravo! Encore, fellow man. But he didn’t turn to face the crowd or take a rightful bow. He simply returned to his seat in economy as humble messenger of kindness, a true, first class gentleman.

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