"Very Stable Genius"


I’m often surprised with what I see when I walk past the half a dozen or so rows of first class seating into the more narrow communal clutter of economy flying. I’m surprised by the lack of recognizable faces. I always expect to see a movie star or a pro athlete, maybe a pop star hiding behind sunglasses drinking champagne at nine in the morning.

I do believe I saw a woman who played a television mom on a show that came on TV when I was a kid, but I can’t be sure. My desire to see someone famous probably precludes me from an honest assessment of the moment.

Seat after seat contains regular people just like you and me. I always wonder how in the world they can afford to pay three times what I’m paying to sit there, and more importantly, why. The thought of paying such a high price for a couple of hours of luxury seems disproportionate.

I found out all about luxury flying the day the ticketing agent winked at me and bumped me to first class. Within minutes I was sitting in 3B with my heels off, rubbing my toes on the thick carpet under my chair. There were an abundance of inches on both sides of my hips showcasing the glossy soft leather. An unopened water bottle was sweating in the cup holder next to me. I leaned forward to pull a magazine from the seat in front of me and almost couldn’t reach it.

A man rolled a gigantic suitcase down the aisle and stopped next to my seat. He looked down at me and then to the empty seat next to the window.

“I’m 3A, do you mind swapping with me. I need a little more room to spread out?” he asked.

I did mind, I very much minded, since I had already sunken so completely into my own seat and was in the process of adoring my new real estate. “Okay, sure,” I said.

My new seat was minus about an inch of space for my left knee, not that I needed it. I was reaching into my purse and pulling out my phone and some headphones when I noticed new congestion near our row. People were lifting their carry-on luggage chest high to contort around the large bag he had left in the aisle, with its pull handle still erect. The exercise was called to a halt after at least four people squeezed by and gave us both dirty looks, as if we were traveling together. A flight attendant leaned over a seat two rows in front of us and said, “Sir. Sir. Your bag.”

“Yes, that’s my bag.” He slid his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose to size up the flight attendant and then pushed them back over his eyes.

“It’s blocking traffic. Can you place it in the overhead?”

“I’m thinking it’s too big. It won’t fit,” he said.

The flight attendant apologized multiple times to the people in the aisle while she maneuvered around them to get to the man.

She reached our row and looked at both of us and then to the monstrosity of a suitcase. “It is way too big. Why didn’t you check it?” she asked.

The man looked down at his phone and began tapping and scrolling. She then looked at me with her palms up, still expecting an explanation. I shrugged and shook my head, hoping she realized that meant, I’m sorry, I don’t know this man at all. Seriously, not at all.

She asked everyone to take five big steps backwards and then slid the luggage back toward the front of the plane in the direction of all the sighs and groans.

And that was my informal introduction to a very stable genius.

The silence between us was forever halted when he reached over and touched my watch. I recoiled out of instinct.

“What time you got?” he asked.

I looked at the cellphone on his lap and then to my watch. “Nine fifteen,” I said.

“Good, on time. I can’t be delayed, not today.”

I nodded at him, put headphones in my ears, and looked forward. I was anxious for the plane to level out since I was near the edge of dizziness.

“My name’s Jack Cartwright,” he said.

I tried not to sigh, but removed the earbuds in a melodramatic way to indicate a measurable level of dissatisfaction.

“What’s that?”

“Jack Cartwright. That’s my name.”

“Hi, Samantha.” I pointed at myself.

“Sam.”