September 26th 2013
Story originally written and experienced: September 15th 2013
It’s a gamble if you really think about it.
You book a flight.
You’re assigned a seat.
And as you’re sitting in the gating area you
s c a n
The premises and imagine who your involuntary company will be for the allotted amount of time.
And there I was.
2 weeks exhilarated and exhausted after an elongated escapade around Europe with my sister.
Where we left trails of debauchery, curiosity and class in
“Ladies and gentleman, we thank you for your patience. We will now start boarding flight 45 with a 2 o clock service to New York, La Guardia Airport. First class passengers are now welcome to board at this time.”
I remained seated. It wasn’t my turn.
Not yet anyway.
The bEePing of each boarding pass before and after me almost sounded like a backbEaT. And I was half-expecting a passenger to break into song. And then full-hoping that song-breaking individual would sit next to me.
But that never happened.
But this did:
I spotted my aisle from a few = = feet = = away.
2 Gentleman were seated. Both looked clean. Both looked lean. #don’tbeoverflowininmyseat
Middle seat open.
I pardoned my way to the middle seat. Politely smiling my way to my economy cushion assignment.
Before take-off was even mentioned conversation ensued to
my left and my right .
Where are you from.
Where are you going.
What brought you to Europe.
Did you see the lady in the terminal 4 with the plaid beret? Yeah yeah me too.
And eventually the man to my left fell asleep weighting the rest of my conversation to my right.
We talked about the city. We talked about Europe. He mentioned he liked to cook. And I told him I like to write.
“A lot of things.”
“What kind of things?”
“Are you going to write about me?”
“I don’t think so.”
He laughed. “Fair enough. The names Angelo* by the way.”
“Would you like something to drink?” the flight attendant asked as she was hovering over our delayed introductions. Proper in her heels and polished with her bun.
“I’ll take a coke please,” I recited.
“Tonic water for me,” Angelo requested.
We both took a sip of our beverages, and continued our talk.
“So what do you do in the city, Angelo?”
“I work in finance. In midtown. It was always my dream, actually. To live and work in New York City. Doing what I do. I went to one of the most prestigious schools in Europe to get to where I am. And I feel good about it.”
“As you should.”
II He paused II
Stirred his drink.
And continued >
“I live in a really nice apartment.”
“Yeah but it’s not mine. It’s my parents. I want to move out.”
“Because it’s not mine. I didn’t earn it. I didn’t work for it. Nothing in it was chosen by me or bought by me. And I don’t like that.”
“You’d give up free rent?”
“I’d give up free rent. Everyone always asks me that. And yes, I would. For my own sanity. And pride.”
“It’s hard to find a good place in New York for a decent price.”
“Yeah I know.” he said as he took another elongated sip of his drink.
And then he continued >
“You know what else is hard to find in New York? Relationships.”
“It’s a selfish city.”
There are so many people in Manhattan…And yet it feels so impersonal most of the time.
Having sex here is pretty easy. But finding love? Talking to someone? Getting to know them? Impossible. I dated a bisexual once. Weird right? She’d spend half of her nights with me and the other half with her girlfriend, Lindsay. And at first I thought “Hey this is pretty cool!” But eventually I left that behind because…well..that couldn’t possibly be the best I could do. Could it? So I kept dating around. And in the process I started to notice people more. Mostly how they would talk about others, analyze others and categorize them too. I took this girl out to dinner once. And we had a good time. But when we were sitting there I could tell she was asking me question after question so she could indefinitely label me as something at all.
She kept trying to box me.”
“Yeah. Box me. Like if someone meets me, I can very easily be labeled as “Oh that Italian guy” or “Oh that rich guy with the nice apartment” or “Oh that guy who dates bisexuals” or “Oh one of those assholes that doesn’t call girls back”
That being said.
These aren’t necessarily wrong definitions of me. But they’re definitely not the only ones.
I fall into a lot of boxes. At least I think. But for whatever reason, we have an incessant need to put people into just one.
And if that’s really the case I may as well make that box one hell of a box.
Olive, out of curiosity, what box did you put me in when you met me? Or since we’ve been talking?”
“I haven’t boxed you once since we’ve been sitting here.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I promise. No boxing.”
He finished his drink and I finished mine.
“You know what I was thinking about the other day? If I were to put myself in one box. Just one. Which one would it be? I haven’t decided yet. But. I kind of want to ask you the same question. So I will. Which category would you want to be put in? What box, I mean?”
“What if I don’t want to be boxed. What if I want to be one of those rebels who claims my citizenship in individuality?”
“Well. Then you’ve ruined the fun of the question.”
“Alright. I don’t want to be in the buzz kill box. Let me give it a go. Pick just one box to be in?”
“Just one. Think of it as a like a “If you could be known for being one thing…what would it be?”
“I’ve never been asked that before.”
“I know it’s interesting isn’t it? Most people ask you to tell you about themselves. But no one really says
Tell me one thing that might tell me most everything.
Tell me the one thing you’d want me to know.
And the best part about this boxing is…it’s your choice.”
“Hmm…well…I guess I’d want to be boxed as…as…smart?
Well I want people to think I’m smart. But. I’d rather people just notice that than be told it…Okay. Hm. Adventurous? No…Creative? Decent personality?
I thought about it long and entirely too hard. We had 4 1/2 hours left in the flight, anyway. I pushed back my gymnastics accomplishments, the kind nature I had towards my friends, the long ambitious hours in the library back in the day and the funny jokes I’d tell from time to time. And suddenly I just said to him. Partially out of panic and mostly out of realization.
“An artist…with a rare imagination.”
“An artist with a rare imagination?”
“Congratulations. You’ve just been boxed.”
We both smiled and by this time the fight attendant was back ready to offer us another drink.
Our conversation subsided for a while and pretty soon the
man on my left regained consciousness
and we began conversing about his
life travels as well.
But later on that evening when my flight touched down at La Guardia airport at 4:56 pm. I thought about the conversation I had with Angelo. And I thought about it a lot.
How it’s an interesting thought, isn’t it?
To really sit there and think about yourself in that way. To be forced to pick and choose the very best parts of yourself. And furthermore,
To ignore the job interview standard and not name 5 words that describe you!
But rather, just one.
But not any one.
The one you’re most proud of.
You’re absolute favorite.
To think about the personal legacy you want to leave behind.
And even better,
Realizing you have the capability to leave a legacy at all.
Whether you’re the cookie lady, Grace at my high school who always gave every kid one extra cookie. Just to brighten a day.
Or the quiet friend who doesn’t say much. But when you do. It’s always worthwhile. And always fantastic.
Whether you’re a comedian that puts on 3 spectacular shows a week.
Or a co-worker who always tells the best stories in the break room.
Realizing that: The way be behave, and the way we treat, and the things that we do are all apart of the boxes that we voluntarily choose to be associated with.
But if you were told to confidently stand behind just one.
To be labeled in? Boxed as? Remembered for?
Would it be the same box everyone else put you into?
Are you known the way you want to be known?
Described the way you’d want to be described?
Remembered you the way you’d want to be remembered?
Boxed the way you’d want to be boxed?
Then that’s quite fantastic.
And if not.
You should probably let the world know how awesome you really are.
They love to box anyway.
Fun fact. Angelo and I stayed friends! In fact, he participated in my very first Olive The People storytelling event. See his segment on “boxing” and dating in America below! His segment starts at 7:35.