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Sunday to Sunday

“The Gatekeeper”

Sunday Morning 8:30 AM

Sebastian Bernard was prone to wild mood swings, and he was currently very unhappy. He was a black man who could not dance and was too fat to fly. From a career perspective being unable to dance in a convincing nor sensuous manner was not a problem, but being too fat was, because he worked for an airline. He had always fantasized about being a flight attendant since going on his first plane ride to see Grandma in Detroit when he was young man growing up in Atlanta. He knew he was gay, even at a tender age so strongly identifying with female flight attendants didn’t make him uncomfortable. He could see himself wearing the double-knit uniform, a fine-looking cap crowning his head and worn at a just-so, jaunty angle.

He began applying to the airlines right out of high school and eventually landed an interview with a major carrier. When asked what he wanted to do, he answered with one word, “fly.” The interviewer glanced at Sebastian’s already slightly rounded belly and said he would see what he could do to make that happen. He was hired and spent a year flying out the home hub of Atlanta.

Sebastian got to see Chicago, and Cleveland, Memphis and Minneapolis, the cities always framed by the windows of budget hotel room bought at bulk rates and he spent a lot of time at the breakfast buffets. His weight ballooned from a steady diet of pastries and leftover airplane meals along with lots and lots of nuts, pretzels, and chips. When it came time for his employee review it was a case of good news / bad news. Nobody had complained about him, he was always on time and his fellow employees all liked him. The problem he was getting too big to fit down the aisle of an airplane and so he was grounded.

First, he served time at the ticket counter and now this, gate keeper to all the people going the one place he could not. At times, he was a bitter, angry man but he masked it behind of a smile of courtesy and caring. He didn’t mind telling people “no” and knew the airline’s rules as well as the top view of his own stomach. But lately even this feeling of power was losing its appeal. He’d begun blaming his employer’s opinions about “people of size,” as he liked to call himself for his earth-bound plight and he began looking for ways to strike back, however small.

Promotional items that were supposed to go to loyal customers fell into his knapsack. Unused miles were occasionally transferred into his account. Pencils, ink pens, notepads that were all technically airline property started crossing the line into Sebastian Land. Today he was working on Sunday (hate it), meaning that he would be dealing with the amateurs of the travel world. Sebastian preferred the business travelers that haunted the airport during the week as opposed to the families of the weekend. The businesspeople understood the game and played it well.

The business travelers were always at the right gate, they didn’t try any cheesy ruses to get bumped into First Class and you didn’t have to hold their hand to get them onto the jetway. They were compact and self-contained, not trying to get on with luggage that was too big or hands that were overfilled with bags of food and souvenirs. They were pros and he respected that. They could be demanding about flight times, late arrivals and what have you, but why shouldn’t they? They were out here to work – just like him.

But Sundays in the summer was tourist hell and this little flight was the perfect example. A direct flight to the sunny Caribbean populated by a bunch of yahoos who just couldn’t wait to get their skinny asses on board and start the partying. But first they were going to worry him to death about where they were sitting, what time was the plane really going to leave, did they have time to get a Cinnabon, was there magazines on board or should they buy one, could they buy extra food if they wanted to, was their favorite brand of liquor going to be offered, etc. etc. ”People please,” he said in his head but his face was all smiles because deep down he was a professional, even if those SOB’s at corporate were too damn narrow minded to allow his fat black ass on one of their precious airplanes.

Sebastian sniffed at the compressed, air-conditioned air, put his papers into order and pretended to be looking at his computer screen as he spied a pair of lost souls making a beeline for him. It was an attractive dark haired white woman who had a little meat on her bones – a regular person, but she was dragging some dude that looked like a skeleton with her. He was pale and pasty but wiry and hard at the same time, dressed in black, wearing tinted glasses and looking around like he was lost, but more interested in checking everybody out then actually being found. Sebastian didn’t like the looks of him but too bad, they were on him.

“Hi, do we need to check in with you?”

“Lemme see your ticket please ma’am. You are Rachel and Leo Huntz flying non-stop to Montego Bay, yes, you’re in the right place. We’ll start boarding in about ten minutes right through this gate. If you want to have a seat, I’ll…”

“It’s T. Leo T. Huntz, the artist,” said the scary skeleton man.

“Sorry?” Said Sebastian.

“You said, Leo Huntz. There’s a ‘T’ in my name that I actively use. Could I take a look at the ticket?”

“Certainly,” said Sebastian and handed the boarding pass back to him.

“Honey,” said the woman, it doesn’t matter, we all know who you are,” she smiled at Sebastian. She too was dressed in black, her neckline plunged, and she wore a necklace made from big chunky stones. Sebastian guessed they were made of amber.

“Okay,” said Sebastian, “ya’ll are in the right place, now if you want to take a seat right over there…”

“We’re in First though, right?”

This skeleton motherfucker was about to get on his last nerve. This was who they were letting in First Class now?

“Um, let me have another look here.” He took the boarding pass back from Leo T. Skeleton Man and tapped at his keyboard. Uh-huh, just like he thought, miles-cashers. These sorry asses had cashed in a bunch of miles, in fact it looked like actually somebody else’s miles, grandma’s maybe, so they could have a big cushy ass seat and free headphones for some lame ass movie that would be on the goddamn TV next week.

“Yes sir, you are both in First Class, 3A and 3B. You’ll be boarding first right through this gate over here.”

“You already told us that.” Guess who said that? Skeletor was turning into one big pain in the ass, and he wasn’t even on the goddamn plane yet.

“Yes sir,” said Sebastian, “I was just confirming that everybody was pointed in the right direction, and if you’d like you can have a seat,”

“I know, right over here in the waiting area,” the skinny ass then snatched the boarding pass out of Sebastian’s hand and stalked away.

His wife lingered, smiled and said “I’m sorry, he’s nervous about flying.”

“Yes ma’am, I understand.”

Underneath his cool, professional, exterior Sebastian wanted to gut the Skeleton Man like a catfish. But his job was not killing passengers, his job was getting them on the plane.

More people drifted by with boarding passes in their hand, a gentle current of traveling humanity washed over Sebastian, and he felt his anger drifting away. Tinny voices warned wayward passengers about final boarding calls, and ceiling mounted TVs scattered across the terminal reviewed baseball highlights from the day before. In a few minutes Sebastian would begin his pre-board by going live and asking that anybody needing special assistance should come to front of the line and get ready to get onboard, but first two more lost sheep approaching looked like they needed his assistance.

She was a compact white lady. Sebastian believed they could make two of her out of one of him. She had a pleasant face, a half-smile already on and he could tell that she was a genuinely charming person. She was dressed in jeans, the kind you bought already distressed so you didn’t have to bother doing the dirty work yourself, a white top, two buttons opened, sweater draped over one forearm. She was wearing minimal yet tasteful jewelry, all white gold or sterling. Her other half looked smart, highly strung, and wealthy. He was trying to look casual, but Sebastian could smell the odor of money washing off him. He was dressed preppy. Boat shoes, no socks, long sleeve striped dress shirt, jeans that didn’t look right on him and of course, the blue blazer.

“Hi is this 1205 to Jamaica?” She said.

“Yes ma’am, it sure is. You going with us?” Sebastian smiled and reached for the boarding passes.

“Yes, we are.” She was emphatic, excited, anxious to get on. Sebastian loved her a lot.

“Okay let’s see, you are the Stricts and you’re in the right place and you’ll be….” He tapped the hidden computer a few times and confirmed what they all knew, “in First Class, 1A and 1B. Let me do my pre-board and we’ll get you folks on your way to Mo Bay, as dey say down der, okay?” Sebastian’s bad Jamaican accent made the nice lady smile and they moved away. Sebastian was already pretty sure anyway, but he just confirmed that the Stricts had paid for the upgrade, which they had, but they had also taken advantage of a special promotion being offered by the airline. “Smart shoppers,” he said it low so nobody could hear him and was just about to head towards Mr. Microphone when one more couple caught him in their sights.

The guy looked like a cross between the wolf man and one of those Hatfields or McCoys, a regular wild man, right here in the airport, wearing clothes just like a normal human. His wife or whatever she was looked pretty normal. Even though Sebastian was member of the Surrender Dorothy Fan Club from way back, there was an unidentified sexuality that rolled off her. She had brown hair, shoulder length that framed her pleasant face, and it was a nice enough face, certainly no Grace Kelly and the body was round in all the right places. She was dressed casually but something about her just oozed, “I am Earth Woman, come and get it.”

Sebastian laughed at himself quietly, he was suddenly feeling good again and by the time they got to the counter he was still smiling.

“Well, you’re in a good mood today.” It was her talking, and Sebastian was knocked a little bit farther out by his new best friend.

“And why not,” he said, “here I am in charge of putting all these beautiful people on board a beautiful plane, heading towards a beautiful place, why shouldn’t I be happy?” The Grizzly Adams guy was handing him the boarding passes. He was wearing jeans, a black T-shirt, and ratty looking sneakers. He could be a rock star, the President of the Hells Angels, or a low-level grease monkey. But what Sebastian felt, was a disturbing presence.

The guy laid his massive arms on top of the counter like he owned it, leaned into him a bit, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Come on man, you telling me you don’t mind working on fucking Sunday? I’d hate it if I were you. And I’ll tell you something else, I can just look at you and tell you been here a long time, not like those rookies they got down at the ticket counter. Fess up man, how long you been here?”

His voice was kind of rough, sounding like the vocal cords had been scratched up with a steady does of turpentine for breakfast. But there was something endearing about him, and scary at the same time. The kind of guy who would ask you if you wanted to knock over a liquor store and you’d say, “hell yeah.” Sebastian couldn’t figure it out, it was unbalancing.

“Oh, you’re right Mr., uh, Murphy, I have been here quite a few years and although Sunday is not my favorite day to work, I’ll get a day off in the week to make up for it. Sometimes it’s nice to be free when everybody else is at the job.”

“Yeah man, I could see that. Like if you wanted to go to the car wash or something, you go during the week when nobody’s there, huh?”

“Exactly,” said Sebastian, he noticed his fingers were shaking a little as that big hairy head hung over the counter and tried to see what he was doing.

“You have one of those hidden computers down there huh, man?”

“Exactly sir, I’m just making sure we have a seat assignment for you two…”

“Well look man, hang on a second.” And then the monster did something that no passenger is ever supposed to do. He reached across the counter and grabbed Sebastian Bernard’s forearm. Sebastian remained calm, raised his eyebrows, and looked down at the meaty paw. The hand looked like it could crush rocks. The nails were cut short, the back of palm looked like as wide as a maple-glazed bear claw. There were only fingertips touching him, and the grip was soft, but Sebastian felt Superman strength behind it. He could have screamed “heeelllllp,” or become outraged and demanded that this brute remove his hand at once but instead he played it cool and raised his head to meet the gaze of Thomas Murphy, and immediately the hand came off the arm.

“Sorry man, I didn’t mean to touch you like that, I’m a little excited about the big plane ride is all, can I just ask you something before you do that magic finger routine?”

“Certainly sir,” said Sebastian and he already knew he was in a trance because he was not doing what he normally would be doing, he was not acting like a professional gate attendant allowing passengers to touch his private body area and interfere with his pre-board procedure like this. He could pick up a phone and have this sub-human strip-searched, and possibly deported back to whatever cave he came from, but something was happening, a bond had already been sealed between the two of them and he was now completely Jedi mind-tricked into submission.

“I’m just wondering if there’s any way we could, you know, sit near the front of the plane, I get a little air sick sometimes and I was up really late last night. The front, that’s the smoother ride, right?” His eyes were so dark, almost black, the pupils opened wide, and Sebastian wondered if he was on mind-altering substance.

“Tip, we already have seats, don’t give him a hard time.” She was defending Sebastian. She of the sassy haircut, the tight clothes that dipped, curved, and curled around all that feminine stuff that left him clueless. There was something about the eyebrows in that face the way they arched up. The lips full and sexy. She was like channeling bits of Sophia Loren or something. What was her appeal? He couldn’t place it. But she was glad that Sebastian was happy. He, Sebastian, the guy nobody cared about except people making lame ass attempts to get bumped into First Class. Oh, and he had heard them all. Every sorry ass ploy ever invented and then printed into every sorry ass travel book and magazine. But she, this, this, Kate Murphy who was obviously hooked up with this beast. She didn’t want Sebastian to be bothered by her own crazy ass Mountain Dude who was now cowed by her statement.

“I’m not trying to give him a hard time man, but sometimes these gate guys, they got powers, don’t ya man?” He raised one eyebrow. “Don’t you have secret powers man, huh?” It was pure conspiracy. Sebastian felt himself sliding in. All the way in.

“Let me see what’s open,” he said, and the tip-tapping began.

Sebastian called up a column of numbers that represented all the seats on the plane. The Murphy’s were currently seated in the next to the last row of seats. Window, for him, and the dreaded center seat for her. A truly abysmal place to be for the three hour and fifteen-minute ride to Jamaica. She deserved better than a center seat, this much he knew. He glanced up at her, she was biting her lip, looking uncomfortable about receiving any attention that she hadn’t come by honestly. What a honey, he thought to himself and moved his head back down, and once again locked eyes with the beast that hung from his counter like a gargoyle in one of those scary movies. “Come on man, I know you got something in there.” Now the guy was like a coach or something.

As he tapped away Sebastian could see himself and Thomas Murphy in hopped-up sedan on the funky side of a big city. Neon lights were reflected in the windshield. His best bud Thomas, no, “Tip,” that’s what she called him. Tip, the guy Sebastian met in the Reform School for Wayward Boys was egging him on, into the liquor store. They both had black ski masks on, they had matching tattoos. He was a bad ass. They were both bad-ass brothers, a salt and pepper stick-up team that after getting the money and a bottle of Canadian Club they would go back to the hideout and drink whiskey out of the bottle until…

There was nothing coming up in his columns of numbers. The plane was totally booked, over booked in fact. He might have to ask for volunteers to even get the thing off the ground. The Murphy’s were shit out of luck.

“I’m not seeing…” he glanced up to check the time he had left to pre-board and a cadre of flight attendants walking by caught his eye. They were young, good looking, medium height, medium build, some even on the skinny side. God, how he hated them and wanted to be them, flying around the country, walking through the terminal in his spiffy uniform. But no. He was here on a Sunday dealing with too many people and not enough good seats, because why?

There were two seats in First Class still open, but this was absolutely forbidden. The Murphys were not frequent fliers, they did not belong to any clubs or participate in any special promotions, in the world of upper echelon travel, they did not exist. At the gate he couldn’t take any money from them so they could not even buy their way into those seats if they had the cash, which by the looks of them, they did not.

The big dude was grungy and scary, the Missus looked exotic, and he knew that she was really a princess held captive in a trailer park. He could be fired if caught, but chances are he wouldn’t be unless they raised a ruckus, and somebody wanted to know how they got up there in the first place. He looked at the vulture hanging its shadow on him on a Sunday morning.

“Nothing, huh man? Hey, don’t worry about it bro, you tried, and I appreciate that.” Now the paw was coming back across the counter, the palm open, the thumb up. He wanted to shake hands. This was way out of bounds. And Sebastian could tell from the hand position that he didn’t want a typical handshake. He wanted the hippie/biker/brother shake, where the thumbs pop up and flip over. Oh, the hell with it. Sebastian gave him a shake, looked into those black eyes, and those regal arching eyebrows on her and saw something. Call it, “whimsy.”

“Tell you what, I do have two in the front, but you, big fella, you got to promise to behave otherwise I could get in big trouble.” Their hands were still clasped and now Sebastian was pointing at him with an index finger sticking out of the intertwined hands.

“On my life, my friend, I will not let you down.”

“Excellent,” said Sebastian. He got his hand back, pushed the “Enter” key and out popped two First Class tickets. “You’ll be in 4A and 4B.” That would put them directly behind the skeleton dude and chunky jewelry lady. Sebastian smiled to himself at what he had wrought - a prospective nightmare with whoever was stuck waiting on this group from here to the Caribbean, but that was their problem now, the plight of the skinny ass flight attendants, whoever they may be.

The paw was back on top of the counter, now rather than affecting a “nice try” angle it had morphed into “deep thanks.”

“Hey man, I really appreciate it. You didn’t have to do that, and I appreciate it. You ever need anything you call me. You got me in that computer, right? I’m serious.” They were shaking hands again, the second time in less than thirty seconds. Sebastian wondered about what germs the beast might be carrying but he let it go. If there wasn’t a counter between them, they might be hugging at this point.

“That’s all right Mr. Murphy, you just remember what I told you.”

“You have my word, my friend, on my mother’s eyes.”

They finally left his space, the exotic one mouthed a silent “thank you” and pulled the animal towards the gate. Finally, he could begin his pre-board and find out for sure if he had enough seats. Sebastian felt the normalcy and tedium of moving people from one place to another settle on top of the Gate C16 and the comfort of routine took over. But he also knew that the excitement and anxiety housed inside the travelers would step right onto the plane with them. “Godspeed,” he said, when the gate finally closed and then walked briskly to the men’s room.

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