Wherever He Laid His Hat

by Mark Riding

"So you see I was just goofing around with the melody see. He was playing lead guitar but we didn't have no singer you know, and if you don't have a singer somebody's really gotta stick the melody on that song or the whole thing just falls apart. So I was just dancing all around with some high harmonies while he drove the bus not missing no stops on the melody. He was playing an acoustic; you know, real whiny twang mixed in. It got to be a smokin' little session." Harmon Elliott was talking to his manager on his cell phone as he diddy bopped from the town car and into the airport. He was very much at ease, his regular cool self. After all, airports weren't so different from the nightclubs and ballrooms where he spent most nights-lots of people of varying levels of significance, all on their own agenda and trying to get somewhere.

"So yeah I'm on my way to Island Grooves now. Huh? No way not the kid, I'm not looking for no melanomas, I'll do what I do best during daylight hours, find the darkest place possible place and sleep. Unless, of course, I run up in a little somethin' then I may be too busy gettin' busy to sleepAww don't act like that kitten, I'm just a man Oh, sorry, I know Miss Terri, not baby, not kitten, just TerriSo Just Terri why don't you come on down? I need a good woman to save me from myself." Harmon knew that wasn't happening but he was just old school enough to know that a woman friend was just a "broad you haven't slept with yet." He finished up with his manager and popped into the john check himself in the mirror and take a leak before he went to check-in and wait in the long security line.

About an hour, two Dewar's in the Platinum Dividends Lounge, and a short walk later he popped the latch on the overhead bin and shoved in his Pullman. Then he settled into his seat on the still mostly empty plane. He settled with the in-flight magazine planning to bore himself to sleep before the plane even took off. Three pages into a story about the Dominican tourist trade a young female flight attendant popped out of the lavatory just in front of him and began straightening magazines in the rack. He only glanced over, but at a double take he peeped a multicolored floral print bra cup through a gap in her blouse. This stolen peek amused and aroused him. She smile-nodded at him then walked away, but came back just a few minutes later so he could get another peep at her unmentionables through the still unbuttoned opening.

He soon found himself very tickled and nostalgic. He'd had a major thing for flight attendants since his virgin voyage to Buffalo in 1973. He closed his eyes and summoned up the Aquaneted brunette stewardess, with sky-frosted eye shadow, leaning in to pin the wings on his little blue dress-up blazer from Sears. When she leaned in, he stole a peek at her pink bra strap, and experienced the first of many in-flight fantasies.

He finally bedded a young attendant some eleven years later on a spring break trip to Galveston; it didn't go well at all. He was too drunk to stay hard and she was too drunk to stay conscious. He's since avoided tainting the sanctity of his first crush by bedding another. But now this woman had awakened his preteen yearnings. He paid schoolboy attention to how she crisscrossed her arms in the straps of the seat cushion flotation device, and how she pulled the cord on the inflatable life vest. As she spoke he soaked in her slim figure, neat fingernails, and unfussy tendrils at the nape of her neck. Each time she scanned the passengers during her safety speech he was sure to give her full eye contact, and lick his lips. "before we leave out. Ert-take off." Did she just say "leave out"? He'd never heard a flight attendant flub up on the pre-flight emergency speech. Damn, he had her shook! His shit was definitely working. A little mile high head in the lavatory maybe? Nah, he wanted to respect this young tender. "What about this decent little piece of something?" he involuntarily whispered.

Harmon's little honey obviously got wrapped up in her duties once airborne because he didn't see much of her after take off. He figured she had a lot of passengers to serve in another section of the plane anyway. He had a long flight to play his hand there was no real sense of urgency. He re-opened the in-flight magazine and read himself into slumber.

"Honey I'm going to the co-op to pick up some feed and some garden lime, anything else you think we need?" he yelled out from the kitchen door. "Well I really need a Coke-a-Cola, and some Chili-cheese Fritos, a Big Grab?" she called back her smile singing through. He shook his head knowingly and started whistling. "Let's ride Luke." The fattened, yellowish Lab-mutt shimmied from under the back porch and directly to his best friend's left heel. Harmon jingled his keys in rumba rhythm as they made their way to the brand new deep red, mud splattered, GMC pick-up. He slid a CD in the player; Sessions: Harmon E. with Jamie Cullum was handwritten on the label. As the music filled the cab of "Clifford the big red dog," dense white dust smoked from the truck tires grinding the rocks on his unpaved driveway. The rumbling and grinding noise would have been deafening but it was obscured by smooth crooning and banged on piano keys. When he turned from the drive to the paved cross street, the noise level smoothed out and he had to adjust the volume on his music. "Luke, man, we got to hurry up, looks like it might rain and those spoiled yard birds won't eat in the rain." Luke raised his head, looked over, and then nodded back down as if to say, "Yup. You're right about that." Although characteristically, the stout porch dog was in no hurry to do anything at all.

The thunder storm ambushed them halfway home from the co-op. Rain pounded the cab of his truck by the bucketful rendering the wipers invalid. He leaned toward the windshield but could only make out the deformed red outline of Clifford's hood. His heart was pounding in his throat; he wanted to pull over but knew the I-5 had a soft shoulder. Without any thunder warning, lightning flash ripped the sky a foot or two in front of the truck. Harmon slammed the brakes but only hurled the truck ahead. The roof of the cab suddenly ripped open, and water rushed Harmon and Luke out of their seats like dead leaves off the back porch... Harmon was yanked into consciousness thrashing and flailing his arms fitfully. His life vest was fully puffed up around his neck, which left him much like a turtle on its back desperately trying to right himself. He panicked, more flailing and thrashing. He screamed but gagged on a mouthful of the water he was splattering. He panicked again choking and gasping and pulling at the neck of his life jacket. He flutter-blinked hard and rubbed at his eyes, he couldn't focus, and the sunlight was searing into his wide pupils. He kept squinting and shaking his head violently, and now kicking his feet as if running. He started to focus. He looked around but his contacts had been flushed out so his sight went no further than an arms length. He kept taking deep breaths and settled himself into floating. He began collecting his head. First, he should take off his heavy shoes. He gawkily tried to reach back and pull off his right boot with his right hand, but that forced him to roll awkwardly in the water. He froze and his breath quickened with the beginnings of panic. "Be coolbe cool" he panted reassurance. All he could hear was his own breathing echoing off the water and his heartbeat drumming like bad tango-too hard and too fast with skittered syncopation. He started crying, not chest heaving sobs, but the tears uncontrollably streamed down his face into the pale blue seawater. "Just hang on, man you can do this be coolKick your legsdon't look like a seal and the sharks won't want yoube coolkeep your damn head."

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