Taking Pride In One's Job (At the Cleveland Airport: December 29, 2002)

Here I am in an airport again, waiting for a delayed plane to take me back home to Kansas from my trip to Ohio for the holidays, a stale Caesar salad turning sour in my midsection. I'm amusing myself by watching the hijinks outside gate B6.

Here there's a Pierre's ice cream stand. The lady who's meant to be working at this stand is not behind the counter. She's sitting in the seating area of B5. She's sitting there gabbing with her friend who's meant to be working at the deli outside B4. She's completely ignoring the people who queue up before the Pierre stand. She glances over at these would-be customers, then glances away, bored and aloof. The people stand a few moments, look around a little, then walk away slightly confused. All the lights are on around the Pierre stand, and the cash register is humming. The woman meant to be working there is obviously a free thinker and no economic pawn for The Man.

A few minutes ago, when no one was waiting for the unattainable ice cream, I watched this portly ersatz Pierre's employee stroll over to the ice cream stand, let herself in behind the counter and scoop out two dollops of butter pecan for herself in a small cup. This done, she then exited the stand once again and returned to her seat outside B5 to continue chatting about Eminem with her friend. And now, I watch as her friend does the exact same thing.

In the cold late December airport light, the ice cream stand sits bereft of employees again. People on their way to St. Louis pass by, glance a bit wistfully, and move on. For a moment they contemplate the dreamy excess of a few scoops of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and then, seeing no one standing ready to make this dream a reality, they once again pick up the threads of their painful, ice cream-less lives and trudge ahead.

The only other activity of interest outside B6 in the last hour was The Dance Of The Mountain Man With A Woody. This charming little one act ballet consisted of a large, bearded man pacing around in the magazine store between gates B5 and B7. This abstract meandering continued until the man found himself the sole customer in the shop. At once, he shot over to the far left side of the magazine stand, grabbed a pornographic magazine wrapped in cellophane and purchased the item. I imagined the violin section swelling to immense proportions at this decisive musical moment. The grandmother of twelve working behind the counter barely batted an eye as she rung up the man's stroke book. She was a true professional.

The man then crossed the concourse and entered a section of empty seats. Standing no further away from me than the distance one could throw an ice cream cone at a bathing beauty, the man proceeded to cram the magazine unopened into his canvas backpack. In his haste, he didn't take the time to fully open his bag, and so it took him a full few long, fumbling seconds to push in the magazine. He really had to jam the thing in.


Christopher Citro's poetry, forthcoming in Arts & Letters Prime, has been published recently in The Cincinnati Review, The Cortland Review, Harpur Palate, Faultline, and Permafrost. His poetry has been featured twice on Verse Daily and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He no longer has the job that kept him in airports and hotels eight months a year, and he feels good about this.

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