My plane floats down onto the Charleston runway, light and feathery. Aviators rate their landings and I make a note to tell our captain when I disembark. The man seated next to me gets up, breathing with a rasp. I had sirred him earlier, except he was not a sir. He had given me a little puff of attitude. Like he was doing me a favor by chatting.
As for the sirs, I can’t help myself. I do it to many when in civilian clothes. The janitor who takes out my office garbage gets a sir. But he earned his. He had glanced once at my khaki and called me Lieutenant with great pride. I could tell it was not his first time addressing someone by rank. He was Filipino and probably once part of the Flipino mafia of storekeepers and CSs, or whatever they called CSs back in the day.
He had pulled the Lieutenant out in long slablyes. Looo-tennnnn-annnnt, as if dragging a bunt down the third base line. Like that jerk Brett Butler used to do when he played for San Francisco. Before he joined the Dodgers and became one of my favorite players.
What I shoulda told the man seated next to me on the plane: addressing someone by sir is more respectful than addressing them by rank, despite what some idiot politician thinks. Addressing by rank acknowledges the playing field, but it also makes note that both of us are players. As for sir and ma’am, it is deferential, ask any enlisted Sailor. I chose to call the janitor sir. It gladdened us both.
I pass the cockpit and holler inside. “Great job, guys,” I say.
“Thanks,” two voices reply. I wonder if the pilots know I am referring to the landing, but it doesn’t matter now, does it?
I get my bag at baggage claim and wait as the rental-car lady rattles on over the phone. It gives me time to plan my tactics. I am tall, like six-four tall, and the little compact the government lets me rent isn’t big enough. I’ve traveled ten times in the last year and at half of the places, I’d dropped my stats (height) and my job (Navy) and they had upgraded me. But the lady is having none it. She hardly makes eye contact. I still call her dear and accept the lousy compact without argument. No way she was getting one of my extra special ma’ams.
Outside, I walk through the fick Carolina night. Fick like only Charleston is. I drive to my hotel. There, I update my blog for hours, wondering where I am going to get the 28K in new hits to meet the 50,000 goal I had set for my first month. If not 50K, what am I going to do with the article I had written for newbie bloggers: 50 Ways to Getcho’ 50K?
In the morning, my back is sore from the flight and the powdered eggs have no taste. I am in uniform and happy, as I had finally gotten my ribbons mounted with thin ones. I guess I’ll have to throw out the greasy rack I was using before, the one with crooked devices, the E hanging off my pistol ribbon like anyone on the Titanic.
I finish my eggs and read the paper. I don’t give it much thought. For one, I am a blogger and bloggers slew the newspapers, right? The whole damn industry is laid tits up, they just don’t know it yet. . .
Work is work and I drive to it and taste my second real blast of military politics. This blog is no place to vent, but I am a Lieutenant, what do I care about politics? I wonder what kind of Commander I will make, whether I will make Lieutenant Commander. My first foray into command politic had been a bloody affair. An affair not for a blog post. . .
After a day of working on Navy equipment issues, I step outside and gasp. This city has air that you wear and it always fits. Around your neck, behind your ears, sliding between your toes.
I leave the workday behind me and cruise across the base in my piece of junk. I sit either the right distance from the steering wheel or the correct distance to the pedals. But not both. Some Korean engineer is laughing heartily at me. It’s mutual, I laugh heartily at me too.
I pull into a Quiznos and once again Charleston embraces me in its heat. S’nothing like California. Somewhere, someone forgot to add weather to Cali. Whenever I step outside in that place, it’s the same: room temperature.
I catch my refection staring at me in the window. My hair is well within regs, but at two inches, is shaggy for me. A barber shop looms and I look forward, not to the haircut, but to the conversation. I can speak to anyone, anywhere. But only if it has purpose. Like a taxi driver or a barber. Don’t ask me, it just seems to work out that way.
The bells above announce my arrival and I stare around the shop. Everyone is black and I like it. One guy teeters at my uniform and I boom out to the one open-seated barber. “You have an free chair?” The barber nods.
“Mmm, you look sharp,” a large woman with a tattoo running across her dark chest murmurs to me. “Navy.”
“Thanks,” I reply, clunking into the chair and turning to the barber. “Hey sir, high and tight, three on top, skin fade.”
“We can do that,” he says approvingly.
We chat, first about sports. His brother-in-law is an NFL tailback. “He always eats good, but if he slips up, he’ll pop one of them Smooth Moves to get it out.”
I nod. “This your own shop?”
“Yeah, me and them.” He throws his chin at a couple of busy barbers.
“How are taxes?”
He gives me a don’t get me started, Shipmate look. You know, rolled eyes, flared nostrils. “High.”
I want to tell him that the black community’s support for Obama is misplaced. That there are black businessmen, like Herman Cain, who are far more appropriate for him to back. Or Allen West, not that I know the barber’s politics. But I am in uniform and the man is running a pair of clippers two inches from my eyes.
He spends forty-five minutes on my hair. The main reason I know: one-and-a-half episodes of “I Hate Chris” blares in front of us.
He holds up a mirror and surprises me. A rake with my face grins back. He has manscaped my upper sideburns. I am a Sailor, not a golf course, I want to tell him, but I stay mute. I look again and like it, knowing it will keep the Charleston sweat off me.
He sprays and then lathers on four or five products. Pomades, gels, spritzes, and alcohols. “Twenty dollars,” he says and I wonder if I’m getting rolled the white-guy price. Still, it’s a great haircut. I give him 25.
I leave, buy dinner at Quiznos, and slip through the cooler Charleston night. It no longer embraces me in its sweaty clamp.
I pull into my hotel parking lot, my hair higher, tighter. In front of me an orange plate shines back from a truck’s license plate holder. It reads: EAT BEEF. I nod my manscaped head. Eat beef, I can do that.