Anyway, I had a lay over in Los Angeles and on my Los Angeles - Portland flight I ended up seated next to a stocky, shave-headed young guy dressed in a blue checked shirt and khakis who started up a conversation as soon as I sat down.
He asked me, in a more serious tone than one is accustomed to being asked by a stranger on a plane, how I was doing today.
I gave him the stock standard response/follow-up that I was fine, thanks, how was he?
The words poured out of him. He'd missed his early morning flight to Portland for a job interview because he'd had to take his 11-year son to the doctor with a fever, sore throat and ear ache, and now he was worried that it would be held against him that he'd be showing up half a day late for his interview. Man, he just couldn't believe it.
I asked him if he'd called and told his interviewer his situation. He had. And how, I asked him, did his interviewer respond?
"Eh, it didn't seem to bother him," the man said, a slight nervous quiver to his voice, "he said to just catch the next flight out. But I don't know how this will affect their decision to hire me."
I told the man that of course it shouldn't affect their decision, that the people involved in the interview process probably had children of their own and so they would understand. After all, he couldn't leave his sick son. I asked him about the job he was interviewing for.
"Regional sales," he said. He had deep brown eyes which he kept focused on me while he spoke with sincere intensity, telling me that he was 36 years old, that he'd been in sales since he was 18, had started selling Kirby vacuum cleaners and had sold a lot of different things since: car parts, food service supplies, construction equipment, janitorial supplies. But this job that he was interviewing for today, this was going to be his big break, his chance to really make it. There would be potential for him to move up in this company.
I asked him what this job would involve selling.
"Steel ball bearings," he said.
I asked him if he knew a lot about steel ball bearings.
"Nah. If they want me they'll teach me what I need to know. Then I'll go out and sell it."
He told me that he loved being in sales. His eyes lit up as he told me that, since he worked on commission, he woke up every day feeling like the sky's the limit. He spoke with such enthusiasm and made a career in sales sound so appealing that as he spoke I could almost see myself hopping out of bed every morning to go out and sell ball bearings or janitorial supplies.
In fact he reminded me a little of my son-in-law Justin. (But of course not as handsome!).
He told me that after high school he'd had no desire to hit any more books. He wanted to go out and get started. I expect he meant get started on life.
And today was his big chance. But he feared he might have already blown it.
I told him again that anybody with children would understand that he had to take care of his sick son first. It's what anybody would do.
He then talked about his son, his only child, what a good kid the boy was, a great kid. He didn't like sports, but that was okay by his father, he didn't have to like sports.
I agreed and shared my opinion that in this country children are pushed to do too much sports too soon to the point where they're doing damage to their young bodies and sometimes their young minds.
Seeing that he didn't need to be on the defensive about his son's indifference to sports, he talked with pride about what a good student his son was, he was in 6th grade now, how much he loved to read, how all the boy ever wanted to do was read. Then his expression turned serious. He looked away from me and said softly, "Man, I hope I get this job."
I, too, sincerely hope that he got the job. Because I liked him. And I liked his book-reading, unathletic son whom I never met and for whose sake this man obviously so badly wanted this job; and because of whom he now feared he might not get it.