Connections and Conversations

Her eyes matched the warmth in her smile when she greeted me going down the airplane aisle to my seat. Her hair was striking silver in a shoulder-length bob cut and she reminded me of a glamorous movie star from the 60’s. In my mind I wrestled with calling her “Zsa Zsa,” or something less Hollywood like “Sally.”

Monica Vitta, born in Rome in 1931, best known for her roles in Michelangelo Antonioni films in the 1960's

Her co-worker with a crooked, pained smile looked stiff like an uncooked spaghetti noodle. I smiled at her anyway, a penny in a wishing well that never heard the splash of water. I buckled up, took out my headset, put it away because I’d forgotten to charge it, and settled in for an hour-plus of reading a book on leadership — something to wipe out the really bad taste from Stephen King and Peter Straub’s “Black House,” which I’d now read twice and now hated twice as much.

Drinks and snacks came and went and we were probably over Palm Springs when “Sally” came down the aisle and stopped next to me. She was looking at the book title, so I handed it to her, and she read the cover, the back, and thumbed through the pages. Her lips curved into a suppressed smile and then she surprised me by kneeling down next to me. She looked forward and back to make sure she wasn’t blocking anyone’s way, then asked if I always marked up books and made notes when I read them, and I said not always, but it helps me remember where something was on a page. “Photographic memory?” I said, “More like Disney on acid” and she laughed.

A Leadership Kick in the Ass by Bill Treasurer

She said “I have to be careful and not assume, but you might be too young to remember Charles Manson.” I said I knew of him but didn’t know him personally and she pushed my shoulder slightly. “No dear, I’m talking about the time of the trials,” to which I said no, I didn’t remember, and she gave me that “see, I knew you were too young” look, but kept talking quickly, sometimes looking forward and back down the aisle.

“Well once upon a time I was in an interview when I was asked what my leadership style was like. I said that I get my employees to love me and worship me so much that they’d do anything, anything, for me.”

Supposedly from some spiritual text.

I started chuckling and she was grinning from ear to ear. “Oh, I didn’t get the job. Thank God!”

She handed my book back and stood up. “People with no sense of humor are very sad people.”

I said, “Like your co-worker.” She burst out laughing, nodded, and patted my shoulder.

I read until the plane touched down in Oakland. She stood by the captain at the exit and she said, “Now don’t you go telling anyone my story!”

I said, “Not anyone. Everyone.”

She laughed and squeezed my arm and we waved at each other.