The Man with a Plan

I’m not a big talker on flights. I’m big on staring out the window and taking in the changing landscape, thinking, looking for landmarks and wondering where I’ll go on my next trip.

But I had an aisle seat yesterday, so daydreaming with a good view wasn’t in the cards.

The man I was sitting next to had papers everywhere; they overwhelmed his tray table. Some notes were scribbled on yellow lined paper, while diagrams were relegated to white paper torn from a small, freebie tablet — like the kind you’d find in your mailbox from a local realtor, or from a charity hoping for a donation.

“Are you headed out for business or pleasure?” he asked.

“Business,” I replied. We made small talk, and he ended up explaining his mini mountain of paper.

“I’m building a chicken cage for my daughter,” he said. “She looked them up online and they were about $700 to buy, so I told her I’d make it myself. I’m flying up for the weekend to build it.”

My brain started to hurt from listening to him explain the measurements, but it wasn’t personal — most things that include numbers inspire headaches of substantial size to pay me a visit. I decided to flip through a magazine to clear my head of numbers. And chickens.

“Look down there,” he said. “We’re over Santa Barbara. See that point? That’s near the first place I kissed my college sweetheart. She’s my wife now.”

He told me that they were overlooking the water, a point which had since lost its battle with the ocean after years of erosion.

“The mountains nearby were so beautiful,” he said. “And so was she. There was a harvest moon that came up right over the top of that ridge and it shimmered on the water. I knew the moment we kissed that I was going to marry her. It was terribly, terribly romantic.”

He was maybe 70 or so; years of sun had left his face blotchy, but you could tell he’d enjoyed his time outdoors. His hair was white, his hands had all the hallmarks of a hard-working man who liked to build things, and he still had a sparkle in his eye. He was lost in thought for about a minute.

“I’m going to tell you something,” he said. “And always remember this: men are like those ice cube trays — you know, like the ones that are plastic or metal…the ones you fill with water to make ice cubes. Men work in compartments. Women are like spaghetti.”

I paused to consider this label: I’m a noodle?

“What I mean,” he continued, “is that men focus on one thing at a time, for the most part. Women are like strands of pasta. Their thoughts are all intertwined. What should I make for dinner, will that give me enough time to take the kids here or there, and will it be ready by the time my husband gets home?”

I understood what he was saying, despite the fact that I am without hubs or offspring.

“They’re fairly simple, men are. Sure, they think about sex a lot, but just know that whatever they’re thinking about — sex, money, work, sex — they usually think about one thing at a time. My wife and I had one plan when we married, and it was to be happy. She figured out the compartment thing early on, and I think it’s why we’ve been together all these years.”

I wasn’t super keen on discussing the finer points of sexy-think with my 70-something row mate, so I nodded, agreed and returned to my magazine.

Reading between the lines, I suspected that there was a lot he wasn’t saying about the need for clear communication when you’re with someone. It takes knowing how to communicate for your communication to be understood and not just heard, and his plan going into their marriage was to know how his wife was wired; he wanted their interaction to be positive so it would help preserve their union.

I wondered if he’d always been a planner, or if it was something he learned only after stumbling along the way. It didn’t really matter, though, as my bigger takeaway was how charming he’d been in his sharing of advice. Chicken cage or marital plan of action, the man was charting courses and making them happen.

And because he reminded me of the need for a little more planning in my own life, today I am thankful for the amusing advice from a perfect stranger. I don’t doubt his weekend project will be exact and flawless when it’s completed.

All thanks to planning.

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