People. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without em.

Hiya!  This is a long read.  No pix. Stop now if you want.

There once was a guy named Mick
Who sat next to me on my last trip
He talked the whole way
And I was actually okay
‘Cause I Found him to not be a drip

I met a guy named Mick on my last trip.  I know, I already said that, but this is the story part of this post.  So, as I was saying, I met a guy named Mick when I was traveling this week.  He’s from Felixstowe in Ipswich. His voice and accent are those that to my American ears, sounded like a character out of an art film set in a pub in England where some guys of a certain age gather to reminisce on times past. And, scene.

Mick was born in 1944 and he’ll celebrate his 70th birthday in December.  He has a mustang, a ’66, I think he said, and in that blue color that’s all youth and rock ‘n roll and rebel that they don’t use for cars anymore, but should. He showed me a picture of it.

Mick has prostate cancer, but told me that he wasn’t worried, because the nurse told him he’d die with it, but not of it. And then he laughed the kind of hoarsy laugh that people who’ve had a fun life do. Not quite phlegmy, but almost, you know?  He and his wife (who was probably tired and didn’t feel like chatting and therefore did not want to switch seats with me to sit by him) were traveling to visit their son, Jimmy, who’s been taking a year to go around the world. They plan to stay in the states for three weeks, so I’d encourage you to pay attention to the description and be on the lookout, because you should meet Mick, too.

Mick has two other sons from his first marriage, who live in Denmark. He’s also got two daughters, Rachel and Zoe (which is funny, because of Rachel Zoe) one of whom is a teacher, and I can’t remember what the other one does. He’s been to the U.S. four times, Australia 3 times, and Hong Kong twice.  He is hoping to see Formula 1 racing in Austin on this visit to the U.S. I told him he’d better work on the Southern Hemisphere soon, and he said he was anxious to get to Cuba because he likes to dance and knows how to samba.  Shaking his “undercarriage” was how he put it.

When he sat down next to me, Mick said, “Alright?”  I said, “Alright.” which is the correct form of English greeting as far as I can tell from BBC America.  He seemed okay with it.

Mick, I should say here, is covered in tattoos.  I don’t mean he has a lot of tattoos. I mean that it’s like a catalogue of his life written all over his body in ink.  Everywhere. Nooks? Crannies? Covered. He told me that the nurses refer to him as “The Gallery.”

Mick has the most interesting Rolling Stones logo tattooed on his earlobe, positioned in such a way that the little hoop he wears in that ear looks like it’s piercing the tongue of the logo. He’s got a tattoo of a one pound coin on his right palm, and a 50p coin on his left, non-ironically, just because it’s outright fun and funny. He’s got a tattoo of the Route-66 logo (having traversed the whole thing on one of his previous visits to the U.S. — we talked about the Billy Connolly show about it, too) on his right forearm. Mick’s got a tattoo of Bill Wyman’s face, and signature, provided later by the artist himself, on his calf. There’s a photo of that tattoo on one of Wyman’s CD covers. Mick showed it to me.

Mick was wearing a jean jacket with a poppy pin and a Route 66 patch on it, and had his long grey/white hair pulled back in a ponytail.  He also had a hearing aid and glasses that were just cool enough without being silly and/or trying too hard.

Mick once went to Germany to see the Rolling Stones play. He didn’t have a ticket, but met some cool folks in a bar there, told them why he was in town, hung out with them drinking all day, and they sorted him a ticket for the next day. He’s seen Jimi Hendrix in concert, “Two o’clock in the morning, yeah?  It was so fucking cold, man.”

He has a point of view on what’s going on in the world today.  It was hard for me to follow some of it because like a lot of people with hearing impairment, I suspect that he might sometimes be concerned that he’s speaking too loudly, and over-corrects so that I couldn’t hear him over the plane engines at times. Also, I’m not as familiar with the Labor Party in the U.K. (because I don’t live there… yet) so I’m not sure where I should fall on the love-hate continuum based on my U.S. liberal leanings. Party affiliation aside, his main thought was that the west tries to foist change on folks before we understand what’s motivating them in the first place, displacing leaders (who may, in fact, be terrible, horrible and sometimes evil), but not understanding enough about what the void will mean going forward.  Solid, Mick.

Mick loves the blues. That was the opener to our conversation, and I was all ready to roll my eyes because, seriously, every time a white person of a certain age wants to strike up a conversation, one of the most comfortable places for them to start (besides how interesting my hair is) is with music.  I already had my book out and was ready to purse my lips and read and/or pretend to sleep, but I figured, why not see where this goes? He wasn’t kidding, either. I don’t love the blues. I don’t love rock ‘n roll, the Rolling Stones or any of it — it’s outside of my taste and my generation.  I don’t hate it, but I’m not gonna collect it, you know?

Anyway, for the duration of the flight, Mick went back and forth between sharing stories about his travels and work (he was a longshoreman, so some of those stories were kind of blue, but not in a salacious/inappropriate way, and they were terrifically interesting) and stories of his experience of this music and how, though he didn’t say it explicitly, it had informed his life, his wanderlust and his hope that when he gets to heaven, he’ll get to see all the performances he missed while on earth. (That last one, he did say.)

Mick was telling his truth. He told stories of being at B.B. King’s bar in Memphis and dancing at blues clubs in Chicago, where an African-American woman told him, “You’re better than some of the brothers, man, keep it up.” And I think that being closer to the end of his natural life than the beginning, the things that moved him when he was closer to the beginning are more important than ever to him now. I can understand that because it’s happening to me, too. Never loved Al B. Sure more than I do now!

So, I’m glad I didn’t just pretend to read or sleep while I had him next to me. It’s a good bet, based on my previous experience with his demographic, that he may have wanted to talk and thought that was a way in — he was definitely less ham-handed about it than some other folks/clients I’ve met, though — but I also think he just wanted to talk about that music, that time, and the people who shared it with him, because it was a big part of his life.

Maybe Mick’s initial assessment of me was based on my gender, color and age and such that he felt I might understand his passions and be willing to listen because what I look like signaled something to him about my experience of the world. Maybe I’m giving him too much credit.  Maybe he was just like, “Oh, a black person, I’m gonna show her how cool I am.”  But, I don’t think so.  I think Mick is maybe the precursor to the allies we’re all talking about now.

Or, maybe he’s just a sweet, older guy who found something in black music and culture that made his undercarriage shimmy, who wants to keep the shimmy alive, who wants to relive a time when things weren’t, for him, as complicated. Shouldn’t I want that for him (and others) too? Is that me being mammy or me being sister?  I’m not sure.  The “benefit of the doubt” is situational.

I’m okay in the grey for now, and know that while I intended to sit on that plane hoping to be left alone, the best thing I did this week was to not do what I set out to do in that situation.  Mick said, “Alright.”  I said, “Alright.” And, it was on.  It was on for one of the coolest dudes I’ve met in a long time. If nothing else, I’ve added the word “undercarriage” to my work-a-day vocabulary.

So, Mick, wherever you, your sleepy wife, Jimmy, Rachel, Zoe and the two sons in Denmark are tonight, whatever you’re doing or dreaming, however you’re planning and prepping,I hope there’s some really, really good music that gets your undercarriage going.  In fact, I hope you shake your undercarriage like it’s your job.

And, if anyone who’s not Mick or his family or friends is around and paying attention, be on the lookout for a perfectly out there, inspirational, 70-year old, super-tattooed dude with prostate cancer who wears skinny jeans like they were made for him, will show you his nipple piercing (done at 50 years old) whether or not you ask to see it, and has the best laugh you’ve ever heard.  Bonus: tattoos to back up every story he tells you. If you see him, this Mick,  tell him Jen says ‘Hi’.  Also, buy him a lager, and sit on the stool next to him for a bit.  (I think on his left, because he seems to hear better from that side.) Shut up your shizz, turn off your angst, and just roll around in his joy. Just give him a half an hour.  It’ll be the best 30 minutes of your week.

(Also, find out his address, because the highlight of my big trip this year would include a surprise pop-up in Ipswich to take him for a pint and collect more stories.

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