Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fight and flight: Playing war in the skies with a true ace


By Dashiell Young-Saver
I was performing my usual preflight routine of folding the lower half of my toothpick body into the seat pocket in front of me when a boy appeared in the aisle, staring.
Under his curly head of hair was a timid face and a lip that quivered slightly on the right. He looked about 13 years old. Our eyes met for a brief second.
Many say that the eyes are the window to the soul. I think that’s a bunch of baloney, but at that moment, I could see that he was unmistakably nervous.

He quickly lowered his head and steamrolled over my chicken legs to the window seat next to mine.
He stared out at the tarmac at Burbank airport, not daring to turn his head to face me. To be fair, an airport terminal is much more attractive than my face.
When we were airborne, I made an eloquent attempt at small talk:
“What’s up?”
He turned, gave a fake smile and returned to his previous posture. I guess he takes the idea of “small talk” literally. At his age, I would have done exactly the same thing.
I tried again. “I’m Dash.”
He turned. “My name’s Mark.”
“What grade are you in?”
“Are you flying alone?”
I thought I found the reason for the timid face that now grudgingly stared at me.
“Is this your first time flying alone?”
“Nope. It’s my fourth.”
“Huh.” Most kids his age haven’t flown four times total, let alone four times alone.
The flight attendant came by and interrupted our deep conversation.
“You want something to drink, honey?”
Mark declined the offer, repeating “no thanks” over and over. That, too, reminded me of myself at his age.
Seeing that my interview skills were having no effect, I tried a different tactic.
“Wanna play some cards?”
“Sure,” he said.
We decided to play war, a game of skill. I shuffled, and the battle commenced. Silently, we fought each other. His ace of hearts took my jack of clubs. I made a bad joke about how the aces were the worst cards in the deck and how he should give me his.
Finally, he opened up. The timid face disappeared. A smile replaced it.
He said he was from Calabasas.
His jack of clubs took my seven of diamonds.
He talked a lot about playing football in the Westlake Braves Youth League. I told him that I went to Westlake High School, and we shared memories of the football field.
My three of clubs took his two of clubs.
He talked about his school and his teachers.
His ace of hearts won again, taking my nine of spades. His game was centered around that ace. I couldn’t take it away.
He talked about his pets.
My five of diamonds took his two of hearts.
I decided to ask another harmless question.
“Why are you heading to Denver?”
“To see my mom.”
His ace of hearts took my four of clubs.
“Oh, does she live in Denver?”
“Yeah, but I live with my dad most of the year in L.A.”
My king of spades took his 10 of diamonds.
“How long has it been since you’ve seen her?”
“Six months.” The words burned his lips. The timid face came back again. He looked down at the cards, and we continued playing.
My queen of spades took his nine of hearts.
“You must be happy to see her then.”
“Yeah.” One half of that “yeah” said yes, the other half said no.
I quickly went back to talking about football and decided not to pry any further.
Although Mark was alone on the plane, he is not alone in our culture. According to the Los Angeles Superior Court, 98,600 dissolution, nullity and legal separation cases were filed in Los Angeles County during the last fiscal year—to put that in perspective, there were only 53,705 marriage licenses filed in the same time period.
In addition, the Ventura Superior Court reported that about 54 percent of its 11,191 divorce cases filed since 2009 have involved a minor like Mark.
We played for a while longer. His hand started to wear down. I couldn’t get his ace of hearts though, and it was annoyingly keeping him in the game.
Then my mom appeared from a few aisles back.
“Hi, sweetie. Are you okay?”
“Yes, Mom.” My face reddened.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeesss . . .”
“All right. Have fun with your new friend.”
She walked away.
“I think she will treat me like I’m 2 years old when I’m 20,” I said to Mark.
Mark could see my embarrassment. He gave a chuckle and a knowing smile. I chuckled back.
Six years younger than me, Mark was more independent. At his age, I was just as shy and timid, but I wasn’t nearly as strong.
I guess, with his parents separated, he didn’t have a choice.
I had taken his final queen and king. He was down to a few number cards and his ace of hearts. But by the time the plane landed, with the deck literally stacked against him, Mark was still in the game. The ace held out.
His strong card, with only a single heart, fought it all and stalemated.
It seemed appropriate.
Dashiell Young-Saver recently graduated as a valedictorian from Westlake High School. He will attend Harvard University in the fall. His column, “A Dash of Youth,” will appear biweekly this summer in the Acorn.


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