The Irishman's Teeth

By David Kessler

In This Installment: Starting a journal.  The Irishman's teeth.

The entire collection of stories from my summer 2000 trip to Scotland would make this a very long letter (though a fun one to write).  I sometimes keep a travel journal on trips that I expect will be more adventurous than not, but for some reason had decided not to on this trip.  Whimsical fate noted this decision and set odd people and occurrences in my path from the word go.  I ended up scribbling notes in my memo pad, and finally buying a small essay book in the Hebrides; I brought it up to the counter and explained that I wasn't going to steal it, but wanted to make certain it fit in my raincoat pocket before buying it.  The 6.25" x 7.75" book barely make it in, and I smiled and said, "I'll take it!"  The girl behind the counter was amused.

As I mentioned, the stories began immediately, before I even left Boston's Logan airport for Heathrow.  I'll skip the minor ones from Logan airport and skip forward all of 4 hours.  About half way through the flight from Boston, perhaps a little farther along, I was standing near the plane's galley, enjoying being able to stand up straight there.  An elderly and rather gaunt man with short, white hair walked over and approached me, despite there being 2 British Airways employees standing nearby in uniform.  He opened his mouth to speak, paused as if trying to decide how to say it, and then leaned very close looking like he was going to impart some deeply embarrassing secret.

"I fell asleep." he said, in an odd accent.  He said it so seriously, in fact, that I wondered what significance I was missing, because it MUST have some.  He leaned close again, and explained that, while asleep, his teeth had fallen out (this explained the odd "accent") and now he needed me to root around his seat for them, he being too frail and his eyesight being poor in the low light.  He insisted that I be discreet, but the crew only had emergency flashlights that would have illuminated half the cabin!  I pulled out my own bag, found my small flashlight, and went to work - as discreetly as I could, considering that he was hovering over me as I crawled around and under his seat, rummaging through the odd collection of blankets, spoons, safety cards, and other debris that settles to the floor on long plane flights.  I did not find the teeth, but at the end of the flight, he had them back in his mouth, so I suspect they had fallen off into one of his pockets, or else he pulled them out and put them in his jacket while asleep.  In any event, he smiled broadly at me as the plane was pulling into the terminal and said he wanted to buy me breakfast.  I had 2 hours before my connector to Glasgow, and he had 3 before his to Belfast so I said, sure.

Making progress through an airport is very interesting when your companion can't walk long distances.  Much of the time you make no progress at all, waiting for a cart, a wheelchair, or whatever special transport the airline will provide at each stage.  The rest of the time is spent being ushered to the very front of whatever line you should have been in back of because you had to wait so long for the special transportation.  Between these spurts of royal treatment we sat, watched the airport pass us by (Yes, Mr. Kessler, we do have a wheelchair on the way, it shouldn't take more than another 5 minutes - Hah!), and talked.

We talked about how Celtic history has been tempered by centuries of losses ("If you're Irish or Scottish and you fail, you'll be remembered for a thousand years..."), SW Ireland ("good walking there, and you won't have to pay a cent; Just find a pub and start playing [music]"), Joining the Navy in WWII (me: "So you signed up for war?"  him: "No, you didn't need to volunteer, they came and took you!"), and a variety of other topics.  We talked a long time, and one wait for a wheel chair took so long, that by the time we were ushered through passport control I had to run for my next plane.  I arrived in time, but late enough for the man at the gate to say "Ah, Mr. Kessler!" without having to look at my ticket.

I never did get that breakfast.

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