Weather or Not
On the plane, I look up at the wrong time and he sees my face.
He drops a shoulder into the sluggish passengers ahead of him, those hoisting luggage and those schmoozing with new acquaintances, moving them aside with a grin. Mostly nobody notices but a few, little old women and men who plant themselves in front of the news every night, a few of these recognize him, at least enough to turn to one another and speak. Even here, in Reno.
Weatherman Mark Malone, and if I don’t already know, here he comes to rectify that.
He was watching me when I boarded, and I can always tell. Every time I looked over he flicked his eyes away and pretended to be interested in anything else - his shoelace, a smudge on his finger, the back of a paperback he’d just bought at the Hudson News. Then he would lean forward and put his head into his hands and smile. His lips moved with self talk, and I can almost hear the words - she’s mine, she’s mine if I do this right.
The open seating policy on this airline means I could choose whichever seat and so I took the window in the last row. I buckled in and opened SkyMall. A minute or so later is when I look up.
He’s dropping his big butt into the seat beside me (what about the aisle seat I want to know) and he’s all teeth. Then his big hand is doing things above him, manipulating his night bag in the overhead storage bin from the oddest angle. When he breathes it sounds like the seams in his stuffed-animal body are about to tear. He’s talking to himself again, only it’s not to himself anymore I realize, not now that he’s here with me, “Twenty-eight years in the business and they treat me like this,” is not some mantra, it’s an invitation for me to care. It doesn’t work, but guys like Malone don’t give up. He’s a weather man.
”That’s what you get for being the weather man at a major news network,” he says, and now I’m supposed to turn and relax my face, let my jaw go slack to let him know that I’m desperate enough to care about his minor achievements in what a pretty girl like me might consider “show business,” but all I do is turn the page. Hello Slanket for 37.99, you look warm and tacky and here he goes again -
”I tell you,” he says, turning to me, “Don’t ever go into meteorology.”
”I’ll try to avoid it,” I say. And the damage is done. The ice is broken. A big stuffed animal hand makes its way toward my left breast, and I have to intercept it and endure the shake.
He raises an eyebrow. I turn back to SkyMall.
”Listen,” he says, groping for a name I haven’t given him. “Listen...would you like to know a secret?”
I really wouldn’t. I’m about to say this - I’ve had enough of Mark Malone already, he was at least odorless on screen - but he doesn’t wait.
”Most weather men. Aren’t built for the job. They’re handsome and they know how to read a teleprompter. There aren’t any real naturals left in the business. Weather men.” He pauses, perhaps for effect, because I’ve got a feeling he’s practiced. “I go outside in the morning and do you know what I see?” He waits again.
”The future. Not a blue sky or a cloudy one, not wind blowing leaves off trees or frost on grass - I see tomorrow. I’m never wrong. Twenty-eight years and I’ve never been wrong.” I want so badly to goad him, to ask him if the foresight only happens in the mornings, or if he knows where this interaction isn’t going to lead. Instead:
”What did you see this morning?”
He licks his lips and his eyes bulge at the chance to come up with something sensational, something I’ll believe but won’t expect.
”Tornados. More of them than this part of the country has ever seen. Wipe out whole towns. Cities! That’s why I’m on my way out. You’re just lucky to be along for the ride, aren’t you? What are you going out to California for? Acting? A pretty girl like you could do well for herself with the right connections, and believe me, I have connections.”
Milk that undersized sprinkle of glitz and glam - connections.
”Not acting, but it’s an in-front-of-the-camera sort of thing.”
”Oh? What kind? Do I want to know?” He winks at me. Until now I’ve been planning on keeping my mouth shut, but something in me finds a knob and twists it. The knob is Mark Malone.
”I’m actually being moved to San Francisco by Channel 7.”
Malone’s eyes widen. “You’ll be working for - with me, then! Are you a field reporter, or...”
”I’m the new weather man.”
The plane lifts into the air.