Ron Rafferty


The first thing I noticed when I met him: he was wearing the “gay” tie.  The male flight attendant uniform had a choice of two neckties; straight or closeted men wore a red tie with smallish navy paisleys.  Homosexuals sported the bolder option with wide green and yellow and black stripes.  The only exception to this rule was that gay men could wear the straight tie if the vest accompanied it.  (Straight men never wore the vest.) All men abided by this unwritten law of uniforms because it just plain kept people from wasting other people’s time. 


The second thing I noticed was that his dress shoes had built in lifters. 


He was already sitting in the JFK briefing room when I arrived.  His battle-scarred luggage was by the door.  The smaller bag even sported a bit of duct tape across the bottom front.  He had hung a mangled plastic grocery bag over the doorknob to the briefing room.   I was slightly puzzled as to why he was joining us.  From the looks of his seniority number, he had been flying over ten years.  The rest of us had been working for three.  He could have been halfway to Paris or Rome by now, but instead he was heading west to Las Vegas on the red eye. He sat perfectly still staring at his watch which appeared to be an authentic Rolex until I noticed that it’s jittery second hand leapt ahead like an exhausted frog instead of smoothly circling it’s assigned orbit.


“You must be Ron?”  I asked.  He was the only one on the trip I had never met. 


He shook my hand. His long sharply manicured hand grazed my palm. His graying brown mane curled down like dried seaweed onto his face. 


The flight attendant briefing was fairly uneventful with the exception that Ron elected to sit in the middle of the plane.  This shocked the rest of the crew. Most flight attendants hated the middle because there was nowhere to hide from the passengers.  Ron stated that he liked the mid because he got to sit alone.  Everyone took this as a cue not to engage him in lengthy conversation.


 I stood at the Jetway door with Ron for the meet and greet.  My scarf was thoughtfully tied around my neck. A small knot pressed against my jugular gave off a dangerous yet coquettish “bad pet” vibe I had worked hard to prefect. I felt like Ron’s popped collar and unbuttoned blazer cheapened my understated aesthetic.  About five minutes into the boarding process, I began to understand why Ron enjoyed hobnobbing with the passengers so much.  Apparently all middle-aged black women thought he looked exactly like Mick Jaggar. He grinned voraciously as he said, “I am such a ringer for Mick the Stick the ladies often quiz me on his career. Points of fact: never bring up his collaboration with David Bowie.  They did a hellaciously bad cover of Dancing in the Streets. They both come off as way too gay and women hate envisioning one of their sex icons grinding on that androgynous guy from Labyrinth.” 


It took all of the self control I possessed to refrain from eye-rolling as a portly divorcee rumbled by as she spouted, “Oooooh baby, anybody ever tol’ you look just like Mick Jaggar.  Give mama some brown sugar!” I marveled at this anomaly as the only resemblance I could discern was their overall scraggily state and puffy lips. 


The flight departed with out incident and I kept to myself in first class until about 3am when the smell of bacon began to permeate the cabin. I walked back to the middle galley and found Ron attempting to chop vegetables with a plastic knife and using the airplane’s EZ Bake oven.  I passed him by to answer a call light.  An obese man in a velvet jogging suit wanted to know when his bacon breakfast would be ready.  I immediately knew Ron’s attempt at culinary excellence was going to cause problems. I walked up to him to inquire about his creation. He brightened when he saw me and asked, “Would you like a Cobb salad? I am just about to take the bacon out of the oven.” He mashed his tea-stained teeth together as he salivated in anticipation.


“Do you cook on the plane often?” I asked as I surveyed coach and saw more and more Long Islanders waking up expecting brunch.


“Yes, most nights I do.  When I had my apartment in Los Angeles, I cooked all the time.  For the past six months, I have just been crashing on my aunt’s sofa in Massapequa. The plane is the only place I have to experiment.”


Ron was homeless.  This made me much too sad to admonish him for waking up 200 ravenous New Yorkers. All I could do was imagine him sleeping in a Lazy Boy chair in the crew lounge, taking little bird baths in public airport restrooms and showing up to briefing all wrinkled and tired.  I agreed to try the Cobb salad after it was prepared and wandered back up to the first class cabin. 


After the entire crew stuffed their faces with Cobb salad served in extra first class dishes, we felt it necessary to invite Ron into our fold and ask him out for a drink and some dollar black jack at Slots O’ Fun. 


He smiled and said, “I suppose I could accompany you to the bar for one beer.  I wouldn’t want to feel drowsy at the gym tomorrow.  That’s where I see Roy.” Things were finally starting to make sense.  Ron was working these red eye flights because he had a paramour in Las Vegas. 


We left the cotton candy glow of the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino and retreated to the back room of the Peppermill Coffee Shop and Cocktail Lounge.  Ron followed my lead and ordered a champagne cocktail because it bubbled.  We all sat in a wrap around banquette.  After the waitress rounded with our cocktails, Ron insisted on making a toast, he raised his flute and shouted, “Slainte!”


We all echoed his sentiment although we had no idea what he was talking about.  Upon inquiry he informed me Slainte was Irish for health and despite all of his travels he was still just a simple Irish lad from Long Island.  When some of the crew dispersed to the bar to play video poker, I took the opportunity to inquire about Roy. 


Ron began to beam as he recounted the courtship, “Circus Circus doesn’t have a gym. So they let us use the one across the street for a 3-dollar guest fee.  A lot of the show people go there.  The first time I saw Roy he was working with free weights.” 


“Cool.  Is Roy in a show?” I figured Ron had found himself a circus acrobat or an exotic dancer. 


Ron snickered as if he pitied my naivety.  “I am talking about Roy as in Siegfried and Roy.”


My jaw dropped as I uttered, “You date Roy? Wait which one is Roy? I thought they were a couple?”


He smiled and returned the volley, “Roy has dark hair.  He is much more down to earth than Siegfried. We aren’t dating…well not yet. But one day we will.  Now I just watch him.  He goes to the gym every day at 2pm.  He has been hitting the cardio hard lately.”


My mind was blown.  I was having cocktails with a homeless middle-aged man who was stalking a glittery magician who probably slept with tigers.  No wonder Ron worked nights because he was way too weird to survive on the day shift.  All I could do was sit there and stare at the remains of my champagne cocktail.


We were about to order a second round when he cashed out.  He thanked us for a lovely time then said, “Can you point me in the direction of the hotel? We crossed the boulevard to get here, right? The champagne went to my head and I get so discombobulated and giddy when I talk about Roy.”


I politely advised him to walk towards the 50-foot tall neon clown.  He dashed out toward his room in anticipation of his afternoon meeting with Roy.  I was fairly quiet the rest of the evening.  Our conversation had left me speechless.  If Roy ever went missing, I knew to check Ron’s suitcase for mementos or vital organs.


The next evening I was waiting by the valet for the airport shuttle.  Ron proudly strolled through the door with this ragamuffin bags and untamed mane.  His creepy smile spanned from ear to ear.  He said, “Your crew was good luck.  I ran on the treadmill right beside Roy for 45 minutes.  He ran 5 miles.  I ran 4. One day I will be able to keep up.”