I remember seeing the back of his top hat while we were still at the gate. When he stood up, I realized it was much more than just an attempt to look like the 16th President of the United States. He was tall, his beard was real, the suit had tail coats, and indeed, the hat made it unmistakable that I was looking at Abraham Lincoln in the middle of Dulles Airport. Or, as it turned out an Abe Lincoln impersonator.
Growing up in DC, I didn't think this was too odd, after all there was so much history and tourism in the nation's Capitol, but it still seemed a little odd to be all dressed up when getting on a plane. At some point I got distracted with something else and didn't pay it anymore mind. Next thing I know, it's time to line up and board the flight.
I settled in my window seat and had already started to lose myself looking out the window when Abe Lincoln comes walking down the isle, looks at me, looks up at the seat number, looks back at me, and declares with his low voice, "I guess this is me!"
At this point, I had a little surge of excitement. Was he crazy? Or perhaps interesting. He had to be interesting job if he looked, walked, and talked like every bit I imagine Abraham Lincoln would. I looked up and said, "Hi there!" with a smile, trying to hide any awkwardness and make him feel welcome.
He was obviously used to the reaction, as he immediately started explaining himself while he was still getting rustling with the overhead bin.
"I'm an Abraham Lincoln historian and impersonator. I speak at schools and teach children about the kind of man President Lincoln used to be. I don't usually fly in my suit, but I'm speaking at a school this afternoon and am going right there from the airport," he says as he removed his top hat, sits, and carefully placed the hat on his lap.
Being 16 at the time and having a bit of a smart mouth, I flirtatiously quipped, "Oh, I had assumed you just like to dress like that for fun."
He smiled and chuckled, and then very abruptly, his face turned stern and he leaned quickly, inches to my face and softly said, "Do you know the Gettysburg address?"
Suddenly taken aback my having him invade my personal space and at the same time frantically trying to remember what came after "Four score and seven years ago..." I felt so relieved as the flight attendant came up the aisle and leaned down next to the President's seat.
"Mr. President?" she asked.
From there I couldn't really hear what they were chatting about since it was a near whisper, but there were a lot of nods, and smiles. As soon as she got back up and picked up the intercom, we were informed that the flight was ready to take off.
As I was double-checking my seat belt and mentally preparing for take-off, the President informs me the flight attendant was just asking him if he would be willing to recite the Gettysburg Address in front of the whole plane as soon as we were at cruising altitude.
"Oh, well, that's nice. I'm looking forward to it."
We shared several moments of silence as the plane took off since I was focusing on looking at the window, watching everything on the ground get smaller and smaller until I could barely make out the specks of cars and figure out how many houses had swimming pools. I looked over at President Lincoln and it seemed like he was mentally rehearsing his speech.
Once the safety belt light when off, the flight attendant came back again, shared a few more whispers and smiles and nods, and walked back to the intercom.
"Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome again on this flight to Atlanta, Georgia. We're very excited to say we have a VERY special guest on board who is going to give us just a little bit of a history lesson today. Come on up here President Abraham Lincoln!"
There were a few claps as the President slowly got up from his seat, and walking up to the front of curtain separating First Class from Coach while holding on to his top hat. He gave a little bow of thanks to everyone and put on his hat.
After a brief introduction explaining the importance of preserving the history of our great forefathers, President Lincoln recited the Gettysburg Address with grace and emotion, and had the attention of everyone on the plane. More passengers clapped as he finished and he shook a few hands as he walked back to his seat next to me.
He sat down with a satisfied grin and asked, "So, how did I do?"
I enthusiastically implied, "That was great! I'm glad I got to hear it."
From there we chatted back and forth in between moments of solitude. He explained that he was actually an aspiring writer and historian, but because he was so tall, he had found a niche in being a Lincoln impersonator and it was a great way to pay the bills. Plus, he liked visiting schools because it gave him a greater sense of purpose and he enjoyed making the kids smile. He asked why I was traveling and I explained that my sister lived in Atlanta and I was going down there to spend the summer with her.
After about 30 minutes of small talk, Abe suddenly got a serious face again, looked into my eyes and said, "You know, I don't only write about history. I've been working on some short stories as well. Would you be interested in reading any of it?"
I can't remember if I actually was interested or if I just said yes to be polite, but as soon as I said, "Sure!" he got very excited and reached under the seat to grab his suitcase. As the two latches popped on the suitcase, he whispered to me, "Now, I have to warn you, the subject matter is a little...well, a little grown up, but I'm very proud of it because I think I'm very good at what I do."
I hesitated a bit, trying to understand what he meant, so I plainly asked, still smiling, "What is it that you're good at?"
He replied, "Giving women the best orgasms they've ever had."
At that moment, it felt like it took forever to blink my eyes. I froze my smile because I was trying to maintain a polite reaction, all while my heart started beating faster as my head raced to try to process what I just heard.
I mean, I was familiar with what an orgasm was, but as a virgin, as a 16-year old, and as a stranger sitting next to someone dressed up as President Abraham Lincoln, this is not a sentence you expect to hear.
"Excuse me, did you just say..."
"Yes! You see, the woman is so often neglected, but I have found the way, the BEST way to pleasure her, I know what to do with a woman's clitoris to make her feel the most unforgettable experience she's ever had. And I've written my technique down. It's fool proof, guaranteed to make a woman scream every time. Would you like to read it?"
My mind and heart were racing. This was a new scenario for me. Was this actually inappropriate, or did it just seem that way because I had such a sheltered childhood and missed the memo that conversations like this were ok? It didn't FEEL appropriate, but he seemed so natural and so charming about it, that I felt I was the one in the wrong for feeling ashamed and offended by the exchange.
He looked so innocently excited, like a puppy waiting for it's master to throw the ball. I didn't know what to say, I didn't want to appear rude, and I was scared, so before I knew it, I blurted out, "Sure, I'll take a look."
Abe delightfully plopped the typed manuscript on my lap and looked at me intently as I started flipping through the pages of a 20-page manifesto. I looked through the words, not really reading entire sentences, picking up bits and pieces while my mind still tried to figure out what was going on. I ranged from fighting tears to feeling sneaky because I was looking at something I wasn't not supposed to.
I tried to convince myself that perhaps I should feel empowered and grown-up that I'm privy to such juicy information, all the while faking some "oohs" and "aahs" and "oh, that's interesting" because I could feel the weight of his eyes on my face. I tried to give just enough reaction as to reaffirm that I was reading through the page, but not enough that he would get completely off on my reactions.
I felt relieved as I got to the last page, thinking that this whole bizarre encounter was almost over. I loudly smacked my hands on the cover and then hand the stack of papers back to him saying, "Well, that was...something! Thanks for letting me reading it."
"What did you think of it?"
"I...well...it seems like those would all be things that would work great. Just like you said, you seem to really know what you're doing, I really wouldn't know either way."
"Would you like to experience it yourself? I'd be happy to show you, I mean, just give me your number. I don't have any plans after my gig and I would be happy to show you what it's like to be with a real man. Nothing like those high school BOYS that you've been with. I'll show you what it's like to feel some real pleasure, to make you come so hard..."
Before he could finish that sentence, I could feel myself filling up with rage. Rage at this man who portrayed himself as a public figure, a beloved President no less, and being nothing but a pervert. Rage at myself for letting this whole conversation get as far as it did, being so concerned about being polite that I didn't have the strength to stop it at the first sign of feeling uncomfortable. I felt like it was my fault for getting cornered like this. But now I was angry.
"Excuse me, did you miss the part where I told you I was 16? What are you, like 40? And aren't you going somewhere right now where you're going to talk to CHILDREN?" I'm sorry, I'm pretty sure I don't want to have this conversation anymore."
He seemed honestly hurt by my outburst.
"But you mentioned you were still a virgin. Don't you want to know what it's like to feel good? You wouldn't have told me you were a virgin otherwise."
"I'm sorry, you know, I think I can take a pass on this one."
This still didn't deter him fully.
"I'll tell you what, if you change your mind," as he took out a pen and paper and started writing, "here's my number. I'll be in Atlanta through Tuesday. Give me a call and I'll show you a good time."
He handed over the torn piece of paper and I took it, trying to avoid eye contact. At this point, I figured I would do whatever caused the least amount of friction, and counted the moments until the flight was over.
I spend the last 15 minutes of the flight staring out the window again, focusing so intently on the ground below as to not give anymore encouragement to more conversation and I continued to stare at the ground as we gathered our belongs and shuffled out of the plane.
I felt a huge sense of relief when I saw my sister was waiting for me at the gate, and I ran up to give her a big hug, feeling so glad my bizarre encounter was over.
Then from behind me, I heard his voice one more time, "So this must be the sister you told me about!"
They shook hands and he proceeded to tell her what a wonderful person I am and that it was an absolute pleasure to sit next to me. I stood by, patiently seething in quite rage as he made small talk, begging him to go away in my head, all while keeping a polite smile on my face.
After he finally walked away, my sister looked and me and rolled her eyes, "Well, THAT guy seems like a weirdo."
"You have NO idea," I replied. I didn't say anything more, but rather, crumpled up the piece of paper the President gave me and threw it away in the first trash can I saw.