I was in Oklahoma this week. I was invited to a college to give a talk about teaching, writing, contextual versus isolation grammar lessons and all sorts of happy horseshit related to English Education. Anyway, that was a big part of what I was doing. They put me up in a nice hotel and fed me and a good time was had by all.
Now, I don’t really love flying these days. In the post-9/11 world, On the way there, I used United Airlines. There are all sorts of rules about how much shampoo and sharing cream you can bring with you, whether or not you can bring a razor and a ban on things like hair spray if it’s over a certain amount. Sometimes there is suspicion surrounding my writing implements. Once, I had a TSA agent go through my carry-on and triumphantly pull out a pear.
“Ma’am, are you aware that this was in your bag?”
“This pear. It was in your bag.”
“Fruit is not allowed through security.”
“You know that’s ludicrous, right? That it’s a piece of fruit. It’s my lunch.”
They let me keep it but I couldn’t eat it after someone with latex gloves had pawed my pear. Fuckers.
On the way home, American Airlines was my choice. Southwest is the best, but I went with really cheap flights in the middle of the night. My flight was leaving at 6:40 and we would board at 6:05 p.m. My friend Cathy met me at the airline counter at 5:56 with a bag- some stuff of Grey’s we had to leave behind when we moved. Forty-four pounds of CDs, blue rays and whatever miscellaneous music she randomly picked out of a box. So nice of her and such a close call. American still lets you check bags for free, so we took full advantage. The Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma is tiny and there was no line at all- just me walking past four bored TSA agents; one looked at my ticket and ID. Then I proceeded through a full body scanner, which took a peek under my clothes to make sure that I wasn’t carrying a weapon of some sort. They didn’t have these kinds of scanners at Seatac on my way in. How disgusting that someone in a booth, whom I do not know, gets to look at me naked. I turned to the nearest agent.
“Excuse, me, do I get a tip for that?”
“For what?” The bald guy with those pervasive blue latex globes looked sorta quizzical.
“I don’t let people see me naked for free.”
“Oh.” He did have the decency to look embarrassed.
“I mean, seriously, if I’m going to be peeped, I want cash.”
Sigh. I went to my gate. I was kinda cranky, mostly from being tired and partly because I didn’t get to spend more than 5 minutes with my best friend.
In Dallas I had a two hour wait for my flight, which was fine. There was a little, highly expensive, crappy restaurant which served three types of red wines: The merlot, the cabernet and the shiraz. I picked “The Shiraz” which was so crappy it had no brand name, and settled in to read a chunk of “Roots”. It’s one of my favorite and more controversial books and I’m taking my sweet-ass time to read it. I enjoy immersing myself in Alex Haley’s style. He has a wonderful voice and a powerful lead character that I find compelling, tragic, angry and utterly convincing. And he gives my life perspective.
I get on the plane. This is going to be good. It’s been a bitch of a week and I’ve had little sleep and have been keyed up for three days. I will have three more very busy days before I can relax. One last four hour flight and I’m home. I was able to book an aisle seat in an exit row. I stretched out. The guy in the window seat had taken off his shoes. We both smiled and realized we’d not have a center seat mate- the perfect ride home. If the exit rows didn’t have those stiff and unmoveable walls between the seats, I’d have put my feet up in the center seat.
Just then a giant man boarded the plane. Last one on. He was pretty young, maybe in his twenties. He had long hair down his back, neatly pulled into a pony at the nape of his neck. He headed right for me.
“Can you uh, sit in the center seat so I can uh, stretch my legs.” He did not look me in the eyes.
You have got to be kidding me.
“Would you mind trading me seats?”
“Yes, I mind. A lot.” I didn’t bother explaining. I just switched over to the center. I hate the center seat. I gave him a dirty look. My flight was ruined and all sorts of invectives flew through my mind. I could only keep them in by keeping my mouth closed.
He sat down and couldn’t fit in the seat. He overflowed into mine. His shoulder and other parts took a third of my chair. He looked horribly embarrassed and the stewardess turned a blind eye. A seatbelt extender wouldn’t help so they ignored him. There were no other seats on the plane. He rode without a seatbelt.
I was livid at first. Angry at having to give up my own right to the tiny comfort of some where between the cattle car and first class. I was down to 2/3 of a seat and I was exhausted and there were three hours and thirty seven minutes left to go.
Then I thought about what it must be like to have been in his shoes as he had to ask me to trade. He did need the aisle seat. I am such an asshole. I treated someone like a second-class citizen.
Here’s this poor kid. He’s got a problem with fitting into seats. He doesn’t want to call attention to it. He is very quiet. Maybe I could practice a little compassion. Or just quit being a bitch.
So I kept quiet and resolved to be a better person. Once we were in flight, he stood up as often as possible so that I could be comfortable. He didn’t SAY that, I could just tell. Plus, it probably was uncomfortable to sit down like that. Man, I’m such a judgmental jerk.
Three hours later, the young women in the aisle next to me accused the woman in front of them of taking their makeup, credit cards and Adderall from their bags.
And she had. As the flight attendant made her dump her bag on the seat, out flew all sorts of stolen items. The guy next to them recovered his license and credit cards. The police were called to meet them at the gate. People were mortified and angry.
I was kind of glad that big guy was placed between her and me.
I grabbed my stuff from baggage claim and headed out to meet Grey, who had driven two hours one way in the middle of the night to pick me up and who would be driving us home over a frozen mountain pass. We made it and it’s taken me until today to recover my sleep. But I think it’ll take a little longer to forget his face.