The whole thing started off badly. I forgot that Fran Lebowitz had rescheduled her talk at BAM when I scheduled a visit to my parents, so Sabine had to give away my ticket to a friend. The day of departure I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and arrived at the airport an hour and a half early. Then as I stood on the security line half asleep I overheard three college bros behind me talk loudly about beginning their day with a beer in that unmistakable douchey accent of theirs. I was on my way back to Texas.
I prayed to be seated far away from them. I don’t believe in God, but I just knew he was going to stick me next to three drunk frat guys. Then I saw a woman ahead of me who I swear was modeling herself after Howdy Doody. She looked like she too liked Fran Lebowitz, so I added her to my prayer: “Please God, don’t seat me near the frat boys, seat me by the Howdy Doody lady because, judging from her style, she probably wants to be left alone on the four-hour flight to Houston as much as I do.”
I must have been praying too loud, because the security people pulled me aside and told me that they were going to check my hands for traces of explosives. “It’s going to feel warm,” the TSA guy warned me. Stupidly, I expected to get a hot towel like you get at Japanese restaurants, but instead he rubbed my hands with something that felt like warm paper, stuck it into a machine, and told me to go ahead. Disappointing.
I passed Howdy Doody as she bought food at a place called Cibo. I walked ahead to the Au Bon Pain stand, but their choices looked so unappetizing that I considered the possibility that the Pain part might not be French, just English. I turned around and went to Cibo, which specializes in astronaut food: My $50 tuna salad sandwich must have been freeze-dried because it sucked all the moisture from my mouth. I considered joining the bros for a beer.
I was nauseous from the lack of sleep, so I decided that regaining my saliva was not worth the trouble and opted to just wait for boarding. I looked at my ticket and wondered why it read “Economy Middle.” Were we being seated by socioeconomic status? It was only as we were called to board that the horrifying truth hit me: I had been assigned a middle seat.
As I trudged towards my seat in resignation I saw a man accidentally drop his carry-on luggage on top of another man’s head. I wish I had paid closer attention, because that would turn out to be the highlight of my trip.
It was a relief to pass the bros, but when I got to my row nearly all the way to the back I questioned the wisdom of my wishes. Evidently my neighbor by the window thought the middle seat was some sort of extension of his, having placed his bag and other sundries all over it. He gave me a dirty look when he saw that I planned on sitting there and slowly started moving his stuff.
He removed his things, but not his legs – he was sitting diagonally, taking up part of my precious 16-inches of middle space. I asked him to please move his leg, and he gave me another dirty look. He grudgingly rearranged himself, but he wasn’t about to relinquish an inch of the armrest. When Howdy Doody showed up on the aisle seat and took over the other armrest, I realized that this God I don’t believe in was sending me a “be careful what you pray for because you might just get it” message. Very funny, asshole.
I made myself as small as I could and cracked open a Georges Simenon novel with an unfortunate cover featuring a woman in her underwear (damn you, NYRB Classics!). I was concerned it would creep out Howdy Doody, but she never noticed because she was too busy using every type of Apple device in the market. She began with an iPad, pulled out an iPhone, and then put those two away so she could work on her AirBook.
To my surprise, I fell asleep shortly after the plane took off. When I woke up I saw that diagonal man was so deep in my space that, if we hadn’t both been the same gender, Texas would have legally considered us to be in a common-law marriage. I blearily looked over at Howdy Doody and I could swear she was on the Apple website ordering an iPod.
I managed to finish my book despite the contorted way I had to hold it without the benefit of an armrest. I was pleased that I reached the end just as the plane began its descent. But unlike Simenon’s protagonist, who died after a terrifying ordeal, my suffering was far from over. We had landed in Houston Intercontinental, the largest airport in the world*, and I only had 30 minutes to make my connecting flight. I felt hopeful when Howdy Doody immediately got up, but when I stood up I was stuck in an awkward stoop under the overhead compartment for an eternity as we waited for everyone else in the plane to disembark before we could move.
Finally out, I pulled an O.J. through the airport** to reach the train to get to another terminal. I somehow made it with ten minutes to spare, so I treated myself to a Starbucks latte. I was ready to pay inflated prices, but I discovered that Starbucks is cheaper in a Texas airport than at a regular Starbucks in New York City.
I started getting nervous again when I saw the FFA types in their Wrangler jeans waiting for my flight. I didn’t relish the idea of squeezing between two of those, particularly after what their fathers called me in high school (you can probably guess what that was, but I’ll give you a hint: they would have called the Howdy Doody lady similar names).
My eyes filled with tears when I boarded the small plane and realized that my row was composed of single seats–no neighbors! It made me wish that this leg of the trip were longer to luxuriate in the feeling of not touching strangers.
My parents were waiting for me with big smiles as I stepped off the plane in McAllen. They greeted me in their particular language, which is composed exclusively of types of food connected by verbs and adjectives. “Tacos good steak?” My mother asked. “French Fries fresh seafood,” my father added. I had finally arrived home.
*Let’s just call this an opinion, shall we?
** Don’t worry if you’re too young to understand the reference. It’s not worth Googling.