*First things first: Thoughts are things. Remember that. Watch what you say, because by saying it, you’re declaring it.
I suppose I simply assumed the Universe wasn’t listening when, halfway down the aisle of the nonstop American Eagle flight from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City, I half-jokingly commented out loud, “Gee, I must be sitting in the restroom.”
That’s where I ended up, damn near. The only thing between me and my seat at the absolute back of the cabin and the door to the restroom was a folding seat to my right for the flight attendant, who sat there only long enough for the plane to take off.
To get an understanding of my situation, sit in a chair and hold your arms out away from you, as if pretending you have wings. On the plane, my right arm couldn’t stretch out straight without touching the restroom door. That’s how close I was.
Mobile restrooms scare me. I’m not a fan of public restrooms, period, but especially those aboard a vehicle. You can’t escape the aftermath, so to speak. The stuff goes wherever you go.
Of all the times I have flown, I can count on one hand when I’ve used the restroom in-flight. Seriously. Once, I nearly made it across the International Dateline without going.
That’s not healthy, but that’s how much I despise going on the plane. In-flight facilities can be as inviting as a Port-A-Pottie on a construction site. When I’ve relented, I was lucky that I could stand; I don’t know how women bring themselves to sit in there, or if they do.
Worse, it seems that at some point, depending on the length of the flight, people just don’t care about the condition in which they leave that room. Men don’t bother to aim; people leave tissue wherever it falls. And remarkably, every now and then, somebody is determined to sneak a couple drags on a cigarette. On this flight, the only thing between me and all that was that flimsy aluminum door.
Once in the air, after the customary beverages were served, the deluge commenced. One after the other, passengers came, sometimes backed up down the aisle, waiting to do their thing. Someone would steal a concentrated glance at me, my proximity to the restroom in mind, no doubt, as if to say, “Dude, fire your travel agent.”
Every time, at the first sign of that door opening, I discreetly took a deep breath and held it, not wanting to encounter a whiff of ANY thing. On more than one occasion after they left, I had to reach over and slam the door to make sure it was shut. I’d become the restroom’s custodian.
The only other passenger on my “row” was a thin, brown gentleman, 40ish, in a black suit and tie who, except for his wire rimmed glasses, reminded me of the young man nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the Tom Hanks film, “Captain Phillips.” I’d turn my head his way and he’d turn to look out the window.
This guy bugged me. You know the passenger you’re unlucky enough to sit next to on a plane who talks your head off? Well, as I approached my seat, I could tell by the way he looked at me that he expected ME to be that passenger.
I said hello as I sat; he nodded affirmatively but said nothing. Preferring an aisle seat when I fly, I cheerily told him what I tell everyone sitting next to me: “If ever you need to get to the restroom just let me know, it’s not a problem, so please don’t hesitate.”
Now, as he gazed out the window pretending to count canyons or clouds or something, I wanted to say, “Hey fella–you know the guy that you think I am—that cat who wants to gab incessantly? Well, that’s YOU, buddy. I’m not that guy….now, turn around and talk to me, damn it.”
Meanwhile, the march of the pee-pee people continued. I had to catch myself from glaring with disdain into these faces as they made the pilgrimage to relieve themselves not a full arm’s length away from me. Most of them were in and out. A little more than an hour into our two hour-plus flight, visitors to the flying outhouse had tapered off to near nothing.
And then I saw him coming down the aisle.
Early Twenty-something, a little over six feet, skeleton-thin and acne-challenged in faded jeans with short, spikey dishwater blonde hair, I noticed him in the terminal, because he was dining at a particularly uninteresting-looking pizza stand, scarfing down a large pizza that looked to have everything on it but a pair of shoes.
I remember wondering how he could stomach the stuff. Now, apparently, I’d have to stomach it, too. He appeared to have strategically waited for the restroom line to wane so he could have the place to himself. He had the unmitigated gall to be carrying reading material.
He went in and closed the door. Quietly exasperated, I turned to the man next to me, who, of course, turned to the window. That didn’t stop me from talking to him in my head. In my mind I said, “Listen, there’s a guy sitting just inches from us with his jeans down around his cowboy boots as he reads magazines about monster trucks or guns or men who beat the living shit out of one another in a cage, or whatever somebody who is a-ok with taking an atomic dump on a plane reads while they commit this small crime against humanity, and you’re busy being stuck up.
“That’s cool,” I thought. “Because pretty soon, that aluminum door is going to open and it’s going to be bad. This plane is going to experience a different kind of turbulence. Oxygen masks are going to drop, and guess who’s not going to get any assistance in getting their mask on?”
At least two passengers came looking to get into the restroom, to no avail. Finally, about 15 long minutes later, my man emerged. At the first sound of that OCCUPIED lock shifting, I gulped some pressurized cabin air and held it as long as I could. When I exhaled, I smelled…nothing! Whatever chemicals they use in toilets on planes gets the job done.
Once in OKC, I was still pondering my seating arrangement when I reached the car rental. “How was your flight, sir?” asked the young man behind the counter. I explained, and he smiled but didn’t comment. However, after I’d made my transaction and was about to leave the counter, he revisited the subject.
“Wow, that was some seat,” he said. “Once, when I was in college, during Spring Break, I had that same seat on a plane. When I got off, I complained to my grandfather, who came to pick me up. He said, ‘You’re here, ain’t ‘cha?’ And then he said, ‘Son, the worst seat on a plane is the seat on the plane that doesn’t make it to its destination.’ My Grandy was a mess! You have a nice visit, sir!”
I pulled my carry-on through the rental garage in search of my car and considered the words of the clerk. I don’t believe for a minute his grandfather said any such thing. Maybe he did. More than likely, that was this kid’s way of imparting a lesson on gratitude to a grumpy old middle-aged man.
The kid was right.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]