On my flight to New Hampshire, I sat next to a refined elderly woman. She was wearing dress pants, a colorful blazer, and gold jewelry - she had perfectly coiffed hair. I was wearing denim shorts and a t-shirt and, as much as I like to think of myself as well-coiffed, my hair is a bit unconventional by old lady standards. She sat there reading The Princess of Ireland while I read When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. We were an odd couple but that didn't stop me from imagining the two of us conversing. I have this weird need to be liked by strangers. I want the flight attendant to think that I am the most thoughtful passenger she's encountered all day and I want the person who sits next to me to think that I am courteous beyond what is reasonable to expect. So, I wanted this woman to like me. When she asked me twice in the first 45 minutes of the flight to get up so that she could go to the bathroom, I smiled my friendliest smile and jumped right up. When she thanked me, I said brightly, "No problem!" though she seemed unimpressed by my sunny disposition. Still, I was undaunted. The drink cart eventually came around and we both ordered Diet Pepsi. Kismet! Then, she ordered a can of Pringles. I love Pringles! Do you ever get a little idea in your head and, inexplicably, it just sticks? Well, I do and I became convinced that this woman was going to offer me one of her Pringles. I imagined her smiling and offering me a chip and then I pictured us chatting and laughing over our airplane snacks. I would tell her that I was meeting a group of women from college and that I was nervous but excited. Then, she would tell me that she was going to visit her daughter to help out with her new grandbaby (yes, she would use the word "grandbaby" because she would be charmingly real). She would talk about her relationship with her daughter and we would talk about parenting and life. We would, of course, eventually return to our individual pursuits but, when the plane landed and we went our separate ways, we would feel that we had made a brief but real connection. Well, she didn't offer me a damn Pringle.
It's not that I needed or wanted a Pringle - I could have bought my own canister. I just felt so certain that she would that I was totally shocked when she didn't. The fact that she was a Pringle Miser was hard to overcome but I thought there was still hope...until I was seized with an uncontrollable fit of laughter. A woman wearing big gold rings on perfectly manicured fingers who has not a single hair out of place is not going to befriend a slightly disheveled lesbian who is laughing maniacally. There are chasms that cannot be bridged.
I was reading my book and came to this part where David Sedaris talks about his sister, Amy, convincing him to wear women's clothes because they fit him better which is how he ended up at some fancy event wearing a blouse with darts. Is this funny? Hell yeah. Is it funny enough to justify a 15 minute fit of laughter? No. I tried to laugh silently at first; lips pursed tightly, eyes closed, shoulders shaking. Soon, however, the tears started rolling down my cheeks and I couldn't stop. Sound started slipping out and I became a giggling, crying, jerking mess. I put my book down, took off my glasses, put my head in my hands and laughed like a crazy woman. My laughter seemed to be abating so I wiped my tears away, put my glasses on, sat up and stared straight ahead. I lasted about five seconds. I could feel the old woman watching me, so, I decided to go to the bathroom until I could get control of myself. Airplane bathrooms are disgusting. They smell like pee and there is always at least one errant hair in the sink. Desperate times call for desperate measures, however, so I dashed to the bathroom. It was unoccupied but I couldn't figure out how to open the door. It didn't look like the other doors I have encountered in my travels. There was a place that said "push" so I pushed it once but nothing happened. There I stood, tears streaming down my face, stymied by a flimsy accordion door - I was a living, breathing spectacle. Maybe you would have asked for help in figuring out the door. Maybe you would have made a little self-deprecating joke before trying to open it again. I wish that I was more like you but, clearly, I am not. I just gave up and, rather than make a bigger fool of myself, I just walked nonchalantly back to my seat like I had gone out for a stroll in the gardens. When I buckled myself back into my seat, the old woman shot me a steely look and that look made it clear that we were not to be airplane pals.
These things happen. I shouldn't care about what other people think of me. Besides, it's not like I was ever going to see that woman again. At least, I didn't think so. Then, last night on my return flight, I sat down in my seat and watched as the other passengers filed into the plane and there she was. Our eyes met and I know we were both thinking the same thing, "Please, not her...not that seat." So, I guess we did make a brief and real connection after all. Nobody said it had to be a good one.