Under the nails

A lot of people hate air travel. They complain about being cramped in little chairs and about sitting next to unpleasant people who have bad breath and who fart. They fondly remember the days when airlines served terrible food that left you angry, your stomach full, and your psyche filled with self-loathing at having stooped to chewing on the miserable rubbery salted chicken parts. You knew the food was putrid but you were too weak to refuse it.

People complain about everything, but long before Louis CK talked about the marvels of sitting in a chair and flying in the air, I had made peace with the vagaries of planes and airports. It was simple. Would you rather cross the continent for five months in a covered wagon? Would you rather do it in a steam-powered train? Or a stagecoach? No? Then shut the fuck up. The worst thing that you can possibly encounter is no more than a mild inconvenience.

I was recently able to get in a flying chair and go to Houston, ride my bike with some pals, and take the flying chair back to Los Angeles, all in the space of five days.

On the return flight, a lady got on the plane who was more than a mild inconvenience, but the key thing is that she wasn’t my inconvenience. She was seated two rows back on the opposite aisle. She got on late, you know, that tense moment when the plane is almost completely full and all that’s left are three middle seats in the rear of the plane.

The people next to the open middle seats were clenching the seat rests and trying to look unfriendly or fartacious or ill, but the stewardess had said that it was a full flight so now it was down to roulette. Would she take it or keep moving?

“Is this seat taken?” the giant woman asked, and you could see that both guys wanted to say “No, but please don’t sit here, for dog’s sake keep moving,” but they made that fake smile, a grimace actually, as the end guy got up to let her in, but not before she took a massive rollaboard and smashed and mashed and crushed it into the small remaining space in the overhead bin. You could hear the Ming vases and the sand dollar collections already carefully stored in the bin disintegrating into dust as she gruntingly shoved the oversized suitcase into the clotted shelf.

The guy next to me, who was fairly slim and very conscientious about not taking too much armrest space, exchanged glances with me. “Sucks to be them,” we telepathed to one another.

The plane took off and the big lady fell asleep. She didn’t have a cozy little neck sleeper thingy because there was so much back fat on her neck and shoulders that her head had plenty of support to keep it from lolling. Unfortunately, she had sleep apnea. After fifteen minutes of huge snores, snores that reverberated throughout the cabin, snores as awful as that deathlike sucking sound of a flushing airline lavatory, snores that began somewhere down in her bowels and shook the airframe of the plane itself, she woke up. Sitting in a cabin with a sleep apnea gag-and-snore person is like watching a stranger take a dump. It defiles everyone.

She tried to stay awake but couldn’t, and the cycle repeated itself. I buried my head in my book, repeating the mantra: “This is better than a Conestoga wagon. This is better than a Conestoga wagon.”

I glanced at my neighbor, who was reading a book called “Negotiating with Giants.” I saw he was on Chapter 3: Filthy Rich Asians. Then I noticed he was cleaning out his fingernails with the exceedingly long middle fingernail on his other hand, which appeared to have been groomed for just this purpose. He collected a fair amount of grime, then sniffed it, then ate it. He thought I was not looking.

“Dude,” I said. “Did you just eat the smeg from underneath your fingernails?”

“What are you talking about?” He pretended to be offended. The first rule of airplane etiquette is to pretend that whatever disgusting thing is happening isn’t really happening. This is the only way people survive trans-Pacific flights with poopy babies, malodorous neighbors, and that awful backdraft smell of shit and chemicals that hits you every time someone opens the toilet door.

“You just scraped the muck out from under your nails and ate it. I saw you.”

“What if I did?”

“That’s nasty.”

“You know what’s nasty?”

“What?” I asked.

“That stewardess. She’s nasty.”

“What are you talking about?”

“She’s a sexual pervert. When I got on the plane she waited until I passed and then she pressed her butt up against mine. She sexually assaulted me.”

I moved as far away from him as I could. “You’re nuts.”

“I can prove it. Watch.”

He got up from his seat. The flight attendant was standing halfway up the aisle. As he passed her, he drew in his butt to make as much space as possible. Sure enough, she stuck out her rear and rubbed his bottom as he passed. He went to the lavatory and then returned with a triumphant grin. “See? She’s a pervert.”

“She is not. She was leaning over two seats to hand someone a coffee. You’re the whack job.” The sleep apnea lady began to gag and blow giant spit bubbles. Somewhere in the cabin a digestive system cried silently for help in the form of pungent methane.

I tried to focus on my book, but couldn’t shake this thought: “If only I were in a Conestoga wagon.”



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10 thoughts on “Under the nails”

  1. Reminds me of a flight. Three years ago I got on a Singapore Air flight to…Singapore. Really long flight. The man next to me was small, polite, neat, and smelled awful. I was trying to figure out what to do when one of my group who was seated in a different seat came by to say Hi. The small polite man offered to trade seats with her so I could sit with my friend. Sweet!
    I have also flown New York to Israel with the squirmy child next to me who laid down on the floor to sleep so I couldn’t put my feet down. I have sat next to a lady so fat that the seat rest between us had to be up and she needed a lap belt extender but that was only a couple hour flight.
    You’re right, they all beat travel by other means. But it’s always better when the sucker with the fat lady isn’t you. And we all thank you for using deodorant.

  2. While I seldom disagree with Wanker Wisdom this time I gotta tell ya: Flying Sucks, unless you are a bird or a dolphin. You are herded around by morons who make you take off yer clothes, you are surrounded by WAY to much humanity in a kind of flying Black Hole of Calcutta (is that dated, now?) and there is, after all, the constant threat of death.

    Except back when I flew monthly and ATA airlines had a $35 biz-class upgrade you asked for at check-in. The drinks were then free and the flight attendants up front were invariably gay men who would run a steady high-camp comedy routine and kept the booze flowing and there were no babies. So that was fun.

    The best ever cross-country trip is in an eighteen wheeler with some wild man at the wheel and falling into an overnight high-speed caravan. That is my preferred means of travel when I gotta get from one coast to another. Plus you can stick your bike in the back, if yer lucky.


  3. Everything is real and true except for the parts you make up? That seems to bizarre to make up.

    Good term for that grime though “The smeg under your fingernails”.

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