It is 2014, maybe 2013, I am not for certain. I am in Atlanta of that I am certain.
I fly Delta Airlines and by and large I think Delta is a pretty good company that cares about their customers – there are exceptions but my experiences have generally been good. When I lived in Southern California I would fly whoever I could to get wherever I was going – Jet Blue, American, Delta, didn’t matter but when I moved to Minnesota in 2010 my airline choices became Delta and Delta but it was great; I could fly anywhere in the country direct and if I needed to, could be home the same day because Minneapolis/St. Paul is a Delta hub. It’s not so easy to use Delta living in Austin but I still do – I’m a Diamond Medallion flyer, nearing a million-miles, get upgraded most flights, have the Delta card, love the Delta Sky Club – it’s a good deal but if you want to fly North, you fly through Atlanta. If you want to fly East, you fly through Atlanta. South… Atlanta. International – New York or Atlanta and West either Atlanta or Salt Lake City so I’m in Atlanta almost every week…
Anyway, like I said, it’s 2014 or thereabouts and things are feeling a little off. I meet all kinds of people when I travel. Famous people, normal people, Type-A personality business women and men and a whole assortment of odd kooky people and on this day, something was hanging low over the city, the air was not right, I noticed it when I deplaned at the gate, people had a different cadence, bouncing into each other; the volume would rise to a booming crescendo and then go almost silent. The week earlier I was walking towards my gate in Atlanta and I saw one of my childhood idols, Julius Erving, a/k/a Dr. J, former forward for the Philadelphia 76ers and the most prolific dunking athlete of that era. I saw him only briefly and barely realized who he was as he approached, walking in the opposite direction. I slowed slightly and said, “Dr. J!!!” He raised his hand above his head, I did the same, we slapped each hands, gave each other five and kept walking our separate ways, not missing a beat but that’s not what happened on this day. Oh no…
The first thing I did, that I usually do, is make a pit stop at the restroom. Atlanta is the busiest airport in the world. 97.3M passengers fly out of Atlanta each year – by the way, if you are into lists, the Top 5 busiest airports in the world are in Atlanta, Beijing, Tokyo, London and Dubai… But let’s get back to the restroom because I’ve gotta go… So I walk up to the only free stall of about 15, I unzip my trousers to do my business and something catches my attention… Yoo-hoo… Up here… Look at my eyes, get your mind out of the gutter, we’re not talking about my intimates, we are talking about what was in the urinal… In the urinal was a He-man action figure from the old cartoon Masters of the Universe and for giggles you should hear my son Alex’s imitation of Skeltor, He-mans’ arch nemesis…
But back to the dilemma at hand back in 2014, here I am, in a public restroom, standing at a urinal, trying to do my business but an oddly placed action figure is in the urinal and now I’m having trouble going – like, do I pee on He-man? Do I move to another stall? There isn’t one free as I glance around and lines are forming behind me, people are sighing, shit’s getting real.
“Do it?” I’m looking around, dude next to me is getting a little protective and self conscious.
He-man whines out, “Pee on me, just do it. I’m here for a reason.”
“Shhh…” I say, “I’m trying to focus…”
“Come on big guy get it done!” I look around to see if anyone else is hearing this, He-man is taunting me to pee on him but.. But… What if.. uh… what if it splats upon contact?
“Whattamatter mister frequent flyer, afraid to pee on a little old toy? Aint got it in you?” He-man has developed a Brooklyn accent.
I exhale. This is insane. Am I insane? Is this a joke? Is this some poor kid’s most treasured toy? Do they even make Masters of the Universe toys these days? Is this a candid camera thing?
“DO IT, PEE ON ME, PEE ON HE-M…” I let it fly, interrupting his chastising, whiny voice and I let forward a flow of yellow urine trying to pee on the porcelain walls and not the toy but it is inevitably going downstream and the He-man action figure is suddenly drowning. I zip up, pull away quickly and hustle it out of there…
The good news is that didn’t happen… I mean, there was a He-man action figure in the urinal but of course it wasn’t talking to me, it was not a talking toy and if it were I am pretty sure that it would not be programmed to ask me to pee on it in a taunting Brooklyn accent but the dialog did race through my mind as I tried to get my head around why someone would put a 15 year old action figure toy inside a urinal at the Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport. The bad news is that this isn’t the weirdest thing to happen in my 1 hour and 20 minute layover in Atlanta.
As I exited the restroom (some airports call them wash rooms, others call them bathrooms, some call them toilets, others call them restrooms and a few even call it a commode and did you know that the London Heathrow Airport sales condoms in their public restrooms? Think about that a minute. What are you going to do with it? You’re flying somewhere, right? I found it disquieting but there were people buying them – maybe they’re collectibles over there?
I once again digress – so I’m walking out the restroom when suddenly a lot of commotion across the hall unfurls. Like the He-man action figure at first I don’t understand it… Actually, I’m going to be honest, I still don’t understand it. First, the commotion rolled out of the smoking lounge and seriously, do airports need smoking lounges? We’ll get back to that one later but let me just say, nothing is finer than sitting in a middle row seat between two 250-pound ashtrays all the way to Minneapolis – love it! I should have to pay extra for that treat.
Back to the chaos… people are screaming, well actually three people. An adult, the Dad, African American gentleman, clean cut, probably about 40-years old, maybe a little younger. A child, maybe four years old, maybe five and what I guess to be his wife and she is shrieking incomprehensibly. She sounds like a cross between a dying animal after a bad accident, an in-heat cat, a symphony and a dose of adult female shrieking crazy person. Very quickly the He-man water olympics is out of my head and my slow to comprehend mind repeats, “Was the kid in the smoking lounge? The lady shrieks, ‘ASDT#Q$TUAPJFQ@OJGSDAFAJOP$#@%^” “Was the kid in the smoking lounge? The lady shrieks, “@#^FDASDFW$Y^AF” “I silently mouth WTF and stop afraid to walk in any direction.
The Dad says, “I told you what was going to happen if you did that again! I warned you!” He’s got his fists up, he’s going to kick some ass but what I see directly in front of him doesn’t make any sense; it is a four or five year old kid with his fists up too – they are going toe-to-toe – mano e’ kiddo. The Dad punches downwardly, the kid is fast and sidesteps the punch and then comes around the other side and nails the guy in the knee with a cross hook. “You little @#^#” the guy screams, that’s it, you’re going down!” The kid circles his fists in his face like Muhammad Ali – he’s not going down with a fight and then it happens – the Dad tags him and I’m telling you it was a full force blow – he cracks the kid right across the check, semi-open hand, he jack-slapped the kid across over a few tiles. People are circling around like they did when fights erupted in the alley behind the junior high school gymnasium but nobody is doing anything so I step forward – I’ve got a backpack on my back and am rolling a suitcase in my hand. I quickly stop to put the backpack down when what at first appeared to be a giant bat swooped over me but it wasn’t a bat – it was the shrieking mom; in her left hand she had a purse, a long designer knockoff black and tan suede purse and in her right, curled long pink fingernails. She is flailing both of her arms like a military grade helicopter – I duck and within a second she is on the Dad. I’m reminded of a scene in the Mummy movie when some bugs or something jump on a dud and within a few seconds all that is left of him is dust. She is knocking the holy heck out of the dude and I’m definitely not sure what to do now. It felt like it took forever for security to arrive but eventually they are there and pulling the windmill purse shrieking bat lady of off the boxing, abusive Dad dude. Her shrieks are more comprehensible now and I realize that all of them are drunk – well, I’m not sure about the kid but maybe… She is chanting over and over again, “HE HIT MY BAAAAAAAAAAABY. HE HIT MY BAAAAAAAAAABY! HE HIT MY BAAAAAAAAAABY.”
More security arrives and now everyone is constrained. As they are putting the Dad on one of the carts they use to move the handicapped people around the terminal in, he looks to the kid and says, “Call your Uncle Joe, he’ll know what to do.” I’m not sure how Uncle Joe has experience in this kind of madness but he did sound pretty confident so maybe Uncle Joe is experienced in drunken family brawls and will know what to do – one can hope because I sure as shit don’t know what to do but immediately after Papa Punch gives the little knee slapper the Uncle Joe instruction, the four or five year old kid defiantly holds up his right hand and extends his middle finger and flips off his Dad. The whole thing is a chaotic soup of mortifying strangeness but I swear that the kid didn’t go with the cops or the parents – I’m not sure where he ducked off but maybe he went back into the smoking lounge, which is yet one more reason why I don’t think airports should encourage these things…
After that fiasco, I scoot towards the gate of my next flight. I try to call Debbie. You should know this. Debbie never answers her phone unless it is her sister-in-law. Seriously, her sister-in-law Kathy has an innate ability to catch Debbie day or night but for me, the odds of Debbie answering the phone are probably 1 in 20. I leave a message. “You are never going to believe what happened.” Debbie NEVER checks her messages. She never reads her email either – if you want to talk to Debbie you need to send her a text or ask her sister-in-law Kathy to get a message to her.
At the gate, one of the Delta gate agents saunters up to me and starts sniffing. Oh boy, here we go again. I’ll stop here and give you the background. People sniff me. Serious. They sniff me. Not all people mind you, it’s usually reserved for older ladies with a little plumpness to them, not quite Grandmotherly but not as spry as they might have been a few years ago. Some of them are pretty, some of them are not, all of them are pretty nice come one, come all and behold the essence that is Dan. They sniff me and they always ask the same question, “What cologne are you wearing?” They may add, “You smell good”. A few of them or voyeur sniffers, they follow me around and sniff but never say anything – they kind of creep me out, this silent sniffers. If you’re going to sniff me, sniff me straight on I say!
After I tell them that I am not and do not often wear cologne they get mad. They think I’m lying or I’m kidding or I’m making fun of them. I don’t. I may wear cologne once every month or two but rarely when I’m traveling because that’s rude, right? I may be the kid of guy that will pee on a kid’s toy but I’m rarely rude!
I’m not sure what it is – maybe pheromones, not sure if I believe in that, maybe it’s the soap I use when I take a shower, I don’t know – all that I do know is that there is a certain subset of the female population (never happened with males) who think that I’m a delightful smelling fellow and it happens a lot but not as much as it used to. From 2010-2014 I was in peak smell shape I think because it was a constant barrage of sniffers and smellers following me about and commenting on my odoriferous greatness. This lady, started slowly but moved in for the kill quickly.
“I could eat you.”
“I could… You smell heavenly…”
“What cologne are you wearing?”
I think about lying but if you know me very well you know that I am a terrible liar, “I’m not wearing any cologne.”
‘Bah!” she snorts aloud, “Okay, I see we’ve got ourselves a little jokester here, a real little Devil. Are you a mischievous one?” she cocks and eyebrow.
I grin, it does look a little mischievous I supposed, it’s awkward, all I really want to do is read emails on my phone and see some of Christa Risher’s photos on Facebook.
“Girls, we’ve got ourselves a little cutie pie trouble maker here – be careful of that smile, it’ll get ya!”
I board and realize that she is not a gate agent but a stewardess. I’m putting my back in the overhead bin and she walks behind me and asks, “I like those jeans – what kind of jeans are those?”
“I… uh… I don’t know my wife bought them for me,” I reply.
“Well, I like them,” she says and then yet another ‘out of left field’ thing happened, she spanked me. Not lying. She swatted my butt on the plane, right then and there and said, “That’s for not telling me what cologne you’re wearing mister cutie butt!”
OK. So far I’m at nearly 2500 words. Are you still with me? To review, I peed on a He-man action figure, witnessed an impromptu boxing match between a grown man and a four or five year old child, got sexually harassed by a flight attendant because of my alleged scent, all within a 20 minute time-frame. I sat down in the aisle seat, upgraded to first class, I closed my eyes, turned on the air vent and rested my eyes. I almost nod off when my seat mate pulled me from near slumber and informed me he was in the window seat. When I looked up I realized that it was Craig Robinson from “The Office” and “Hot Tub Time Machine” fame. I had read that he had some drug issues but he seemed pretty normal. We didn’t talk at all. When the meal service arrived, we both began eating, both perfectly fine with doing our own thing. Robinson had a salad and I had the grilled chicken. I was thinking about the events of the day and all of the work I needed to get done over the rest of the week when he nudged me, “Hey man… do you want to trade?”
I thought he was asking me if I wanted to trade seats.
“No thanks,” I replied.
“But… man… I want that chicken…”
“I’ll trade you my brownie for the chicken.”
I don’t like brownies but didn’t say anything… The chicken was half-eaten. Maybe he didn’t know that… “It’s almost gone you know…”
“I don’t care. Trade me. Trade me.”
So we did, we swapped – grilled chicken for a vanilla brownie desert and outside, the magnificent sky edged closer to night, spectacular pinks, deep blues and an assortment of oranges and yellows streaming over the sparse, cloud-covered sky. I thought about my kids, my wife, my friends and my life as Craig licked chicken juice from his fingers rather loudly and I remembered watching the sunsets of my youth and the dreams of going to far away places and meeting all kinds of people and it all felt poetic. I settled into that moment for a second and then Craig nudged me again and said, “Sorry man, I need you to get up, I’ve got to poop.”