After graduation, travelling changes for most people. It’s not done with family or friends anymore, especially if you’ve moved away from home. Most times travelling is done alone, and usually for weddings, business or holidays. Travelling alone sounds like a bummer, but the nice thing about it is that you only have strangers judging you for taking down your fourth Jack on the rocks during a two hour flight. Not like the old days. SHUT UP MOM I THOUGHT THIS WAS A VACATION!
This past Wednesday, I boarded a flight in Austin that would eventually land me in St. Louis, but first required a change of planes in Dallas. I entered the plane and shuffled my way to the back, three carry-ons in tow because FUCK waiting at baggage claim, and slid into my window seat. I like the window seat. Who doesn’t like the window seat? You get a great view and a useful corner to seclude yourself in so as to avoid talking to pointless strangers on the plane. I don’t even bother chatting up attractive women who sit next to me anymore. I know they say you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, but what both Wayne Gretzky and Michael Scott failed to tell you is that in hockey you still miss like at least 80% of the shots you do take. I’m already on a plane, which means my level of discomfort is near its peak. I’m not going to add to that by getting socially/sexually rejected by a woman who will still be sitting three inches away from me for the next few hours. I had sex on a bus in college, so I’ve already fulfilled my wildest transportation sexual fantasies. Now I just want to go to sleep until we land. As I’ve written in this space before, I hate making small talk, at least when I’m sober.
I have been in some nightmare plane conversations before, the worst of which was on the very same flight a little over a year earlier. Some chubby, sweet-faced college kid plopped down next to me, decked out in Detroit Lions gear, and immediately introduced himself. “Fuck me,” I thought before making a polite though not exactly inviting introduction. Get the hint kid? No? Figured.
This is shitty to say, but within about thirty seconds of talking to him I could tell the kid was a little slow, at the very least socially speaking. Maybe he had Asperger’s, maybe he was just awkward. Considering I’m the guy who just said that he hates making polite conversation with nice people, I really shouldn’t be one to judge someone’s social abilities. In most scenarios, if I allow myself to take a step back and reflect, I realize that I’m the asshole. Still, the kid didn’t pick up on any of my obvious social cues that indicated I had no interest in conversing. I mean, I was reading a Sky Mall catalog. A SKY MALL! How do you not understand what I’m implying about my interest in you by assigning more of my attention to a picture of a pool raft that’s shaped like the lamp that’s shaped like a leg from A Christmas Story!?!?!
It would have been one thing if the kid were at least making polite conversation. He wasn’t. His tone was pleasant, but he was insufferable and actually rude. He, being bedecked with the previously mentioned Lions gear, asked, “So what NFL team do you root for?” I replied rather flatly, “I’m from St. Louis, so I root for the Rams.” “Oh man,” he laughed, “they SUCK!” He got a good laugh out of my NFL fandom. Whatever, that was annoying, but I don’t have a great emotional investment in the Rams, they float somewhere between my fourth and fifth favorite sports team. Also, the Lions? Real championship pedigree there, asshole. I let it go and dove back into my Sky Mall. I feigned interest extra hard at a beer helmet painted to look like a boob, replete with an areola and nipple on the top. Okay fine, I was actually interested in that one.
“What college team do you root for?” the kid continued, now touching a nerve.
“I went to Mizzou,” I informed him.
“They’re gonna SUCK in the SEC,” he laughed again, “I root for the [Texas A&M] Aggies.”
No. No no no no no. Thank God this happened while I was sober, and in the morning. If I had any energy and/or alcohol in me I would have eventually been tazered and dragged off the plane by an air marshal. I’m not averse to being trash-talked. I mean, it’s Mizzou. God knows we deserve a hefty amount of the shit we get. I guess it’s just that sometimes I’m not in the mood to be told by a stranger that something I love dearly actually sucks. Crazy, right? Also, notice he said he roots for the Aggies. He was not an A&M student or alumnus, he just rooted for them. Those sorts of college fans, the ones who will obnoxiously rub in their allegiances without even having gone to the school (or be associated with it through family, hometown, whatever) are the worst.
“We like always kick their [Mizzou’s] ass,” he continued boastfully.
Keep in mind this is all happening pre-Johnny Football.
“Really? Because I think we beat you the last two years, IN College Station. In fact I think since I’ve been in school we’ve won something like 5 of our 6 games,” I rebutted viciously.
He looked right past those facts just like he did that Sky Mall cover I was still hiding my face behind. We sucked apparently. L.O.L. He revelled in it. Thank Christ I didn’t meet this kid a year later. The kid of course continued by asking me what my favorite baseball team was. In truth, I’m an Atlanta Braves fan. Yes I’m from St. Louis, it’s a long story, and yes, everything I just said above makes me a despicable hypocrite. Regardless, I don’t hop on planes to Pittsburgh and say to people, “Hey what baseball team do you like? The Pirates? I’m a Braves fan! Remember when Sid Slid in ‘92 and we banished you into over two decades of historic baseball misery? That must’ve SUCKED! You guys SUCK! HAHAHA!”
Since the Cardinals were still the reigning World Series champions at the time, I lied and said I was a Cardinals fan. “Try to one up that one you little dickbag,” I thought, congratulating myself. I’m not a proud man. The kid said he was a Rangers fan. HA! I had him! The Cards had just beaten the Rangers in the World Series. I wanted to rub this little fucker’s face in it so bad. You know, the little fucker who might have had Asperger’s.
Thankfully, some old Texan in the seat next to him picked up the conversation about the Rangers, and I was finally left alone. That’s how I’d rather it would be. I would rather sit there and try to fall asleep, either with my earphones in or listening to the white noise that is the sound of a plane engine and/or the insanely boring conversations of those around me. On my last flight, however, I was once again unable to fall asleep. This time because the conversation next to me was not boring. It was terrifying.
Two gentlemen sat down to my right. Other than both being in their mid-40s, they could not have looked more different. One was sharply dressed in a suit and tie, his lip adorned with a salt and pepper mustache that may well have just been cocaine residue stuck to black hairs. There was no doubt his final destination was Dallas. The other was wearing sandals, shorts, a t-shirt, and a yarmulke. He looked like a forestry instructor at a JCCA summer camp. To an objective observer it would seem like they had absolutely nothing in common. It turns out they had one thing in common, some serious post-marriage problems, or in other words, two really ugly divorces.
That the slick mustachioed man brought up his divorce so quickly was odd to me. I’ve never been divorced, so I’m not really sure what the etiquette is with bringing it up in random conversation. Apparently it’s not an awkward topic to the over 40 crowd? Either that or Mustache could smell his own and sensed divorce on Yarmulke, because Yarmulke chuckled and replied, “Oh yeah, been there.”
Having given each other whatever the secret handshake is for the fraternity of divorced men, probably something that mimes a single tear falling into a glass of scotch (I don’t know), the two started trading divorce war stories. Apparently when all was said and done, Mustache spent 256k on legal fees. Even still, Mustache’s ex-wife was suing him for the Tupperware, according to him. “JUST LET IT GO!” I thought. For fuck’s sake, with the money he would save from not fighting it in court he could keep his leftover spaghetti in hand crafted, diamond encrusted, mahogany boxes. He could buy a refrigerator for every individual item of food in his home! I’m talking stainless steel, two door. But Mustache was a proud man. He said he wouldn’t let his wife do another walkthrough on the house, during which she was sure to take the Tupperware. Also, walkthroughs sound like the worst thing fucking ever.
Yarmulke didn’t specify how much his divorce had cost him, but he told Mustache, while laughing, that his wife was so broke by the end of their divorce that her lawyers asked him to pay her legal fees. It was optional, and apparently just standard procedure to ask in those sorts of scenarios, so of course Yarmulke declined. Unfortunately for Yarmulke, he did do his ex-wife the favor of paying all her debts when they first got hitched. Needless to say he wasn’t too pleased with the view of that hindsight.
From there things escalated quickly. Trading stories quickly turned to one-upmanship as the two went down a checklist of things I never, ever want to experience. Their ex-wives both had mental breakdowns in the courtroom, which involved them screaming at the judge. Their ex-wives also both accused the two men of beating them in what each man claimed was a Hail Mary in the case. “She accused me of hitting her,” Yarmulke droned, seriously droned as if he were running down a list. Mustache interrupted, knowingly laughing, “Yup, me too.”
Yarmulke was dressed like a Jewish hippie, needless to say he didn’t look like the spouse abusing type. Mustache, on the other hand, definitely fits my mental image of the guy who irrationally hates frozen pizza.
To be fair though, Mustache won full custody of his kid, so I doubt he was actually abusing anyone. However, I obviously only heard one side of the story.
Eventually Mustache thought he had won the competition, and believe me, it had absolutely evolved into a competition. If you were judging the men based solely on their personal experiences, then Mustache had, in fact, won. Yarmulke did not want to be outdone though, and he busted out a divorce story so insane I don’t know if I believe it.
“So get a load of this,” Yarmulke says leaning in with an elbow nudge as he dives into a story about a friend’s shattering home life. Yarmulke began to regale Mustache with a tale about a friend of his. A friend who was apparently fond of reading the newspaper front to back, everyday. He lives in Oklahoma City, which was Yarmulke’s final destination. This particular day that Yarmulke’s friend was reading the paper was less than a week after that tragic tornado had struck Moore, Oklahoma, which is a suburb of OKC. Yarmulke’s friend reaches the obituary section and starts reading one of the many tornado entries. Listed among the loved ones of a man killed in Moore, a personal trainer (because of course there had to be a personal trainer in a divorce story like this), were the usual grandparents, parents, siblings, etc. There was also a “loving girlfriend” listed. That loving girlfriend, it turns out, was the wife of Yarmulke’s friend.
Reading the obituary started turning on some light bulbs in Yarmulke’s friend’s head. Specifically, it now made perfect, terrible sense why his wife had broken down at dinner a few days earlier about the death of her personal trainer. He assumed they were friends but had no idea they were close enough to make her cry like that, let alone that they were banging. Hard. Probably. I mean he was a personal trainer. God help Yarmulke’s friend if they were an adulterous CrossFit couple. The marriage was apparently already rocky, according to Yarmulke, but the couple had been trying to work it out. One of them had, anyway. Not anymore.
Mustache didn’t have anything to top that. Who does? Besides, the plane was landing anyway. As we de-boarded the two men told each other, “Nice to meet you,” and had one last laugh about their outrageous, expensive, and insanely depressing (at least to me) relationships. They were good sports about it though, so maybe it wasn’t so depressing. Still, 256k? Holy shit. I thought student loans were annoying. I never want post-marriage problems.