Plane fight with my anti-ego

I’m not quite sure this counts as a moral dilemma but it might. I had to change my flight out of D.C., which meant I basically went on same day standby. There was a mix-up and the board meeting I thought was on Wednesday was actually on Friday. Not a problem except Friday was my birthday and I wanted to get home to spend part of it with the family. I had scheduled my flight for 6 a.m. Friday. It’s important I not miss the board meeting in D.C. so instead of catching the flight out as scheduled, I went to the meeting and caught the latest flight possible home.

That, of course, meant that I didn’t get the best seat option.I got the middle seat, and like most people I don’t like the middle seat. I always ask for the window seat. I have a pretty efficient bladder for an old lady who’s birthed four kids. (Yes, I know, hold the applause please). A window seat gives me the illusion of not being crowded and a place to rest my head. I like it best.

There have been a few times when I’ve had the middle seat and I do all right. I make do. Remember, I’m the gal who sleeps in the car at truck stops and camps at KOAs everywhere but in Carrie Underwood’s hometown. Bad night that one. So I’m hardly high maintenance, though, Tim would beg to differ. If I am going to be in a hotel, I prefer one without fleas and one with good linens. But I’m perfectly okay sleeping in my sleeping bag, too. It’s comfy.

That said, there is one thing I don’t do well — smells. I’ve got the weak stomach for those. When the kids puked, Tim did the clean up, otherwise I was puking too. Take me out to lunch at a place where they are using lemon-scented ammonia and I can’t eat. Put me on a plane next to a person who smells sour and you can expect me to start retching. There’s a reason God made me a writer and not a nurse. You have to have a keen sense of composure to be a nurse. I lack that, as you all have likely noticed at time or two.

So after I took my seat in the middle and realized that the man to my left likely hadn’t bathed since he left Salt Lake on Monday, I did what any Christian woman would do in that situation — I prayed. I asked God to help me figure out how I was going to make the four-hour flight without breathing. When the guy raised his right arm to turn on the overhead air vent, I liked to have passed out. I may have been raised in a trailer but everyone in the house bathed regularly. And Mama kept a big bottle of Chanel No.5 handy to cover up the stench of cigarettes.

I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to sit next to this fella for any length of time without throwing up. So I called to the stewardess. She looked every bit like Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies. Petite Irene Ryan look-alike. Wrinkles and generous smile. As she leaned over towards me, the PA system came on and the pilot said, “Karen Zacharias if you are on the flight please press the page button overhead.”

It’s creepy to have the pilot announce your name before God and everybody, especially when you are as famous as me and Lady Gaga. I try to fly incognito, so I usually leave the meat dress at home. (*see remarks about smells above).

But in this instance, it kind of worked in my favor. The hog-smelling guy leaned forward and Granny Delta leaned in behind him. “That’s me they are calling and I need another seat,” I said.  

I whispered that last part.

“Come with me,” Granny Delta said, motioning me. Everybody turned and looked at me the way kids do when somebody gets sent to the Principal’s office. I guess they thought I was about to get a whacking.

But Granny Delta took me to the back of the plane, where she gave me three seats all to my lonesome. I didn’t even have to tell her why I needed a new seat. She said, “If you think that was bad, you ought to try one of those Europe flights. People don’t bathe much.”

The pilot?  He just wanted me to know they were checking my bag, Granny Delta said. Then she added, “I don’t know if you drink but if you do, it’s on the house tonight.”

Hello. Hallelujah. I got a whole can of cran-apple juice to myself and two packs of biscotti. I felt like breaking into song. Delta Dawn came to mind, though the lyrics don’t really work as a song of thanks, it’s got a catchy title.

I tried to stretch out and sleep but I wasn’t able. So I got the computer out and worked until the battery died. Then I took out a Bible and was studying through that but began to feel uneasy: What if someone sees me reading the Bible after I’ve moved to the back of the plane because the guy next to me smelled bad? How do the people in Haiti manage? How does Sean Penn do that? How does Hugh deal with drunks? How was Mother Teresa able to bind the wounds of the smelly?

Well, hell, I put the Bible away and got out the Vietnam magazine. Reading about McNamara always makes me feel better about myself.

Maybe God gave me the seats at the back of the plane ’cause it was my birthday, I argued. I have to argue that because my anti-ego doesn’t believe in a God who gives rich people first-class tickets and better seats.  My anti-ego says I’m just a middle-class puke who can’t tolerate the least little thing that infringes upon my right to happiness and comfort.

Despite the best efforts of Granny Delta, me and my anti-ego had a miserable flight. We fought the entire trip.

Do you get into tussles like this with your own self? Or is it just me?

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  • Well, I stay off planes as a rule, because I’m too cheap to pay for a ticket, but yes — I do a real good impression of Jacob quite often. Those angels that wrestle are pains in the rear. I must say, though, that I think when we REALLY need to start worrying is when we no longer bother to step into the ring with them.

  • Yes … I get into tussles like that with myself. Actually just did the other day – I was supposed to be editing, but instead I (we) had a major mental gymnastics sessions that rivaled the Olympics! Gosh, I should have handed out medals.
    (wrote about it here –