Weingarten’s inferno: The lowest circle of hell is the airplane seat next to his Gene’s


(Eric Shansby)
Gene Weingarten
Columnist November 15, 2013

I am not a nice person. This will surprise some of my friends but only because their knowledge of me is limited to what I say and what I do. They are not privy to what goes on inside my head. That is where the bleakness dwells. That is the home of the aggravated me, the petty, impatient, selfish me.

I don’t get off scot-free, though. There is a God of Comeuppances, and I know He is on to me. Consider the events of a few weeks ago, on a trip to Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City has a small airport, which means the last leg of the trip was on a plane not much larger than a bus, which meant the seating was even more cramped than usual, which meant my demons danced.

Gene Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writes "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. View Archive

The seating on this mini-plane was three across: two on one side of the aisle and one on the other. I was already grumpy because I didn’t get the singleton. I boarded early and proceeded to watch others board, playing the game of guess-hoping which seatmate I would draw and … oh, no. No. No. (Sigh.) Yes. A huge man. A man who seemed to contain protoplasmic mass equivalent to two normal-size women and a small goat. He oozed in beside me, a furnace of presence.

Outwardly, I was fine; gracious, friendly, welcoming. Inside, things were getting ugly. Then something amazing and unexpected happened. A woman stood over us, looked at her ticket, and said to me, “I believe you have the wrong seat.” She was right! I was in hers. I should have been in the row in front, next to the skinny guy!

The lady took in the situation and blurted, “Oh, I’ll just take your …”

No, you won’t, lady! I bolted out of my seat and into the aisle to make an utterly unnecessary seat readjustment, in a shameless display of selfishness. I settled in next to a guy who was built like Dagwood Bumstead. That’s when the God of Comeuppances made His appearance. He was dressed like a female flight attendant. (The GoC is a shape-shifter.)

The deity was talking to the passenger in the single seat, a lady with a baby on her lap. This turned out to be Dagwood’s wife. The single row doesn’t have an extra oxygen mask, she noted, so Blondie would have to switch with her husband. Suddenly I was sitting next to a woman and a squirming, squalling, kicking, diaper-filling 2-year-old, holding a Magic Marker with which he continually lunged, for the next 90 minutes, at my tan sports jacket.

On the return trip, I was pretty nervous about time, because both my connecting flights were tight. But I was not too nervous to play the boarding seatmate brain game in my customary way, which involves not just fear of girth but hoping for a pretty lady. It’s sexist of me — inexcusable, really, and pathetic — but only the GoC knows I do it, and in punishment He has seen to it that I never, ever, win this game. But not this time! Pretty, smart-looking young woman plopped right down, saw I was doing a crossword puzzle, offered to help. We taxied from the gate.

Suddenly, the woman sighed deeply and called out: “I need to get off this plane!”

The attendant rushed back. “It’s okay,” she said, “many people feel claustrophobic in small … ”

That wasn’t it, stammered my seatmate. She couldn’t explain, she said, but she suddenly realized she didn’t want to see the person she was going to visit. He could ruin her life! She looked around, importuning the other passengers; she knew this was a terrible imposition, but could we … might we ... go back to the gate? Faces softened. Mine, too. That was what everyone saw. Inside, spitting fury.

We returned to the airport. The pilot thanked us all for our decency, noted we’d have to wait for her luggage to be offloaded, and apologized for the 40-minute connections-assassinating delay. He sounded genuinely sympathetic. He didn’t fool me. I knew who He was.

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.

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