Bungling Along

I am almost done reading David Sedaris’ “Calypso.” I’ve always loved reading Sedaris because he makes me laugh. Last year when he came to D.C., I eagerly bought a ticket to hear him speak and read some of his work. Needless to say, I fell asleep during the performance at the Kennedy Center. For lack of a better word, it all felt contrived, and contrived whittled down to its core is nothing more than boring, cloaked in Japanese pants (this will make sense in two seconds).

Buying his latest work a couple of weeks ago was a last ditch effort to rekindle my love of his writing. I’m going to save you the trouble as well as a few bucks. Sedaris buys a beach house, shops for his clothes in Tokyo and feeds a fox out the back door of his country home in England. The end. Now you know everything you need to know about Sedaris’ life of late.

Do I sound surly?

That’s the sound of disappointment talking. It occurs after the literary, fantastical fall from grace. The truth is, sometimes the idea of a person supersedes the actual person. Even so, I’m not sure if I had skipped out on seeing Sedaris in the flesh, my opinion would be any different than what it is now. Seeing him live just sped up the process.

Sedaris should have named his newest work “Look at Me!” He has switched his genre from “humorous memoir” to “I’ve Made It and…Oh Yeah, That is All.”

After you get past Sedaris talking about how great his life is, he returns momentarily to his old self and speaks about a guy on a plane who has shit in his pants.

Just like that, the lightbulbs flashed in my head.  

(One thing all books share, even crappy ones, is their ability to bring up old memories, flush out ideas, new or old, or give you a different perspective, good or bad. I will give “Calypsothat much. Also, this is the point where Russ would say, “You just love talking about shit, don’t you?” He did actually just utter those exact words to me.)

Sedaris’ story reminded me of the guy I saw last week getting off a Metro train. He stood up from his seat and faced the doors to exit and it took me a minute to reconcile the large brown stain on the seat of his pants. Sometimes it’s not just a cliché. The poor man had shit himself.

How does a guy like this end up in a situation like that?

He looked like a professor. He was older and greying, tall and slim, wearing khakis and Merrell’s, very unassumingly, but neatly, put together. On the fly, this somehow translated as academic and erudite.

I admit to my heuristic analysis, but in the moment, it’s all a person has. My heart sank for the guy. Most of us get to hide our most shameful moments behind closed doors, or in front of only a couple people who truly care about our well-being. Otherwise, you’re worst moment becomes everyone else’s cheap fodder that can haunt you long after the moment has passed.

This guy had no chance. There was nowhere for him to hide deboarding the Metro train amongst all of the other commuters. It didn’t help that he walked along with a slight hitch in his gate. He looked very uncomfortable, like someone who had ridden a bike for several hours, and developed horrible chafing as a result. I questioned how this could happen. He didn’t seem old or frail enough to be the kind of person who would lose control of his bowels. I surmised he must have been taking some kind of heavy medication, an antibiotic perhaps, or God forbid, chemotherapy of some kind. Maybe it was just as simple as he developed a fast-acting virus that took over his bowels in quick succession.

As my dad often says, “Growing old is not for sissies.”

I kicked myself for not having a fleece or sweater with me. Oftentimes I do as buildings can be cold even if the weather is not. If there had been a shop that sold pants close by, I would have bought him pants—anything to shorten the time when he must feel such immense shame with no end in sight.

I haven’t shit in my pants, yet, but I once thought I was going to come close to something like it. I had visited my sister in Marfa, Texas for the holidays. That Christmas morning, while all of the adults were sipping coffee, patiently awaiting for the sleeping child to wake up, my niece suddenly sat up with her eyes still closed, and proceeded to projectile puke all over the couch.

Fun times.

My first thought, and at times like this when I cross paths with a sick kid I only have the one initial thought, was “I am sooo going to get sick. Fuckkkk. Meee.” But several more days went by and I didn’t. I thought I had dodged the kid-sick bullet.

I packed my stuff to head home and my sister drove me the three hours to the closest airport in El Paso. We stopped for coffee-to-go on the way out of town and I remember feeling a little flat. Honestly, I chalked it up to time spent with family at the holidays. I figured my quarter had run out and I had expertly timed my departure.

We got about an hour into the drive and I started to feel a lot worse. I got a little nauseous, which is never fun, but more troubling was the lightheadedness and vertigo. On one side, the stripes down the middle of the highway started to look like they were going warp speed, and on the other side, all of the cactus started to look like they were having a dance party.

I hate to make an obvious pun (I don’t really), but this road trip turned out to be one bad trip. I asked my sister to slow down (the speed limit is 75 out there). Concerned, she suggested turning around.

Maybe you should wait a couple of days before flying out?” she offered.

“No, no, I’m fine.” I countered.

By the time I arrived at the airport, I was sweating and shaking all at the same time. I repeated my mantra, “I just have to get home. I can be sick when I get there. I just have to get home…”

I sat in my seat on the plane trying to hold it all together. I located the barf bag. I just have to get home. Once up in the air, they had barely turned off the seatbelt sign when I unclicked my belt and stood up. I just have to get to the bathroom. I had held off puking, or otherwise, up until that point, but I knew it was a fight I was about to lose. Sweating and shaking, I held onto the corner of each seat on either side as I made my way down the aisle.

Then I passed out.

I crumpled to the floor and my head landed in a stranger’s lap. It’s a day I’ll never forget and I’d bet the guy whose lap I landed in probably won’t forget the day either. A flight attendant came right over and tried to help me up. Resting my head against the guy’s legs, I said, “Wait…I just need a second.

She squatted down next to me and asked, “Do we need to turn around?”

Waiting for an answer, she asked accusingly, “Did you take something?

She couldn’t contain her panic. She asked, “Are you on drugs??”

If I didn’t still think I might puke, I would have laughed.


Is that what you think?

Can’t a person just be sick these days??

I squeaked out, “No…my niece was sick a few days ago…and I got it this morning….on the way to the airport. I just need to get to the bathroom.”

She helped me up, and with a plane full of concerned passengers’ eyes on me, I slowly made my way to the head in the back of the plane. Looking at myself in the mirror, even I was horrified by what I saw. My face was positively grey. I took a few minutes to compose myself, and unfortunately (or fortunately), nothing else happened. The virus did not spontaneously vacate the premises, though I was sure I would feel much better if it did. I slowly went back to my seat. The attendant came back over and said there was a doctor on the plane if I needed anything. Still grey and clammy, I said, “I will take anything he’s got.”

A few minutes later she came back with a handful of pills, some Tylenol and something else for nausea. I swallowed all of it without looking back at the bestower or thinking twice about any repercussions. I figured, “It can’t get any worse, can it?” So yes, I will take drugs from a total stranger, and yes, it helped immensely, especially since I still had one more flight to go after the one I was on.

I was so glad to get home.

The only thing worse than being sick is being sick when you’re not at home.

That mishap in the air reminded of another mishap in the air, only this time, it wasn’t mine. A few of us horse professionals decided, over a lot of wine, of course, to take a quick trip to Puerto Rico around the holidays. Sitting at the small island in my friend’s kitchen, wine glasses in hand, we whipped our credit cards out and bought tickets and booked our rooms.

Boom. We were going!

About six weeks later we all climbed into the car in the wee hours of the morning to get to our flight at Dulles. Being horse people, who are not used to sitting down a lot, all of us slept pretty good on the plane, thankful for a respite from our normal schedules. I was still drifting in and out of sleep when my friend decided to get up and go to the bathroom.

One thing I’ve noticed in middle age is as soon as I wake up, I need to pee. Sometimes the needing to pee is what wakes me up. Anyway, my friend woke up and he needed to pee so off he went. He hadn’t been gone very long when the seatbelt sign flickered on and they announced we would be landing soon. After they announced it three times, the three of us still sitting in our seats looked at each other.

Where was our fourth member?

The plane started to descend. Now we knew we had a problem. We were in the landing process when our fourth member carefully climbed his way back down the aisle to his seat. In a flash, the flight attendant rushed over, and within an inch of his face, read him his rights. We sat there slack jawed as the attendant shredded him for being in the head when clearly he should have been in his seat with his seatbelt on. When the guy finally stopped his berating, waiting for an explanation, my friend, pleading with complete honesty said, “I just needed to pee. I didn’t know we would be landing so soon.” He apologized profusely, but the attendant wasn’t buying it. He thought he pulled a stunt. When he finally stormed off, we all started cracking up. Watching our friend pantomime his experience in the head as he realized the plane was starting to drop made us laugh even harder. Apparently it’s not super easy to stay in one spot in a very tiny room when the plane starts to descend.

These two experiences turned out to be embarassing, but funny. The guy on the train on the other hand? I hope he’s recovered some of his dignity by now, but I’m sure his experience will haunt him for a long time. Cleaning yourself is a basic tenet paramount to all species. When you lose that ability, you can easily lose your dignity in the process. It can happen to anyone and will happen to most everyone before it’s all said and done.

In the meantime, I’m trying to embrace it all–the awkward, the embarassing, the horrifying. Like yesterday when I lost my footing going down the trail. One foot slid all the way out in front of me, leaving me to sit on the heel of the other foot which didn’t budge, like I was stretching on purpose in the middle of my hike. My first thought (after how many people saw that??) was, “Wow, I didn’t know my knee could bend that much…and I am so grateful it did without tearing everything off the sides!”  

Maybe that’s the best we can hope for—bungling along without pulling everything off the sides in the process. At the very least, it will make for good stories to share.

Over lots of wine, of course, where there is always an empty seat at my table. 



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