Before getting on an airplane, Birdie always prayed. She prayed for protection, that the plane would get to its destination without any mishaps, and that she wouldn’t have to sit next to anyone who had B. O., smelled like cigarettes, was obnoxious, or was wearing too much cologne. She figured if she was a better Christian, she would pray to sit next to someone to whom she could witness, but all her hardened heart desired was to have an empty seat next to her or failing that, to have it filled with someone who didn’t invade too much of her personal space.
She still remembered that flight from St. Louis to Denver, when she was trapped in the window seat, her one-year-old son on her lap, with a loquacious drunk stuffed in the seat next to her. As he drank his 9:00 A.M. screwdriver, he complimented Birdie on how well behaved her baby was, admitting that he didn’t have any kids “that he knew of. Ha! Ha!”
“Thank goodness no one is strapped with that burden,” thought Birdie, as she was smiling like an idiot and thanking him for the compliment. Wouldn’t want to be impolite to the drunk.
He had just come from a wedding reception that had lasted all night and was feeling expansive and philosophic, which she had to admit was better than being an angry drunk. It was just that a drunk of any kind, in the close confines of coach seating, was never pleasant.
As he downed his second screwdriver–“Have to get my morning orange juice, ha, ha.”–he began regaling Birdie with his philosophy of life. It turned out to be a Kenny Rogers song. “You gotta know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em,” he told her, nodding his head and slurring his words.
“Good advice,” thought Birdie, as she mentally finished the lyric. “Know when to walk away; know when to run.” Unfortunately, this credo was not easily adhered to when one was at 30,000 feet next to a drunk whose tray table was down and seat back reclined.
He went on to tell her that it was important to “Go for the gusto, and grab the gold ring, because you only go around once.” It seemed to Birdie as if she were going around and around. Definitely more than once, as he repeated his theme to her over and over again, wanting her to grasp the profundity of his “words to live by.”
“Even more ridiculous,” thought Birdie, “was my response.” She had continued to nod and smile like a half-wit, pretending to be interested, maybe even indicating that she agreed. She was saddled with this compulsion to be polite regardless of the circumstances. Didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. Didn’t want to make anyone feel awkward. Don’t hang up on the telephone solicitor. Wouldn’t be courteous. Pretend you don’t see the neighbor having dinner with the attractive woman who is not his wife. Might embarrass him. Let the obtrusive drunk spew his blather all over you and your baby. It wouldn’t be nice to ignore him.