So…Madeleine Albright. You remember her; she was a secretary by profession and was in charge of all that crazy inaction during the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides of the 90s. Well, she was back in the news last week for improvised philosophizing, saying–and I quote: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” This was shouted during a heated and emotionally imprudent campaign moment in New Hampshire in an attempt to garner primary votes—for Carly Fiorina, I think. But this post is not about Madeleine Albright.
What got me conTIMplating was what she said during that moment of impassioned and impulsive stupidity. Her foolhardy fervency sparked in me a recollected memory from my historical past of a bygone era, and I suddenly came to understand a comprehending realization: I think I know what that special place in hell is. No, it’s not watching The View, but close.
Think about it: when you are at your most miserable point, the lowest of your low; when you are all alone and the feeling gnaws at you that there is no hope; when your despair is so palatable that you can almost feel the blue-hot flames licking at your body…where are you? I’ll tell you where you are:
The Middle Seat.
Few can withstand the terror of its inevitable approach: the sweating palms, the racing heart, the blurring vision. I would say that it seems like the aisle narrows, but the aisle is already that narrow.
Being a seasoned traveler (i.e., salty), I have much experience with climbing into that constricting catacomb with nothing on the horizon but hours of immobility and elbows. Allow me to relate an experiential example for your commiserating pleasure.
A couple of years ago (and by a couple, I mean five), The Queen Mother and I sought a warm weather respite from the stupidity of Minnesota’s winter—a special place in hell in its own right. Our chosen destination was the island Kauai and its capital of Lihue, named for something you do when overtaken by a mild case of phlegm. Flying from Los Angeles, or as we in the biz say, City of Angles (the City of Angels is Anaheim), we were forced to sit separately. With each of us sentenced to
The Middle Seat.
After sufficient renting of garments, we boarded. I approached my assigned row and, through my extraordinary powers of observation, noticed that the window seat next to me was occupied. He was already asleep, cuddling the cabin wall, making restful sounds, spittle oozing. And he smelled like a New Jersey landfill.
I callously judged him as having traveled internationally from somewhere around rural Myanmar, probably having been on a plane since Bush 41 without a chance to shower from the time he left the womb. I eased in next to him, my nose and disposition wrinkled, afraid of actually touching lest my Aloha shirt be permanently funkified. I had a sudden empathy for the she-cat from Pepe Le Pew cartoons. He moved very little and was to remain unconscious for the entire flight. I knew he was alive though, from the sound of his rhythmic malodorousness.
I watched the fellow boarders with my hopes up, picking out who should sit on my other side. Certainly, it can’t get any worse. Perhaps it would be the Pope. Or Payton Manning. Or Scarlett Johansson. But alas…no. For then boarded he whom I can only describe as a Stay Puft Marshmallow Michelin Man. He was a pasty-white giant, 400 pounds if he was a day; his plaid shirt arcing between buttons and straining to reach the acres of denim just below it. Even his shoes were obscured by an avalanche of fat feet. He headed straight for me. If I ever said OMG, I would have said OMG. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought.
Imagine my relief as he squeezed into the seat across the aisle. Sigh.
Now imagine my alarm as his twin brother boarded behind him. Unsigh.
Of course they want to sit next to each other, but between the two of them they could not fit into a single three-seat row. So they sat across the aisle from one another. In my row. Next to me.
Stay Puft II maneuvered himself into the inadequate space and I watched in horror as the armrest between us was completely enveloped, my own seat shrinking to roughly half its size. The two of them were like side-by-side tennis balls amidst neatly-spaced marbles. Each of them spilled into the aisle such that they had to lean away from it to make room whenever anyone passed—which during the boarding process launched me involuntarily and repeatedly into the lap of Sleeping Pepe. I remember thinking that I hoped there was a lot of butter in first class because they are going to need to grease up the beverage carts to get them through. I think I may have cried a little bit.
Five hours. Five hours sitting with my hands between my knees, elbows touching at my naval. Five hours wedged between personified nausea and a man whose seat belt extension was nicknamed “The Equator”. Five hours fantasizing about bursting a human being with a knitting needle. Five hours longing for just the tiniest shard of a Little Tree automotive air freshener that I could stuff up my nose. Five hours wishing the vilest of Medieval perpetrations upon the Wright Brothers. Five hours in a special place in hell.
So beware ladies. Help each other. I entreat you.