Monday, September 19, 2016

In my older age, after a stint as an E on the Myers-Briggs continuum for a few years, I’ve found my way right back to my erstwhile tendencies, this time as an INFJ.

As is the case with most I’s, prolonged exposure to social interaction feels draining. But unlike most I’s, I derive a twisted enjoyment from awkward social situations because they demand to be savored. Indeed, their very existence hinges on chance factors colliding perfectly into each other: the right people, the right mix of conflicting motivations, the right blend of unmet expectations.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the middle seat on a flight to New York, sandwiched between a morbidly obese fellow to my right and a tiny Asian woman to my left. There were also two flatulent passengers–or one really talented gasmaster–who smelled alternately of rancid potato chips and, frankly, shit. To the best of what I could tell, my immediate neighbors weren’t the perpetrators, but then again, such Venn diagrams are unknowable.

The fat dude on my right spilled into a quarter of my seat, but to his credit, there was a grim acknowledgement of the situation before he sat. Surely he had gone through the motions on prior flights, and when he stood in the aisle, answered my “Is this your seat?” question with a stoic nod and a sigh, I respected it.

The Asian woman asked for help with her bag, which I quickly rendered, believing the social contract limited to the placement and removal of luggage. I put in my earbuds, activated my fan as a kind of makeshift air curtain, since I was tired of hoping for the rancid chip farts instead of the standard brand, and just as I started to drift off into a fake nap, the social contract expanded.

She could see that I was pressed for space and motioned to scoot over, which I had no intention of doing. Fortunately, I had already began to drift into my pretend sleep, so when she attempted to lift the armrest up, I stretched a bit and brought it right back down with my arm, effectively rebuffing the offer.

It was something I had to do, because I saw the probable arc: an act of kindness, yes, but informed by an undercurrent of “It’s us vs. these fat Americans,” followed by prolonged conversation for the duration of the flight, starting with where my parents came from originally.

That was the road not taken, anyhow, and shortly thereafter, I noticed she was asking my portly neighbor about the overhead fans. She felt cold, I gathered, and was looking for solutions. I wasn’t about to give up my air curtain, however, so yet again, we found ourselves at a stalemate. I sunk deeper into my deceitful sleep.

But the fake sleep turned honest at some point, and when I finally woke up, I saw the woman had draped a blanket over her entire body, like a corpse in the morgue, to ward off my air curtain. It was the perfect visual bookend for this carnival of misery, and you simply had to appreciate the grotesquery–you can’t make up copy like this.

It’s not entirely lost on me that holding you captive here to recount this story is awkward, in and of itself, but consider our social contract fulfilled. Now, it’s back to wedding planning for me. I proposed to Doc on the 9th of August, in front of a distillery in Dublin–there’s your context in the form of a mental horse pill, I suppose. She has suggested we elope, for the sake of logistics and incredible savings, but we have chosen to endure the pageantry, the construction of which can try a man’s soul.

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