The universe has required me to take on a substantially larger share of sitting next to not-the-best seatmates on flights.

I'm happy to do it. Sometimes. But not every time.

It's like a curse. I see the 100-pound sensible-looking elderly woman with a tidy purse board just before the 7 foot 2 man with 16 carry-ons and a half-eaten jumbo bag of corn nuts and I immediately know the latter is destined for the seat next to, which in coach basically translates to "on top of", me.

It's fine. Someone has to sit next to the excessive cougher or the complainer or the person who insists on a window seat despite needing to use the bathroom every 20 minutes.

But it would be nice to have a break from this every once in a while.

Last night I did not get the break.

I knew where they were headed the moment I saw them get onto the plane. It wasn't rocket science to figure it out. They were very late and there were few seats left. I was in an aisle seat on a row of three, and the middle and window seats were unoccupied.

I knew that couldn't last, because, well, see above.

It was a couple, probably in their thirties, straight from Woodstock '69. He was tall and exceedingly thin. His hair, which didn't appear to have ever seen water, let alone shampoo, was severely matted and it stuck out nearly a foot in all directions.

She matched him. Literally, actually. They were wearing identical burlap slingback shoes that I would wager my life on being homemade.

All of that was fine and well. But they weren't alone. They carried with them a child that must have been only one day from being too old to not require its own seat.

This is roughly the eleventy-hundredth flight I have taken where I'm assigned to a row with a babe in arms.

Look. I'm not criticizing anyone who travels with a small child on their lap. If I ever have a small child and need to fly somewhere, I will do the same, and I will probably be as annoying as possible about it.

I'm not one of those jerks who rolls his eyes and gives the cold shoulder to the exhausted parents in that situation on flights. I'm the jerk who smiles, says what a cute baby it is, and then writes a blog post later complaining about them.

And by the way, the single best thing I've ever done in my entire life was this one time four years ago when a young mom with a 10-month-old was seated next to me on a four-hour flight. She was already on the verge of tears when we boarded and she looked like she hadn't slept in about 10 months and the kid just wanted to play so I offered to hold it so she could have a break for a minute and then she fell asleep and for the next four hours the 10-month-old vomited on me so much vomit that if I'm not canonized for this some day I'm going to stop being Catholic.

So I've earned my right to complain about this situation.

Three people packed in a row in economy seating on a flight is already suffocating. You want to know a good way to make that situation even more uncomfortable? Add a toddler.

And honestly, I'm not sure that this child could be classified as a "toddler" anyway. It looked old enough to drive. If they had told me they were just returning from a college campus tour, I would have not even raised an eyebrow. Mostly because of the botox.

So, no. I wasn't surprised when Darius and Athena--they didn't tell me their names but those are for sure it--I wasn't surprised when they showed up to row 16 and told me that they, their child, and their 12 carry-on bags were assigned to the two seats next to me.

I stood and let them in.

The overhead bins were already full, so they had to try to jam all of their worldly possessions underneath the seats in front of them.

Fortunately for them I had been hate-crimed by TSA at the JFK airport moments before and forced to go back and check-in the absurd amount of olive-oil I had bought in an airport earlier in the day and which I was importing (there was enough of it that I think I'm legally required to use that word to describe what I was doing) it into the United States. The TSA agent told me that it set off alarms when they ran it all through security and that since they weren't sure these bottles were not "explosives," they couldn't let me through with them.

She hardly appreciated my joke about how explosives made from Italian olive oil would surely make the world a better place, but she did give me a high five after escorting me back to the check-in area, which I'm just now realizing was kind of strange. Especially considering that she suspected me for terrorism.

What this all meant was that I boarded the plane with literally nothing. So Darius and Athena used the space under the seat in front of me to its full capacity.

I didn't mind sharing, but I did notice that they packed my spot a little tighter than their own.

But that was fine. They had a child and it was clearly a needy one so they had their hands full.

You've probably noticed that I keep referring to the child as "it." This is because the gender was wholly ambiguous to me, and looking at Darius and Athena I am 1,000% sure that they are going to wait for it to declare its own gender one day.


Also, they kept calling the child "Pluma," which I guess was its name, and I have no idea if that's a male or female name.

All of this was fine. Everything was fine. I could live with all of this, including their smell, which was something I cannot even describe to you. It was a smell I had never encountered before in my life. There need to be new words to describe it. It was like if you went to an alien planet and then toured their sewage facility.


I didn't smell particularly good either. They were probably thinking a lot of similar thoughts about me.

I did become a little concerned when Athena blurted out the moment they sat down, "honey, hurry and gather up any vomit bags you see."

Athena peeked into the seat pocket in front of her and retrieved a vomit bag, which she reached into for some reason. Then she shrieked. LOUDLY. She pulled her hand out and declared that there was a chewed piece of gum in the vomit bag, which admittedly is gross.

But it's like a 3 out of 10 on the grossness scale. To me, anyway. To Athena it was an 11.5.

She mentioned the chewed gum to her husband ten dozen times during the course of the flight, reminding him repeatedly that "there was gum in there and my hand touched it and it wasn't mine and it was yucky!"

By the way, Athena had a Disney princess voice. But, not like a normal one. It was like she was doing a mean-spirited parody of a Disney princess voice. Which made it weirder to hear her say "vomit bags" so many times.

For his part, Darius spoke slowly and over-enunciated every syllable, like he was trying desperately to project an air of simplicity. It was difficult to listen to both of them talk so much about vomit bags. But I guess their excessive elocution distracted me from wondering why they needed one so badly.

The conversation was interrupted by Pluma, who, in a complete and full sentence that was probably used in its college essays, said to Athena, "mommy, I'm bored; I would like some milk, please."

"What a polite child," I thought. And I was immediately proud of Darius and Athena for their parenting abilities. I even turned to tell them what a polite child they had. And that's when I saw that Athena had pulled her shirt completely down to her waist, full exposing both of her boobs and her belly. Pluma was holding one of them like a bottle, taking sips, between carrying on a conversation about the current state of political affairs in Ghana.

Look. I celebrate breastfeeding. Anyone is welcome to boob all they want in front of me. I applaud you. When the pervy man at church or work or wherever complains about you engaging in THE MIRACLE OF LIFE, I promise you I will be the first person jumping to your defense.

BUT, removing her entire shirt so her possibly-adult child could feed off of her body in economy seating just seemed like an odd choice to me.

And I felt like a crazy person when the flight attendant came to our row, "dairy farm on 16" as I had started calling it, to talk to Darius and Athena and she seemed completely unfazed by the fact that Athena was fully topless and Pluma was not even actively feeding anymore.



So far, everything was fine.

But then.

Then Athena said a thing to the flight attendant that was no longer fine.

"Can you please get as many vomit bags as you can for us? Our child has severe motion sickness and will be throwing up a lot."

My heart goes out to every parent who has ever had to travel with sick kids.

But. Considering the above disclosure. Considering that Pluma has "severe motion sickness" and "will be throwing up a lot." Considering that very important information. WHY. WHY??? WHY would Athena and Darius think it was a good idea to open up boob city and fill Pluma with bodily fluids moments before the flight?

And I get it. Sometimes you just have to feed your baby when it's hungry. But Pluma was not a baby. I'm pretty sure Pluma was in my high school graduating class.

Plus, Pluma wasn't even hungry. By its own account, Pluma was just "bored" and wanted to pass the time by treating Athena like a pregnant dog on a European beach.

The flight attendant must have been panicking because Skylar told me later that she frantically wandered first class, asking everyone for their vomit bags. He was seated there because he had been upgraded due to his Holy Virgin Mary Celestial Kingdom status on Delta, which has basically ensured that he never has to sit near me on any flight we've taken together.

Skylar didn't know who needed the vomit bags, but being aware of my history of luck on flights he just assumed that I was somehow affected by all of this.

Krishelle was seated two rows behind me and so she was a very entertained spectator to the whole thing. She later told me she felt bad for me. But apparently not bad enough to offer to trade me places.

The plane took off and both Athena and Darius dropped into a four-hour movie binge. He chose A Wrinkle in Time and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. She watched Isle of Dogs twice in a row, which was interesting.

Pluma watched me. And it was as creepy as it sounds.

Its eye contact was only ever broken when it vomited, which happened roughly 36 times during that flight, during which Athena was topless in order to allow Pluma to refill every time it emptied its stomach.

I nearly asked if I could have some of the vomit bags a few hours in to this thing. My nausea was not helped by the Japanese family across the aisle from me who opened up a bag of very potent sushi as soon as we were in the air and then spent the next hour and a half passing it up and down the rows to their other family members who were scattered about the plane.

We landed near midnight in Salt Lake City. I hadn't slept in almost 30 hours by this point, and I was anxious to get off the plane and get home.

Darius asked a flight attendant if they could have a large bag to put all of their small vomit-filled bags inside of it, like they were hoping to create the world's most disgusting Russian nesting doll.

I gagged as they shuffled these things around. Pluma was throwing toys at this point and Athena was digging through a nap sack to find a new shirt because she had decided to just change her clothes entirely as we were taxying.

Thirty minutes later Krishelle, Skylar, and I were standing in line to fill out a report since all of our checked bags had apparently been lost on our way home.

I saw Darius, Athena, and Pluma gleefully leaving the airport with their things. I thought about my own predicament. And I knew I deserved this considering all of the mean things I was going to go home and write about them.

~It Just Gets Stranger