Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Zen Watermelon

I am tucked away in a corner at a Burger King in the Dallas Fort Worth airport. On my right, I can see the empty gate where I will board my flight in an hour. On my left, there is a floor-to-ceiling pane of glass that I periodically rest my forehead against to absorb the icy surface. Through the glass I can see the baggage claim. I am watching the people who are only ten or fifteen feet away from me but they seem oblivious to my voyeur gaze. 

Maybe it is the 80 degree heat in Texas today, or maybe it is the artificial nature of airports, but it seems to me that the people I see through this glass are all over-amplified versions of normal people. [Whatever normal is.] The families are a little too happy, the pregnant women are just a little too preggers, and the teenage kids are like actors auditioning for a gum commercial. A woman at the fast food counter poignantly ordered a Diet Coke with her meal, and when she took a sip, she yelled, "Is this Diet Coke!?" and she said that just a little too emphatically.

Perhaps the oddity in this scene are those people behind the glass, or perhaps the oddity is me. I happen to be feeling a bit pastel when I am normally more fluorescent green. Somebody pulled the rug out from under my well-being. Somebody spiked my tolerance. Somebody spray-painted my dignity.

Travel can be hard. Research can be trying. Carrying heavy things on your shoulders can make you violent and rage-filled. When you make it to your gate, you might not have anything left to get you through the jet-way to that exit row seat. 

Well, look at this – someone has sat down near me. She looks tired. She looks blank. Despite zero visual resemblance, she looks identical to me. This person has a name-tag that says 'Donna.' She is wearing plastic gloves and a Burger King visor. 

How does Donna feel? What was she thinking when she flashed me that half-hearted grin just now? Was I smiling at her without realizing it? Maybe my make-up is smeared. Maybe I look a little crazed. I do have a large stain on the left leg of these dirty khaki pants. Maybe I look important sitting behind the glow of my laptop. Maybe I just look like a lost kid trying to act all grown-up.

Lots of people who walk through airports look like they are talking to themselves. They use hand gestures and the cadence of their voices will rise and fall, rise and fall, almost as though the conversation they are having with themselves is a bit overly-important and self righteous. Then you see that they are wearing Bluetooth headsets and they are actually making business calls on their cell phones. If I had my Bluetooth with me right now, I could put it on and I could just start yelling. I could get it all out. People would turn their heads and they would stare as I sat in this corner, screaming and slamming my fist.
'Why the hell would you abandon me like this!? I cannot handle everything and I am so tempted, so incredibly tempted to stop giving you my one hundred percent! I can't sleep! I cannot calm down! LISTEN TO ME. My voice is shaking!! Does any of this mean anything to you, or am I simply a resource to be used up and replaced??'
People would turn and they would stare. Wives mouths would fall unhinged as they reached up to touch their husband's elbows. An airport security guard would raise his walkie-talkie to his lips, prepared to call reinforcements, but then... – all would pause – and the world hover in wait until I pulled a lock of my hair back from my ear and everyone could see that I was wearing a Bluetooth wireless device. After a universal letting out of air in in the lungs, the world would start spinning again and all would be normal. If I were wearing my Bluetooth headset, I could let my craziness shine like a normal business traveler, because the world would think it was just business as usual and not a personal lament.

Donna just got up and walked back into the Employees Only door. But she left it open a crack. What of that? What if I went in there, back into that Burger King kitchen? Donna and I could change clothes and I would have to learn the french frier while she would need to get up to speed on how to put together a qualitative research presentation in PowerPoint. She would have to learn how to shake the hand of a corporate client. Somehow I think I would be the one to suffer and struggle more in the end. I think that in the end, the french frier is more ruthless than my laptop. I want to walk through that Employees Only door that is cracked open. I want to walk away from my laptop, my cell phone, my iPod, my ridiculously large purse and when I walk away from all those things, I want to not worry about about who might steal them. 

I want to not care about Leaving My Personal Items Unattended.

I want to say this, I want to write this, I want to not save face and let you know what people do not talk about: I freaked out under an avalanche of thoughts and I am now writing this to pull myself back together before boarding my plane home.

I want you to know this because I know it happened to you, too. It was just a different day, a different city, a different To Do list and a different stack of bills. The only thing that separates you and me are different To Do list and different stacks of bills.

If you were here, here is what we would do. You, me, Donna from Burger King, and anyone else who felt game would walk from Gate E over to Gate C where I left my best friend, Sara. She boarded the C bus to an American Airlines flight to Florida, and I boarded the E bus to fly on a Northwest flight to Minneapolis. So we would all go find Sara, and this is what we would say to her.

Screw this sh**! Let's go get some Zen Watermelon.

Sara would smile and nod cause she would know exactly what we meant. She would say, "Ah, so she did write a blog entry about that." See, this trip ran me ragged. I am so shaky. I am lost and self-conscious right now. 

But Sara drove me to a gas station, and she bought me some watermelon. We sat in the sun and let the juice run down our chins. The slices were cool and sweet, and they made a comforting sound when our teeth bit into them. It was a noise that sounded like stockinged toddler feet swishing across the carpet on a sunny Sunday. It was so peaceful. It was so Zen. It was so refreshing, it was Zen Watermelon.

Common. Let's skedaddle. Let's run on over to Gate C and find Miss Sara.


  1. Sometimes one wonders if getting to uncharted territory is any harder than treading over the same piece of earth again and again; they both need a unique skill set to endure. But both can be equal parts comforting and unnerving. It begs the question: Where is the grass greener? Over there? or here? Or maybe waaaaaaay over there. Truth is, grass isn't always green. Sometimes its brown, sometimes its blue, orange, you name it... Sometimes we need Donnas to observe this this, but it is our Saras that allow our brown grass to feel green again - at least for an hour or two...

  2. Wonderfully put. This resonates well with me.

    Some say grass is greener on the other side
    I say it's greener when it's gone
    When we look back we see good without the bad
    Like nothing ever was wrong

    Thank you, fine reader... :~)

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