It’s a good thing that the woman in seat 8A listened to her neighbor back home and brought wet wipes in her carry-on. “You just never know when you might need them,” her neighbor had advised her. And as luck would have it, she did need them when the passenger in seat 7A spilled half a can of tomato juice all over herself.

It all happened so quickly. I was sitting quietly in my window seat happily reading a book of humorous essays with my favorite airplane beverage close by, a Virgin Bloody Mary (it was too early for vodka but not for the spicy mix). I lifted my hand to turn a page and inadvertently hit the can, tipping it over. I can’t blame it on any turbulence. The flight had been smooth sailing up to this point.

My clumsy maneuver sprayed the juice into my lap, onto my sweater, across my phone, over a page in the book, and up onto the tray table and seat back in front of me. The way the dark red, thick juice splattered, it looked as if I’d been brutally stabbed. Fortunately, no one was seated next to me so there were no other victims.

I took a deep breath and did what anyone in my position would do as those seated around me gawked at the mess I’d just made. I laughed out loud and said, “This will make a great story.” I then stood up, banging my head on the low ceiling, and smiled again. “It just keeps getting funnier, doesn’t it?” The other passengers must have thought they’d booked a ticket on the slapstick comedy tour.

Annie the flight attendant walked briskly up the narrow aisle with a stack of napkins as I attempted to shake juice from my phone. She was very apologetic about giving me a full can of the Bloody Mary Mix as if she could have foreseen the mess I’d make, and it was somehow her fault. Kudos to her, but it was all on me. Literally.

The kind woman in 8A behind me fetched a package of wet wipes from an overhead bin and handed them to me, telling me about her wise neighbor; in fact, she had a whole first aid kit at the ready if the need arose. I gladly accepted her offer of the wipes and began cleaning my surroundings.

I then made my way to the back of the plane to the lavatory, avoiding eye contact with anyone, and kept on smiling. Reaching the tiny toilet closet, I struggled to close the accordion-style door. A man in a nearby seat reached back to help me, which was a nice gesture except that when he pulled hard at the bottom of the door, I was leaning forward so that the top of the door hit my head. He looked up at me and apologized, but I just continued smiling and ducked back inside and finished shutting the door. I wet a few paper towels under the little sink faucet and dabbed at the large tomato-soaked areas of my clothing. When I returned to my seat, I looked less like a crime victim and more like a woman who’d lost control of her bladder. But it didn’t matter.

It was unexpected and messy, yet I had the good fortune of sitting near someone who had come prepared for a mess. And I also got some fresh writing material out of the ordeal.  I’m thinking this is what Erma Bombeck must have had in mind when she said, “If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.” Ironically, the juice spill occurred on my flight to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Conference.

I do regret that my teenage daughter was not traveling with me to enjoy (i.e., be embarrassed by) how her mother handled adversity. She didn’t get to witness how I wasn’t offended when Annie the flight attendant offered me a cup of water and I declined and Annie replied, “Still afraid of making a mess, are we?” I politely nodded and grinned, thinking to myself, “Okay, that’s kind of funny; I’m writing it down.”

If there is a moral to this story it must be this: When your neighbor tells you to pack wet wipes for your trip, please listen. I may be on the journey with you and require them. Good stories, after all, can be rather messy.

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