I found this non-fiction piece while looking for a story to share with my friends over at Black Coffee Fiction.... thought I'd share, finally. (I wrote it, planned to look at it again later and edit, and then forgot about it...) Anyway, it was written last year during the AWP conference in Denver. Been planning my trip to next year's conference in Chicago so I guess it's still somewhat timely. So it goes:
I didn’t notice until I leaned over to pull something out of my backpack and there it was, squeezing out of the seat in front of me. We’re not talking about a coin slot. This was beyond clever euphemism, it was beyond plumber jokes, it was simply a surprisingly lengthy and hairy butt crack. Whatever the latest conference speaker was saying was gone, lost in the dark caverns of this untamed crevasse.
I wondered how far down in there my pen would stick if I let it drop, or how quickly he would notice, and whether the pen would catch on the back of the seat if he stood up suddenly, and what kind of damage that would do. Couldn’t he feel the air down there? Couldn’t he feel his boxer shorts – and yes, indeed, they were boxers, red and blue plaid, to be exact – resting at some point far below the threshold of good taste? What did you do in a situation like this? It wasn’t like seeing someone with spinach caught in their teeth. What do you say: Excuse me, sir, but your pants seem to be elastically challenged? Excuse me, sir, but I didn’t realize it was already time for the quarter moon. Excuse me, sir, it’s not that your barn door is open, but I’m afraid that someone has knocked out the back wall with a bulldozer.
While gazing at the floor to avoid the view in front of me I noticed under the seat, on the floor, looking lost – a cell phone. Was it his? It would make sense that this slippery tool had lost its grip inside uberhorizontal pockets. The phone lit up briefly, possibly a text message from his mother reminding him to please pull up his pants, there were ladies present. Would he notice his phone missing? Should I tap him on his shoulder and ask him if the phone was his? If he bent to reach for it I feared we’d not only have a quarter moon but a full one. If I bent to reach for it I might be sucked into the cavern. My proximity to the void was already unbearable and possibly unhealthy.
Why was it my week to sit next to the freaks? I’d already had one guy who spent an entire session running his fingers through his thin hair and flicking his fingers in my direction. I’m wearing black, you dolt, I wanted to say, your dandruff will show. At another session a young girl came late, asked me to repeat everything the speaker just said, and, not hearing, asked me to repeat it again, and then reverted to reading my notebook and copying everything down.
And now Mr. Butt Crack.
I really needed to get out of there but couldn’t do so without causing a major disturbance. In the absence of flight I needed – what? Altoids? Lip gloss? With gymnastic care, I carefully lifted my backpack to my lap, rooted around for I don’t know what.
My fingers bumped against my digital camera. I glanced again at the crack. Back at my camera.
Tempting, to document this monstrosity to prove to my friends that I was there and that it was as bad as I said. A better idea, I decided, would be to pick up the phone from the floor and use his own phone to take a picture of his own butt crack. Wouldn’t that be a stitch? And then program the phone to show the crack picture every time he got a call from his girlfriend. But really I only like to think that I’m that clever and mean and of course wouldn’t do it, and didn’t even think of what my friends later suggested, which was to send the photo to everyone in his phone book. And of course I worried that he’d get up and leave without his phone, with or without the crack picture, and then I got annoyed and debated whether or not it was really my responsibility to tell him his phone was on the floor just because I happened to see it, and why did I always have to be the frigging hero. Especially when I had to endure his paragon of human ugliness, this blunt symbol of vulnerability and filth and juvenile humor, and was distracted from the conference for which I had paid and traveled and suffered insomnia, and now this image will be my memory instead of whatever stunning morsels of insight and advice that I had just missed and might very well have made the difference between my own success and failure. Thank you, Mr. Butt Crack, for destroying my future.
In the end (so to speak) the man eventually pulled up his pants and found his phone, leaving the room happily with no notion of the drama he’d induced. It wasn’t exactly like an insect flapping its wings and changing the course of history, but you get the idea.