Some people are winners and some, like me, are not. I don’t mean it in the professional or even personal sense, I mean winners in the literal sense of being a winner; to win stuff. When my grandma had an apartment in South Florida years ago, there was a woman named Ruth who lived in her complex and Ruth always won $25 on the scratch cards she bought from the little Italian diner—Reggie’s—by the pool deck. It didn’t matter whether Ruth got four scratch cards or forty. That pants-suit wearing, 85-year-old rock star always won dolla billz.
Not me. In all my time visiting the rolodex scratch-card wheel at Reggie’s, spending roughly $47 million on cards, I think I won another free card once, which in turn wasn’t itself a winner. Such was the extent of my winning record at a South Florida Italian diner or anywhere else.
Side note: I have no doubt Reggie the Diner Guy is hanging out right now in his massive Italian estate on Lake Como, living off my scratch-card funds.
Anyway, this whole topic of winningless-ness brings me to yesterday, when miraculously, I won something!
I was in the Orlando airport, set to fly to Houston then connect to my flight heading home to Orange County when the screen on my ticket check-in machine flashed, “SEE AN AGENT IMMEDIATELY! THE WORLD IS ABOUT TO COLLIDE WITH A PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN PLANET NAMED XOIRUDA AND IF IN THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES YOU DO NOT GET TO AN AIRPORT AGENT WITH A TERRIBLE HAIRCUT WHO HATES HER JOB ALMOST AS MUCH AS SHE HATES TALKING TO ANYONE OTHER THAN HER CATS, OUR ENTIRE PLANET WILL EXPLODE!”
It actually said: “Please see an agent,” but how cool if those boarding pass machines were way more dramatic? Maybe the United Airlines people should try having Kiefer Sutherland or Morgan Freeman narrate the check-in process from now on, just to see how it feels.
Being the dutiful passenger I always am, off I went to see the agent, whose name was Beatrice. Now this Beatrice was not the happy kind of Beatrice, if such a Beatrice exists, but she was the kind of Beatrice who typed furiously on a keyboard from 1994 with a look on her face like I just told her Mocha—that’s her Persian cat, the Siamese one is Mr. Darcy—had been run over by a truck.
“We switched planes to a smaller one, so we had to move seats around,” Beatrice said to me, Beatrice-ly handing over a new ticket. “Here. You’ve been upgraded. Next person in line.”
Upgraded?! Alas, the joyous news was true. With typed letters glittering gold against the fluorescent lights of the Orlando International Airport Terminal 40, the ticket read: Seat 7F, Business Economy, window.
Once on the airplane, I was feeling like a real winner; Dom Perignon in hand, hot towel on the tray table in front of me that was not in its upright position because those are the shenanigans you can get away with in Business Economy. OK, not really. My tray table was stowed and the Business Economy folks don’t give you champagne or hot towels, no matter how many times you ask.
Next to me, a man in his mid-thirties sat down. He was dressed in bright yellow workout gear and seemed pretty cool. Maybe he got upgraded too, we won’t ever know for sure. The man smiled at me and I smiled back. Business Economy buddies for life!! Or so I thought.
Not more than ten minutes into the flight, the dude took off his sneakers and rested his be-socked feet on the wall in front of us. As if that wasn’t enough, he started rubbing his left foot beneath his sock and even smelled his hand after, which actually made the most sense out of all he did because if you’re going to rub your dirty hand on your dirty feet, at least know what the whole thing smells like, right?
Too bad that was the extent of the situation’s sensibility; I soon came to discover his socks weren’t even those regular socks, they were the mesh-tipped ones that “breathe,” and in this case breathe fire-air like a dragon that just ate garlic-flavored pickles and then threw them up all over my Business Economy Mortal Enemy’s feet.
Quickly, I looked up the history of socks (as any normal person would do in this scenario) and learned they were invented in the 8th century B.C.—sweet!—and back then were made of animal skins tied to the wrinkly ankles of rich, ancient people, which sounded even grosser than smelling your sweaty toes in the middle seat of a Business Economy row on a United Airlines plane to Texas.
The search stopped there.
In the end, after two hours and twenty six minutes of mesh-sock hand-smelling, the plane landed, Houston drawled itself gray and afternoon-y outside my 7F window seat in Business Economy and I departed the airliner right behind my sock nemesis, feeling the opposite of the pure elation Ruth must have felt when she won her $25 scratch card jackpot day after day at Reggie’s Italian diner. Me, hair faintly fuming with the distinct odor of breathable, day-old socks as I walked down a colorless hallway leading to the George Bush Intercontinental Airport, I didn’t win anything at all.
Melissa Kandel is a Southern California-based writer and the founder of little word studio. If you really want, you can follow little word studio on Instagram.