There's nothing like hyperbole shouted from a bathroom stall to make us pause and reflect.
I’ve been traveling a lot lately, something I wasn’t able to do nearly as often when I was teaching. You’d think it would be the opposite with summers off and winter break, but that time was usually reserved for recovery–not from drinking or any other substance abuse (or maybe it was; I’m not judging), but from long days of arguing with 14-year-olds: “Yes, you have rights. But I’m the teacher and I have a right to tell you to turn around and stop talking. I’m trying to teach you how to write so you know how to communicate without emojis.” So after weeks and months in the thralls of the battle for literacy and common courtesy, any time off was spent eating variations of cheese and watching HGTV.
Now I have the time and energy to travel, mostly for comedy, and I find myself spending a lot of time in airports. And because my comedy brain is usually on, I pick up on behaviors that I find humorous. Or I’m triggered by that behavior because I spent too much time around emotionally unstable teenagers, and there are a shocking number of adults who have similar struggles: Waiting their turn, taking responsibility for their actions, and speaking at a volume that doesn’t imply they were trapped in a wind tunnel.
It was during my second trip to the restroom before my flight that I was reminded of the type of human that I struggled to manage as an educator–the type of person that if around for longer than a 45-minute algebra lesson required deep-breathing exercises and a shot of b-12. This is The Teenage Girl Who Would Demand Your Attention if You Were Falling Down Stairs. I was in a stall doing what one does in a bathroom stall, when I heard a line that made me question the entire public school system. “Oh my God! I feel like I’m literally covered in every disease!” It was apparent that she wanted the entire population of that restroom to understand her predicament.
I’m not in love with public restrooms, but I do appreciate their existence and feel fairly certain I can exit one without catching Malaria. My curiosity was piqued. Who was this human shouting hyperbole from a bathroom stall? Then, as I rounded the corner to find a sink, I met the disease-ridden girl’s friend. She was hunched over in the middle of the restroom with a backpack on that had to have been at least half her body weight. She was bent over at the waist, letting the weight of the backpack force her torso to the ground, and based on her performance, she was under the impression she was the first human in existence to pretend to struggle to carry something heavy on her back. And she thought it was hilarious. “Margo! Margo! Margo! Margo! Come look at me! Margo! Margo! Look at me! Margo!”
Margo! I thought. Please get out here and look at your friend. I know you’re busy trying to escape the grips of Swine Flu in the bathroom stall, but please, come applaud your friend! I’m afraid she might fall over, or worse–this might be the funniest thing she’ll ever do! I haven’t known her for long, but I think it’s a safe bet. Now wipe off the Shingles and get out here!
As I wove around Margo’s friend to get to the soap, I remembered something. Watching these two battle out for Who Can Be the Loudest in the Most Inconvenient Place, forced a realization that I too was once a teenage girl in desperate need of someone to look at me. But I usually kept these dramatic displays to the hallways of my middle school where me and my friend Katie would act out all the Spartan cheers from Saturday Night Live. Or in the school’s gym where I invented the politically incorrect game of “Spasticball” where my teammates and I would run around, out of control and play basketball without the use of our hands. One of the rules was you had to try and dribble with your face. My coach walked into practice that morning to witness twelve 7th-grade girls running around the gym, screaming and flailing their arms while chasing a basketball. I’m pretty sure coaching me made him reevaluate his decision to enter the flashy world of middle school athletics.
So could I really judge these two young ladies? Ask any one of my teachers from 2nd grade on and they’ll all tell you I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and had plenty of moments where I was convinced I was the lead role in a non-existent play. And as someone who spent years studying and working with teenagers, I know it’s just their current development stage–the egocentric one that tells them they are constantly in their own one-person show. Many of us hold onto aspects of this as adults as we struggle at times to see life from any perspective other than our own. Unfortunately, many adult-egocentric moments take place while we’re operating a 4,200 lb vehicle. Talk about being in your own world. How many of us look up directions to where we’re going while we are going there? And how many people do you see doing this in the far left lane, completely unaware they’re going 20 miles under the speed limit that the rest of us have decided is the actual speed limit? We’re all guilty of these moments and sometimes when we encounter these behaviors the best thing to do is show compassion and maybe laugh, preferably on the inside. That’s exactly what I did as I washed my hands and watched the two girls standing, oblivious to the volume of their voices and the space they were consuming, in the middle of the airport restroom.
The other night on my way home, I was driving behind a slow-moving, luxury SUV with a bumper sticker that read: Student Driver, Please Be Patient. I of course felt irritated that I couldn’t pass, but tried to remember how stressful learning to drive could be. I slowed down and turned up my podcast. Then my eyes moved from the sticker to the license plate that read: EXUZ ME. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, What kind of self-centered individual has the nerve to ride around with that license plate? Then I laughed.