Single serving friends. They're everywhere, making us feel good momentarily, then disappearing, becoming another unfamiliar face in the crowd. They come and go, in and out of our lives; strangers that touch us in so many ways, that fill those gaps left open by our stressing lives, our colleagues, friends, family, acquaintances and lovers. Single serving friends have one purpose and one purpose only: To cross your path in the most forgettable way possible. You meet them on planes, bars, crowded buses, restaurants, and just about anywhere where strangers gather for any length of time. Some of them may serve you coffee in the morning, or entertain you with conversation on a long flight. Some single serving friends aren't friendly at all, but you exploit them anyway for any service they may provide, even if that service is merely on the level of entertainment. Sometimes single serving friends approach you, and the exploitation becomes mutual. It is possible, and most likely probable that single serving friendship will almost always be mutual. So you sit there, trying to connect with this serviceable stranger, assuming that your human condition is enough to bond both of you in that moment when your paths cross inexplicably. You nod or shake your head when the clues of the exchange dictate and reply autonomously, pretending to be interested. Much later you realize that you really weren't interested at all, that you simply found yourself in a situation where you had nothing better to do but to listen and participate.
I found myself listening and participating while on a two-hour flight from San Francisco to Phoenix. My single serving friend, I later discovered, was Russian. He was returning to Chicago from a snowboarding trip in Tahoe. While sitting in the waiting area, attempting to read Michael Crichton's new book, Timeline, I saw him: The first person in line with a huge bag that was obviously too heavy to carry, never mind place on the overhead compartments. I was told when I checked in that the plane was going to be filled to capacity, and of course, when traveling alone, you always wonder who will sit next to you. When I looked at this guy with the big bag I found myself wondering if we were going to sit next to each other. He was one of the more interesting people waiting to board the plane, and as I looked around I couldn't stomach the idea of sitting next to any number of balding business men chattering loudly about servers and e-commerce over their cell phones. Looking further, I didn't want to sit next to any of the thin, flaky skinned blondes, or the older women with overly done make-up who probably had really annoying voices when they spoke. I was obviously looking for an appropriate single serving friend, although I knew one was going to be assigned to me.
Soon enough I gave up the idea of reading. "Yes," I told myself, "the guy with the bag seems like he would be an interesting person to sit next to."Soon enough I found myself sitting in a stuffy cabin, an empty seat separating me from an older man traveling to Indianapolis. Again I tried to concentrate on the book, but I failed to do so seeing as how the guy with the bag had already switched seats twice in my general area. I followed him closely, never letting him out of my sight. He was causing a commotion. In one had he held a Styrofoam container and in the other a Pepsi cup filled with what smelled like beer. He had a happy-go-lucky attitude that I found refreshing. He stood in the middle of the aisle, smiling and making conversation with anyone and everyone. I just sat there, impatiently waiting for fate's lucky seat candidate, and then she came, an older woman, whiny voice, bad hair do, wondering if I wanted to give up my window seat and switch with her husband five aisles ahead. I refused. She proceeded to ask the man on the aisle. He also refused.
The guy with the bag had finally settled on a window seat two rows ahead of me. Likewise, the complaining woman had resigned herself to the center seat next to me. I was thoroughly annoyed at this point, and there was very little I could do. The plane was definitely taking off.
Then I saw it, the empty seat next to the guy with the bag. The solution was obvious. I felt in control. I pointed to the empty seat, showing the woman her long-awaited chance. "You see that guy over there, sitting by the window?" I said motioning in that direction, "Ask him if he wants to switch with you, that's not his real seat, he's been switching around for the last 15 minutes, that way you and your husband can sit together." The woman hesitated and I panicked. I urged her once again assuring her that she still had a few minutes before the plane took off.
Finally she got up and asked the guy to switch with her. I knew that he would get up, that's just the type of person he seemed. I was relieved, smiling to myself for the subtle way in which I had just gotten my way. It was going to be a good flight.
We started talking almost immediately. We clicked for sure. His teeth looked strikingly like my own. He had an honest, openness about him. What you see is what you get sort of appeal. He was handsome in a Medieval, muscular way; sun tanned, green eyes, powerful nose, goatee, casual sweater and jeans. Definitely an Aries like me. I knew it. This guy was the center of the action, the life of the party. An asshole when he wanted to be, kind of like me.
We started to talk about relationships, love, pain and suffering. He told me all about his ex-girlfriend and how she got cold feet about the commitment thing and left him. I told him that my boyfriend and I had broken up, that we were still living together, that the whole thing was causing a lot of pain and confusion. We both admitted to being in love with our respective exes. I could tell that he was attracted to me, but I was just happy that a good-looking, fun person was sitting next to me, seeming to enjoy the conversation and the company as much as I did.
We went back and forth, covering boyfriends, what we did on the weekends, type of music we liked, our reason for being out in San Francisco, etc. Time was flying. We were guessing really uncanny things about each other. It seemed we were cut from the same piece of cloth. We shared interests, situations and communism. The beverage service came and went, the packs of pretzels were handed out and it was a happy moment.
Then it came: The announcement, we were about to land in Phoenix. "Ladies and gentlemen," came the pilot's voice, "we're beginning the descent into Phoenix international airport." Phoenix? It felt like we were in the air for no more than twenty minutes, and we were landing already? Impossible. Stunned, my single serving friend Alex and I just sat quietly for a moment trying to figure out where our time had gone. Needless to say we were pretty upset that our single serving time was coming to a close. Once in Phoenix we would depart and probably never see each other again. That's when the idea of drinks occurred. The plane landed. It took us about 20 minutes to get out of the plane and make our way to Fox Sports, which was on the opposite concourse where we had landed. Once there he ordered a fruity drink of some kind made with vodka and I ordered a rum and Coke. The pressure was on. It was in the air. He lit a cigarette, made a comment as to how he wished we had more time in Phoenix. I think we both knew it at that moment that we had engaged in a single serving relationship-nothing more, nothing less, and that it would all be over soon. I think it was that thought that added the urgency, the need to connect on a deeper level, but the day was not ours and distance was the victor. We both knew it, especially after the second drink, after I glanced at my watch and saw that it was 6:30PM. Both our planes were leaving in about 10 minutes. If we wanted to be on those planes we needed to run.
That's the way it happened, we picked up our stuff and ran out of Fox Sports. Everyone and everything seemed to be getting in our way. The world began to move in slow motion, as the prospect of missing the plane became a reality. It was all very silly. My head was spinning from the alcohol. I could tell that he couldn't go any faster, the bag looked extremely heavy. I raced ahead of him, the hallways faded into a blur. Gate A23 and A25 were nowhere to be seen.
As we approached A23 the gate door was closing, all the passengers had already boarded. He was the last one. I saw as my single serving friend hurried to the door. Halfway down he turned around, came towards me, grabbed me by the waist and kissed me twice lightly on the lips. Then I ran away, down the hall, towards my own gate.
It was over before it began. As I sat in the dark cabin of the plane taking me to Newark, away from my single serving friend and into the arms of a fucked up relationship, a home that didn't feel like home, and a constant burning pain caused from months of emotional deterioration, I realized that it had all been an illusion-an idea in the back of my head; the hopeless romantic trying to squeeze some meaning out of life. I realized, in spite of the smile that crossed my lips that he would never write me, that I was already forgotten. I realized that he too was forgotten. All we had of each other was sloppily scribbled napkins with a few numbers and an e-mail address that would never be used.
The loneliness settled immediately when I thought of R-----, when I thought of the many hours ahead that were going to be filled with tears. I realized immediately that my single serving friend to pass the time had used me, and that I had used him too. We had both needed something, and had gone out of our way to fill those spaces that were empty.
Human beings are composed of so many empty spaces. We are receptacles of emotion, and when an emotion fits, much like chemical substances fit in receptors in the brain; it soothes the emptiness temporarily, giving us a false sense of hope. I had kissed and had been kissed by this stranger in the plane, and yet, I felt with my whole heart that I was still very much in love with R-----, who much to my despair, felt he was no longer in love with me. Fortunately, this is a short story, not a tragedy, and I won't get into the details that caused me to write this story to begin with-that is, the situation between R----- and myself, our relationship, our shattered illusions, dreams, or the constant pain that a lover causes when he cheats on you.
This story is a reminder, to remind me that there are many single serving friends out there that will pretend with me for a moment, that will serve their own needs with me. This is the story of a few hours of my life spent in pleasant conversation with a stranger, who was nothing more and nothing less. Our paths will not cross again, and if that is sad at all it is because of my own feelings of insecurity and despair, my need for affection, ideal love, and desire. Would those feelings not be present, my single serving friend would have been just that, a stranger with a similar destination. It wasn't his personality, or charm, or anything that he said, it was who I am that made him bigger than life-the Hollywood hero coming to rescue me.
It is sad that we create these pitfalls for ourselves and then fall into them. While having ideals is a wonderful thing, I have to realize that there are no knights in shining white armor to come to my rescue, and while this man would have looked great in full plate, he's just a guy with a heavy bag on a plane. I was not special, am not special for most people. I'm just a girl, not any more or any less worthy of love. Unfortunately life teaches you these lessons. Life teaches you that you're not happy when you love and that you're not happy when you don't love. Life has taught me to recognize single serving people a little better, including my own capacity for single servitude.
It is inevitable all our paths will cross. Next time I'm being singly served I will be the wiser and stop my own sense of idealism from polluting that pure human relationship-that of mutual exploitation and service. Without this basic relationship it would be impossible to evolve into beings capable of more meaningful unions-namely those involving the heart and high thresholds of pain.
Single service friends have singly served me for months now. Strangers come into my life seeking to exploit something or other, some want the time, others want to have a drink, or dinner, or just plain old conversation. Single serving friends are everywhere, especially in New York where no one trusts each other to give or take. The world is filled with one-way ticket type of people, but that's not the hard part, the hard part is to know when it's a one way or a two way when it's happening. Single serving friends are everywhere, and we are all one of them at one point or another.