The Dilemma

(This is a short piece of fiction I wrote about a guy who had, well, a number of dilemmas.)

     The need had been prevalent since I deplaned in Phoenix beginning my three hour layover. I walked about as fast as someone could walk before that definition changed to running, not wanting to look panicked, but was increasingly becoming so. I finally saw the restroom sign, brushed past the first door which said “Women” and scooted right into the second, found a stall, pushed my luggage in, pants to the floor, plopped down...and the panic was over. I just sat there for a moment giving thanks, knowing that the people in this airport had no idea as to how close they had been to having tragedy striking them. By tragedy I meant them witnessing mine.
     I opened my backpack, took out my Kindle, and began to read the third chapter of Richard Carlson’s book I’d started earlier on my plane flight: “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff...and it’s all small stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life.” It wasn’t that I really needed the message of this book. In fact, I wasn’t sweating the small stuff enough and details of my job were not being taken care of causing me to lose clients. When you deal in business law you have to know every little element of a contract, agreement, whatever, or millions could be forfeited. Perhaps I was reading the book just to reassure myself that it is OK to not sweat the small stuff.
     Maybe I was in the wrong line of work anyway. I was an adequate law student at Pepperdine, but the subjects that really piqued my interests were the ones found in the required art classes. And it really didn’t matter what kind: music, painting, literature, any kind of self expression was interesting. In fact, I signed up for more of those classes than required because it was so enjoyable and fulfilling. I even had a small painting kit complete with oils, brushes, and the other paraphernalia required to express myself on canvas and had completed sixteen paintings by the end of my senior year, seventeen more as I continued my post-grad work. I had taken up guitar as well and each weekly half-hour lesson was like a breath of fresh air in the stifling atmosphere of law school. But I knew that art of any kind was not the way to make a living, so I did what many others do, I took the path my father took. He was, is, a lawyer, and I am as well.
     Carlson’s third chapter was entitled “Let Go of the Idea that Gentle, Relaxed People Can’t Be Superachievers.” That was me. Not the superachiever part but the gentle, relaxed...and you could add underachiever to that I suppose. Not my father. He would march through the fires of hell to win a case at almost any cost. When I was younger I remembered him in his home office working late into the night, sometimes still there when I got up for school the next morning. I first got to see him try a case one day when I was eleven. His steely stare could make a witness simply crumble in their seat. He was exhaustively prepared, never looking at a single note throughout a trial because he’d done his work, studying over and over every single minute detail of his case. That wasn’t me.
     I had joined a law firm right out of law school that my father had gotten me into located in Philadelphia, and the very next day I found a guitar teacher to continue my lessons, then started a new painting. It was going to be a good one, too, because fall had just begun and there was a tree-filled park across the street from my new apartment and the colors would be spectacular. I only hoped I could capture them with my oils.
     I continued reading. Carlson wrote, “I have had the good fortune to surround myself with some very relaxed, peaceful, and loving people. Some of these people are best-selling authors, loving parents, counselors, computer experts, and chief executive officers.” Well, that’s certainly not me. Maybe I should try to find like-minded people. No way this was possible in a law firm. These people were lions, not golden retrievers. I looked up from my book and pondered this situation. How can I get out of this place? I’m stuck. There seems to be no solution.
     I figured that I ought to finish up in the restroom and go find a coffee shop to finish out my layover. I was just getting ready to put away my Kindle, when a voice in the stall next to me said, “Excuse me, would you mind passing some toilet paper under the stall. I seem to have none over here.”
     It was a woman.
     It had not occurred to me when I was in my hasty quest that there would have been two women’s restroom doors right next to each other. I looked to my left and saw the tell-tale sanitary napkin disposal box that one would never find in the men’s restroom. I scooted my feet ever so slightly away from the direction of the Voice next door so she wouldn’t see my man shoes, and said in my best “woman’s” voice, “Sure, hold on.” I unraveled some toilet paper and handed it underneath, trying to keep my hairy knuckles from being seen. “Will that be enough?” I daintily asked.
     “Yes, thank you. I don’t know why this happens. It’s an airport restroom! You’d think someone would know that people in restrooms use toilet paper!” She complained.
     “Tell me about it!” What was I doing? The last thing I needed now was a conversation with someone who, if they knew, would clearly not want me next to them in this present condition. 
     “Where are you flying to?” She asked.
     “Los Angeles,” I responded, “to a convention on tort reform.”
     “Interesting. So, you’re a lawyer?”
     “Yes, business law. But my firm thought I could use some brushing up on learning about what is latest in the tort world. What do you do?” I’m an idiot.
     “I’m an artist. I’m headed to L.A. as well. I’ve got a show in North Hollywood with another artist.”
     “I’d love to see your work.” I replied, realizing again that having a conversation with a woman is best done when your pants aren’t bunched down around your ankles.
     “Hold on.” I could hear her fumbling through her purse, a pen click, three seconds of silence, then a business card appeared underneath the stall. “Here is my card and where the show is. I’d love to see you there.” she said. “What’s your name?”
     I looked at her card and saw that her name was Clarice Evans. I was a huge fan. My name is Barry Clark which would never fly if I stated THAT fact to her.
     “Mary Clark,” I replied.
     “Good to meet you, Mary,” Clarice said, “I’ve got to run. My flight is in twenty minutes and I need to get to the gate. Shall I wait for you?”
     “Uh, no, I’ve...got some more to do?” How do you actually say that? “Plus, I’m reading a book and want to finish this chapter.” That was just dumb.
     “Uh...Ok...well maybe I’ll see you later,” she replied. “Bye.”
     I heard her stall door open, some water running in the sink, a hand dryer, footsteps, and she was gone. I shoved my kindle into the backpack, finished my “business,” yanked up my pants, and stood there listening. People were coming and going all the time. There was no moment when that room was empty. I could wait if I wanted since my flight was hours from departing. I had some interesting choices. The first was to wait and wait, possible for hours until the room was completely empty. The second was to simply walk out and say, “Sorry, I made a mistake. I’ll be gone shortly.” I would be embarrassed for a scant few seconds, then I could get on with my life. Most would understand that I had just made a slight error and took the wrong door. Some would judge me quietly, thinking that I should have paid more attention to the signage, but what could I do now?
     I made my decision. There was only one way to do this. I toggled the lock on the stall door, opened it, walked confidently to the sink, and said, “Hello ladies. Sorry about this. My mistake. I’ll be out of here momentarily,” and walked confidently out the door and into the airport terminal.

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