The Chinese airline lady who greeted me when I got off the plane looked concerned. “Is very cold!” she said. “Where is jacket?”
“I packed it in my luggage,” I said. “The Beijing Airport has heat, right?”
The truth of the matter was that my head was refusing to acknowledge that the beautiful weather in Bangkok hadn’t come with me to Beijing. Back in Thailand, my shirt would’ve been more than adequate. Unfortunately, here in Beijing, where I had an eight-hour overnight layover, my shirt didn’t cut it. Only ten minutes had passed since I landed, and I was already shivering.
Customs took a second. I went to my flight gate and tried to curl into a ball. All I had was the novel “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles, which I tried to use as a pillow. For the first time in my life, I wished I was reading a longer novel. “A Separate Peace” is less than 200 pages, and while that makes for a nice, quick read, it also makes for a really shitty pillow. The airport was freezing and I was sleeping on a book. I felt like a hobo in Antarctica.
An hour passed. I couldn’t fall asleep and my face was frozen. “There’s gotta be a heated room somewhere in this airport,” I thought. “Otherwise, I’m gonna have to wrap my face in toilet paper like a fucking mummy!” I pictured myself emerging from the bathroom looking like The Invisible Man had he used Charmin Ultra Strong. I shook my head. “Am I really this much of a moron?” I wondered. “Yes you are,” my inner voice quickly answered.
Scouring the place, I found two rooms that were warm: the smoking lounge and the handicapped bathroom. Since the smoking lounge seemed slightly preferable, I pushed a chair against the wall and tried to get comfortable. The heavy air in the lounge, rich with the smell of cigarette smoke, was killing me. Literally. Yes, I was warm, but I was also contracting emphysema. It was about as wise as going into the airport’s apron and trying to sleep under a Boeing 737’s exhaust pipe.
There was only one other option: the handicapped bathroom it was.
The handicapped bathroom didn’t smell any better than the smoking lounge, but at least a person can’t get emphysema from the stink of hydrogen sulfide. My pride now gone, I locked the door and proceeded to wrap my face in toilet paper. I stared at myself in the mirror. “What has my life come to?” I asked. I turned off the light switch so the room was dark, lay down on the floor, shut my eyes, and waited to fall asleep, trying to block out the idea that I might be woken up at any moment by a bladder-infected Chinese dude in a wheelchair.
By the time morning came, I had spent around three hours in the handicapped bathroom. Never has a man been so happy to get on an airplane. The plane was warm and there was a friendly Australian girl sitting next to me. She asked me where I’d been, and I said “Thailand.” Then she asked me where I was going, and I said “home.”