What is Normal?

Travel to another country where you don’t speak the language and then go into a local restaurant. When the waiter brings you a bowl of clear liquid, you are very careful to grab the correct spoon to try your “soup.” While you are trying to determine the flavor of this rather plain broth, you notice that every person in the restaurant is watching you. You think it’s because you are an American in a foreign restaurant, but the truth is that they all know that you don’t realize you should be washing your hands in the finger bowl rather than eating from it.

During a Saturday afternoon in Europe, I stopped at a lakeside pub to have a beer and get something to eat. I was talking to the gentleman who was doing the cooking on the barbeque. As I spoke with him, I thought that this was really great to do what people in Europe do on a normal Saturday afternoon. Then it hit me. What is normal about this? I’m in Switzerland, eating German bratwurst that was cooked by a Jamaican from Kansas City.


After a rather long day at work, I went back to my hotel to take a brief nap before going to the hotel’s Happy Hour. After all, I don’t want to be tired when they are serving free beer and food. Shortly into my slumber, I was awakened by a knock at the door. I got out of bed and walked towards the door. I responded to the knock by saying, “Yes?” I heard a man’s voice saying, “Backrub.” Not quite the response I was expecting and perhaps I was still partially asleep, I asked again. I got the same response, “Backrub.” I yelled through the door that I had not ordered any backrub so please go away. There was about a 10 second pause and then there was another knock at the door. “Housekeeping, do you want backrub?” Thinking I am now living a skit from Saturday Night Live, I looked through the peephole on the door. I saw a man wearing the hotel uniform so I simply said, “No thank you.” The man yells back, “I must deliver backrub.” Now, I am upset. I opened the door to tell him what I thought of him and his backrub. Once the door was open, there was a Hispanic man holding a bathrobe standing in front of me. He was trying to give me a bathrobe for the room and not a backrub. I apologized for being rude and he smiled. I closed the door and as I was getting ready to resume my nap, I hear from the room next door: Knock-Knock-Knock…Backrub.

Going Out on “A Limb”

In Terminal 3 at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, they have a large glass case that’s full of unclaimed luggage. In it you’ll find many suitcases, a few child car seats, laptop computers, and I’m sure that if you searched hard enough, you might even find Jimmy Hoffa. I can understand how some of these items can become lost or misplaced especially after a long flight. There was however, one item I saw which still confuses me to this day. In the middle of the case, on a shelf all by itself, was an artificial leg. I wondered to myself, how could someone check his or her leg and then “walk off” without it? Personally, I think that I’d get as far as one step before realizing my other leg was missing.

Airport “Debriefing”

I don’t need to look for strange things; they find me under the simplest of circumstances. For example, in November of 2004 I had just completed a cruise with my family and was waiting for my luggage in baggage claim at Miami International Airport. As I stood near the carousel, I had collected five of our six pieces of luggage. Ten minutes had passed since I grabbed bag five and I began to wonder if I would ever get to see bag six. While standing almost on top of the conveyer belt, I turned to motion to my girlfriend that I couldn’t find the last bag. All of a sudden I felt a rather sharp tug on my shorts. My first response wasn’t to move in the direction of the tug. Instead, I moved in the opposite direction. Upon doing this, my shorts were quickly lowered to knee level.

What had happened was that a hook from another passenger’s garment bag was sticking out beyond the carousel and somehow managed to get caught on the inside of my shorts. When a 40-pound bag competes with a pair of 12-ounce shorts, the bag will win. Trying not to make matters worse, I had to run along side the carousel with my shorts fixed around my knees trying to disconnect myself from the garment bag. This was closure to a wonderful vacation that provided a little embarrassment for me, and a great dinner conversation topic for roughly 60 people who now know my preference between boxers, briefs, or nothing.

Authentic Sushi

It’s totally normal to go to a very popular sushi restaurant chain in Portland Oregon and be greeted by the manager who is a very polite Asian gentleman. Then, a pretty Asian hostess dressed in a kimono will walk you through the restaurant that has been decorated with all sorts of decorative Japanese paraphernalia. She will guide you into the sushi kitchen, seat you at the sushi bar and promptly get you a bottle of Sapporo beer and some sake. Then, Rafael and Jose will prepare your authentic Japanese meal.

Nice Pants

Shortly after boarding my flight to San Francisco from Korea, the man seated behind me (who we later learned his name was Victor) got up and started taking pictures of the inside of the airplane. He went into first class and it looked like a lightning storm was taking place because there were so many flashes. He tried to get pictures of the flight attendants, but they were very deep into their preflight routines and he began to annoy them so he was directed back to his seat. 

During the flight, Victor had downed four “airplane bottles” of whiskey before dinner, during dinner he had a couple more, and he had one more following his dessert. After the first movie ended, I got up to go stand near the galley and talk to the flight attendants and some other passengers who had gathered in the area. As I was talking to one of the flight attendants, we both noticed Victor as he began to slump forward until he came to a stop with his face pressed against the seat in front of him; he was passed out cold. The flight attendant being the nice person she was, reclined his seat, leaned him back, put a pillow behind his head, and covered him with a blanket. 

About an hour later while I was talking to a flight attendant named Tracy, Victor came out of the restroom and walked directly between the two of us. As Victor returned to his seat, Tracy and I immediately noticed that Victor was in his underwear and not wearing any pants. Tracy had commented that in all of her years of flying, this was a first. Shortly afterwards, a passenger came up to Tracy to tell her that someone had left their pants and camera in the restroom. Tracy went in, got Victor’s stuff, and placed them on the ground in front of Victor’s seat. When Tracy came back I said, “You know, if you really wanted to have some fun, you would have held on to his pants and wait for him to ring his call button to ask if he had pants on when he boarded the plane”. Almost immediately she went back and got the pants and put them in a cabinet in the galley. 

I went back to my seat and watched another movie. When that movie ended I went back to the galley and was talking with some other passengers, when all of a sudden Victor joins us with a blanket wrapped around his waist. We just stood there trying to hold back the snickers and Tracy walks up and asks Victor if he was cold, because he had a blanket wrapped around him. Victor said that he thought he had pants but he wasn’t sure where he left them. Finally, Tracy gave Victor his pants back.