Once Upon an Emergency Exit Row

By Lauren Schmidt

Spring 2010 Contest Winner

       I love when I have four women seated in my exit row,
the flight attendant says. Once upon a time she would have been
called a stewardess. She would have been wearing a suit
with a skirt not pants so instead she wears a scarf
to add that feminine flare. ‘Stewardess’ is too feminine
and in this day and age, we’re trying not to be
discriminatory because there are men in this line of work too.
Yet if one of us had been a man in any of the four seats
in the exit row, once upon this day and age we would be called ‘guys’
because I have heard ‘guys’ used as a gender-neutral grouping
which is to suggest we  sprout a small, albeit gender-specific penis
in the nearness of other penises thereby neutralizing our gender.
If the illustrations of the emergency directions is a man
       then what am I doing here?
As the once-upon-a-stewardess recites the just-in-case instructions
her scarf bows beneath each syllabled breath as we accept
by nodding our role in the unlikely event of an emergency.
       If cabin pressure destabilizes, oxygen masks will drop
from the compartment above you. Please secure your mask
before assisting other passengers. This is a gender-specific instruction
because my whole life I would have bet my mother
liked her broccoli cold. I am always cold like my mother’s broccoli
on planes. My feet, specifically. Feet are gender-neutral
because feet are universally disgusting. The flight attendant call button
is gender-neutral too because there are men in this line of work.
       You can find a copy of these emergency instructions in the flap
of the seat in front of you. Flaps are female like my single
carry-on item: a bag stuffed with Cosmopolitan, Time, Shape, The Economist.
A woman is only as faceted as the magazines she keeps.
365 Ways to Pleasure Your Man! to Tips for Surviving the Recession
and finally, Five Ways to a Happier You! Such headlines speak
to me like emergency instructions because it’s already the 298th day
and I’m way behind in my journey to finding my lover’s hot spot
which he won’t admit is his asshole because assholes are universally
exciting: that silky knot of nerves the color of the scarf

cinched around the flight attendant’s neck.

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