Whenever I hear people talk about something being normal I think about the first airline I worked for. Sun Jet International Airline. Sun Jet was a low cost carrier that never flew anywhere international. At Sun Jet we didn’t have to pack underwear because we didn’t even have layovers. Well not unless you counted our notoriously long delays as a layover. When we had weight and balance issues, instead of taking a few passengers and their bags off (the way most airlines do), we’d keep the passengers and remove all the luggage and then wait until we had landed to tell everyone they could pick up their luggage at baggage claim — the following day. Some passengers would get so angry we’d have to call the cops to come and escort us off the plane. This was all perfectly normal — in our world.
Sometimes normal can be messed up.
I only worked at Sun Jet for a couple months. Still, twenty years later, I’m amazed at how quickly I got used to the way we did things there.
Now I’m a flight attendant for a major U.S. carrier. I meet a lot of people at work. Almost 200 people every flight, actually, so if I work three flights a day that’s about 600 people I come in contact with in less than 12 hours. Multiply that by 10, and that’s at least 6,000 passengers a month. There’s a saying: Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t. And even though I try to remember that I can learn from these 6,000 people, it doesn’t always make it easier to understand them.
I know a lot of things I probably wouldn’t know if I weren’t a flight attendant. This includes things I don’t want to know.
I was discussing one of those things with a friend when she questioned my authority on the subject.
“Oh, so you know all about…” There was a three-second pause before she whispered something she’d kill me for sharing. Something that made me cringe when she said it simply because she’s a lot older than me and, well, shouldn’t be saying things like that!
“I do,” I told her. “I know all about it. It’s…normal.” I made finger quotes around the word normal. We were discussing a friend of ours. Really we were talking about a man she’d gone out with who had her questioning her sanity.
The “It” in this conversation was dick pics. There, I said it.
One of the great things about being a flight attendant is we work with people from all walks of life. I can pick out a group of flight attendants in a restaurant the second I walk through the door: They’re the group where everyone looks different, who appear to have nothing in common. They’re also the ones cackling about each other’s recent in-flight stories. There’s always a lot to talk about when you have my job.
Being a flight attendant is different from a lot of other jobs because we don’t always go home after work, so we have time to bond on a more personal level. We discuss things that most people might not have time or inclination to talk about, things they might not even discuss with family or friends.
Which brings us back to the subject my friend and I were discussing.
When I told a flight attendant friend what I wanted to write about, she laughed. She’s like a sister to me, a really young sister. Really I could be her mother if we wanted to get all technical about it, but we don’t . But this probably explains why she laughed. Then she told me about her roommate who is making her best friend a quilt out of all the dick pics he’s collected from men he’s dated. I thought that was brilliant — brilliant but also kind of gross, which is exactly what makes it so great.
Dick pics are not my thing. I have yet to meet a woman of any age who will admit to them being her thing, which is why I’ve decided it’s time to make this conversation public. Men, listen up.
A few months ago I ran into a man who has a big you know what. Why do I know this? Because I saw it on Tumblr. I didn’t mean to see it — I just sort of ran into it when he shared a link on Facebook. I hadn’t yet met the man in real life, but now all of a sudden it felt like I knew him well — a little too well. Wow.
We have mutual friends so it was only a matter of time before I ran into him in real life. When it finally happened, my eyes just about fell out of my head. ‘Oh no,’ I remember thinking. I assumed I wouldn’t like him. I mean what kind of guy shares that with the world?
Apparently, a lot of men.
“It’s like the new handshake. ‘Hey what’s up? Dick pic,’” said my coworker and friend Hugh. “I’m actually surprised when I have an actual conversation with someone and they don’t send a pic.”
“Does it make a difference when they do?” I asked him.
“Yes. Especially when I’m actually interested in someone and then boom — dick pic. That usually means the person is looking to hook up. Dating is so rare these days.”
“If you send a picture like that to me so quickly you’ve probably sent them to almost everyone else you’ve met,” said another male coworker. “So it would probably never be anything more than sex.”
As for the guy with the big… Tumblr page, I ended up liking him a lot. He’s smart and cute and so kind. Believe it or not in real life he’s kind of shy. I was shocked! Later on I learned he wants a girlfriend — in other words, a relationship. I want to tell him there are just some things you shouldn’t know before you actually get to know someone, but then if I did that he’d know what I know and I don’t want to go there.
“I don’t know one woman who enjoys getting an unsolicited photo,” my girlfriend said over lunch. She’s in her twenties and is used to this sort of thing. “The men never ask. They just send them.”
The Keyword here is unsolicited. I’m not talking about relationships. I’m talking about meeting someone for the first time and BAM.
Now back to the man who had my other friend questioning her sanity after only one date. He was handsome and nice and had a really good job. He seemed perfect. Until out of nowhere he sent her that photograph. When she asked him why he’d sent it, he told her to relax, and then he sent her a few more pictures.
Telling this particular friend to relax may be the worst thing you can do. She cropped out his penis, zoomed in on his crossed eyes, and emailed the photo back to him. “You relax,” she wrote.
Then she sent the cropped image to me, even though I begged her not to. She also made fun of the shower curtain behind him.
My friend is not a prude. She was simply unprepared to meet her date’s … shower curtain. Out of nowhere, and so soon.
“I don’t even know what’s normal anymore,” she said to me.
“It’s not you,” I said, “It’s Tinder! Get off Tinder.”
“I’m on other dating sites, too,” she said. “They all do it. My friends say it’s normal.”
Normal. Ugh. That word again.
I sighed. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting more than “normal,” especially if dick pics really are.”
Then I reminded her that she had so much going for her, that she deserved more than, well, a series of dick pics from a guy who wanted her to relax by looking at his little friend. But the conversation got me thinking.
“Maybe you should start a collection of photos,” I said. “Next time someone sends you one you can send one back, so they can relax. Or, you can make a quilt.”
My friend laughed, which was nice to hear. Laughter is good.
Laughter is normal.