Thursday, October 26, 2006

Nightmare at 30,000 feet

It's straight out of one of the cheaper "Murphy's Law" jokebooks: at the very last moment, the most obnoxious person in the world and her partner are stumbling down the aisle to fill the lovely (oh please please PLEASE just this once...) empty seats next to me. I take one look at her and know that I'm in for it. Something about the eyes...

She is: small, white, very thin, well-worn and weather-beaten...and extremely voluble. He looks a good ten-fifteen years younger, and is her (apparent) opposite in just about every way. With the possible exception of the crazy-drunk (we'll get to that); again, hard to know for sure on account of he apparently wouldn't say shit if he had a mouthful. He's not my problem here, however. Stretching out across him, leathery hand outstretched, my problem says,

"Hi! I'm ____, and this is my partner ___. ."

Reluctantly, i take her paw and offer my first name (fleetingly considering the option of giving a false one); still more reluctantly, i meet her gaze. Mad, staring eyes. No, goddamit, I promised to be more charitable. No, NO, goddamit, i ALSO promised to respect my own gut instincts, my own boundaries. Then again, what am I going to do, jump off the plane? Oh, christ, she's still talking:

"...I just figured, since we're gonna be eating together, drinking together, sleeping together, we might as well get to know each other...'course, you might decide you want to jump off the plane! Ha, ha!"

I smile weakly. Partner murmurs something about how maybe we'd like to change seats, i.e. so that my new pal and i can be cozier chatting away for the rest of the flight. I push down the surge of numb horror and try to hit the delicate balance between vaguely pleasant-if-disconnected and outright churlish as i make noises about how tired i am, probably won't be a terrific conversationalist tonight, i'm afraid. The eyes grow brighter, possibly with tears; she is explaining how she understands, partner there is tired too, probably just from listening to her all day, ha ha! and she hasn't flown in ten years, and something or other she's now rooting in the side of her partner, tickling or nuzzling or searching for an untapped vein or something, I don't know.

I decide that my old defense mechanism from junior high is my best tactic here: if i can't see you, you can't see me. And oh, look, headphones! My own private telescreen! LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU EITHER...i jam the little fuckers in my ears and quickly become engrossed in "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" before Thingie can notice me again. This isn't hard; i love the show. I do catch her trying to get my attention out of the corner of my eye each time i laugh--apparently she wishes to comment on my merriment and perhaps share in its source--but i ignore it, and try to keep the laughter silent from there on out.

Shortly after takeoff, someone...is...touching...me. She's tapping my shoulder. No, not a tap: an outright grab. i turn my head. She's offering a box of crackers. No, thank you. Okay. Blessed silence.

Sometime after that, i bring out my own food. She's quieted down a lot, and he's fast asleep. Feeling slightly guilty, i wait till i catch her eye and then offer her my container of grapes. She smiles and takes one, politely enough. Offers her crackers again, this time without touching. I smile, decline. She is saying something. With an internal grimace, i pull one of the headphones out. "What?"

I actually can't hear her all that well. Something about how all we need is some wine and goat cheese. Something the wonderful picnic she had recently. Okay, she's still being Chatty Cathy, and i have to cut her off after a few minutes, but this is at least somewhat closer to normality as i know it and i warm up a few degrees. Back to our respective little worlds. Okay.

Another hour or so goes by. Girlfriend gets up to use the bathroom. After a few minutes, i decide that now is as good a time to get up as any, since this way she won't have to climb across me twice, if i time it right. i stand in line. The wait seems interminable. Eventually, girlfriend emerges from one of the bathrooms. She starts to excuse herself past me, then realizes i am not just some stranger but her friendly neighbor! the airplane narrow-aisle dance turns unsettlingly...intimate; she's practically embracing me as she makes her way past. Is she drunk? "I love ya, man, I love ya." egh, whatever.

As I head back to my seat, one of the flight attendants asks me if i'd mind waiting in the back for a moment; he needs to speak to my seatmates for a moment. o-kay! i hover a few aisles back; sadly, can't overhear anything.

Despite my deepest darkest wishes, whatever the occasion does not result in their immediate expulsion sans parachute, and so i sit back down. The drinks person comes by, and girlfriend orders a Jameson's and a ginger ale. Somewhere along the line, she's offering me a sip of her ginger ale. i don't know if this is spiked or unspiked; by then i'm comfortably half-asleep and so am able to ignore it, somehow. She settles down again, and i doze off, only briefly interrupted by, not so much her turning the light on, as her attempting to loudly get my attention to make sure i won't be disturbed by her turning the light on.

Around one in the morning, i come out of the strange half-sleep one falls into on airplanes and such places, dimly aware that there is a Disturbance. My earphones are still on, but even through the blare of the TV it's impossible not to hear her, although far less clear what it is she's on about. whatever it is, she's clearly entered the maudlin stage. terrific. Past the point of pretend-polite, I shoot her some of my patented Looks Of Death, then return my gaze, blackly, to the television. I note with no surprise at all that it's the Twilight Zone. "The Odyssey of Flight 33."

Somewhere between laughing out loud at the cheesy dinosaur my fictional hijacked counterparts are horrified by (hey, you think YOU'VE got problems...) and the next program, i manage to drift off again.

I am awakened for the next and final time by her hand on my shoulder, again. Shaking me, now.

The snarl of "WHAT!?" dies on my lips as I try to process what I'm seeing: in her hand, a few inches from my nose, is a...white plastic thing, with red markings. Handcuffs?? What the--

"Blood pressure."

For the first time, I pull the headphones all the way off and actually try to understand what she's saying.

"Excuse me??"

"Blood pressure!" she insists, waving the thing in my face. "Take your blood pressure..." and o jesus fuck she's actually grabbing for my arm.

I lose it completely. "What?! No! NO! God! Leave me alone."

Partner cravenly mutters something about how look, no one wants their blood pressure taken. I don't stick around for the rest of the argument; i have HAD IT. I get up. "Sorry..." slurs after me. Yeah, honey, you sure are.

I'm not actually sure what my plan is. I know i'm heading for the bathroom, first of all; perhaps my intention is to simply stay there for the rest of the flight. Then I see the flight attendant who was talking to girlfriend privately, now chatting with the rest of the crew. Okay, let's talk; he understands, then. "Excuse me..."

Bright smile. "You want something to drink? ...Or munch on?"

"No thanks, I..." stop, brief double-take. "Wait, what?"

He repeats it, verbatim. Smile a little more smirklike than i care for, i think, now. The rest of the crew is silently watching; are they smirking, too? I know by now I'm completely paranoid on account of being down the rabbit hole all this time, but is he?... Did he just...or am I?...oh, screw it.

"Listen, what were you talking to my seatmates about?"

Rolled eyes. "Oh." Apparently she wanted to smoke in the bathroom. "There are only about 1,000 signs telling you not to..."

I take this in. "Okay, well, you know, she's kind of driving me crazy." I tell him about the blood pressure thing. This time he's definitely laughing with me, at least. "Do you want me to see if there's another seat available?"

I stuff down any well-worn impulse to go, oh no no no, don't trouble yourself. "Please. Thank you."

I go back to sit down while he susses it out. She's still in weepie-angry-clingy mode, mostly focused on the partner. Only a couple minutes go by before my newfound saviour returns. It's a window seat, apologies, no aisles available; but there's an empty seat between you and the guy on the aisle. Marvellous. Perfection. Thank you. I leave without a word; what is there to say?

The new guy is blessedly quiet. I slide past him, make myself at home, and settle in to watch cartoons for the rest of the flight.

A few minutes after this, the captain comes on to apologize; apparently we're hitting a turbulent patch; they'll do their best to ride it out, but we should know, it'll probably be a bumpy ride for the remaining 1-2 hours.

I don't know what he's talking about. I've never enjoyed such a smooth ride in my life.

35 comments:

Thin Black Duke said...

This is the greatest story ever told. I love it.

JackGoff said...

Ah, planes. How I loathe them.

JackGoff said...

Also, my haiku to plane purgatory:

I boarded the plane,
And I knew my fate was sealed.
Three fat guys. One row.

petitpoussin said...

belle! don't call her 'girlfriend'! some non-airplane-wraiths go by that name sometimes... and this one promises never to try to steal your blood pressure...

you should have taken some of her crackers to throw and distract her with at strategic moments.

Daisy said...

Ick. Planes can be such gross places.

Bimbo said...

May I suggest you buy an uber-religious book of any denomination just so long as the title makes it clear it's about its brand of God. Then, slip the jacket off and fit it on one of your own books - however imperfectly. This has been clinically tested on every flight I've ever taken. And it works.

Nanette said...

lol, great story. Thank heavens for headphones!

Rootietoot said...

ooh what Bimbo said! If I don't want my seatmate to talk to me I start Just Praaising Jeeesus and asking if they're saved. Works every time. Sometimes just having a Bible in my lap works.

Sweet of you to offer her a grape...

antiprincess said...

but what if you're seated, coincidentally, next to a clergydude (or clergychick) of the obscure-yet-psychotic sect whose book you're "reading"?

midwesterntransport said...

great piece, belle.

debbie said...

Once I got stuck on a cross-Atlantic flight next to an elderly woman who hummed for eight hours straight.
And who could forget having my flight held up by the antics of ABBA cover group Bjorn Again?
But seriously, you win for worst flight ever.

Jay said...

ahhhh lover-ly. your words massaged from memory the horror of my trans-some-ocean flight from singapore to sydney whence some aussie jackass plopped his ass down next to me, scarfed down dinner, quaffed several whiskeys, then passed out on top of my lap.

that a special place in hell should be reserved for these people is a given.

Amber said...

May I suggest you buy an uber-religious book of any denomination just so long as the title makes it clear it's about its brand of God. Then, slip the jacket off and fit it on one of your own books - however imperfectly.

That's a fabulous idea! I'll have to do that next time I fly. Somehow, I always seem to attract the slightly off-balance chatterboxes to the seat next to me.

alphabitch said...

wait, that really happened? I thought you said it was a nightmare!

belledame222 said...

Not last night but the night before...

Taihae said...

personally, I pretend to be french, or deaf, or nauseous. No one wants to bother a girl who looks as though the least botherment will trigger a storm of projectile vomiting. love your story. I have one that might beat it, however...I'll write it out tomorrow and we'll compare notes.

elle said...

belle, this is woderful!

duffer said...

hmmm, only prob w the uber-religious text is that you live in america

the place is full of religious nutcases

nah, get the cover for "First Hand!: An Erotic Guide to Fisting"

that ought to do it!

gohmb

belledame222 said...

I think probably I should've just gone with my first instinct and just let my inner churl run wild.

"Hi! I'm ____"

"Hi! I don't give a fuck!"

(turn away and silence for the rest of the flight).

i'm such a chickenshit

sunrunner said...

Jaysus! What an ordeal. Where wear you going, Tokyo?

But what a great story, I was quite grumpy before I read it but now I am laughing!

belledame222 said...

to Californie to see the folks, just for a few days. granny's 85th b'day.

duffer said...

first time i flew to the states, i was 17
i sat with a Terribly Nice & Chatty Yet Totally Boring Couple from Ohio

they never ever shut up

i left with their name and address, and an invitation to visit them next time i found myself in ohio (!)

they left with my correct first name, a made-up surname, and a completely fictitious address - ballydehob, co blarney sorta thang

i figured if a Terribly Nice & Chatty Yet Totally Boring Couple from Ohio ever turned up on me mother's doorstep, she'd at best not be well pleased...

Bimbo said...

I'm curious to know which country isn't full of religious nutcases.

duffer said...

bimbo - oddly ireland isn't that bad; somehow rampant capitalism has knocked the edge off that one...

new religion = money and property

and i live in london; anyone wearing a JesusWantsMeForASunBeam badge is shunned...

Bimbo said...

Duffer~

Oh, I see. For a second there it looked like you were just talking out your ass. Now that you've made it clear I understand. :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7_July_2005_London_bombings

duffer said...

yerra, while it's true my ass does indeed have an exceptional number of conversational gambits it can call upon when needed, aye, it was the christian fundamentalists i was referring to above

*grin*

Bimbo said...

Oh. Which country has a shortage of those?

belledame222 said...

Actually, B, he's right: Great Britain (with the possible exception of Northern Ireland; Ian Paisley's pretty scary, okay) and Ireland are considerably less influenced by the wacky theocratic brand of Christianity than we are.

primarily because you bastards sent them all over HERE.

belledame222 said...

or, I don't know. Black and white thinking and wacky zealotry seems rampant these days; maybe at the end of the day the flavor doesn't actually matter all that much, at that.

belledame222 said...

>considerably less influenced by...

amended: "these days," i should say.

Ireland of course had and has its own religious frownypants, but as I understand it the Church's power has been considerably on the wane these past couple decades or so, at least.

Bimbo said...

By population count, sure, there are less religious zealots simply because there are less people in Ireland and the UK. America may indeed have a higher count not only because there are more people to count but because we have the benefit of the First Amendment and a (supposed) separation of church and state.

I'm not comfortable with what seems to be an overseas pop cult opinion in which "Americans are" xyz. In the three countries I've visited this year (Mexico, Ireland and Thailand) I had conversations with natives of those countries who each told me what America is like and what we're like. I was pretty surprised at how vastly divergent that was from what I see on a daily basis in the Northeast and fairly regularly in other parts of the country. While it seemed correct in some respects, it also seemed more limited and propagandized than accurate. The American image is homogenized with our government. It's no longer people in a nation but one big characature. When you depersonalize like that, you lose sight of humanity.

Granted, we can only form our opinions based on who and what we interact with. I'm not suggesting Duffer blindly subscribes to Amerislur the way freshmen in college become overnight feminists, all hopped up on this cool, new concept without really having any experience in it or investigating what it means to them before claiming doctrines. Duffer himself said he'd been to the US when he was 17 so there you have first hand experience. However it is a presence we need to be aware of as Americans and should probably work to change.

While politics in the UK may be *less* influenced by Christianity (and God how I envy that!)there is, without doubt, an alive and well constituency among the people. Ireland has historically been one of the 'most Catholic countries' in the world. A relaxation is understandable, given modernity, but it still has a gigantic practicing Catholic population.

Is that their only indentifier? Hell no. And it's not ours either.

Bimbo said...

Not that the UK doesn't have freedom of religion, but that other countries do not, so that you may not see as many other religions popping their heads up among the one most widely accepted.

belledame222 said...

I'm not thrilled about that very real perception either, bimbo, but I have to say I can see where one might get such an impression of the U.S., especially these past six years or so...

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