Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lessons from a Wise Sky: Number One

A Wise Sky
Since I’ll be flying quite a lot this year, I’ve decided to spend the next few weeks cataloguing all the knock-down-drag-out fights I’ve had on airplanes. I thought about starting with a sequence of stories entitled “Adorable Psycho Banned from Airline,” but I think I’ll save that story for my series “Adorable Psycho Banned” so that I can include restaurants, dance clubs and churches.

I’m going to ease you into my world in the air with the story of my flight home from Bangkok (Thailand of course, not Texas).

A quick opinion poll:

How many of you like sitting next to a talker on a 15-hour flight? I don’t see any hands. Good.

How many of you ARE talkers on these 15-hour flights?

Our story begins (and ends) on Garuda Indonesian Air, flight 724. When I sat down and got myself situated with ten or twelve crossword puzzles, my journal, a Bill Bryson book, and assorted snacks, I sensed the hot presence of my rowmate. Maybe it was her breath on my neck; maybe it was her burning passion to talk.


I pretended to have an attack of narcolepsy.

“Are you OK? My name’s Andrea.” She was talking to an apparently unconscious man. She nudged me. She actually, physically touched me. “Hey.”

Deciding that talking was preferable to touching, I opened my eyes, stretched demonstratively and spoke: “Oh, hi”—coughing—“I have a bit of a cold.” Hee hee. That usually wards them off.

“Oh, me too,” she said. “I’ve been a snot machine for the last two days.”

A diatribe in a nutshell, Andrea talked for hours. But that wasn’t the worst part about it. The worst part was that I had to cough from time to time so she wouldn’t think I’d been lying about the cold. And on top of that, I had to be funny. I can’t talk to anyone without wearing my harty-har-heart on my sleeve.

“God, you’re so funny,” she kept saying.

“I try.” Too hard.

Miraculously, Andrea wound down over the Ionian Sea, so I was able to get some shut-eye. When I awoke, the purser was making an unintelligible announcement, something about oäinetäpion mpoerjnf mo imndm fm ehgm lmoe, fü´k shfgi, if you understand what I mean.

“There’s fog in Frankfurt,” Andrea said. I swear she’d been watching me sleep.

“So, we’re flying straight to London?” I asked the purser, who was standing a couple of feet away.

“No, sir,” he chirped with a rather irritating smile. “We are flying to Amsterdam.” With that smile, you’d think that Amsterdam was the most beautiful place on earth.

An hour later we were sitting on the runway at Amsterdam. Two hours later we were also sitting on the runway at Amsterdam. After three hours, I heard the footfall of an angry German coming up the aisle. Sure enough, a man brushed by me, coming to a halt in the purser’s face.

“Please, tell me why we are not able to get out of the plane,” the German passenger said. “And you can wipe that silly smile off your face,” he added. Thirty or forty passengers, including myself, woot-wooted.

“We do not have the authority to unload passengers here in Amsterdam. We must stay on the plane until the fog has cleared in Frankfurt, sir,” the purser said, trying desperately not to smile.

“Well,” the German passenger said, “we’ll need food soon.”

“I am afraid, sir, that we have run out of food.”

What? I couldn’t believe my ears. I don’t do well without massive amounts of food. I quite like my food. In fact, my existence is in great part dependent upon all the food I ingest. Food, glorious food, and all that.

“I’m hungry,” I said to myself, but of course Andrea was listening.

“Don’t believe him,” she whispered. “They have food.”

“How do you know?”

“My father works for this airline.”




“Stop it. Just go up there and tell them you’re hypoglycemic and that you need food or—”

“—or I’ll start slapping people?”

“Or you’ll pass out,” she said, backing away from me for the first time.

“Oh, OK.” I got up and went to the galley where a smiling flight attendant was rearranging stirring sticks for the umpteenth time. “Hi,” I sighed. “I really need something to eat soon or I’ll start sla—or I’ll pass out. I’m a hypochondriac . . . I mean hypoglycemic.”

“We no have food, sir.” Bitch saw through my game.

“She no have food,” I told Andrea as I slouched back into my seat.

“They do. Watch me and weep.” She made her way to the galley and returned a few minutes later with an Indian curry.

The wonderful thing about an Indian curry is its aromatic spices; the terrible thing about an Indian curry on a plane filled with 230 starving people is the aromatic spices.

Tucking into my curry, I felt the heat of envy²³. Passengers were actually standing up to see where the curry was.

Ever the comedian, I held the curry in the air (I know this will not make me prettier, but what the hell) and shouted, “Who’ll give me 20 pounds? Thirty? Hee hee. Forty?”

Two hundred and thirty faces turned against me at that moment. It was the airborne equivalent of Michael Richards shouting racial remarks at the Laugh Factory. Not pretty.

“That didn’t go over well,” I said, turning around to Andrea.

“You are so funny,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said with a mouthful of lamb madras. “Actually, thank you very much, Andrea. It’s been nice talking to you.”

More lessons learned in the friendly skies next week, but for now . . .

I must be off,