Lessons from a Wise Sky: Number Three

A Wise Sky
I very rarely need to talk. Often, I go all day without opening my mouth (I can eat through my ears). As a language teacher, I’ve been trained to listen patiently, nod occasionally and smile. I’m not a good listener; I’m the best (except of course when I’m eating through my ears).

Why is it, then, that the moment a plane takes off (with me in it of course), I clam up and pray that the person sitting next to me is deaf/mute or doesn’t speak an Indo-European language or just wants to be alone? I adore the person who avoids eye-contact when he takes his seat. It’s the universal signal for “I’m going to ignore you for the next nine hours, and you’d better do the same . . . buster.” This, my friend, is true love. Wouldn’t it be great if there were Talking and Non-talking sections on planes? Case(s) in point . . .

Munich to Washington

“Oh, sorry,” my rowmate said. “I need something out of my bag . . . again.”

“Oh, no problem," I said. "I need the exercise. Getting up and down like this is kind of like deep knee bends. We're up to forty reps. That's good.”

“Maybe I should just keep the bag under the seat.”


“I’m Gertrandi by the way,” she said—or some more believable Norwegian name. (I can’t be bothered to find a believable one—but this doesn’t mean I don’t love you.)

“Hi, Gertrandi. I’m an anonymous person you’ll never see again.” I didn’t say this of course; I said, “I’m Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

See, once you’ve introduced yourselves, you’ve set the game rules. You “know” each other well enough to chit-chat. Most humanoids will chat for a few minutes and then turn to their novels or their crossword puzzles. Some will sleep or watch Sleepless in Seattle, but there is one humanoid subspecies known as the chatterboxius infinitea whose instinct it is to keep talking to you until you’re running from it forty yards down the concourse after you've landed.

The Norwegian? A national women’s wrestling champion. Raised in the Fjords but traveled far and wide from Thailand to Toronto, hates fish. The rest of the nine-hour gabfest was utterly forgettable. The crowning irony of this trip was that when the plane landed she didn’t even say good-bye to me. I was hurt. I thought we were close.

Washington to Nashville

Bill, as he introduced himself, sat down next to me and offered his hand. He was your typical slightly overweight, button-downed, khakied businessman.

“I really hate touching people,” I didn’t say. I took the hand and reluctantly introduced myself. “I’m Poopah Gandhi. It's such a pleasure to meet you."

Bill talked about business blah and family blaher. I nodded and smiled and wished him harm. Soon, the conversation steered toward Nashville restaurants.

“How do you like The Sunset Grill?” he asked.

“Well, it’s OK for people who don’t know anything about food,” I said. “The owner, [bleep bleep], has been serving the same tired pasta dish for more than a decade. It’s a good place to see and be seen, maybe take a date, if she’s dumb but pretty, but—”

“OK, OK,” he grumbled. He was probably an investor. Oh well.

I continued. “If you want good food in Nashville—”

“OK, OK,” he said and flashed his end-of-conversation hand.

Goodness. He started it.

The Wise Sky's Lessons: 

LESSON ONE: A grassroots movement in favor of Talking and Non-talking sections in planes would be worth the fight.

LESSON TWO: You are where you eat.

LESSON THREE: Marry rich (which has nothing to do with this post, but it’s always a good lesson).

I must be off,

Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type


  1. Okay, we have to start sitting together on flights. I only get up twice - maybe three times if I drink too much water - on a transatlantic flight, and I spend the rest of the time immersed in a book or in the videos on offer. Or writing. But I never ever want to spend the whole time chatting away with my seatmate. Mostly because there's no true, semi-polite way to end those conversations.


    And you could even have your choice of the stuff off my tray from the in-flight meal. I rarely eat the whole thing, aside from the entree and dessert. (Unless it's British Airways - then all bets are off.)

  2. Even worse:

    "So you're a writer? What kind of stuff do you write? Can I find you in Barnes & Noble? Do you make a living out of that?"

  3. I would love to sit next to you on a transatlantic flight, Kim! Problem is, I'd WANT to talk to you. :)

    Mark, you are so right. I just lie. I make all sorts of success stories.

  4. make UP all sorts of success stories. :)

  5. I would like to send a big xie xie to all my Chinese fans! You're really sweet, but you could put some clothes on. Your sites look like, uh, porn sites. I'm sure you don't intend this. Just saying.


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