Saturday, April 29, 2006

friends in high places

I don't really like flying for a number of reasons. It's no secret to most people who know me that I had a slightly traumatizing plane experience back in '93, but that's only part of the problem. I'm pretty OK with the acrophobia and the turbulence. I mean, I'm not enjoying those things per se, but I'm not some Nervous Nelly, either, holding my rosary and saying the Lord's prayer every time the airplane wheels retract. I have come to accept flying as a necessary evil. It beats driving. I never have to stop at dirty truck stops or run over beer bottles on the highway or play endless rounds of "State's plates" or anything like that.

The problems I have with flying are rooted in two things: my inherent laziness and my emotional instability.

The thing is, I really am not a plane chatter. This may surprise you, because I seem so chatty in real life. (Not on the phone.) But part of me recognizes that, as I take my seat, the person next to me is hoping I don't start any conversation. I know this, because that's typically what I think when I'm already seated and I see them coming down the aisle towards me. "Oh, great," I'll think. "Here comes Chatty McFlightytalk." At least, I hope they don't want to talk, because that avails me from feeling guilty about turning on my ipod and leafing through Inside In-Flight magazine. You see, socially, I'm LAZY. I have enough friends, I think. What I need in my life is someone who fits in their seat and lets me comfortably slide past them each time I have to pee (like five times per trip, generally.) I often wish I were more like my brother-in-law Vance, who can engage anyone in conversation on the plane. Vance is the Ken Jennings of plane talking. Or I imagine that he is. He knows a little about everything. Enough to sustain healthy, interesting dialogue, anyway. When he comes down the aisle I imagine people are hoping he'll sit next to them. In my idealization of Vance, I see him rubbing shoulders with people (literally) and talking about this 'n' that over salty peanut sacks.

Flying over to London today - or last night - or, what time is it? - required me to take two planes. On the first one, my seat companion was a delightful young man who looks just like Ice-T. He didn't say a word to me. As soon as we were in the air, he zipped out a DVD player and started watching an Ice-T movie. Sounds great to me! We were both happy in our arrangement. I was not so lucky in my flight to Heathrow. My seat partner on that flight was a 61 year old English woman with one eye. I helped her get her bags into the overhead bins, and suddenly I had a friend for life. Before we pulled out of the gate I knew the following things about her:

1. Her cats' names. (Phaedra, Dory, Columbus -he's bad- and Babs.)
2. Some problems she has with her sister. (Bossy & hypocritical.) (Married an African.)
3. Concerns she has with US policy. (Who am I, Condi Rice? You think I can change anything?)
4. Stories about some snakes that climbed into her room.
5. The real reason Viagra was invented. (Don't ask)

After a while I decided that my neck hurt from craning to look at her as she talked, and also my head hurt from listening to her and her special stories. I kept telling myself to be compassionate and loving, but I felt like it was compassionate to have listened as long as I had, and plus I was loving my book. So little by little I weaned myself away from her conversation. Eventually I was looking straight at the open page and just muttering "Really?" or "Wow. That's crazy!" every so often. Eventually she took the hint and left me alone. And then I felt super bad. Really super bad. So I tried to start her talking again. But she was done with me. She had nothing left to say. And that made it even worse, because now I was essentially begging for something I didn't want in the first place, and she was holding out. So I took an Ambien and fell into a deep sleep.

At about 4 in the morning, I woke up and she was telling me another story. From what I recall it was about a priest who took all of his clothes off and put on a wolf mask to wind up some Baptists. She claimed that it was a true story. From what I've heard about Priests, I don't doubt it. But I was really tired, and I went quickly back to sleep. This morning, as we were landing, I really only had one thing to ask her:

"Last night, by chance, did you tell me a story about a naked priest with a wolf mask?"

"Yes, I did." She replied.

"Hmmmmm. I thought so!"

I never got to tell you about the second thing that I hate about flying. This post is too long now, though, and my jet-lag is hitting me. Remind me, please, and I'll write about it later. I hinted earlier that it deals with my emotional instability, so there's a teaser for you!