From a Boeing 757
Notes on a cross-country flight
by Alan Benson
SOMEWHERE OVER AMERICA I'm sitting here racking my brains trying to figure out how I earned the bad karma that landed me here. Did I, in some walking dreamstate, once fly to India and slaughter some particularly holy cow behind a 7-11? In some previous life, did I overcharge Martin Luthor for an indulgence? Did some ancester of mine serve Mohammed a pork roll or tell Moses "here, hold this golden idol that I'm worshipping, I've gotta go defile the synagogue"? Did I once travel back through time and address the Buddha as "fatty fatty two-by-four, can't get through the pagoda door"?
I think the answer to all of these is no, but the proof of my punishment is all around me. Maybe I have been to India after all.
As I write this, I'm seated smack in the middle of whatever level of Hell is inhabited entirely by hyperactive, over-sugared nine-year-olds. That level's entire ouevre of torments has been distilled and poured into a flying tube fighting headwinds somewhere over the midwest. I'm seated in the middle of a row, between two people who are 90 percent elbow, in the row that backs up against the lavatories so not only do I have a middle seat, I can't recline to escape from the row in front of me, which was already leaning dangerously far back before we took off. Of course, were I able to recline, I'd just be that much closer to the lavatory and its accompanying perfume of urine and vomit. My best hope is that this is some freaky Clockwork Orange-y immersive illustration of Scylla and Charybdis devised by my seventh-grade English teacher. Soon, I'll awaken in a hospital room surrounded by my droogies, right? Right?
The kids and their chaperones are wearing aqua shirts announcing that they're participants in the "Freedoms Foundation," which sounds like a scary right-wing PAC. If so, the GOP is going to have about 100 VERY energetic new members in about nine years.
A goodly portion of the kids just booed the preview for the inflight flick. True, it is The Legend of 1900, which is probably not in the top 10 "must see" list of most preadolescents, but still. Must have been a terrible disappointment to the tyke who, upon seeing the Fine Line logo at the beginning of the preview, said loudly "Fine Line movies rule!" That was when I realized that these were definitely L.A. kids. Where else would you find a nine-year-old exhibiting brand recognition of a particular studio?
At any time, I'd say about a quarter of the kids are running pell mell down the aisle of the plane. Earlier, when we were still at the gate, a flight attendant came by to ask the chaperones to make the kids get in their seats so we could take off. The guy across the aisle from me says back "hey, what's with the attitude? They're kids, they've got a lot of energy."
The kids two rows in front of me are playing blackjack. And they're good at it. Damn.
"She don't like anybody," reports a scout upon his return from the foreward rows. This news is met with general disappointment from the cadre of kids gathered two rows in front of me. From what I can decipher, the boys were attempting to set up the kid in the window seat in front of me with some Juliet of the front rows. Suddenly, a head appeared over seat 22B. "Who cares? You can keep liking her if you want. She doesn't have to know." And so, bowled over by this unassailable logic (and being of the age where "liking" is pretty much the final step of romance), our heroes return to their sour worms and Fruit by the Foot.
The pilot just came on the PA to say he was "putting the pedal to the metal." 10-4, good buddy. Keep an eye out for smokies on the wing.
The kid in front of me has apparently decided that he isn't satisfied with mere reclining. He must have a seat that is completely flat. So he's braced his feet against the seat in front of him, and is pushing with all his might against the seat back. Seeing as how my knees were already jammed against the seat back, his little project comes almost immediately to my attention. As he strains, the pressure he's adding is slowly metamorphizing the carbon in my patellas into diamonds. Someday, I'll leave a valuable corpse (at least from the waist down). Finally, the chaperone notices, and this is what he said: "Hey, take your shoes off if you're going to put your feet up on the seat." Thanks pal. Luckily, my seatmate, who is reading Sister Souljah, intervenes, and the little fellow's research into the possibility of flat seats is stymied. Keep the dream, guy. I know someone with diamonds for knees who might come through with a grant.
Normally, the sound of a crying child evokes pity, but not here. One of the more hyperactive kids was dashing down the aisle and ran into the drink cart. As she cried, the Schadenfreud spread like ripples from a stone dropped in the pool, marking each of our faces with an evil smile.
The non-affiliated flyers and the flight attendants have quite definitely tired of our kneebiting companions, and have begun to loudly gripe about the kids. Sketches of plans involving blindfolds, sodium pentathol, and defenestration begin to circulate among the fliers.
The bathrooms, which hath put up a mighty fight, hath at last been slain by the unslakeable bladders of the devil children. And so, with more than an hour left to go, we are left with the first class lavatory and a deep and abiding smell that is beginning to spread throughout the cabin.
A steward is coming down the aisle collecting the headsets: "Collecting headsets here. Headsets only. No, not trash. Headsets. Headsets please. NO TRASH! This is not a trash bag." I see a small hand toss something into the bag. "Do not throw trash in this bag. This is for headsets, not trash. No! No trash! Headsets only!" One of the chaperones sitting across the aisle turns to his charges and says "OK kids, collect your trash and give it to the man."
Final descent at last. Our pint-sized terrors' activities have left them tuckered out, and they want nothing more than a quiet nap. But first, they must endure the wrath of the crew, who are bullying their sleepy charges into adherence with FAA rules.
"Seats up!" they bark. "Seats UP! Young man, put your seatback up! And stow that bag under the seat! Stow it, or we can't land! Seats up now!" And as the tired miscreants slowly prepare to land, the flight attendants strut along the aisles, barely hiding their wicked glee at this turn of events.
It's true what they say: revenge is a dish best served with tray tables up and seats in their full upright and locked positions.
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