Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Planes, Claims and Awful For Reals
It's depressing enough to end a simply delicious week in California with a cold dish of coach, topped off with a layover in Phoenix. So imagine my delight in discovering I've got crazy sitting next to me for the ride. It came in the form of "Steve," the middle-aged man who, by at least some standards looked normal (his shirt did resemble Fruit Stripe gum).
It started when he stood up to usher me into my cage, the window seat of Aisle 11. Upon doing so, he dropped his Blackberry. When he bent down to pick it up, the back panel fell off. Feeling bad that my presence caused so much commotion, I apologized and reached down to pick up the piece of his phone that would come to ruin the next hour of my life. My fault. Apparently, random acts of kindness by humans are seen as mating calls by the Stevicus CrazyNutica. I knew I should have studied more in high school biology.
"What are you doing in San Diego?"
"Visiting my sister." I've now opened a book and am reading.
"Does she like it there?"
"She loves it." Smile. Back to the book. He saw me open this, right?
"It's a nice place to visit, but really, it's a soulless place to live. Everyone is very shallow, and life moves so fast."
"I'm not allowed to talk to strangers," he continued. "So you know what I do for a living."
"Registered sex offender?" I offered.
At this, Steve looked shocked--appalled, even. Score! Maybe now he'll stop talking to me.
"No! I'm a psychologist."
I wish I could tell you this was the most unbelievable thing Steve said about his professional life. But no. He also claimed to invent the ATM (someone stole his idea before he could patent it) and serve as the inspiration for the television program "The Cleaner."
At first I answered his questions, hoping he would notice I didn't ask any of my own and therefore, was only being polite and didn't want to know more about Steve's Thoughts on Life. At one point there was a glimmer of hope: he made the comment "My wife would be so mad at me, knowing I'm bothering some poor girl trying to read her book." I forced myself to chuckle and moved the book closer to my face. Another biology lesson. Any form of laughter, even a fake chuckle, is like fanning out your peacock feathers. He moved in for the kill.
"How long you been married?"
"Wow. I wouldn't have put you over 24."
Maybe Steve wasn't so bad. He was just trying to make conversation. The poor guy, if he was to be believed, is a psychologist. He has to listen to people all day. He wanted to talk for once, dammit. Maybe I could be a little nicer.
"You know what makes a marriage go bad? When you have kids. I should know; we have two."
I was wrong. I could not be a little nicer. I could, however, burst my eardrums if I could just find a pen. I started digging around in my purse, and Steve opened his backpack. Apparently, my search for the poor man's cyanide pill reminded him to eat his package of almond butter. He opened it, began squeezing the brown gel contents out, and slurped them up. When I closed my eyes, it only worsened, as the sound reminded me of my sister-in-law's dog, nursing his genitalia. Finally, Steve got his wish. I put down the book.
"You're eating that straight out of the package?" My curiousity got the best of me.
"What are you, my mother?"
Finally, we were getting somewhere. Conflict. Tension. These are surely signs to anyone standing erect enough to buy an airplane seat that you should stop conversing with your neighbor, right?
Not in Steve's world.
As bad as his incessant ramblings were, at least Steve was consistent. He gave advice on every topic, from how to run our bar business (sell beer in 6 oz. cans) to how to sell to Native Americans (be charming). Even turbulence didn't stop this guy.
"You haven't jumped out the window yet, so I guess I'm not that bad," he suggested at one point.
"Well, the window is sealed shut."
Once we finally landed, I texted my husband to let him know I had arrived safely, but was no longer sound. This was grounds for changing my religion, and I let God know it the minute I got in my private stall in the women's bathroom of the Phoenix airport. One more stunt like this, I prayed, and it was Buddhism for me.
Want to know what's better than a week's vacation in California? An empty seat next to you on the plane ride home.