Airplanes and smelting

Smelting. Smelting is what they do to metal ore to separate out the pure metals. Smelting brings out the core ore, so to speak. And airplanes seem to bring out the core person…which isn’t always a pretty thing.

On our way home from Dominica, E and I flew Delta cross country. We began early (6:15 am) in Newark, New Jersey, heading toward Atlanta, one of Delta’s busiest hubs. Flying to a hub from a major metropolitan area means a very full plane. We found our seats in row 23, and looking around, I noticed that one of the only seats still open on the plane was the middle seat directly in front of us. The lady on the aisle looks at the man sitting by the window and says, “I’m supposed to be in the middle. Probably not worth it, but I’ll stay here on the aisle till somebody shows up.” (An aside: it’s impossible to write a Jersey accent. But try to hear it in your head. Think Fran Drescher, the nanny, but without the nasal.)

So, just to recap the situation: we have an obviously full plane, and we all know we’ll be eating each other’s elbows for the duration of the flight. Said lady in front of us acknowledges, uncoerced, that she is NOT in her assigned seat, and commits herself to moving to the middle once said assigned seater shows up.

Take off gets closer, and I begin fuming in jealousy that this woman seems to have won the airplane lottery, as Brent and Polly Peterson have named it. She’s the only stinking person on the plane who’s managed to score breathing room for the two hour flight to Atlanta. Mr. Flight Attendant (think Tom Selleck meets “Jack” from Will and Grace) is faithfully completing his cross-check of the cabin when things get interesting. Jersey woman is agitated, frantically trying to get “Jack Selleck’s” attention. It takes him awhile to work his way through the crowded aisle to her seat.

“Look at this!” says Jersey woman. “Look at this! I found it under the seat in front of me, and NOBODY around here claims it.” She pulls out a backpack, and her tone lets us all know what should be incredibly obvious: this is a bomb planted by a terrorist and she has saved all of our lives by faithfully bringing it to the attention of Mr. Flight Attendant. He dutifully takes it from her, thanks her, and promises to “take care of this so nobody has to worry.” Jersey woman, now standing, smiles triumphantly. She turns to talk to the man next to the window, and projecting more beautifully than any star on the Broadway stage, says, “Well, you just can’t EVER be to sure about these things, what with 9/11 and all!” She takes her seat with all the pride and confidence that comes from saving the lives of hundreds of unsuspecting Delta passengers. She’s graduated from Jersey woman to Hero woman, and the clock starts ticking on her 15 minutes of fame.

Rudely, and without warning, her timer is up about 12 and a half minutes too soon. Mr. Flight Attendant has performed his duties superbly. Finding identification in the terrorist bomb of doom, he has cross-checked it with the passenger list of the plane. As he is returning to Hero woman from the front of the plane down the aisle, a heretofore unknown character makes her entrance up the aisle from the back of the plane; she’s been in the bathroom. She arrives ahead of Mr. Flight Attendant, looks at Hero woman in disgust, and says, “My ticket says 22 charlie.” (I’m not making this up. She said “22 charlie”. Evidently being on a plane makes some people talk as if they are a military fighter pilot or on the cb radio.) Then Mr. Flight Attendant arrives, and with impeccable service manners and a perfect smile, hands Ms. Fighter-Pilot Lingo the terrorist bomb and says, “This must be your backpack! Please sit down and buckle up for take off.”

So, just to recap the situation: Jersey woman has been demoted from Hero woman to Paranoid/Seat stealing woman, and the evidence is irrefutable in any court of human opinion. She has not saved the lives of hundreds of people, and she is sitting in the coveted and stolen aisle seat known as 22C. A smelting situation if there ever was one, and the core ore of her personhood comes out.

Jersey woman sticks her nose in a book, buckles her seat belt, and completely ignores Ms. Fighter-Pilot Lingo.

The poor woman who has materialized from the bathroom at the back of the plane has no choice but to squeeze herself passed Jersey woman, cram herself into the middle seat, and mutter to herself at the injustice of a world in which we are never guaranteed anything, least of all 22 charlie.

Weeks later, this entire example of human behavior baffles me. Jersey woman began openly admitting she was in the wrong seat, promised out loud to a complete stranger that she would move when the missing person materialized. And then, after practically accusing missing person of being in league with Al-Qaeda, after being confronted that she was in the wrong seat…SHE REFUSES TO MOVE OR ADMIT A THING! FOR THE ENTIRE TWO HOUR FLIGHT!

At first I was incredulous about the rudeness of humanity. Now, I think I’m saddened by what shame does to the human soul.

2 thoughts on “Airplanes and smelting

  1. As they say, “Philosophers and knowledgeable people agree that the character of a man (in this case, woman) is judged by his actions when no one is looking and when he thinks no one is looking.” I shudder to think what Jersey woman must do when she thinks no one is looking! Actually, I see a powerful depiction of something slightly familiar at play here. Laying down 22 charlie to sit in the middle is an amazing act of selflessness. It defies the world order! We look on bathroom girl with awe and wonder – she garners our highest admiration. I wonder where she is now. In a restaurant sitting by the kitchen door perhaps. Or maybe standing peacefully with one foot in a crosswalk somewhere as self absorbed drivers speed by. After an initial glare in their general direction she probably decides to pay their selfishness no heed because she knows she doesn’t need to go first even though it is the law. That’s power! I want to be bathroom girl. Sure, she looked on Jersey woman with disgust and muttered under her breath but that’s what makes her real, makes me know she can relate. But, in the end, she laid something valuable down for the obnoxious Jersey woman who didn’t deserve a thing. That’s a true gift.You and E were witness to something beautiful Gregg. If there had been more oxygen in the cabin at the time, you might have noticed it too. I’m glad I could help point it out for you.


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