Sometimes, the friendly skies get a bit too friendly for me. I had just settled into my exit row seat on the aisle of a Canadair Regional Jet from Los Angeles to Sacramento when Madame X arrived. She pointed to the window seat and then, without waiting for me to disengage from my seat and move to the aisle to allow her to pass, she straddled my legs and with a twisting move that would have impressed the most advanced pole dancer, brushed her ample posterior past my face.
Across the aisle, my wife shot me an amused glance. Unbeknownst to me she had seen Madame X in the waiting area telling everybody within earshot her story of woe and missed flights. Myself, I was beginning to regret our decision to select aisle seats across from each other to allow for more elbow room. I’d rather have my wife’s posterior brush across my face any day of the week and twice on Sunday, but too late to turn back now. Madame X was settled into her seat and already busily deploying items from a purse large enough to double as a checked luggage on many airlines.
For the next few minutes, I ducked, weaved and parried Madame X’s wayward right elbow that kept crossing into my air space as she rummaged through the magazines and other items now spread across her lap, scattered around her feet. Several managed to migrate onto the shared armrest. “You don’t mind, do you?”
Feeling the need for distraction and feeling a big peckish, I dove into a bag of chips, which of course I dutifully shared with my wife. Once finished with the chips, my wife handed me half of an albacore tuna sandwich we acquired in the airport for sustenance. No sooner had I engaged the sandwich with my mouth than I became aware of Madame X, out of the corner of my eye. It seems she was now staring at me. As I turned to smile weakly at her, she launched.
“My goodness that smells good,” she said. “It always seems that when you are the most hungry, someone is eating something really really delicious right next to you. I nearly bought a sandwich myself but I wasn’t even supposed to make this flight…. I was on standby because last night I missed my flight but then when I came to the airport this morning they said I would not make this flight but here I am they called my name right before the doors closed so I didn’t have time to get anything to eat and that looks really good but that’s ok because I’m traveling to see my family but now I won’t have more than a day and half with them and I can’t wait to land because we’re going straight to Del Taco…I love Del Taco. Don’t you? We don’t have Del Tacos where we live because….”
Her words cascaded down from the friendly skies like snow in a blinding storm, obliterating anything in view and suffocating me under their weight. I dared not respond as I knew where that would lead: She’d talk non-stop for the entire flight. So I just nodded and chewed.
Thankfully, the safety announcement commenced as I was swallowing my last bite, distracting Madame X sufficiently that she her monologue trailed off into blessed silence. Since I had forgotten to pack my Bose headphones, I began to hope that the silence would be prolonged. The plane roared down the runway and clawed for the sky. I settled back in my seat and unfurled the morning paper.
“Oh my, I can’t believe that,” said Madame X.
As I looked up to see what she could not believe, I realized she was leaning toward me and, yes, reading the section of paper I was holding in my hands.
She pointed at a headline. “A mother arrested for the death of her children and the babysitter was in the home. Well, I can only imagine that parents will start to think carefully about the babysitters they hire now.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to say. First, although the headline she read indeed mentioned a mother being arrested for the death of her children, the story had nothing to do with a babysitter. I tried to rearrange myself in the limited seat space to garner a bit of reading privacy, but Madame X simply shifted with me, leaning closer and continuing to read the paper I had in my hands.
“Hey, would you like to read this?” I said, hoping to distract her and perhaps get her back into her seat and out of the rest of the paper I was planning to read…in peace.
“Well, it sounds so depressing, but ok.”
Though I was nowhere near done with the section, it seemed a small price to pay to give Madame X something to keep her occupied and out of my ears. I shot my wife a glance across the aisle and mouthed, “Save me!” She tried unsuccessfully to hide a smirk. I was really beginning to dislike the friendly skies.
Little did I realize, I was dealing with a master. Within a mere 45-minute flight, she commandeered my entire paper, and repeatedly read multiple headlines to me, though none of them from a section held in her own hands. As fast as she read a headline I’d hand her another section to read, but it seems she could only read the paper if I held it. Though I briefly toyed with the idea of hitting her over the head with a rolled up section, I thought better of it. I didn’t want to meet the undercover TSA agent.
Even our suddenly aborted first attempt at a landing (because another plane was on the runway) couldn’t shock her into silence. “My brother’s a mechanic at American,” she blathered on even though I was clearly trying to ignore her and had long ago locked my gaze into a book I had finished days before and leaned as far as I could into the aisle. “He is just not afraid of flying at all, but you know he’s afraid of a lot of things I’m not afraid of at all. In fact, just last week…”
I’m not sure, but I think I passed out from lack of oxygen in the friendly skies as the words streaming from her mouth began to choke the life out of me. I was jarred back into consciousness as the plane touched down. She was still talking. I began to suspect the aborted landing had been a result of too many wasted words obscuring the pilot’s view.
As those of us in aisle seats stood to retrieve luggage, Madame X began to shoulder her way past me, asking “Can I get out in the aisle there?” and pushing my wife back with her purse, she shoved her way in front of us. “I just need to stand up,” she said. “Oh, and I left the paper you gave me. I don’t feel like reading it.”
Naturally, I thought. She’d only want to read a paper if I were still holding it. With that, Madame X bolted from the plane, shoving her way past a few others in the teeny aisle and we never saw her again. She probably headed straight for Del Taco.