Thursday, January 03, 2008

Books on a Plane, Part II: Books = Home Wreckers

Recently I was on a plane. With books. And my husband. He also likes to read. He reads faster than me, so has to bring even more books on the plane. Together, we are absolutely hopeless. We never have any legroom.

We were flying non-stop from New York to LA, which is a six hour flight. Across the aisle from us, there was this old Russian guy. He was drunk. And really friendly. He kept talking to the all the passengers, like, he would tap the passenger directly in front of him on the shoulder and start up a conversation. Do you know how uncomfortable it is to turn around and attempt conversation with the person directly behind you in Delta coach? The Russian didn't. Our flight left at seven in the morning. How did he get so drunk so early?

I'm a friendly person. People who sit by me on planes often pick up on this, and they talk to me about all kinds of things. Keeping this in mind I applied what I call Double Insulation against the Russian. I engaged in reading while simultaneously listening to my headphones. This is a really effective strategy on NYC public transportation. You can ignore crazy people without seeming rude. It worked on the Russian too, for a time.

The Russian talked and talked - he never stopped. He kept drinking too. Those damn Delta stewardesses kept serving him, and he also had his own stash. He pissed a couple of people off, but I only half paid attention. Then, when there was no one left to talk to, he turned his attention on my husband and I.

I took note because he kept touching my husband in slightly inappropriate places, like the upper upper thigh and the top of his head and his cheek. My husband put the hood of his sweatshirt on, and pulled the drawstrings tight - a strategy he uses when we are watching a particularly bad movie, or, when someone (usually me) says something really stupid. The Russian was impervious. He wanted to know, what were we reading? And this is kind of embarrassing, because we were, at the moment, both reading hardcovers by Jim Butcher. I was reading the Dresden Files, and by husband was reading the latest Codex Alera book. We had to show our books to the whole plane practically, and I could tell they all thought we were one of those Dungeon & Dragons couples. The Russian said, "This is most important thing in life, that you both have same intellect." He thumped our books on his seat back tray table for emphasis. "This is most important thing for marriage, you both can read!"

The Russian loved us. He knew that we would live happily ever after and never get divorced or throw plates at each other. Couples who read together stay together. He didn't say this. He said twenty minutes worth of drivel that amounted to the same thing. He also gave us advice. He said, "the most important thing is for you love each other. And to cherish each other." We told him that seemed like a good idea. We'd give it a shot. And then, very politely, we attempted to resume reading.

The Russian took no hints and was undeterred. He kept on talking. Finally, he went to the restroom. Then he came back. I suspect he had thrown back some shots with the stewardesses. His mood had changed.

He sat down and started moaning: "no, no, no, no, NO, no, no, no, NO, no, no, no, NO!" The Russian stared at us. We stared at our books. My husband's sweatshirt draw stings were pulled so tight I could only see his nose. The Russian slapped his open book with his flat meaty hand: "This, THIS IS BULLSHIT!" he said. And then he tried to rip the pages. My husband has quick reflexes, and he slapped his hand away. "Please," he said, "we're reading now, we don't want to talk anymore." The Russian resumed his weird moaning. He rocked back and forth in his chair. It was sort of like how someone might dance to a Gregorian chant.

This went on for some time. The other passengers were too scared to intervene. They had all had their interactions with the Russian, and were trying their best to act invisible. The Russian started saying, "your wife, she will leave you. She will leave you, because you read." He said this over and over, in a slurred prophetic voice. "You always read. She will leave you. When I see my wife, in the LAX, I will take her, and I will talk with her, and I will kiss on her. I love my wife!" He paused here to slap my husband's upper upper thigh. "Talk to your wife! Kiss on your wife! You must love her! Stop with this, this bullshit!" And here he'd slap the book. "Your wife, she will leave you."

Slowly but surely, my shit was beginning to unravel. How much can the modern woman take of being talked about like she ain't right there? Then, the Russian crossed the line. He said, "your wife, she will fuck with other men." I'd had it. I jumped out of my seat and lurched for the Russian. At least, that was the general idea. Somewhere along the line, we had began our initial descent, and my seat and tray table were in their upright positions, and more importantly, my seat belt was fastened. I didn't get far. I said some choice words to the Russian. The Russian looked appropriately stunned. My husband echoed my sentiments, because he knew that the Russian had to hear it from a man. The Russian spent the next 30 minutes apologizing to us, and to the rest of the plane. He apologized to everyone personally. He shook everyone's hands. He was incapable of not talking.

I thought that being harassed for reading stopped somewhere around the age 15. But no, books pose an even more serious threat in adulthood, undermining the hallowed institution of marriage. I looked for the Russian in baggage claim. I wanted to see him kissing on his wife, who, if my math was correct, he had married at the age of 14, and his son, who he fathered at the age of 15. I never saw him again. When we left the plane we were surrounded by the other passengers, who congratulated my husband on his calm and patience, and apologized for not interfering. They wanted to help us file a complaint. The men slapped him on the shoulder. The women looked up at him admiringly.

Not one person asked us for a book recommendation.