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.


Aimlesswriter said...

Wow, you have the patience of a saint. I'm not sure I wouldn't have gagged him with a barf bag.
I'm surprise the stewardess didn't step in. If the Russian had behaved in such a way with others it might have gotten ugly.

Sarah said...

I'll need a reenactment of this at some point soon. I can't believe how long it sounds like this went on for!
I'm also surprised the flight attendants didn't do something.

Anonymous said...

Dude, that's hilarious! I feel so sorry for you both. But not sorry enough to stop laughing.

Shit, the secret to marriage is to both be able to read? Man, that could have saved me a lot of time and heartache had I only known that earlier.

But, then I guess the other secret is to not read, even though you are able to. Because that will lead to the whole fucking of the other men thing. And no one wants to see that.

You'll never be able to top that story. All plane rides will seem blasé now.

Did you explain to the Russian how much time and care went into selecting the books? You even left the schizophrenia book at home (but it sounded like you could have needed it).

Bookrat said...

My wife was an English major and rarely picks up a book. I work in Information Technology and read constantly. If you ever find the Russian, please let me know. We could probably use his counsel.

Travis Erwin said...

What a flight. Next time hang out with a saner group of people and take a Greyhound bus. Okay, maybe not.

~grace~ said...

didn't you know reading causes 97% of the world's problems? not only does it wreck homes, it's responsible for world hunger and greenhouse gases. true fact. a Russian told me so.

Cicily Janus said...

If there was ever a time to shoot split pea soup out of your nose, it would be now. Here I am reading this blog, thinking all the while, yeah, another story about a terrible plane ride and whammo, you surprised me again. Your wit is refreshing.

And congrats on not landing yourself in a federal prison for violence on an aircraft. I would have and I am not entirely sure that my husband would not be sitting next to me on a bench.

Oh, and love your website pic. Death by books...How appropriate. Are you sure there isn't a Russian buried somewhere under the mass of literature?

Thanks for the great read and I am officially a fan.

~Cicily Janus

clindsay said...

Holy crap. I can't believe that nobody intervened. I might have decked the bastard.

And do not be embarrassed by Jim Butcher books, m'dear!

Maya Reynolds said...

I'm with la Gringa. I carry my Jim Butcher books happily and laugh out loud while reading them.

Just found a new author who writes urban fantasies: Mike Carey. I haven't finished his first book yet, but he had a promising start.

Michael Reynolds said...

This is weird, but I also had a plane-board showdown with drunken Russians. Moscow to Paris on Air France, coming back from shooting a documentary, five of us, ranging from a pacifist British theatrical director to a ready-to-rumble Chicago cinematographer. Five drunken Russians, four hungover Americans and a Brit, hair-trigger for about four hours. To the point of making plans for who would punch who.

Kind of fun, actually.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the Russian wanted to get into your husbands pants, too.

Tez Miller said...

Bicycle courier novel: Nicci French's Until It's Over. May only be published in the UK and the Commonwealth (eg Australia, where I read it), so you might have to buy online.

When I saw your wishlist at the DMLA site, I immediately thought of this novel.

Have a lovely day! :-)

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable!! What an airplane story. I guess that's what happens when one book cannibal marries another...

You should send this to Delta!

This story gives a whole new meaning to "Fly the friendly skies"...oh, but that is United's slogan.

Anonymous said...

gurgle... spit... guffaw... pppffffahahahahaahahahahaha!

That's the greatest story in the history of mankind!

Anonymous said...

Oh, my God! Not only would I have been angry, but a little frightened, too, to be trapped on a plane with a man like that. He sounded totally out of control.

Writer Babs said...

The funniest (or perhaps scariest) part of all this is that somewhere in LA there is a drunk Russian man giving marital advice. I've never been to Los Angeles, but I bet that's not something you see there every day.

Anonymous said...

do not fun make of drunk russian, nyet! book i read is tolstoy and pushkin and dostoyevsky! i drink in 6 in morning because american read books about shoes or shopping and things blow up! sorry you not understand i don't mean "fuck" wife but to "find intellectual stimulation with nice american lady, da!"

all happy delta flyers alike, all unhappy delta flyers unhappy in own way!

T. M. Hunter said...

My wife acts like the drunk Russian everywhere we go, and she's always dead sober... :)

Anonymous said...

That's hilarious. I love nutty people. It makes me curious about what is going on in their lives. When I'm not totally terrified that they are going to kill me...

Anyway, I loved your story and it made me smile. I really liked the way you told it.

Thank you.

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