Friday, November 20, 2009

The Second Leg...

The second leg of the trip I just took was from Atlanta, Georgia to Richmond, Virgina – roughly the same distance as San Diego to San Francisco.  My expectation of such flights is that they are short and uneventful.

Not this one.

First, a little context.  My flight was on a Delta McDonnell-Douglas MD-88, a two-engine jet that seats over 150 passengers.  There was just one aisle, with three seats on the left and two on the right in the main cabin.  I was seated just two or three rows from the back, on the right hand side in the aisle seat. 

I was one of the first to board, and the entire area around me was clear as I sat down.  A short time after I sat down, a large, angry-looking black man with a shaved bald head came down the aisle toward me.  He glowered at everyone he passed, out the windows, at the empty seats, and at me.  As he approached me, he loudly proclaimed “Dat's mah seat!” in an accusing tone, redoubling the gloweryness of his glower, while pointing at the window seat beside me.

Ah, and I forgot to mention that he was holding a large paperback book in front of him, cover out, like a shield. The book was Black Theology and Black Power.

As I got up to let my new seatmate in, I began to suspect that my flight might not be as pleasant as I had anticipated...

The plane slowly filled as my seatmate settled in, opened his book, and started reading.  I breathed a silent “thank goodness!”, expecting that he'd be immersed in his book and would ignore me.  Sadly, this was not to be.  Just as I was starting to relax, my seatmate's head whipped around, his eyes bore into mine, and he shouted out “You mah oppressor!”  This was accompanied by a transformation of his face from a mask of ordinary anger into a one that was a caricature of white-hot anger.  Or maybe that's black-hot anger, though the metaphor doesn't work quite as well.  This strange behavior continued, intermittently and randomly, throughout the entire flight.

In between a couple of these anger breakouts, an Indian woman (complete with red dot on her forehead) sat in the seat immediately in front of me.  I noticed, after she sat down, a kind of shimmering in the air above her.  Quite pretty, actually, with the many cabin lights refracting through what looked like thermal effects of some kind.  Moments later, I knew the horrifying truth: I was downwind from a perfume bomb. Mercilessly and relentlessly the cabin ventilation system drove the radioactive perfume into my face.  I wanted to cry out “It burns! It burns!”  Tears ran down my face uncontrollably for the entire flight.  A sympathetic flight attendant gave me a box of tissues and a bowl to squeeze them dry into.  Miraculously the only long term effect I could detect after the flight is that my white knit shirt has turned permanently reddish.

After we took off and were about halfway through the flight, my seatmate decided to engage me in a debate about reparations for slavery.  More specifically, a debate about the exact amount of reparations that was appropriate (because, at least in his own mind, the question of whether they should be paid at all had already been settled).  The remarkable thing about this debate is that there was only one voice (his).  I refused to participate.  This didn't slow down my seatmate at all – he just imagined what my answer would be, and debated that.  The debate hadn't gone on long before it became clear that my seatmate had a specific number in mind: $2.65 million per black man, woman, and child in the U.S., adjusted according to the percentage of your ancestry that was black, and payable to anyone who was more than 1/16th black.  How he came up with precise numbers remains a mystery, as he simply declared them to be correct (that was his answer to every imaginary question I raised in the debate). 

Shortly after the debate ended, I noticed a rather large, mainly spherical white woman talking with an animated woman, obviously a friend, in the aisle.  The seated woman first caught my eye because she seemed to be made up from a collection of spheres: her head was round, her neck was round, her body was get the idea.  There was a certain symmetry to her that was interesting.  She was seated across the aisle from me, one seat row in front of me, so I had a good view.

Seated right next to the round lady was a very thin black man.  He had a conservative haircut, wore a white shirt and tie, and looked to be about 35 years old.  It's possible he wasn't actually as thin as he appeared to be, but was rather simply crushed between the round lady and the guy in the window seat.

Anyway, the round lady was talking in an animated way with the woman in the aisle, who was slowly walking toward the restroom in the back.  The round lady had a glass of red wine in her left hand, and as she was talking and gesticulating with her friend, moving slowly backward...she spilled her glass of red wine right onto the head of the skinny black guy.  The whole glass.   Every drop. 

That poor guy went into shock.  He was spluttering and wiping his eyes, probably trying to figure out just what the hell had happened to him.  He had red wine streaming from all sides of his head, down onto his white shirt and tie.  Round lady, in a juvenile way, loudly proclaimed that the fault was his (the black guy), saying that he'd struck her arm – but several of us (including me) had seen the entire thing unfold and knew that simply wasn't so.  After a while, the black guy just looked resigned and laughed it off.  I heard a flight attendant later telling him that the airline would replace his shirt and tie (decent of them).

“You mah oppressor!” said my seatmate.  Several more times.

Richmond looked quite inviting as we approached the runway...