19E


With an annoying neighbor, there’s no place to go

There’s always anticipation when it comes to your neighbors on a flight. Will they be a manspreader, a talker, a complainer, a model? You never know. I am aware that I – a short, stocky, hairy, cat enthusiast with itchy elbows – am not exactly a gold medal for my flight neighbor. But we lie to ourselves to get us through, do we not.

It’s after a preflight pee that I see my neighbor for the first time. He is stocky, tall, and overall large. He is standing in my spot and sorting through his carryon bag, which is on my seat. I stand across the aisle and wait until his wife says something to him, I suppose along the lines of “you’re in that guy’s seat.”

Neighbor looks at me and I say a gentle, “it’s OK, man, take your time.

And that’s exactly what he does.

When finally I sit I find that my neighbor is a manspreader and an armspreader. Our elbows begin what will be a seven hour spooning session. Before takeoff I put in my earphones and start a movie. My neighbor taps me on the shoulder.

“Yes?”

“Where you get?”

“These?”

“Yes.”

“They’re mine. I brought them.”

“Where you live?”

“Prague.”

Obviously not registering.

“It’s…Germany.”

“Why go Philadelphia?”

“My family lives there.”

“We go Atlantic City. You help us go there?”

“I mean, I can point to where you should go for buses and trains.”

“Yes. Good. What your name?”

“Damien.” Regret over giving real name palpable.  

“I am Hoopoo. It means Hope.”

We shake hands. Red flag. Whenever someone explains the meaning of their name a little part of me curls up and weeps openly. This is far from over.

I go back to my movie. I become the official interpreter between Hope and our stewards. I assure him that the food and basic drinks are free. I help him get an extra roll and ensure that he gets chicken. I order him his red wine and his coca cola. He borrows my pen and while I can’t properly convey the importance of sharing my number one pen, I think my deep breathing while handing it over got the message through. In general, all seems well.

A couple of hours later I’m watching a second movie, I’m buzzed from two cups of red wine, and my elbow is currently the small spoon. Overall things are fine. A tap on my hand startles me out of my film. I take out my earphones.

Hope: “Do you believe in Jesus?”

Many things go through my head. In the first place, I got no problem wtih Jesus, I think he was a great guy, but no, I don’t “believe in him” the way I think Hope probably does and likely the way he wishes me to express. Second, Hope is not a native speaker, so a nuanced answer will probably be largely misunderstood. Third, are you f***ing kidding me? You have interrupted me in the middle of a movie to ask if I believe in Jesus? Even Jesus would consider punching you in the nose for that.

Now, in the hypothetical response based on this scenario I am probably far more unpleasant than I will actually be. Nevertheless, I am not going to lie. I open my mouth and prepare to say, “No, I don’t.”

Fortunately I have been staring at him and making an “Ehhhhhhh” sound long enough that he gets the picture. He says:

“No don’t answer.” And then, “You know, when this plane she crashes people will not be screaming for friends, they will scream for they mama and Jesus Christ.”

My English Teacher Brain hears when this plane crashes and people will not scream….

I say: “Oh, I don’t love your grammar, there, Hope. I hope it’s a linguistic mistake or you’ll have to excuse me while I hit my steward button thingy.”

He continues with no pauses into a short speech on self-happiness. This includes going through pain (which I do agree with), loving yourself (Pbbt. Fat Chance. I write comedy.), staying away from dirty women (a thing which I may gauge by “looking at a woman’s mother.”), and ingesting as much turmeric, cumin, kale, ginger, and goat that I can possibly handle.

Despite my annoyance at being interrupted, I write these things down (the spices, not the dirty woman thing). If the plane doesn’t crash, I’ll get some of those spices and try out the self-love thing. I decide to get something out of this, so I ask some questions about the best way to prepare goat, pork, and where to add turmeric to my life. He offers lots of ideas and gives me an oddly pleasant forearm massage where h says I hold my stress.

When I suggest that goat is an animal that eats everything, he looks at me cockeyed and says, “Maybe some common street goal, but not African ones.”

“Ah. I see.”

Hope lets me get back to my movie and though I have found the interruption surprisingly pleasant, I keep my left eye closed for the rest of the flight. When we touch down in Philly and get split up at the customs I say goodbye to him and his wife. I wish them luck, tell them to look for the massive signs that say BUS TO ATLANTIC CITY and tell them not to hand their luggage over to anyone who looks like an asshole. I promise to buy turmeric the first chance I get and I swear that I will try some self-love ( I make forty masturbation jokes, but I don’t share those with him).

Overall I enjoyed the experience of meeting an annoying yet nice person on a flight. I’m surprised that I ended up liking someone who asked me about my religious beliefs in the first thirty seconds of meeting me. And I thought to myself: maybe I ought to rethink how I approach strangers.

And if I have an empty seat next to me on the flight home I will engage in some serious self love.

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