How To Land Yourself In Jail
A young Frenchman wants to switch places with me so he can sit next to one of the five cohorts who accompanied him on our transatlantic flight. He’s asked me several times if I’ll move, and he won’t take no for an answer. “This is my wife,” he says in broken English after the fifth or sixth request. Of course he’s stoned enough, after an apparent weekend of debauchery in NYC, not to realize that he said the very same thing to a man seated beside his other friend four rows back. Unless he’s Mormon, or a Muslim, he’s lying like a dog.
He doesn’t understand who he’s dealing with. I teach people how to say no.
As a recovering nice girl, I don’t give a toss if I appear unreasonable. I spent way too many years giving up what I wanted to keep the peace. I’ll be damned if I’ll do it again, particularly for this very rude, French-speaking ruffian.
I like my seat. I went to a lot of trouble choosing it online the month before. An aisle seat, with Walt just across the way in an aisle seat of his own. There’s lots of legroom. I can get up in the middle of the night to pee without stepping over people who are fast asleep. There is a method to my madness.
But the Frenchman won’t let it go. He ramps up the volume. Rocking back and forth in the center seat next to Walt, he stuffs a Big Mac in his mouth, then spews French and hamburger detritus. “I want to eat,” or “I’m eating,” or “I will eat,” he screams in a language I could never properly conjugate. As if his ability to eat his meal were somehow linked to occupying my seat, 26D. His eyes roll to the back of his head.
It occurs to me that someone willing to make such a scene is either deranged, or wigged out on methamphetamines. Either scenario would give a normal person pause, but not me. I’ve found the resolve of Nathan Hale. I only regret that I have but one to life to give for seat 26D.
The steward steps in. He needs to get this situation under control or we won’t be taking off. It’s midnight. We’re three hours behind schedule thanks to mechanical problems. He doesn’t speak a word of French; so dealing with me is his only hope. But I don’t care. I’m not giving up my seat. “Why not switch seats?” he implores. “Don’t you want to sit next to your husband?”
“That man is dangerous,” I say as I jump up and down in the aisle and point my finger accusingly at the enemy besides my husband. “That mother fucker is crazy and I want him gone.”
Walt looks nervous. He signals me to chill out; to drop it and move the hell over, which is unusual because he’s usually the one to kick into defense mode when provoked and snarl like a rabid German shepherd. The other passengers have gone deathly quiet. From their faces I can see that they’re not quite sure who here is the lunatic.
“Enfant terrible,” I yell, remembering my 9th grade French. It’s not exactly “cry baby,” but close enough for points. I want to slam this fool in the face with my Tony Robbins Live With Purpose water bottle. I want to poison his McDonald’s hamburger, as if the food itself won’t do him in over the long haul.
I don’t care what anybody on this plane thinks. I don’t care if it is midnight. I don’t CARE if we’re all unloaded again and made to lie face-down and spreadeagled on the tarmac. I don’t CARE if I get marched off in leg irons to the Fucking Bastille the minute we land at Charles De Gaulle. I don’t care. I’m not giving in. It’s a matter of principle.
The word ‘principle,‘ however, gives me pause. I know, when I’m feeling rational, what ‘principle’ costs. I’ve seen individuals shell out thousands of dollars, no, tens of thousands of dollars in order to fight an unjust fine of $200. Or rack up an ungodly legal bill because someone at a town meeting had the gall to insult him in public. I understand how, in the heat of the moment, one can lose sight of the associated price.
“Please, Miss,” the steward pleads. He looks exhausted.
“Just change seats, Ann,” Walt says. “Remember the outcome we’re after.”
We’re on our way to our home in Ireland. To a place with green grass, and grazing cows, and squawking pheasants, and little red foxen that play in our front yard. There’s a leather couch waiting for us, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. And a stack of books I’ve been dying to read. And there’s time and space to think, to unwind, to regroup. That’s the outcome. That’s why we’re on this ridiculous plane in the first place.
My nostrils flare as I gather my things and step aside to relinquish my seat.
The other 230 passengers breathe a sigh of relief.
I take the seat beside Walt and I think about the pendulum swing, the tendency for a former doormat to turn into a total asshole because she hasn’t quite learned where the middle ground is yet. But at this moment I just don’t care. Fuck the pendulum.