On airplanes they offer information on where to find your life vest, what to do if the cabin loses air pressure and so on. Just to be safe.
But they never advise you about one far tougher situation, which is much more likely to occur. That being: What to do when trapped next to a weirdo?
People assigned next to me might like to know. Yet I myself was in urgent need on a journey abroad last year.
On my left sat a young man lost in his iPad. He turned it off only at the stewardess’s request, right before departure. A good thing too, as he was absorbed in the initial scenes from Denzel Washington’s “Flight.” Not a relaxing sight for take-off.
And on my right sat a young lady in bell-bottoms, sandals and a floral headband. No, the ’60s were not dead. They just needed a bath.
I wondered what she had been doing the night before. Mud wrestling? If true, I bet she’d lost. And then she giggled like a loon at the safety video.
With me in the middle, with behind us a wall. Escape? That was nine hours away.
Once airborne, the girl began to toss and turn. She tried placing her pillow this way and that. Then she wiggled up close and spoke: “Sir? I’m really tired. Could I sleep on your shoulder?”
“Uh, yeah, if I can put my hand on your knee?” is how a friend says I should have answered. But I am an honor scout and my response instead was “Which one?”
She chose the one closest by, my right, and in a moment was snoring into my neck. I sat there, drumming my fingers on my tray. Meanwhile, the fellow on my left had rebooted, changed films and was now viewing “Fearless.”
The girl awoke for the meal. She seemed eager to pay me back for use of my shoulder. And her currency of exchange was conversation.
She asked what I do. Now, I could have said I was an English teacher. Or I could have said I was a bum. And some might say those are interchangeable.
But I strove to put on my best face and said, “I am a writer.”
“Really? Well, I’m an actress!”
I asked if I might have seen her in something.
She winked. “It depends on what you watch. But most people know me for my buckle part.”
I gave her my best dumbfounded look, of which I have many.
“Didn’t you notice? In the safety film, when they showed rows of people fastening their seat belts, one of them was me!”
“Oh.” On my left the iPad guy was now watching “Knowing.”
“Like this!” And she undid her belt buckle and then snapped it back on. Three or four times in a row.
“They made us practice for hours.”
“I can tell.”
“I’d get better roles, I think, if I had an agent. Do you know any agents?”
I told her I only knew literary agents. They dealt with novels.
“Oh, but maybe they could get me into a novel. Could you ask?”
I promised I would.
“Hey, I have an idea!” She pulled the duty-free catalog from the seat pocket. “Why don’t you buy me something?”
“It would be a great memory of our time together.”
“You know, you let me use your credit card and I buy something.”
And then I asked to get past her, to use the bathroom — where I splashed my face with cold water and begged my watch to work faster.
When I opened the door, she was standing there. To let me sit down. But she still had the catalog.
“I’ve decided on lipstick.”
I sat and told her, “Look—”
“Oh, that’s OK,” she said. “We can just pretend you buy it. And now I’ll pretend I’m putting it on.” And she circled invisible Coco Chanel on her pursed lips.
“Now you can pretend to kiss me.”
And that’s when I pretended to ignore her and pulled out a book. But she took the hint well and ended up snoozing on my shoulder all the way across the Pacific.
On our descent, she awoke and apologized. “I got pretend lipstick all over your shirt.”
At that moment, the iPad guy finished watching “Final Destination” and turned our way.
“Say . . . aren’t you the seat buckle girl?”
And the two conversed across me for the entire remaining flight.
But I remained her favorite.
“Maybe we’re headed the same way,” she said. “Where’s your connection?”
“I meant St. Louis.”
That was OK, she said. She herself had meant New York.
And then somewhere in immigration, I lost her.
When I returned home, my wife was not amused.
“You met the seat buckle girl and didn’t get her autograph? How could you!?”
No, all I got were invisible lipstick stains.
And a new fear of flying.
When East Marries West appears in print on the third Thursday of the month. Comments: email@example.com