As I walked to my seat I could feel the angry stares of the other passengers. My bookbag dangled loosely from my shoulder and lightly grazed the side of a woman sitting towards the front of the economy class cabin. She exclaimed loudly and frowned at me in disgust. It was quite the over-reaction. The flight was already fifteen minutes behind schedule and I felt as if all of the frustration on the aircraft was being directed at me. I wondered what sort of announcement had been made prior to my arrival.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking. Believe it or not, we're still waiting for a few pompous bastards to board the plane. Once they arrive we can leave. I'm terribly sorry that your precious time must be wasted."
As I passed row twelve, I could hear a young brunette commenting to her boyfriend on how unethical it was to wait for stragglers. "Why can't they just get their lives together? Why do we have to suffer?" I wanted to scream at her and tell her that this wasn't my fault. A small group of us had come over from a late connecting flight. I was still lightly panting from the all-out sprint through the terminal to reach this flight's gate.
When I finally arrived at my seat there was a man sitting in it. He had on a pair of popular thick-rimmed glasses and wore a sparkling rhinestone dragon shirt. Judging from his outfit alone I would've imagined him to be in his early twenties but looking at the hard lines in face I placed him in his mid-forties. He was sitting with two associates and as I stuffed my bag into an infinitesimally small gap in the overhead compartment. They chuckled at an odd joke that had Kim Kardashian as its punch line. I pulled out my boarding pass and confirmed that I was in the right location.
"Uh, excuse me, boss." I said to him. All three of the men looked up at me. "I think you're in my seat." A quizzical looked crossed his face and he shook his head. I showed him my pass. "See. 28A."
"Oh, yeah. Well, there's an empty seat right there, bro." He pointed at the aisle seat directly behind me. It was the only vacant seat in the cabin so it clearly had been destined for one of them. "Why don't you just sit there?"
"I kinda like sitting by the window."
One of his associates smirked and joined the conversation. "You got long legs, man. You should love the aisle seat! You get to stretch out."
"Naw. I hate having to keep getting up, ya know. I feel like it-" I interrupted myself. There was nothing to explain. "Look man, that's my seat."
The rhinestone dragon furrowed his forehead and wiggled around in the chair. He reminded me of a dog circling and selectively digging in the sand before flopping down and making itself comfortable. "C'mon, bro. I'm already here."
The steward walked over and I handed him my boarding pass. He then asked for the boarding passes of the trio. He rubbed his chin and spoke.
"Okay, all you three have to do is shift one seat over. This gentleman takes the window seat and we'll be good to go."
After a few audible sighs and some reshuffling from the rhinestone dragon and his cronies, I was strapped into my seat and staring out the window.
Thirty minutes into the flight I heard the soft and dreadful whimper of a baby stirring from sleep. The sweet sound of Prince's Purple Rain would have been the perfect defense against an airborne baby but, in my haste to pack for the flights, I had forgotten to charge my phone.
The baby was curled up in the arms of a woman sitting in the row behind me. Her small son was next to her in the window seat. The boy had been engrossed in his handheld video game since takeoff, occasionally kicking the back of my seat in the jubilation of destroying another alien warship. As his baby sister's whimpers progressed into all out bawling, the frequency of his kicks increased. A single drop of water falling on a rock was negligible but enough drops of water could carve a canyon into a mountainside. Likewise, my patience was beginning to erode.
On the two hundredth and fifth kick, I turned to the woman. "Ma'am, I'm really sorry but could you please tell your son to stop kicking the seat?"
"Do h'what?" she said in a thick southern accent. She rolled her eyes and held up her screaming child as if presenting evidence for why she could not discipline her son. I shot her a dirty looked and spun back around in my chair. The lad's kicks coupled with his sister's high-pitched wailing was slowly beginning to wear away at my soul.
"Ezekiel, you give that game a rest," the woman said. "Eat ya sunflower seeds."
"But ma!" the boy whined. She quickly put down his rebellion.
Their exchange did little to soothe me because I knew that she hadn't addressed my complaint at all. There was the rustling of a plastic bag, a brief period of crunching and slurping, and then another kick.
The rhinestone dragon had been sitting next to me with a large pair of noise reduction headphones on. As he bobbed his head to the continuous pulse of electronic dance music he reached up and opened his air conditioning vent. I was suddenly blasted with a stream of freezing air. The last thing that I wanted was another confrontation but I could already feel the sniffles coming on and my E.D.M. loving neighbor had already settled back in his seat.
Maybe he had no idea that there was still no cold air blowing on him. Maybe he was oblivious to the fact that his vent was pointing squarely at me. I attempted to clue him in by donning the hood on my jacket and loudly sniffing back the large ball of mucus that had formed in my nose. He didn't budge.
I turned back to my only escape. I'd flown many times but my fascination with the entire process never diminished. I thoroughly enjoyed peering out of airplane windows and observing the lives of the people miles below. On this particular instance, however, there was nothing to see. The captain had dipped the plane down into a massive cloud cluster and visibility was practically zero beyond the wing of the plane.
Another sniff, another kick.
I'd accidently stuffed all three of my handkerchiefs in my suitcase and with no stray napkins in my pocket I was forced to wipe my nose on the sleeve of my jacket. The rhinestone dragon and his cronies were chuckling again. This time their conversation center was Taylor Swift. I wiped my nose again and wondered what could possibly drive forty year old single, childless men to foray into such subject matter.
"Excuse me, boss," I said in as friendly a tone as I could. "Would you mind closing that vent?"
The rhinestone dragon was notably upset at the interruption. He was in the middle of delivering a terrible counter to his comrade's terrible point. He turned slowly towards me with his eyes closed. "I'm hot, bro. I need relief."
"This guy gets too hot and he starts to stink!" said the first crony to the second with a grin.
The rhinestone dragon turned back to their shenanigans. "It's hot up here! Can a man just get a little relief without being bothered?"
"Maybe you should step outside," the second crony chirped. "I promise you won't be hot out there!"
They all broke out into laughter. I continued pleading my case.
"But it's not even blowing on you. Feel it. Your air is shooting right at me."
He sighed and reluctantly reached up to feel the air stream. He verified that my complaint was legit and attempted to adjust the direction. After seven solid seconds of fidgeting he shrugged his shoulders and sat back in his seat.
"No luck, bro. It ain't budging."
"No way." I reached up and tried to turn the vent away. No luck. I then tried to turn it off. No luck. Ezekiel kicked my seat and one of the cronies snickered.
I turned back to my cloudy window and tried to calm myself. I desperately searched my mental song database for the opening lyrics to Purple Rain. I tried humming the chorus in hopes that it would naturally lead in to the verses but my rhythm was constantly being thrown off by the echo of cookie-cutter dance music and the random kicks of the worst alien hunter on earth. My mountain was quickly wearing down to a rolling hill.
Suddenly and without warning, a sunflower seed shell flew over my head and landed in my lap. It was a gift from little Ezekiel. I picked up the shell and marveled at the lad's understanding of projectile trajectories. The little troll had managed to place it right on target. I heard a faint spitting sound and another shell came raining down. It was moist to the touch.
"Ma'am," I said, looking over my seat to once again address the southern belle. She had her daughter slumped over her left shoulder and was thumbing through the pages of what appeared to be a magazine devoted to cooking squirrels. I shuddered for a moment and then proceeded. "Excuse me but now your boy is spitting his seeds at me."
For some odd reason I actually expected her to scold her child so I was genuinely surprised when she exhaled loudly and said "Oh let him be, for Christ's sake. He's only a child."
She flipped to the next page in her magazine to signify that she was no longer concerned with anything that I had to say. Her gaze shifted to an article entitled "Making Hats From Tails" and she began reading. I looked over at little Ezekiel. He smiled innocently at me while shoving a handful of sunflower seeds in his mouth.
He immediately processed and then shot a small volley of shells at me. I quickly closed my eyes to shield them from the disgusting fragments and to prevent myself from being overwhelmed with rage. In an instant I was on the sandy shores of a secluded, tropical beach. In the lounge chair next to me was a beautiful R&B singer in a one-piece swimsuit and an oversized sun hat. A large pile of freshly peeled shrimp, a stack of barbequed hamburgers, and two glasses of frosty lemonade sat on a tray between us. I reached over and grabbed a burger while the diva applied a generous coating of sun tan oil and hummed one of her popular, sensual ballads. I looked out over the crystal clear waters and noticed a large object falling from the sky. I squinted and soon recognized it to be a massive sunflower seed. It plunged into the ocean with a mighty splash and in seconds a residual wave of water was bearing down on us. As the wave approached it was accompanied by a high-energy dance music beat. The singer turned towards me with a look of sadness that quickly turned into scorn. She opened her mouth and from it came a stream of sunflower seeds that pelted my face and chest.
I opened my eyes just in time to see and feel three more shells colliding with my forehead. Ezekiel laughed heartily at his successful efforts to pull me away from my paradise. In that moment, I could feel something churning deep inside of me. A mighty tempest was brewing in my chest and was rapidly racing through my body to be released. I tried my hardest to hold back the mighty force but found that I had not the mental or physical strength to do so. The force rose up from the core of my being and ejected itself from my body in one brilliantly violent sneeze.
The explosion had been triggered by the build-up of mucus in my nose. It sprayed the boy and his mother.
"What in the hell?!" she exclaimed, dropping her magazine to the floor. "Did you just sneeze on my baby?!"
I wiped my nose on my sleeve and immediately started apologizing. I was upset but I certainly had not intended to retaliate in such a manner. "I'm sooo sorry, ma'am! I just lost it. I didn't mean to."
"What in Christ name's wrong with you? Can't you see this just a baby? You can't do that to a baby. You ain't got no common sense?" Ezekiel was stunned. His mother's blasphemous rant continued but I couldn't hear a word that she was saying. Another tempest was brewing.
The second sneeze was worse than the first. The woman's daughter had awakened in all of the commotion and was beginning to cry.
"Now look at what you've done! I have to go clean her off now! You're some kinda pig!"
She got up from her seat and stormed off to the restroom with the baby in tow. Ezekiel and I stared at each other for a few seconds. I could see that he was still shaken from being sprayed by another human's mucus.
For the briefest of moments, I felt sympathy for the young lad but when I saw the open plastic bag of sunflower seeds in his hand the sympathy swiftly disappeared. I leaned over the seat and spoke softly to him. "I'm not sorry. I'm not sorry at all. Put those things away and stop kicking the goddamn seat."
I sat back down and noticed that the rhinestone dragon was staring at me.
"That was pretty cold, bro."
My mountain had been reduced to flatlands. "What?! That was your fault." I pointed up at the air vent. "It's your fault that that family got sprayed!"
"Say wha? No way, bro."
"And don't call me bro!" I fired back. I reached up and whacked the air conditioning vent as hard as I could. The air stream stopped.
The crony sitting on the opposite side of the rhinestone dragon spoke up to address me. "Yo, calm down, man."
I leaned over the rhinestone dragon in order to look his associate right in the eyes. I was on edge. "You shut the hell up. All of you. I mean it. I'm sick of listening to you guys snickering like a pack school girls. Man up and shut up."
I could see fear in the eyes of the rhinestone dragon. With his henchmen silenced he had been rendered powerless and was forced to reckon with the reality that he was strapped into an airline seat next to a mad man. He looked straight ahead and held firmly to his headphones. I looked down at them and then back up at him.
"And your music's too loud. Turn it down."
The next fifteen minutes of the flight were awkward but also peacefully quiet nonetheless. I still didn't have any music to listen to but with the new found freedom from obnoxious chatter, sniffles, aggressive dance music, and adolescent chair kicks, I found that I was able to remember all the verses to Purple Rain as well as the emphatic guitar solo during the bridge. I had become so engrossed in my humming and happiness that I didn't even hear the steward calling me.
"Excuse me. Excuse me, sir."
I turned to see him standing with a small plate in his hand and a large grin on his face.
"I have something for you. This is from your boss up in first class." He lowered the plate. On it sat a hearty slice of succulent, premium carrot cake and a small silver fork. "They were serving desert up there and he asked that we send this piece back here specifically to you! Isn't that fantastic? It looks delicious! I'm very jealous!"
I couldn't believe my fortune. "That's absolutely unbelievable! Please tell him that I said thank you very much!"
I looked at the crony sitting on the edge of our row and smiled innocently. "Could you pass it down, please?"
The steward handed him the cake, he begrudgingly handed it to the rhinestone dragon, and the rhinestone dragon begrudgingly handed it to me. I winked at both of them before turning back to my window to enjoy my treat and observe the lives of the people miles below.