I have come to the conclusion that anyone who strikes up a conversation on an airplane has given you their permission to be lied to. I try to avoid unnecessary chit chat as much as possible, especially while belted into an uncomfortable seat. An ideal flying situation is one that involves a deaf foreigner sitting next to me who has politely taken a sedative.
It’s not that I advocate lying in real life. I am terrible at remembering what I’ve said from one day to the next, which is an important skill one needs to manage successful deceptions. Lying is almost as dependent upon a sharp memory as it is on a creative sense of morality. Luckily for me, my short-term memory can retain events for up to five hours without too much degradation, which is sufficient for a flight from New York to San Francisco.
I look forward to air travel about as much as the average person looks forward to a colonoscopy. I do not have an inordinate fear of dying in a plane crash, but rather, I dislike being crammed into a metal tube with 100+ strangers for several hours who all believe that their time is more valuable than anyone else’s. Usually I do my best to keep to myself and stay occupied with reading materials and the in-flight beverage service. The social contract I strive to uphold in these situations is to mind my manners, remain calm, and interact with my fellow travelers as little as possible. Unfortunately, this standard of behavior is not as widely practiced as it should be. When these rules are broken, the aforementioned social contract gives me the liberty to entertain myself as in the following cases.
Stacey from Portland
Portland, Oregon is a friendly enough place inhabited by mostly well-mannered white folks who are all “unique” in a similar way. On a flight from Portland returning to New York, I had just belted myself into my aisle seat when an art therapy student in a dung-colored skirt and clogs sauntered down the aisle and took her seat next to me. She smelled of Nag Champa and misguided optimism. As the flight attendants began to secure the cabin, she tapped my shoulder and introduced herself as “Stacey!” to which I replied with a nod and a half-smile. I tried to return to my reading, but Stacey had other plans.
“Hello again! I’m not sure if you heard me, but I’m Stacey. I get a little nervous when I fly, and they say that making friends with the people around you helps to ease the tension - So… I hope you don’t mind that - I mean, you look friendly - I mean, I don’t want to tell you how you look or anything, but you seem friendly...” she kept babbling on for about five minutes before taking a breath. Obviously, Stacey was not good judge of character. I decided this was a trait that needed to be exploited.
“Oh, Stacey, you’ve caught me at an awkward time,” I said mournfully. “You see, Eduardo, my lover of five years left me for another man, who happens to be my former best friend, Ted. They kidnapped my beloved cat Charles and started a new life together in New York. Unfortunately, Ted was out walking the the cat in the rain on Central Park West last Tuesday when a taxi lost control and ran into both of them at the Mariner’s Gate on West 85th Street. Poor Charles was killed instantly, and Ted is in a coma at Lenox Hill. There was nothing to do but cremate the cat, whose ashes I am on my way to collect now. So, I am sorry... Stacey, but I would prefer to be left alone...”
Poor Stacey, overcome with the inability to generate an appropriate response, left me alone for the duration of the flight, allowing me to read and enjoy the beverage service in peace.
June from Roanoke
The flight from Roanoke, Virginia to New York takes about an hour and a half, which is just enough time to peruse one issue of the the New Yorker from cover to cover. The small regional airport in Roanoke has several gift shops, but no bar, which I find troubling.
Upon boarding a medium-sized commuter aircraft from a staircase on wheels that was rolled on to the runway moments before, I found myself seated next to a marshmallowy woman in a floral leisure suit. I could tell she was a talker before I even sat down, and so I decided to pretend I was a non-English speaking tourist from Québec. I figured my poor French would be enough to fool her.
“Well hello!” she said in colorful tone, pregnant with unnecessary extra syllables that matched her outfit. “I’m June!” I smiled and nodded, trying to look as foreign as possible. I sat down and buckled myself in, hoping maybe she’d take the hint and pull out a Danielle Steel novel or some knitting. She did not.
“Is New York your final destination or are you connecting? I’m meeting some of my gal pals for a Carnival Cruise out of New York tomorrow and I am just so excited, let me tell you. We do this once a year together and it’s just soooo much fun! Have you ever been on a cruise?” She waited for my response with anticipation. I thought carefully.
In my best fake Canadian French I said “Je suis très désolé, madame, mais je ne parle pas l’anglais.” She looked disappointed, making a little grimace, and then pulled out a bag of potato chips. I felt very satisfied that my ruse had worked, until I realized I had a New Yorker magazine in my hands, which was obviously (even to June) printed in English. I proceeded to read the magazine in English, while pretending to only speak French, and June avoided eye contact while eating two bags of ranch flavored low-fat potato chips until we landed at JFK.
Thus I learned that a lie told while on an aircraft does not always have to be believed in order to be useful.
Sigríður and Hildur from Reykjavik
There is something absolutely the matter with American teenagers, especially in contrast with their foreign counterparts. I’ve met a wide range of teenagers from other countries who manage to be pleasant, well-mannered and even appear happy while in the presence of their parents. This is abundantly true for the young people of Iceland.
On a connecting flight from Paris to New York, I made a stop in Reykjavik just long enough to buy a sandwich for hundreds of Krona, hoping that the exchange rate to US Dollars would be favorable. Since I never left the airport to see the “real” Iceland, I have a limited amount of information upon which to draw a conclusion of their culture. From what I could gather, everyone is astonishingly pleasant and there is a national reverence for dried fish products and licorice-flavored beverages in colorful packaging.
Once I boarded the plane, I took my seat next to two very blonde girls with porcelain skin. I was suffering from a cold that the Parisians had given me as a souvenir to bring back to New York. As soon as I sat down, the girls offered me a tissue, noticing my drippy and swollen red nose. Their tissues were a great relief, since I had been forced to use a roll of toilet paper that I stole from a restroom as Charles de Gaulle earlier in the day, which in true French fashion, was stiff and non-accommodating.
They introduced themselves at Sigríður and Hildur (no, I could not pronounce these names either, but I had the girls write the names down so I could at least see what I was saying incorrectly). They informed me that they were both fifteen years old and this was their first trip to New York. They were traveling in a large group, which was scattered all about the plane. I scanned the surrounding area and saw small groups of equally polite young aryans talking quietly and not making a fuss.
“Siggy” and “Hilda,” as I decided to call them, were delighted to learn that I lived in New York and they wanted to know all about my exciting lifestyle. They were so wide-eyed and full of hope that I didn’t have the heart to tell them I had a terribly dull job in a hideous building located in the armpit of midtown and that my diet usually consisted of street hot dogs and the stale coffee I stole from work. They didn’t want to hear about the ceiling flaking off in my tiny closet-less bedroom in my fifth floor walk-up that smelled like rotting Chinese food from the grad students below. I decided to give them the version of New York that they wanted to believe was real, and that in my heart, I knew I deserved.
“Well Siggy and Hilda,” I said in an authoritative tone, “New York really is everything you’ve heard, possibly even more. I wake up every morning in a spacious apartment with hilarious roommates who have become my best friends. We work each day in fast-paced city careers looking out over the skyline of Manhattan from our well-organized desks and drink imported espresso from bone china. In the evenings, we frequent all of the trendy restaurants and hip new bars while sensibly enjoying cocktails and exchanging stories of our exciting dating lives. Each new day brings new possibilities. I feel like the luckiest guy in America!”
It was quite fun to be the embodiment of every New York sitcom and big budget movie to a couple of foreign girls who I’d never see again. For five whole hours, high above the Atlantic Ocean, I had it made.