The Turtle and the Harridan

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, October 14, 2007

The guy in the aisle seat has shoulder-length hair, a ruddy complexion and the demeanor of a box turtle. I'm wondering how he has achieved such a state of . . . calm.

It's probably the circumstances. I mean, there is good news. Fantastic news, really. The kind of news that harkens back to the Stone Age of air travel: There is no one in the middle seat! That hardly ever happens anymore. Back in the old days, extra elbow room used to be common, except on the rare super-stuffed flight. Now all flights are overstuffed.

"Can you believe this?" I say to Mr. Turtle, from over here in my window seat, which feels far away but is technically probably 2 1/2 feet.

"What's that?" he says.

I look at the middle seat, then up at him, making big Christmas-morning eyes. He does not seem to immediately understand the reference.

"We have the only vacant middle seat on the whole plane!" I say to him.

He smiles. "Well, I just hope some old lady didn't miss her flight or something," he says.

Holy smokes. Some old lady? He's thinking of other people? This is not a time to think of other people! This is survival, Mister! What is with this guy?

"Yeah, I was visiting my son in L.A.," he says, then. "He's such a little trouper."

Oh, dear. We're going to . . . talk? Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear. I must stop this immediately. Did I give the signal that I was a talker? I am not a talker. That is not my flying style.

I try to be polite, careful not to show too much interest in the son, even though, of course, I am now wondering if the kid has some tragic medical condition.

"Benign," the man says. "Yeah, the whole thing turned into a big nothing."

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