It was Tuesday, January 29, 2008. I was on American Airlines 2361. The plane sat on the tarmac at O’Hare International. The temperature outside hovered around six degrees Fahrenheit. The sky was overcast with a ceiling of 5,000 feet. The flight was delayed by two hours because of snow, blowing snow, and freezing fog. Visibility was one-half mile.

The plane was an MD-80 with a configuration in the economy section as follows: rows of five seats, A-F, skipping seats designated C. I was sitting in seat 12e, between a woman, around 52, in 12d and a businessman next to the window in 12f. The businessman was in his 40s, probably 46. Both seemed unremarkable in affect and mannerisms. The businessman exceeded the carry-on limits with a bag that had barely fit in the overhead compartment. Additionally, he failed to stow the item correctly, and the flight attendant, Leslie, was required (by federal statute) to correct his error.

After only 53 more minutes on the tarmac, we departed. The takeoff was uneventful.

About 17 minutes into the flight, another flight attendant, Julie, delivered a foil package of cookies to me. It was perhaps incorrect to label the substance that encased the cookies as a “foil.” It resembled some sort of vacuum metalized laminated film. Hereafter, in the interests of brevity, I will refer to the substance as “foil” rather than “vacuum metalized laminated film” (which is more correct).

From the text on the foil package, I ascertained that there would be approximately two cookies, each with a diameter of roughly six inches. The package’s artwork conveyed a sense of nostalgic remembrance of one’s grandmother. I began to tear open the cookie package. However, I found myself in a weakened state due to stress, too much coffee, and anonymous, painful sexual intercourse in a stall in the airport bathroom. I struggled with the aforementioned foil package, and I could see that the nearby passengers were concerned. They had looks of distress on their faces. Concern for their fellow traveler was visible.

The businessman was the first to offer assistance. “Would you like me to help you with that?” he said.

“No, I’m fine,” I replied. I continued to work on the cookie package. At first, I tried to pull apart the layers, which would cause, I theorized, the heat seal on the end of the bag to weaken and separate. This proved impossible. Next, I attacked the seal by attempting to tear perpendicular with the seal, thus locating a weak area that would succumb to my effort. This, too, proved ineffective. Finally, I began my third attack. I searched for a slight cut typically provided by the manufacturer to allow easy separation of the cookies from their housing. Admittedly, this should have been my first course of action, however I was having difficulty operating at my full potential due to the aforementioned causes.

Without warning, the foil package gave way, ejecting two cookies. The first cookie, which I will call Cookie A, flew aft at a high rate of speed. The second cookie, which I will call Cookie B, headed port. Cookie A collided with the ceiling over the aisle near row 14 and broke into at least four pieces, showering nearby travelers with cookie fragments. Someone yelled “My eye!” but he was most likely exhibiting jocularity. Large cookie debris littered the aisle.

Cookie B hit a middle-aged woman on the side of her head as she drank a beverage. The collision surprised her so much that she, in effect, threw the contents of her cup (Diet Sprite with ice) between the seats in front of her, dousing a child in seat 10a. The child screamed. The woman screamed. An ice cube hit the child’s parent in 10b after ricocheting off the child’s tray table (which had been in the full, upright position). Later I could hear the child crying inconsolably. This crying angered the child’s mother who began yelling at the child. She related a litany of reasons why the child wasn’t as satisfactory as the child’s siblings. This angered a gentleman in seat 11b, who stood and told the woman to calm down. Thus, a shouting match ensued between rows 10 and 11. Passengers in rows nine and 13 entered the fray. The passenger in row nine expressed dissatisfaction with her own mother, and the passenger in row 13 added some anecdotal evidence for the difficulty raising children in this day and age.

Meanwhile, a senior citizen had the misfortune of placing his cane directly on top of some of the cookie debris near row 14. This, combined with the high fat content of the cookies, caused the cane to slide and fly upward and out, striking a gentleman in row 12, specifically seat 12d, and knocking him unconscious. He was unconscious for approximately eight minutes. The senior citizen fell and smashed the back of his head into the armrest of seat 14b, dislodging his dentures into the lap of the woman in 14b. Her lap contained a copy of SkyMall magazine, which caught the dentures. (She had been reading an article about spas in Asia.) She lifted the magazine with a quick flipping motion and flipped the dentures into the aisle.

The flight attendant, Leslie, probably thought someone had dropped two small, flesh-colored half-bracelets (as I theorized later). She picked up the dentures, and a split second later, she realized that she had picked up a set of dentures and threw them toward starboard. The dentures landed on a laptop’s keyboard at seat 13e (directly in front of me), causing its owner a great deal of distress. “What the hell? Are you kidding me?” he said. Leslie immediately obtained a towel and removed the dentures from the aforementioned keyboard. Thereafter, things settled down.

I could see that both of my fellow travelers immediately adjacent tried not to laugh at the commotion I had caused.

I had no desire to identify myself as the culprit to my fellow travelers. I would not stand and offer some witticism and let out a hearty laugh: I was never good with the impromptu joke or funny story. No one would applaud my self-deprecating humor. Nor would I provide medical aid to anyone injured in the melee, but that was only due to lack of knowledge and not due to any sort of schadenfreude. I sat quietly and began reading SkyMall magazine about spas in Asia.

[January 2008]

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