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The Creature of Seat 27E…

Over the last few years, I’ve found myself on planes quite often traveling to my various points of the globe. Most times, I’ve been lucky to meet some really cool people on flights. Even some REALLY cool people. Sometimes, I meet nobody at all. And yes, I’ve also met some incredibly annoying people as well.

But nothing, I tell you, NOTHING could have prepared me for the evil, insanity incarnate that I was about to experience on my most recent flight from Orlando to Los Angeles. What was supposed to be a rather uneventful five and a half hour afternoon flight would no doubt become the ultimate test of patience, tolerance, and will.

It all started when we boarded. I was on the 2nd leg of a two-stop trip to Florida to take care of some personal business and do some shopping for boat stuff, then onward to LA to visit with family and friends, and then back to Panama. The American Airlines flight was crowded, and I was glad if not lucky to get a window seat. When they finally gave my group the boarding call, I found my way to seat 27F.

There was an older, affable jewish man sitting on the aisle seat of my row, Seat 27D, named Nick. Nick let me into the row, and I took the window seat. A minute or two after I got settled in, he leaned over and asked me, “Hey do you think we’ll get lucky and this seat will stay empty?”, as he nudged toward the middle seat wedged between us. I told him, probably not. I saw a pretty lengthy waiting list on the board at the gate’s desk. But it seemed ok if not harmless to at least hope.

For a short moment there, it looked like our wish would come true and the middle seat would stay vacant, quiet, and spacious. I’m already deciding where I shall lay my book in my newfound living space. As Nick does the same. We’re feeling particularly lucky since the plane is quite full. It looks like I finally hit that “sole-empty-middle-seat-of-the-flight” jackpot.

It was not to be. A mere two minutes before the plane’s door was to be shut, our seat neighbor stumbles aboard. She’s a rather eccentric-looking middle-aged woman with severely dyed red hair. She was wearing some weird jeans short outfit with black leggings and ankle-high boots. Completing her haphazard ensemble was a bulky, rather old-looking teal-green suede cowboy jacket. It was complete with what looked like a thousand leather-strip tassels that dangled around everywhere off of it. After putting her bulky bag into the overhead compartment, Nick wistfully lets her in to take her seat. I notice she hadn’t taken the suede jacket off.

After waiting a few minutes to see if she’d come around to actually removing her bulky and now rather stale-smelling jacket, I coolly ask her about it.

“Hi, do you think you can maybe take that jacket off? It will help us all be more comfortable…”

She looked at me and shrugs, “No, sorry… I will get cold…”

I’m feeling the temperature as being perfectly pleasant and mild. I suspect that the plane is well climate-controlled and it won’t get much cooler than this. “Hmmm… ok, but I doubt it’s going to get very cold during this flight.” Damn… now I’m going to have stupid suede tassels teasing and tickling my right arm for the next five or so hours. I proceed to lean a bit more to the left towards the window side of the seat.

“So what do you do?”, she’s trying to start a conversation, minutes after basically shrugging off what sounded like a reasonable request from me. Go figure. I respond politely but briefly… “Yacht captain”.

“Ooooohhhhh how exciting! So you drive a yacht? That sounds WONDERFUL!!! How big is it? Where is it? Do you like it?” She proceeds beaming on the amazing vocation I’ve chosen. For about 10 minutes. I knew I should have said like that I clean septic tanks or something. Shit. The plane is now taxiing to the runway, I’m trying to act like I’m reading my new Wilbur Smith book, but the questions just keep coming…

She tells me her name… but I block it out for reasons that are clearly apparent as this story progresses. So for the purpose of this story, she is bestowed the name, “Psychotica”.

“So, is it YOUR boat? Wow…..” “Where is the boat? Wow……” “And you do tours with the boat? Wow…..” “How do you find the people?” I answer stupidly yet again with a bit too much information, telling her we have a busy website on the internet. What the hell am I doing??

“The INTERNET!!!!? That’s great! I have an internet site too! But I can’t get people to buy my beautiful art. I make beautiful art about my calling….” She seems to be waiting for me to ask about her ‘calling’, but I just nod my head without making eye contact. Not interested… trying to send signals….

“Yes, my calling, see, I’m a minister and missionary. I do missions in Costa Rica!” I exaggeratedly wince at the word “missions”. I’m hoping it conveys my utter disdain for so-called missionaries who ply their crooked trades in clueless third world countries. She misses it completely. I point my eyes back to my book while she starts rambling on about her direct connection with god. Oh man… please stop…

“Yes, when I was a little girl, god told me that I have to go help the poor people of the world. I have been doing it ever since.” I respond with a snide answer “by trying to sell your art online?” Damn… she misses the sarcasm, despite my seemingly perfect delivery. “No… hahahaha…. I have to live too, so I use my art to live, but then I work on my ‘missions’…” I glance over at Nick, the soft-spoken orthodox jewish grandpa that he is, and notice he’s rolling his eyes.

We’ve been airborne ten minutes now, and she’s still talking. Now, she’s on some subject about how she’s been able to ‘transcend her reality’ to a beautiful place where she can talk to god whenever she wants…. She loves transcending to an ‘alternate reality’, as she put it.

I decide to have a little fun with her. “I like reality. Reality is great, why would anyone want an alternate reality? Seems silly to me…”

“Oh, well that’s because you’re HAPPY!!”

Yeah, that’s it. But just not right now.

“Are you married?” Oh man… more questions???

“Was married once. Once… been there, done that!” Eyes are still pointed at the book.

“Ohh…. well good for YOUUUUUU! That’s very healthy! Stay with one woman for life! That’s what god wants for you.” It’s obvious that she didn’t even listen to my answer…

“Uh, I’m divorced. I said I WAS married, not anymore. Oh, and I’m a godless heathen too.” Despite my snide tone, I’m still trying to be polite. It’s bizarre just how insane she’s being right now. It’s almost entertaining. Almost.

“Ohhhh… I’m SO sorry! Don’t worry, you will find another wonderful wife.. someday, even if you don’t believe. God will give you his gifts.”

“What makes you think I’m looking for a wife? I just told you I’d been there and done that. One time, almost 14 years. It’s enough. Not doing it again.” Why do I continue to open my mouth? I must be borderline masochist. It’s the only logical explanation.

“Do you have any children?” Is it ever going to stop?

“None that I know of…” I answer dryly… she laughs, and way too much.

“So… do you have a girlfriend?”

My eyes roll. “None at the moment, but I have lots of ex-girlfriends. Guess I make a better ex-boyfriend than a boyfriend.” I’m hoping this quip shuts her up or at least confuses her. No go.

“Oh really??? Well do you have ‘intimate relations’ with your ex girlfriends?” Nick cocks his head, in disbelief of what she just asked me.

I don’t answer, I just kind of give her this perplexed, confounded look and a prolonged shrug. I’m now the personification of a deer in the headlights.

There is an uncomfortable silence… and she starts talking again, and things just keep getting worse.

“I’m celibate. I’ve been celibate for more than 10 years.” If there was any possible way that my “deer in the headllights” look can intensify, it happened then. “Yes, by being celibate, I can get closer to god….”

More uncomfortable silence. Both Nick and I are utterly freaked out at this point. But she’s talking to me, I’m the one in the line of fire. There’s nowhere to go. I decide to throw this insanity back at her… “Well, too bad, you don’t know what you’re missing. But hey, good for you. Whatever floats your boat.” Shit, why did I have to use a nautical metaphor??

I bring the book closer to my face, and I lean farther to the left. As much as I possibly can, so not one of her suede tentacles can touch me. That can only irritate this situation further. No good can come from it.

There is finally silence. I start to think she got the point. After a few straggling minutes of her telling me how she has a “suitor” back in New York, and they’ve known each other for years, but he has never touched her, and they haven’t even kissed, yadda yadda yadda…. I stayed focused on the book and did not respond. I think that finally did it. Sweet relief…

We’re now in the air about one hour. Psychotica decides that it’s time to get more comfortable. She had already taken her boots off, but now it’s time to raise the bar, so to speak. She brings down her tray table, and pulls up her legs and places them on it. Her knees are angled outward, one aiming for my seat’s ‘airspace'” and of course, the other aiming at Nick’s. I look over at her with obvious disapproval. What now??

“Oh… I have to elevate my knees… I have bad circulation…” Not sure how ELEVATING your knees helps your circulation. She proceeds now to massage her knees in this annoying circular motion, I now notice her elbow is gradually drilling its way into my side.

The beverage cart shows up, and she proceeds to order three different kinds of beverages. I’m surprised that the flight attendants obliged. I ordered a ginger ale. Apparently that was a big mistake.

“Oohhhhh you shouldn’t drink soda… do you know that it takes the calcium right out of your bones?” I shrug, “Oh well, gotta die of something”. I thankfully get a reprieve from her stinking feet and the knee massaging activity so she can make room for her beverage selection. I would enjoy it while it lasts.

After the beverages are consumed, she decides it’s time to make her second or third of about a dozen or so bathroom runs that would occur during the flight. Poor Nick, he’s starting to look like he’s playing some sick version of aerial musical chairs, but there’s no other chair to go to.

We start giving each other a “why us” glance everytime she flees. Hoping that she’ll stay away just a little longer than before. It’s never long enough.

So between the leg raising, circular knee massages, her trying to find out where to plug in her headset so she can watch the movie, to her inability to recline her seat, to her asking the flight attendant at least THREE TIMES what channel is the movie soundtrack on, I find myself getting exhausted. I decide I shall sleep through the remainder of the flight. It’s the only way… I tell myself, it’s the only way to survive this.

It’s now about the third hour… and she’s back again from yet another lavatory run. I’m leaning my head against the window, my body pressed as far against the left armrest as I can possibly manage. It’s carving into my rib cage, but I don’t give a shit. I wish for just few more inches, but there is none more to be had. My eyes are closed, and I am trying my damndest to doze off. Please doze off… I MUST SLEEP THROUGH THIS!!! But there is just so much movement and bumbling going on next to me, along with the occasional incessant nose-blowing, that it’s clear to me that my efforts are futile.

I crack open my eyes, and can’t believe what I’m seeing. She now has one bare foot resting on her tray table. Her sock is off, and she is proceeding to WASH HER SOCK in a cup of water that she apparently requested solely for the task at hand. I can’t believe my fucking eyes. It appears she stepped in a puddle of spilled coffee, at least that’s what I’m hoping it is. And now a hand washing session is the top priority. On her tray table.

She spends the next ten minutes methodically SCRUBBING HER SOCK, rinsing it, and wringing it out back into the cup. I’m now beyond shocked at this bizarre display. The job is done. After a thorough final wringing, she places the sock on her shin to dry. She now raises her other leg, and decides that her cup of used sock washwater is better placed on MY tray table than on hers. After all, she needs that remaining space for her other leg.

“Can I put this here?”… my deer-in-the-headlights look is back.

“Do you really have to? Is that really necessary?”

She ignores the question. In fact, she puts the swill cup into my empty water cup, not really thinking whether or not I had plans for it.

I find myself wishing for an alternate reality of my own right about now. Luckily a flight attendant comes by with a trash bag, and Nick makes a grab for the swill cup and jettisons the hazardous material. I decide right then and there, that Nick is my one true comrade, my only real friend to the end. He shall go in the will.

There is now a little less than two hours left on this flight. I had already changed my watch to LA time, hoping with all my might that the next time I open my eyes, it’s finally 3:50pm, the estimated arrival time. If there is any way that time could slow or even stop, it happened during those last two hours.

Apparently well rested after her strenuous sock-washing session, Psychotica decides that she needs something from her carry-on bag. She elbows Nick to let her out. I find myself hoping she just stays away. Forever. She opens the overhead locker across from our seats and starts trying to pull her bulky carry-on roller luggage out. Everyone is wondering what the hell she’s up to now. A flight attendant intervenes, they’ve had enough of her too apparently. The flight attendant curtly explains that she can’t pull her luggage out until the plane is landed and at the gate. She explains that she has to get her medication and a snack.

The flight attendant reluctantly allows her to use a footstool to stand on while she plows through her bag while it remains in the bin. The lady directly under her is not enjoying the experience at all. She finally finds her necessities, a good 20 minutes later. I realize right then that I didn’t properly utliize this much-sought-after break from her very well at all. She’s back way too soon. And there’s still a lot of time to go. Nick is now showing his exhaustion at getting up yet again to let Psychotica into the row. I’m finding my patience is down to fumes.

Psychotica sits back down, puts her legs back up on the tray table, and proceeds to open a can of apple juice and peel a beyond ripe, ALMOST ROTTEN BANANA. It’s so pungent that I begin to theorize that it has already begun fermenting. The now blinding stench of both her feet and the dark brown, frazzled fruit she holds, eating one bite-size piece at a time, almost relishing it, is finally too much for me to take. I open my personal air jet as far as I can, denying to myself that I had already fully opened it long ago. I ensure that it is properly aimed and pointing directly to my face. At this point my survival is at stake. I’m back to leaning all the way to the left of my seat, eyes closed, breathing through my mouth, almost panting. I’m WISHING to the point of visualization that this goddamn plane just magically teleport to the tarmac at LAX, NOW. That whole “alternate reality” thing she was babbling to me about earlier in the flight was REALLY sounding good to me about now. But I dare not ask.

After she finishes her rotting banana carcass, she proceeds to insert the remnants of the corpse into her seat pocket. The legs are back on the tray table, and she’s back to her massaging activities again. This time, no matter how far away I’ve squished my body to the left, her elbows still find their way into my side. I feel the coarse, stale, suede sanding and grinding away at my t-shirt… I’m desperately hoping that the cotton holds. It must, just a little longer. Please…

A little more than an hour to go. The massaging has not stopped, and I’m finding myself just looking down at the mountain ranges, valleys and canyons of what looked like Arizona. I’m looking for anything to draw my attention away from the incessant, loud, and rather wet-sounding sneezing that Psychotica has been engaged in for what seemed like 20 minutes now. It was as if every sneeze was louder than the last… “Ahhhhh CHOOOOOOO!!!” Every sneeze rattled my teeth. I really can’t take any more of this.

That was about when she decided that she needed to close my air jet. She’s reaching up at the only thing that has kept me both alive and even remotely sane during this entire journey into the bowels of Psychotica-hell. This was the end of the line. This is where things were gonna blow.

“What are you doing?” I asked. Her hand is now inches away from my sacred, life-support device.

“Oh, I need to close this, there’s too much air, and my nose is too sensitive.”

“No. You may NOT close my air jet. Sorry, it’s not all about you.”

“Beg your pardon??” She’s shocked at my refusal.

“I said, it’s NOT ALL ABOUT YOU.”

“Well, it’s not all about you either,” she’s got a smirk on her face. I find myself suddenly wanting to inject my fist into it repeatedly.

“Well, I’m not the one who has been incredibly rude during this ENTIRE FLIGHT, we are both out of patience with you.” I point over to Nick, who nods in solidarity.

And in the most insane moment of the entire ordeal….. she feigns a loud fake laugh and says “Everybody LOVES ME!!! HAHAHAHAHA, GOD LOVES ME!!!!” She repeats it two or three times disjointedly.

I maintain my dry, grindingly angry demeanor…

“Well, you are NOT winning any friends on this flight, that is for sure.”

I’m through. I’m done. I start imposing my sanctions. “You need to keep your arms inside your armrest for the rest of this flight, as we are both sick of you drilling your elbows into our sides.” I’m now gently but firmly pushing her suede jacket overflow and tassels over into her side of our shared armrest. She doesn’t respond well to the new rules.

“Don’t touch me!!! I do not like to be TOUCHED!” she protests, loudly.

“Well you’ve been elbowing both of us for the last three or so hours! You were touching us then weren’t you?” I’m on a roll now.

“That’s it!”, she pushes up her tray table, Nick is already up and ready for her to run off. She goes to the flight attendants’ station apparently to report me. Nick and I are already breathing easier though. We don’t care if the flight attendants come to investigate, we just don’t want her to come back.

Minutes pass, and nothing. There is peace and tranquility in Row 27 for however long it lasts. I look over at Nick, and instinctively, on queue, we high-five. We have prevailed. The guys behind us say that they saw the flight attendants seat her in the very back row for the rest of the flight. The battle is over.

We are all shocked and amazed at the utter insanity that transpired over the last four and a half hours or so. We all discussed the recent traumatizing, blood-curdling chain of events. Nick tells me that he’s a superintendent of a network of hebrew schools nationwide and travels extensively. He flatly states that he has NEVER seen anything like Psychotica. I, also a rather veteran traveler, can’t remember anyone even coming close to Psychotica’s indisputable, world-class, “seat-neighbor-from-hell” TOP ranking. Nope, there was only one Psychotica, there could never be another. We can only hope.

We spent the rest of the flight having a nice conversation about our respective lives. We talk about sailing, and boats, and other stuff. Nick, after hearing a brief version of my story, decides I’m having way too much fun.

The plane finally lands at LAX. And we can’t get off that plane fast enough. I suspect that the flight attendants kept Psychotica seated in the back a few more minutes after we all disembarked. Maybe she even requested it for her own safety. Nick has a connection to San Francisco that leaves in short order and I’m off to baggage claim. Time to part ways. Time to bid farewell to my comrade of 27D. Nick tells me he can’t wait to tell his grandkids about the whole wretched ordeal. He would consider it his post-trauma therapy, he jokes. I tell him I’ll be glad to just get a good blog post out of it. That will be mine.

“Stay outta trouble Tony”

I reply, with a grin… “Nick, I’m sorry about what we both went through, but I’m glad I went through it with you,” and gave him my smartest navy salute.

15 Comments

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Really, truly unbelievable. The whole sock thing had me vomiting in my mouth…

  2. Amy Miller Gray says:

    heh heh heh…suede tentacles! You’re a good writer!

  3. Mary Nichols says:

    omg that story is incredible,,true definition of the seat neeighbor from hell

  4. Jodi says:

    YIKES! I was hoping we would hear this story soon, after you alluded to it on FB. I never imagined it was THAT bad. Glad you made it through the ordeal and hope you’re having fun now in LA! 40 days and I’m back on Isla with an old girlfriend of mine. Counting the days until I’m barefoot in the sand….

  5. Dustin O'flynn says:

    Only in America, Tony.

  6. FabiVane Restrepo says:

    hahahaha, a total “Phychotica with tentacles !! great story Tony.Hey try to play # 27 in the lotto.

  7. James G. Camp says:

    Too funny, but it would also be interesting to read her blog ? She probably thought the world was against her ? Wonder if she made enough noise & complained to get a free flight out of it ? I’ve seen people work that angle for other things like meals and so on.

  8. Janet Whittingham says:

    Oh Tony,
    That was a well such a well written blog, I laughed so hard. Poor you.
    What a nightmare!!!

  9. Dawn Warrenfeltz says:

    What a wretched woman!! Although, I must admit, that I did get quite a few laughs at your expense! Enjoy the rest of your journey to LA!

  10. Janet Romero Ramirez says:

    Loved it Tonster!! She was a “hot mess” and I’m glad you told her and had some peace with Nick at least for the end of the flight!!

  11. Cay Hickson says:

    So well written Tony. Slot that somewhere into chapter 7.

  12. James G. Camp says:

    OK Tony, here’s the question, choice between the woman you sat next to on this flight or Sarah Palin, who do you want as the mystery passenger on your next flight, cross country ? 😉

    1. Tony says:

      Surely, Sarah Palin, but if she starts pulling a psychotica, she’s going down. 😛

  13. Lynn Langdon says:

    Needless to say this story was hilarious. I rate it right up there with the
    Pops and the carnival story with was one of the most funniest writings I’ve
    ever read.

  14. Lieschan says:

    It’s the stale suede jacket where I lost it……that is a smell I cannot bear. Uck!