Report From 37,000 Feet

Delta 757

Privileged to be seated in the front of a plane on a transcontinental flight, one settles in with one’s pillow and blanket and earbuds and elevated sense of self, stretches out and prepares to be pampered (by today’s standards) for the next four-and-a-half-hours. There are movies to peruse, meals to anticipate, and the promise of the actual ability to stretch out and sleep on a plane.

The last thing one expects, before the boarding door is closed, is a pretentious eight-year-old white girl decked out in double-chins and a rainbow colored handkerchief tied over her head, accompanied by a bear-shaped stuffed animal and a pear-shaped mother. The bear has more personality than the mother. The mother has more personality than sand. She’s white noise. A background character, straight out of central casting.

“Um, hi, is this First Class?” spouts the girl to those of us already seated. “Because we’re supposed to be in First Class.” The head flight attendant, full of home-spun Atlanta-based aw-shucks warmth, expecting a standard-issue little-girl experience, zooms up and says “Well yes it is, sweetheart! This is First Class, and I bet you and your momma are supposed to sit right here in these two front seats right here!”

“Mommy! I was right! This is First Class! I get the window,” she said. Yelled — she yelled. “Thank you SO much!” she yelled to the flight attendant. “That’s all right, darlin’,” said the FA, beginning to suspect she had a live one on her hands. The girl climbed over her mother to stand in the aisle to address those assembled.

“Excuse me,” yelled she, “can I ask you all to close your windows? Because I have very sensitive eyes.” Two, maybe three of Those Assembled fell in line, all wearing a collective expression that might be interpreted to say “you’re kind of a pain in the ass, aren’t you, dear. How much longer do you plan to suck?”

All was back to normal for a while, as we taxied out to the runway. “Okay, Mommy, we’re just about ready to take off! We’re just about ready to take off!!” The mother, best described with words like “spineless” and “mousey” and “gelatinous,” smiled wordlessly into the bulkhead. “BYE, CALIFORNIA! DON’T EVER CHANGE,” screamed the little nightmare. “MOMMY! MOM! ‘BYE, CALIFORNIA!! DON’T EVER CHANGE!!’ MOM!! ‘BYE, CALIFORNIA!!’” Mommy finally leaned in and whispered something quickly, ending the tirade. The girl made an over-exaggerated clownish frowny face, to emphasize how sad she was, then was up on her knees on the seat to display her frowny face to the rest of the cabin, at the same time providing an opportunity to quickly determine that nothing akin to Downs Syndrome was at play here. This isn’t a little handicapped victim. This is a coddled and indulged little fat girl who’s never been told “no,” at least not by Mommy.

We accelerated down the runway, the plane gathering speed as the girl gathered air. “WHEEE!” cried Satan’s mouthpiece. “HERE WE GO, MOMMY! WE’RE TAKING OFF!” The flight attendant got up long enough to insist that the girl sit properly and buckle up, a point that had eluded the mother. Another silent, exaggerated frowny face.

“I’M GOING TO JOURNAL ABOUT MY TRIP TO CALIFORNIA,” she told her mother, and when I say “her mother” I mean “the entire cabin.” My cabin mates began to realize that this might last a while. I began to realize that the little twat would plug a hole just about the size of an airplane window, and began, as we reached altitude, to have what can probably best be described as “decompression fantasies” with Prudence playing her final part as the carcass that saves us all but gives up the ghost in the process.

No need. Not so far, anyway, as darkness descends over New Mexico and Prudence spreads completely across her mother’s lap, sleeping.

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