Getting Down to Earth

I am flying. Well, not quite, since we haven’t taken off yet. But we’re on the plane and bags have been stowed and seatbelts fastened. So, we are prepared to fly.

Unfortunately, nothing has gotten serious enough for the attendants to announce their little “no more electronic devices” fiat. So the woman behind me, who is roughly my age, fires up her cell and makes one last call. Her voice is a droopy, whining monotone. It is the kind of voice that, if she were to note that your hair was on fire, you would want to tell her to shut up instead of reaching for a fire hose. The kind of voice that grates regardless of its message.

“Mother,” the woman says. “Mother, is that you?”

A bit of silence. It is, evidently, Mother on the line.

“Mother,” the woman says, “Mother, will you please stop complaining? I am at the airport on a plane. I can’t listen to you right now.”

More silence. Mother seems to have a lot to say.

“Mother! I told you I’m in the airport! On a plane! Will you stop complaining?”

No, Mother will not stop.

“I think,” I tell the man next to me, “if they ever allow cell conversations in the air, I will probably shoot myself.”

“Mother! Stop! Mother! What are you doing today, Mother?”

The flight attendant approaches the man next to me. He’s been upgraded to business class. He takes his jacket and bag and departs eagerly. He will never know what happened to Mother.

“Today isn’t the 17th of June, Mother! It’s the 18th!”

The flight attendant announces the no-cell rule.

“Good-bye, Mother! I can’t talk to you any more!”

I sit and luxuriate in my extra space. Actually, it’s quite roomy today, since I’m in the exit row. I have already sworn to the flight attendant that, if called upon, I will certainly be able to bust out of the plane. I even studied the little safety diagram for several seconds, but it’s quite confusing. If we have an emergency, I think, I will simply enlist the nearest man to help. (I am a total feminist except when it comes to rodents and crash landings.)

Besides, breaking out of the plane might be hard for me since I have a bad right shoulder. I am trying to accept that sad fact, along with the growing realization that I may be one of the only people on earth who has gotten worse, not better, with physical therapy.

“I have flunked physical therapy,” I told my husband recently. “How do you fail physical therapy? It should be impossible. Nobody fails physical therapy.”

He told me I was looking at it  the wrong way. “You didn’t fail physical therapy,” he said. “Physical therapy failed you.”

I hope that, after the plane crashes and the woman on the exit row who fails to break open the door is pilloried in the press, that other people are similarly laissez-faire and understanding about her failure to thrive in physical therapy. “She tried,” my physical therapist would tell the press, “but she just kept flunking physical therapy. It was really kind of sad.”

Oh, but I believe in the predictability of numbers and of human behavior. As the numbers suggest, our flight lands safely. As human behavior observers tell you, people usually don’t change.

The minute the plane’s wheels hit the ground, the woman behind me is on the phone again. “Mother,” she says. “Mother, is that you? Mother! We just landed!”

(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read this post about pronouncing Chile and forte and/or this one about the woman who refused to come out of fetal position



17 comments… add one
  • Cindy A Link

    My vote is for cell phones to have better quality receiving. That’s the only reason I can think of that people yell into them. Hope that woman finds the little button on the side of her phone that mutes the ringer. She can always call Mother back when it is more convenient for her and less annoying for everyone else.

  • I just had to put this in one of my short stories – A man was on a full bus and received a cell phone call. He answered and began a lengthy and loud conversation with some guy named Hector. As they talked, he got louder and louder, and the folks on the bus got more and more annoyed. A woman across from him started repeating everything he said, projecting her “fingernails on a chalkboard voice” as much as she could. The rest of the passengers chimed in and before you knew it, the entire bus was repeating him. (Even the Oriental couple that couldn’t speak English) You’d think the guy would’ve laughed at himself and got the message. Well, he didn’t. He stopped the bus and got off. Everyone clapped. Unfortunately, the woman behind you couldn’t stop the plane. Hope your shoulders better!

  • Sheryl Link

    I’m so with you on this: I am a total feminist except when it comes to rodents and crash landings. Love it!

  • Nancy Link

    Ruth, I LOVE your work. Each time I receive it, it brightens my day, makes me laugh and I share with others — usually in our age category. Bravo! Thanks.

  • Ha! I think that woman has been on one of my flights too.

  • Ah, the joys of flying these days—

  • I increasingly find air travel more and more impossible. It is filled with incivility in fact.

  • I often wonder, was there a certain day when cell phone users decided everyone around them should share in their side of the conversation no matter what the subject matter? And on plances it’s ten times worse, because us poor listeners have nowhere to go.

  • I love listening to other people’s conversations! I’ve got some persistent aches and pains myself. Sometimes PT, yoga, massage… they just don’t help. The body has broken down. It’s a sad state of affairs.

  • Got you on the physical therapy thing. Last time I tried, after 6 or so sessions I was rehearsing what I was going to say to politely let the P.T. know that it wasn’t working and I was going to be staying home from now on. I did my rehearsed spiel and she said, “Yeah, we haven’t been getting very far. You’re right. No point.”
    P.S. Please add “changing tires” to rodents and plane crashes.

  • I love the line, “I am a total feminist except when it comes to rodents and crash landings,” you had me LOLing! Cell phones very annoying. It’s no wonder they are being banned in more places. I put your woman right there with the one I sat next to flaying through the storm that eventually flattened part of Tuskaloosa, Ala. last year. She was screaming and crying to the point that I thought we were going to have to form a line to slap her like in the scene from “Airplane!” Thankfully, the flight attendants finally came and told her she was going to have to calm down, she was making everyone else hysterical.

  • I find cell phone conversations on trains, buses and planes completely annoying. Rare is the person who actually speaks softly into the phone. I have to take a one-hour express bus each way from my house and invariably there’s one person yelling into a cell phone despite the prohibition on cell phones. Ugg.

  • I don’t even know what to think about the Mother thing. I’m envisioning Anthony Perkins in a dress.

  • I’m with Living Large. That line cracked me up. Thanks for the giggle.

  • My mother would have said that that woman was born, came right out of the birth canal, with a phone attached to her ear!

  • Most of the conversations one hears while trapped on a plane are so banal. I’d just love for once for someone express their undying passion for the person on the other end or convey their most pressing wishes, should the plane go down. But (thank goodness) the planes always land safely and I’ve yet to eavesdrop on a cell phone conversation that wasn’t boring. A gal can dream.

  • Unlike the above commenter, I am largely offended if I have to sit and listen to someone else’s phone conversation. And yet, you can be sure that with a whole swath of beach available, someone will come plop down next to me and dial up some poor sucker who’s NOT on the beach. Have we no sense of propriety any longer?

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