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  • Writer's pictureJeff Matthews

Weekend Edition: Lovebirds on a Plane

I am flying on a JetBlue Airbus moving 618 miles an hour across the heartland of America. In and of itself this flight is not a bit remarkable, inured as we have become to what any traveler a hundred years ago or more would have found astonishing—the ability to travel across a continent in half a day.

But what is remarkable is that we are literally traveling 50% faster than on the flight out to California, thanks to now having at our tail the heavy winds planes like ours were fighting on the way out when a series of Pacific storms moved across California, dumping multiple feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada Mountains and causing airlines to divert flights, miss connections and lose baggage even more rapidly than usual.

And it’s a good thing we’re going as fast as we are, because the flight can’t get to JFK soon enough as far as I’m concerned.

Normally I look forward to cross-country flights—six hours without cell phones, email and internet is abnormally productive time—but on this particular flight I have been stuck next to two middle-aged lovebirds treating Flight 644 as a sort of idyllic journey to the soul of their beings. I am not making that up, or even exaggerating. The couple in question have already consumed an elaborate picnic dinner, engaged in fervent political discussion and followed all that by a sort of shared television viewing punctuated by loud exclamations over dogs, The Cosby Show and, most obnoxiously of all, scenes of Marseilles.

Not particularly wanting to share either the journey or their innermost yearnings, and being separated from the female and more demonstrative of the pair by a thin armrest, I’ve employed my iPhone and trusty Sony noise-reduction headphones nearly non-stop. The voice of Alex Turner (see “Monkeys Over America” from March 6, 2006 for some background on this comment) has made things reasonably manageable and fairly productive, although even the Arctic Monkeys couldn’t drown out the Marseilles exclamations.

Mercifully, the male lovebird is fast asleep, while the female lovebird is slumped forward with her face scrunched into a blanket on her tray table. She appears to be either praying to some sort of God—a Gender, Faith and Morality-Neutral Divine Presence, if her previous conversation with her partner is any indication—or trying not to throw up from all the food consumed during the picnic portion of their outing, or both.

Whatever it is, she’s not moving or talking, and that’s a major improvement over the last three hours.

It all started before they even took their seats, she alternating between excusing herself to me in American English, and chattering in fluent but text-bookish French to her partner as they tried to wedge their gigantic picnic dinner underneath the seats in front of us for take-off. That done, her partner began pestering the JetBlue flight attendants—politely, in heavily accented English—for two blankets, as if this was the red-eye and the lovebirds were going to hit the sack as soon as the cabin door was shut.

I braced myself for the worst, but the blankets, as it turned out, were merely to keep them warm during a picnic which began as soon as the flight leveled off—he bringing out a massive sandwich on a baguette, she bringing out a pair of chopsticks and digging into a plastic cup filled with some kind of aromatic chicken.

This was, apparently, the French portion of the flight, for most of the conversation was in that language, he speaking fluently and unaffectedly, she speaking in her textbook-fluent manner, with lots of hand-waving.

Still wary of what the blankets might ultimately be intended for, I managed to keep track of where the conversation was going, thanks to having lived overseas as a kid. Mercifully, it mostly revolved around wine and the lack thereof, and what labels would have gone well with her chicken and his cheese, with plenty of giggles in between food bites.

The food portion of their adventure over, it was time for the television segment, and I can tell you far more than I care to about their television viewing habits, because the woman apparently does not realize that when wearing headphones, one tends to speak much louder than normal.

Thus, her heartfelt “oohs” and “ahhhs” at particularly charming points in “Dog Whisperer,” as well as sudden bursts of laughter during an apparently hilarious Cosby episode, sounded more like barks, yelps and shouts of alarm.

Things neared a tipping-point when she and her partner suddenly began shouting, “Ah! Marseilles!” and finger-pointing at the television screen. The people near us sat bolt-upright, tore off their headphones and looked around to see what was happening—no doubt expecting oxygen masks to drop and the plane to start a barrel-roll.

Nothing else happened except that as the cabin got warmer, the woman began removing layers of furry outerwear and the man called on the flight attendant coming down the aisle collecting empty food containers and other garbage to “please turn down the temperature,” as if we were in a small restaurant with a faulty heater.

The attendant deserves a raise just for not dumping the garbage bag on their heads. Instead, he said he’d look into it. Mercifully, with the temperature steadily rising, the lovebirds soon fell asleep.

Trapped next to overly-chatty individuals in this kind of situation always reminds me of “Strangers on a Train,” Alfred Hitchcock’s spooky film about a Mother-obsessed, Father-hating young Misfit with major emotional problems, including wanting to kill his father and marry his mother.

Or was that “Psycho”?

Come to think of it, that’s what all Hitchcock’s movies are about, with the possible exception of “The Birds,” although most likely the motivation of the birds was that they all wanted to kill their fathers and marry their mothers.

In the “Strangers on a Train” version of Hitchcock’s obsession, an unhappily-married tennis star is seated with a chatty, Mother-loving, Father-hating Misfit who tries to recruit to the tennis player to kill his old man, in return for the Misfit murdering the tennis star’s wife, whose philanderings have made the gossip columns.

Your wife, my father. Criss-cross,” says the Misfit, explaining the scheme, which the tennis star dismisses as the goofy rantings of an off-kilter nut-job.

Still, the tennis player could have gotten up and left the Misfit at any given time, but doesn’t, which leads to the usual Hitchcockian plot-lines. In my case, however, there’s been no alternative, being 33,000 feet above sea level in an aluminum tube going 633 miles an hour above Topeka, Kansas.

Careful readers will notice that we have speeded up a little, and that is a very good thing.

In “Strangers on a Train,” of course, everything goes horribly wrong. The Misfit thinks the tennis star has agreed to his plan for swapping murders—the Misfit’s father for the tennis star’s wife—and strangles the woman in an amusement park. The Misfit, naturally, expects the tennis star to murder his Father.

You’re as much in it as I am. We planned it together. Criss-cross.” The tennis player becomes a suspect in the murder. After the usual twists and turns, including a dramatic scene on an out-of-control merry-go-round, he is cleared and, in the usual Hitchcockian happy ending, gets the girl. So far, nothing in “Lovebirds on a Plane” has gone horribly wrong, yet.But you never know.After the third request by the lovebirds to “turn down the temperature,” I thought I overheard two of the flight attendants on my way to the bathroom talking and vigorously nodding in the general direction of the temperature-obsessed, picnic-happy, Marseilles-loving couple.

Cross-cross,” I thought I heard one who had been dealing with a rude passenger say to the fellow who had retrieved the extra blankets for the now-near-shirtless couple protesting the heat.The blanket-retriever smiled oddly, and I could swear I saw him slip an extra-large plastic garbage bag into his pocket before heading back down the aisle..Jeff Matthews I Am Not Making This Up

© 2008 Jeff MatthewsThe content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes a solicitation of business or investment advice. It is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.

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