This is a column that I wrote back in 1998. Let me state right now that every word you are about to read is true. This happened exactly as I described it.
I am an oaf. Many years ago my mom tried to explain my clumsiness to a friend by saying, “Jerry is a good boy, but his hands don’t work.”
I’m telling you this to explain my actions on a Continental Airlines flight from San Diego to Newark.
I was in horrible pain. Months earlier, a horrible oral surgeon attempted to hammer four implants into my mouth. He batted .500. One hit a nerve and severed it. I lost all feeling on the lower right side of my lip and jaw for the rest of my life. Another caused an infection. I switched doctors and a wonderful oral surgeon told me he was going to have to take out the infected implant the minute I returned from a business trip to San Diego.
So there I was, stumbling onto Continental flight 116 at eight in the morning, stoned on pain-killers, half asleep because I hadn’t gotten a moment’s rest since the ordeal started.
Carrying a heavy shoulder bag, I made my way down the aisle. I also had my computer bag, and one of those black canvas pieces of luggage on wheels, which travel a straight line like a drunk with 12 gins in him. I also had a Starbuck’s coffee. Then I saw him.
He was sitting in seat 4B on the aisle. I was headed for seat 4A by the window. So help me, he weighed 350 pounds. We locked eyes. My eyes said, “Please get up so I can get settled in.”
His eyes said, “Fat chance.” He just sat there and watched me struggling with my luggage.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said. “I just want to get my computer on my seat.”
He just nodded and kept reading. So I swung my case toward the window seat and SPLAT! I hit the fat guy with the side of my computer case right in the head. I was horrified.
“I’m so, so sorry,” I said. “Are you okay?” He sat there glaring at me, rubbing the side of his head.
“It’s all right. It’s all right,” he mumbled, as he rubbed his head with his left hand.
“I’m soooo, sooooo sorry,” I repeated.
“It’s all right” he said. “AAAHHHHHHH!!! YOU’RE BURNING ME!!!”
I looked down and saw I had tilted the cup of scalding hot coffee and it was splashing on his beefy right arm.
“Oh,” I said, flustered. “I’m so … so … sorry.”
“All right,” he said. “I’m getting up,” and he painfully and slowly pushed himself out of the chair. I forced my bag into the overcrowded overhead and slammed the door shut.
“OPEN IT! OPEN ITTTTTT!” I heard from my right. I turned to see the fat guy with three of his fingers stuck in the overhead.
The flight attendants were very nice and they put Band-Aids on his two bleeding fingers. The third finger wasn’t bleeding much, but it looked pretty bruised. I sat in my seat, miserable, as all the other passengers were giggling at the scene. When the fat man finally sat down and glared at me, I said, “I know you must think I’m the passenger from hell, but I promise you I’m going to sit here and not say a word until we land in Newark. And again—I’m really, really sorry.”
I asked the flight attendant for a Diet Coke. Before it came, the last pain killer kicked in. I fell sound asleep. I must have had a dream or a nightmare. I remember flailing my arms, hearing a voice saying, “Oh God!” I thought I was having some sort of religious dream. But the voice was not my voice. It sounded a lot like the Fat Man. When I opened my eyes, I saw that in flailing my arms around in my sleep I had hit the glass of Diet Coke.
You guessed it: the glass, the ice, the Diet Coke had all landed the Fat Man’s lap.
Do you remember when you were in grade school and something funny happened and you couldn’t let the teacher see you laughing so you covered your mouth and made snorting sounds to suppress the laughter? That’s what I did. For the rest of the flight, I turned my head to the window and made these weird snorting sounds.
When the plane landed, my seatmate headed for the door with incredible speed.
As I watched his hulking, fleeing body, I thought, “He didn’t even say goodbye.”