Surprise Gift on Dispirit Airlines:
Sometimes a gift is wrapped in a prickly porcupine. Or a hedgehog. As a rule, I get those two mixed up. Maybe the Bickertons were one of each, which might explain their combative, openly caustic relationship. The Hatfields and McCoys hook up.
I was on the aisle, only three rows back. The plane hadn’t budged. I had been trying and failing to re-read The Year of Magical Thinking. The man across the aisle was reading Understanding the End Times.
It seemed like we should have been shoving off by now. I looked at the time on my iPhone.
The flight attendants had officially gathered, standing side-by-side, facing the cabin. Like a military formation, they had what we might call foreboding faces. The designated one began to speak:
“Will the young man who brought a (ruh roh)…basketball on the plane please make yourself known so that we can deflate it so that our flight isn’t any more delayed than it is already?”
Our flight back from Vegas should be a 45-minute gate-to-gate.
We had been waiting a least half that time already.
One of the stewards brushed my sleeve as she zipped by and then again a moment later when she reversed direction, carrying a perfectly spherical basketball.
We sat for at least another fifteen.
From the galley, I heard one of the flight attendants ask, “How much is a basketball anyway?”
I wanted to inquire: How long can it take to deflate it, pop it, or just leave it?
I never saw the basketball again before we finally took off—I never knew its fate.
This is when the real in-flight entertainment began.
The couple right in front of me began the obstreperous ping-pong. I quickly lost track of all the F-bombs. (Through the gap, I could only see a sliver of the man’s face. The woman was a mystery. Later, I would deem the Western wear an interesting choice and a real curveball.)
The re-stating, the same word and or phrase repetition, and the pointless insanity were stunning. Interminable, Illuminating, instructive—a cautionary—no, a Scared Straight—tale.
It occurred to me how fitting the word bickering is. It’s an onomatopoeia, a word that sounds just like the thing its describing.
“No, you didn’t. Yes, I did. No, you didn’t. Yes, I did.” Over and over and over again.
I was sure this sardine-like experience and illustration-in-absurdity on Spirit Airlines would forever cure me of debating, arguing—bickering—and wasting everyone’s time including my own. Making our respective packed-in, sardine flights more uncomfortable than they have to be.
Time will tell.
I looked to my row mates on my left and gave the “Are you guys hearing this? Is this not nuts?” collusion face. They smiled and rolled their eyes. Clearly, they were on my team. They were quite the contrast: a barely twenty-something, fresh-faced sweet couple from Michigan with sights set on Disneyland, The Happiest Place on Earth. They asked me a few “locals only” questions. That felt nice.
The bickering couple sparred the entire flight until the announcement was made to “buckle up, we’re on our initial descent” and then they kissed and made up. Plot twist.
Phew, glad that’s over.
Hold up, not so fast, cowboy: They started the inane bickering again. Just to circle back, you know, same topic, same exact phrases and words. Because why not.
I heard the random woman across the aisle say, “Oh SHUT up.”
She was also on our team.
Mrs. Bickerton got up to use the bathroom and was scolded for doing so after the buckle-up announcement. So she did her side of an unrequited bicker with the flight attendant.
But she still had to sit down.
Pulling up to our gate, I almost asked the young couple to my left if they needed a ride to their Anaheim hotel but then I changed my mind because that might be too weird and I was too tired.
Passing through the jetway, I held my prickly gift from the Bickertons close. I thought, maybe it stings just enough to stick.
Time will tell.
I don’t mean to brag, but losing three of the most important people in your life within two years can really evolve a person. It’s not all the time—and it’s definitely not reliable, but there’s an unexpected buoyancy, a sanguine floatiness sometimes. It’s free shows like “The Bickertons” that offer teachable moments on futility—on time and life-wasting, air-polluting behaviors. And then we get to sit and process.
Because in the end, we all have to sit down.
We can always look through the window, though. We all have our sights on The Happiest Place on Earth, am I right?
Ah, now I get it. I see where that extraneous basketball fits in this story. I know the fate—the value in that basketball. That basketball begs the question:
How important is it?