I boarded the Singapore Airlines A380, delicately balancing my iPad, and backpack, and salad as I settled into my seat. I smiled to the older couple next to me, then started in on the salad. With airline seats getting smaller, bringing your own food is becoming one of the few remaining joys of air travel. I finish and put my fork and napkin into the slimy salad box and dig through my bag until I find my photo prop.
The plan was to send a good selfy or some other type of millenniish “look at me, I’m flying!” picture. So I pull out the sheet of paper I’d prepared for this moment. White printer paper with big black letters, reading, “SO LONG, AND THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH.”
This is, of course, the wonderful line from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, wherein the Earth is about to be destroyed and humans spend their last living moments trying to decipher a message from Dolphins, only to learn it reads just that: “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”
Nerd jokes. Cute little nerd jokes. Smart girls like cute little nerd jokes, so make them often.
However, the entire point of posting goodby photos, Douglas Adams quote or not, is to post them on your way OUT the door, and suddenly I realize I’m already seated on the plane, about to take off, and I think about how awkward or stupid I’m going to feel asking some seatmate to take a picture of me holding this nonsensical sign. The old lady next to me does not seem the type to appreciate such things, and I have to spend the next 8 hours with these people. So I go about it a little more discretely, placing the sign between my feet on the floor and take a picture of it between my shoes. Good enough.
I fold the paper up and nibble on the last bits of my salad. The little old German lady next to me points at the folded paper and asks in strained English, “What is this?”
Now I’m embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to really notice my “look at me I’m on a plane!” Photo indulgences, but I do like to make conversation with fellow passengers. ”Oh,” I say, “just a joke for my friends.” I blush a little, embarrassed.
“Why?” The little old German lady asks. She’s not smiling. In fact, her question is accusatory, and I realize I’ve stumbled into an interrogation.
Now, I’m a red blooded American. I may be a liberal, but I like my steaks juicy, my tits big, and my cops with a warrant. This old lady was talking to me like I’m up to no good, and for any red-blooded American who likes steaks, tits, and probable cause, that’s a gauntlet that will not stand.
An uncomfortable silence falls on us as I decide just how far I’m going to take this. It’s true what they say, Germans really don’t have a sense of humor.
If she had been less accusatory, I’d not have been bothered, but we’re still taxiing at JFK. You’re in my house. New York Muthafuckin City! I’m not going to sit here and kowtow to every paranoid foreigner with stupid questions.
She had asked me why. So I give her the only answer worth giving when someone is all incredulous and asking you, “Why?”
“Why not?” I say, watching for her reaction.
I do this too often, and my zeal for confrontations over privacy or 4th amendment rights have grown with all the videos of cops running mad with power.
The old German lady isn’t happy with my answer. Now she’s more direct.
“You will show me?” She insists.
I raise my eyebrows, impressed that she’s willing to confront me directly over this. More than just being stubborn about privacy, I’m specifically turned off by paranoia surrounding terrorism. We already have to take off our shoes and belt to get on the airplane, I’ll be damned if I’m going to let this Stazi grandma make demands on me because she’s unduly nervous about terrorism. This is the kind of bitch that would call a stewardess over if a Sikh was siting next to her in a Turban.
I take the folded paper, open my salad container, and place it inside, leaving it to marinade in vinaigrette dressing and the slimy leftovers of egg and ham and blue cheese. If she wants it, she can dig it out of the trash with her manicured nails.
I look straight at her as I seal the my small little compost heap with the paper inside. With cool civility, I ask her a very important question: “Do we have a problem?”
She doesn’t miss a beat. “Yes.” She says in her heavy German accent. “It is a problem for me if you…” She doesn’t finish. I give her a look that says, please finish your thought. She knows what she feels: that somehow I’m a danger to her and everyone else. But she can’t seem to vocalize it, because calling someone a potential terrorist is a big deal. So you don’t say it directly. You tell the stewardess something vague. This man is acting “strange” — he’s speaking Arabic. He’s brown (wink wink), or, he took a picture of a piece of paper and then ate his salad. (Well doesn’t that sound dumb?)
I look back at her with her “problem,” and I smile, speaking slowly and clearly just to be sure I’m understood. “Not my problem.”
Just then a stewardess comes over with a trash bag, and I enjoyed the feeling of the old lady’s eyes tracking folded note in the greasy container as I tossed it in the trash, thanking the stewardess with a smile. I’m always kind to flight crew. The old woman’s English was poor, and I didn’t speak German, but she knew what I was saying without me having to say it: Go dig.
Before the stewardess could make off with the trash, the old lady hailed her attention and made her play.
“Hallo!” She said to the stewardess, pointing at me and struggling with her English, “Him… He has…”
The stewardess looked down at me and I put on my best puss-in-boots innocent face and smiled back up at her.
“He has a…” The old woman said, clearly agitated and searching for the words.
The stewardess understood completely. And so she opened the overhead compartment for the seats in front of us and handed me a pillow and blanket, then she left to tend to the rest of the cabin.
Holding my fresh pillow and blanket, I offered a gracious smile to the old German lady who had tried to make me out as some kind of terrorist. My smirk carried with it the implied utterance of every four-letter word I could think of. Then donned my sleep mask, curled up under the blanket and went to sleep.