This is a column that I wrote when it happened 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.
A few months earlier, a horrible oral surgeon attempted to hammer four implants into my mouth. He batted .500. One of the implants hit a nerve and severed it. As a result, I lost all feeling on the lower right side of my lip and jaw for the rest of my life.
Another implant 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 8 in the morning, stoned on pain-killers and Valium, which my doctor had prescribed. I was also half asleep because I hadn't been able to get a moment's rest since the ordeal started a few months before.
Carrying a heavy brown shoulder bag that contained most of my worldly possessions, I made my way down the aisle. I also had my black computer bag (which weighs a ton), and I had 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, a bag with three magazines, a San Diego Padres baseball cap for my son J.T., and a San Diego T-shirt for my daughter Jessie.
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. The minute I saw him, I knew the only reason he was sitting in first class was because he couldn't get into a smaller coach seat unless someone used Crisco to grease up his sides.
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. The aisle was crowded. People were pushing past me. It was hot. I was sweating bullets.
"Excuse me, sir," I said. "I just want to get my computer onto my seat."
He didn't say anything. He just nodded and kept reading The Wall Street Journal. 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.
"Are you all right?" I persisted.
"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!!!"
"What?" I asked.
"BURNINGGG MEEEEEE!!!" he screamed.
I looked down and saw I had tilted the cup of scalding hot Starbuck's 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.
As I was trying to stuff my leather bag into the overhead bin, I heard him say, "Be careful! You're going to ruin my jacket." I forced the 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. I had slammed the door on his fingers.
The flight attendants were very nice and they put Band-Aids on his two bleeding fingers with a flourish and a big smile. 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."
He just glared.
About an hour out of Newark, I asked the flight attendant for a Diet Coke. Before she brought it, the last pain killer kicked in and I fell sound asleep.
I must have had a dream or a nightmare. I remember flailing my arms out and hearing a voice saying, "Oh God! Oh God!" For a second, I thought I was having some sort of religious dream. But the voice screaming "Oh God!" was not my voice. It sounded a lot like the voice of 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 plan landed, my overweight seatmate jumped up and headed for the door, pushing people out of his way. He moved with incredible speed.
As I looked at his hulking, fleeing body, I thought to myself, "He didn't even say goodbye."
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