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Airplane Story: The Sanity Clause*

January 31, 2013

The flight is full. More than full. “Over sold” as they say, cheerfully over the loudspeaker, as if that’s not just the weirdest thing ever. I remember when I first learned about the very common practice of airlines over-selling the flights so they are sure they have as much capacity on the flight as possible because of no-shows and cancellations. I get it, but when the gamble doesn’t work and they actually have more people ready to fly than they have seats, it suddenly becomes like Bizzaro World. But all goes well enough and, eventually, I clamber into my seat and settle in for the flight. Behind me, I hear Mum, Dad, a wee boy, and eensy baby girl arrange themselves.  The lad was directly behind me, with the window to entertain him, with his mom next to him.  He couldn’t have been much more than 4.  He was an anxious little dude, covering his very understandable apprehensiveness by asking lots of questions. Repeatedly. The same ones. “Mom….Mom….Mom…are we going fast?” he would squeak at her. “Not yet,” Mom would reply. Again.  And again. This pattern repeated once we were, in fact, going fast or going over cars, or in the clouds, or getting our beverages. You get the picture. On top of this, his tiny sister was having none of this flying-in-the-air-and-who-ARE-all-these-people nonsense. So she voiced her displeasure in the only way she had at her command: tea-kettle shrieks and long, drawn out caterwauls. Poor Mum was unraveling. Dad was trying to help, but I think he was a row away. I heard him a few times chiming in with “not yet, boyo” and some gentle attempts to shush Screeching Sister. I felt bad for them both, and everyone around knew they were doing their best.

Some time later, we were starting to descend. The wee bairn had tuckered herself out and was asleep, and Mom voiced her relief, “Gosh, I’m glad she’s finally quiet. I was about to lose my marbles.” And as soon as she said it, I got the feeling she realized that she actually said it out loud and not just in her own head. Sonny-boy picked up on it like a champion jacks player scoops up the onesies and twosies. “Marbles?”, he pipes, “You have marbles, Mom?!” “Oh, no, bud…not really, it’s just an expression.” Pause. You can fairly hear the gears turning in the little dude’s head. This was clearly not an acceptable explanation. “Mom…Mom…Mom…where are your marbles?” And as frazzled and exhausted as she is, she steps right into the hole: “They are in my head, bud.” Big pause. Gears spin even more. And then he lets it loose….”In your HEAD!?  Do I have marbles in MY head?!” Two rows forward and three rows back, all within earshot, quietly laugh and send waves of sympathy to Mom and Dad as they now try to unravel this and set things back to more manageable topics about the airplane wheels, what are clouds made of, and whether dinosaurs ate pizza.  Fortunately for them, there comes next a flurry of activity and we touch down, and the little dude is well distracted. But I can imagine that dinner table discussions and car rides for the next several days will be punctuated with further explorations into the mysteries of the human brain and the brightly colored glass spheres that we try to hold on to, and sometimes misplace.

*The title of this post is in deference to The Marx Brothers’ “A Night at the Opera”

Driftwood: It’s all right. That’s, that’s in every contract. That’s, that’s what they call a sanity clause.

Fiorello: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! You can’t fool me. There ain’t no Sanity Clause!


From → Not Bus Stories

  1. Oh man, I’ve had those kinds of flights, both with our kids and hearing others, but I love how marvelously you have captured the experience and retell it. Thank you!

  2. Katherine Cleland permalink

    I’m so glad you’re writing these. Delightful

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