2003. Heroes drop like flies in September. In a three-week span we say goodbye to Bob Hope (I thought he died in the late ‘80’s), Johnny Cash, Buddy “Barnaby Jones” Ebsen, Warren Zevon, Robert Plant, and George Plimpton; THE Paper Lion). Bad month to be famous.
Also lost in 2003: Maurice Gibb (he started a joke)… Richard Crenna (“better send in a good supply of body bags”)…Nell Carter (“these is knuckles you is lookin’ at”)…Johnny Paycheck (“Take This Job and Shove it”)…Mr. Rogers …Edwin Starr (WAR! HUH!)…Little Eva (“everybody’s doin’ a brand new dance now”)…Bobby Stack, Gregory Peck (Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird is maybe the greatest hero in film history)…Katie Hepburn, Barry White, Gregory Hines, Chuck Bronson, Bobby Hatfield, and Art Carney.
The guy gets it now, and becomes violent. He can’t get me off him –dead weight- so he starts to pound on me. I lie across his lap, pinned down by my imbalance and the guy’s fists and elbows as they crash into my back. I wonder where the guys are. I guess Bocko got tossed like me somewhere. Everyone else is probably stabilizing drinks before they move anywhere. Mike and Doc must be cued in now, but they’ll definitely make sure they don’t spill booze just to help out a buddy who’s temporarily getting pummeled. Besides, where’s anyone going on a 767 at 40k feet?
Mr. Shoes pounds now like I’m one of his veiled woman-folk back in the sand, which I’m not, and I’m getting a little pissed. Can’t push off to get up because psycho-shoe-man squirms like a wet fish trying to knock me out, so facedown I figure I might as well get the shoes. The guys will help soon and I’m lousy as a punching bag for Arab terrorists. Hopefully the guys have a beating of their own planned for him…I know I do.
But I bet they stand around and laugh first.
Another PING from Captain Funny-pants in the cockpit. The plane hiccups and I hear squeals from the cabin. I’m tossed to the floor where I can get a real look at the Buster Browns. I smell sulfur and something I bet a bomb expert could name. I reach for the shoes. Mr. Wet Fish kicks and lashes like someone’s trying to take his favorite explosive shoes…which I am.
He gets a good shot at my nose with his left foot and my eyes water. Now I’m really pissed. I bite into the left leg, and hold on tight.
So, I’m lying on the floor of a 767 going a solid 700mph at 40,000 feet, thinking about my mom and how much she paid to have my teeth straightened when I was ten. I smell hard, Arabian explosives while biting a terrorist on the leg. I’m a rum-soaked German Shepard…and, frankly, where the hell are the guys!?
Finally, I pull the shoes off. Wasn’t easy, and his socks smell like the floor of a taxicab. Ahab goes bonkers. I shove them under the seat. As fate has it, I jam them into the feet of Patty Boskin. She bends down to see what’s up. We lock eyes.
“How’s things up there?”
“Oh, not bad.”
“Say Patty. Can you see my wife?”
“Yes I can Bill.”
“Does she look mad?”
“Just a second.” And she disappears from view. I struggle to get up, but I’m still tangled up in blue.
She’s back. “Okay Bill, Cheryl wants to know what you’re doing. She says to quit jumping on the other passengers and get back in your seat. Apparently you’re embarrassing her.”
“So, Bill, what are you doing?” Very cool lady, Mrs. Boskin.
I smile…can’t help it. “Well, that’s kind of complicated. Can you take these shoes and give them to Doc. Ask him not to light a match on them.”
She smiles back and takes the shoes.
“Oh and Patty?”
“Can you see the guy giving me a beating?”
“Can you ask your husband, or one of the other guys to knock him out?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Not sure what she does, but the guy stops. He’s off me and out in the aisle. I get up, and I’m pretty disappointed that nobody’s kicking the shit out of the guy. He waves something that looks very much like a gun; sweat splashes with every move. Gross.
Behind him stand the Rhodes scholar flight attendant and guy in a pilot hat. Hey, who’s flying the plane? They look like they want to run somewhere. The curtain to first class is open and I can see the cockpit door’s closed, bolted I bet…I hope. The guys stand around, sip drinks, and look at Mr. Shoes with a mixture of impatience and annoyance. Nobody smiles, and we’re all on vacation…must be serious, no?
Somebody turned off the chick flick we were ignoring earlier. Wonder if they’ll refund headphone money. Also wonder if they’ll get us free drinks the rest of the flight.
So I ask…. hey a guy’s gotta know. “Hey, Captain funny-pants.” -can’t help it, when I get a name in my head it just sticks- “When Mr. Shoes is, uh retired, can we get free drinks the rest of the flight?”
He looks at me like I have two heads, which I don’t. He can’t even produce a frown, he’s so shocked, just looks at me like I’m speaking Latin or something.
“Yeah. How can you not give us free drinks?” Doc. He knows opportunity when it knocks.
A chorus of yeahs. Well, a chorus from our group…incredulous stares from the other passengers. I bet I got a lecture on being irresponsible in my future. I hate those lectures.
I notice the wives join in. It’s good to see them start to loosen up on the trip. Always seems to take them a little longer than the guys.
Mr. Shoes looks confused. Good again. He sweats more now, if that’s possible, favors his right leg (yes!), and waves his gun-ish thing around like you see them do on T.V. right before McGyver leaps to the rescue. The gun looks plastic. I have few doubts it works, and neither does anyone else, otherwise this guy would be stuffed in an overhead compartment by now.
The cabin goes quiet again, except for some skirt in the back that screams like Jennifer Leigh in Psycho. ”Stop him, stop him. I don’t want to die. We’re all going to die.” Whatever. Her husband sits beside her and his eyes bulge, and I swear to God he’s got on a nerf hat shaped like frog. It’s green and wraps around his head like a toilet bowl. A red tongue sticks out from underneath fake foam white eyes. Funny accoutrement. Party time in Aruba?
Anyways, his wife yells like she’s stuck. It’s annoying and no help. He tries to hide without seeming like a coward. A rock and a hard place. Diane and Lisa leave their seats, carefully. They go back and have a word with her… Nobody’s going to die. In good hands. How about a Fresca? Stuff like that.
2003. Michael Jackson was arrested and is being tried for molesting young boys…again. In response to his plight, The Nation of Islam is trying very, very hard to get Michael into the fold. One source says, “It would be like the Scientologists having Tom Cruise. It’s full-court press time”. WOW.
Nobody wants to test the gun with five nights in Aruba ahead. Bullets ruin Mardi gras. If we’re on the way home and this happens, Mr. Shoes doesn’t get to wave anything at anyone; except maybe his hands pitifully in the air asking Allah to deliver him from these imperialist American dogs who have opened up a can of whoop-ass on him. The women visibly relax in their seats. Mike goes back to his whisky and tries to stack poker chips one handed…he’s got a date with an Aruban casino. Everyone sort of chills, and breathes with their mouths open.
My half-spilled rum drink has been set back on my tray table. A saint in my midst…wonder if it was Wifey. It’s on the other side of the seats, and with Mr. Shoes acting a nervous wreck it might as well be in Cleveland. But I reach for it anyways.
The gun sounds like a lightening strike in the cabin. Turns out it’s pretty damned real. A bullet rips into the seat beside me. General mayhem ensues. I see a few eyebrows raised by the guys. The girls are less calm than before Mr. Shoes, Allah praise him, took his best, and last shot at me.
Whoa…. anger level ratchets up to ten. Very close to overriding common sense and that’s when people get hurt. I bite my tongue hard -enough to dial back some fury, but not so much as to affect future drinking. “Don’t do that again.” I say it quiet. I don’t know if Shoes hears or understands, but he sees me, and I hope that’s enough.
He must recognize that things aren’t likely to go his way any time soon. You can see the little hamster running the wheel in his cage. His eyes dart around, looking for options, and shoes. “Give to me the shoes.” He’s not sure exactly who to ask, so he waves the gun harder. The plane smells like gun discharge, heavy chemicals. Ears ring.
“Where are the shoes? Give them to me.” Spit and sweat and barely reserved panic. We’re at some sort of breaking point. Everyone who’s kept their head so far can feel it.
Doc and Mike could make a jump for him, but that gets risky, as he waves the gun to cover all us infidels. Bocko has moved up the far aisle. I see him sidle up to the Pilot. I see them talk fast and low while Mr. Shoes is distracted. Bocko grips him calmly, but firmly by the back of the neck, making some sort of plan.
The plane engines are a consistent drone. They’d be good to sleep to if we weren’t staring down a terrorist with a gun.
I look back at the middle row where I sat a few long minutes ago. Mr. Shoes stands and sweats in the aisle, near the first class curtain. The ladies sit patiently. Wifey gives me a look, Will you quit screwing around. You’re going to ruin my vacation. My drink’s there. I miss it.
“Would you please give me those shoes I handed you a few minutes ago?”
She passes them to me over the seat. Mr. Shoes follows them with his eyes, a berserk stare. I hold them away from me toward him, they stink. I look at their owner, then at the guys. I say to Nikki, “Did we get an answer on the drinks thing yet?”
Mike yells from the other side of the aisle, “No. I was listening”
The terrorist doesn’t take his eyes off the shoes. They have him hypnotized.
“Mike’s right. I haven’t heard anything.” Doc talks and moves slowly toward the front of the plane. We have Mr. Shoes cornered as it were, but he has the gun. It’s a stalemate and I can’t be sure why he doesn’t take another shot at me and grab for the shoes.
“What about it Nikki?” I’m very serious about free drinks.
Nikki looks nervous, scared naturally, blond hairs streak out of a tight bun pinned to the back of her head. A sweaty strand falls un-flight-attendant-like over her left eye. She sputters…probably not a totally unnatural reflex for her. She looks for her Pilot, but he’s gone up front with Bocko. “What?”
“Free drinks for everyone on the plane when this is all done.” I shoot a thumb at Mr. Shoes who looks sketchier than ever. He smells like barely contained panic in these close quarters. He wants to reach out and take the shoes, but he’s just confused enough to pause. His mistake.
Nikki, poor dear is just as lost. She probably couldn’t tell you her name right now if you spotted her the N-i-k.
“Just say yes, Nikki.” Patty kneels in her seat, and leans on the one in front. She has an empathetic look on her face, whatever that means. “So they’ll quit bugging you.”
Bocko’s back from the cockpit. Nods at me and stands by the main door. The red Exit sign is head-high. He grabs the big white “Do Not Touch While in Flight” handle on the door, and gets the heft of the thing. He nods again. Not a moment too soon. Mr. Shoes has had about enough. I watch his trigger finger. It’s white…too white.
I start to yell at Nikki. The guys join in, a slight deception at her expense. I can apologize later.
Booze cart, ticket refunds, more peanuts, free movies…booze cart! All the sudden it’s the New York Stock Exchange and Nikki’s selling IBM short. She looks like she might explode. Mr. Shoes squints at the blonde attendant. The guns stops moving for a moment. This is out of his realm of experience. Why are these crazy infidels crying like banshees at this woman? Why do they pay no attention to me? You can see his confusion.
At the height of the frenzy the airplane cabin starts to buck and shake. Masks fall from the ceiling. The engines drop a few thousand RPM’s. Rapid deceleration, and you can feel the nose drop. The words In the unlikely event of a water-landing race through my mind. Everything slows down.
I see Doc spill his Coors Light, and mouth goddamnit. People pitch forward in their seats, flailing for handholds. A few noses are smashed, luggage and cookies tossed, whiplash customers available for ambulance chasers. Despite the ruckus nobody’s eyes leave Mr. Shoes.
I feel my ears explode as pressure drops. My mask might as well be outside the plane. Mr. Shoes sways. The gun doesn’t fire. Is it a one shot weapon? I get my balance and pitch the shoes to Bocko an impossibly athletic act, since my knees are made of rubber and standing is impossible. Mr. Shoes follows the flight of the shoes through the cabin like a little boy about to lose his favorite explosive shoes. Bocko catches one, drops the other then bends and picks it up off the floor. Shoes tried to aim the gun at Bocko, but he’s tossed into a seat. I’m pitched and slammed back against the bulkhead. If I fell right now, I’d miss the floor. I don’t know how Bocko keeps his feet.
A light on the door flashes green and Bocko pops the handle and slides the door open enough that we can see a sliver of the great blue yonder. A grade four hurricane boards the plane and sits down in first class. The tempest is loose in the big white Tylenol teapot.
Screams are stripped from throats, hair flies around the cabin, and clothes react violently. Nikki hits the deck; her arms fly up like she’s dropped into a hole.
Before I hit the floor I see Bocko slide the shoes out the crack in the door, and then I’m down. From the floor I see Mr. Shoes. Something like horror frames his face. He sees Bocko toss the shoes too. He’s thunderstruck.
For a few seconds I wait for the Boeing to shred itself and the end of the world to commence. And then everything goes quiet. Air movers and pressurizers whirr loudly. Engines crank back up. Soon the cabin gets restored to it’s locked and upright position.
My lecture on irresponsibility just got a lot longer. At least I’ll have company.
Things restore themselves…relatively (except for maybe Nikki’s sanity). I jump up and try to get a bead on the situation. Bocko runs one hand through his lack of hair. He looks pleased. Patty scowls at him from her seat. He shrugs. What are ya gonna do?
The looks of horror and confusion double in the cabin, then triple as our fellow passengers realize what just happened. I smile.
I look over at my drink. Sadly it has been dumped. I wonder how long before they can get the drink cart back out. In the back of the cabin, the screamer and Mr. Frog-hat are nowhere to be seen…probably KYAG (kissing your ass goodbye).
And of course there’s still Mr. Shoes and his gun.
Part III Coming Soon…