I’m on an 8 a.m. flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta. Twenty minutes in, the service cart comes by, and the guy next to me orders a double vodka, side of orange juice, but he’s from the U.K. so it sounds like “Dewball. Vodka. Cider. Arranged Jews.” The flight attendant has no idea what he’s trying to order. I translate.
He has the window seat. I’m in the middle. He’s young—maybe 21, maybe younger—young enough that he’s probably ordered alcohol on a plane at 8 a.m. just to see if he’ll be served. And I love that he’s ordered a unique signature drink that’s merely shades away from an extremely common, middle-of-the-road drink. I expect him to turn to me and proudly say, “Double vodka, OJ on the side… I call it a ‘Philips Head’ because it’s a special kind of screwdriver, and because I’m Philip and it came out of my head.” I’m a bit disappointed when he doesn’t. I have no idea if his name is Philip. But it should be.
Here’s how Philip drinks: He uncaps both tiny bottles of vodka and places them on the tray table. He pauses, palms on the tray and then shoots the two bottles in tiny succession. Then it’s the slightest sip of orange juice. Then he flips the two felled vodka bottles over and places them upside down in the seat-back pocket in front of him. He stares at the little display he has created with the pride of a hunter driving home with a 10-point buck tied to the roof of his Jeep. Twenty minutes later, the cart comes past again. He orders two more teensy vodkas, another side of juice.
I’m watching Frozen on the in-flight entertainment system, because it’s on, and am happily surprised to be loving the crap out of that dang film. It’s a coming-out story, for heaven’s sake, with sisters, too, and very squarely in my house of wheels. Idina Menzel? I’ve been a fan of hers for a while, but at this point, even John Travolta can tell you that girl’s got some pipes. I’m all Fro-zoned out, really letting it go, when I start to smell Philip.
I’ve been giving him the benefit of the doubt that he can hold down those four shots of morning vodka because, while he looks young, he also looks like he’s in a band. He’s got band body—a lanky, stop-motion animation, Tim Burton bod. I’d guess he’s a drummer that plays drums via laptop, but I begin to wonder if he’s all band look, no band life, when a stench best described as “floor of bar bathroom, 2 a.m.” starts to waft over from his direction. Then his head starts to roll around on his neck. His head lolling all over his seat as he reaches into his backpack and pulls something out.
It’s a digital camera—the kind that don’t exist anymore because iPhones exist. Not the big old thing with a separate lens that you see slung over a hip kid’s shoulder while he rolls past on a longboard. The kind of digital camera Ashton Kutcher would sell. Philip turns to me. “Can I take pictures of you?” he asks, slurring the sentence into a single word.
Of course, this is an unreasonable question. It’s unreasonable to ask, “Hey, we don’t know one another, but while we’re trapped in this metal box, would you like me to compile some low-res images of you that I’ll jerk off to later?” Am I flattering myself in assuming a post-plane jerk-off session would happen? You bet I am. You should see me when I fly. I’m fucking stunning. I carry a briefcase.
That’s not the greater point, though. It’s not what he’d use the photos for or why he wanted to take them (Why? Because of alcohol). It’s that I’m sleepy, uncomfortable, and on a plane headed to work. I paid to be on this plane. I don’t want to sit for photos. I wouldn’t want to if we were old pals; I wouldn’t want to if we were married. I want to nervously grip the armrest and imagine my death via plane crash while I watch something mindless and vaguely feminist starring Kristen Bell and I talk to no one. That’s how I want to fly and I’ll divorce anyone who questions it. His being drunk was no excuse. He still had to be the kind of person that’d think I might want to pose through turbulence at a tipsy stranger sitting 12 inches from my face.
“No, thanks,” I respond as sweetly and as firmly as I can. Sweetly because I realize I’ll still have to sit next to him after this exchange, and firmly because it’s not my job to spend several hours entertaining drunken folks on planes. That’s my job when I’m not on planes. I hope he’ll pass out and sleep it off, or pause to reconsider his request with an “Oh, well. Moving on.”
Instead, he frowns, turns away from me and stares out the window. He turns his camera on, and without looking at me, begins to snap upside-down, behind-the-back photos. He’s taking photos but pretending not to take photos using the sophisticated diversion tactics of a baby playing hide-and-seek or a pre-teen lost in Jurassic Park. “Stay very still and she can’t see me!” His moves are killing me and I try not to laugh while I reach over to the camera, and say, not angrily but definitely, “Nope.” I cover the lens with my hand. As I’m covering the lens, he turns back to me. He looks me in the eye for the first time, and he is disgusted. “You’re a bitch,” he spits. “It’s people like you that make air travel difficult.”
It’s 9:30 a.m. We have two and a half more hours to fly next to one another. I wonder if that would be enough time to thoroughly explain to him the definition of irony. “As so many have mentioned before me, Alanis Morrisette got it wrong. Irony isn’t wanting something you don’t have. It’s when what happens is the exact opposite of what you expected. See, like in this case, you are drunk, you smell awful, you are asking me about photos—which is weird—and then you aren’t listening and are taking sneaky photos—which is creepy. Anyone who had seen our exchange so far would have been like, ‘Oh, I wonder if that chick is going to tell that guy that it’s people like him that make air travel difficult.’ But then you were the one who said it to me. See how that’s unexpected? See how that’s ironic? Don’t you think?”
Would two and a half hours be enough time to explain all that to this particular drummer boy? Maybe. If he wasn’t drunk. But do I have two hours of my life I’d like to spend explaining it to him? Not really. I’d rather smile to myself at the irony, finish that flight, go home, and write this thing, and then Let It Go. (Yes, I am ending a column for The A.V. Club in a Disney song reference. Absorb the confidence of that. I know what this site is, and I’m still quoting pals of Mickey. You ain’t never had a friend like me.)