June 30, 2009
Flight from Hell
Jewish Journal columnist David Suissa is in Israel for 10 days, studying at the esteemed Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. While there, he’s blogging about his trip and what he’s learning.
I’m off to Jerusalem for 10 days to study at the Hartman Institute, and I’ve been asked to “blog my trip.” So, in theory, if you check out this “Postcards from Jerusalem” blog every day for the next 10 days, you should be getting a continuous flow of interesting insights from my trip to the Holy Land.
The problem is that I’m not a blogger. This “continuous flow” thing is new to me. I’ve been writing a weekly column for almost three years, and I’m hooked on the “weekly clock”—a slow buildup of an idea culminating in a carefully crafted 900 words. Bloggers are the mad men of journalism. They don’t craft, they draft. Although I’m not a blogger, I love reading them. I love savoring their spontaneous servings of mental popcorn that keep popping out of their restless minds.
Well, now it’s my turn to blog, and as you can tell from this long-winded opening, I have a long way to go before I become Brad Greenberg (my favorite). So bear with me and let’s get through this together.
Would you believe it? I haven’t landed yet, and I’m itching to blog! Why is that? It’s because I’m stuck in the flight from hell and I need to unload.
Here’s the scene. Young couple—very young couple—with two screaming babies are sitting in the row just in front of me, about ten feet to my right. Sitting to my left is a tough-looking Sephardic Israeli guy who looks like he smokes non-filter Camels and owns a delivery truck in Ashdod.
Now here’s the main story line: Tough Sephardic guy would like to sleep. As tough Sephardic guy settles in with his two pillows (I gave him mine) and his blankie, the two screaming babies are showing no signs of wanting to experiment with another form of expression.
Meanwhile, the very young father and mother of the two screaming babies are showing no genetic connection whatsoever to their offspring. How do I know that? They’re calm. They’re spooky calm. They see passengers wanting to tear their hair out and all they can muster is an occasional baby-rocking gesture.
But back to the main story line—tough Sephardic guy trying to sleep. Have you ever heard those animal grunts on the Discovery channel? I don’t know if TSG was doing it on purpose, but every time Screaming Babies would hit some sort of screaming crescendo, TSG would belt out a Discovery Channel grunt. It was like a combination grunt and moan, similar perhaps to that of the Llama species.
TSG, in his clumsy way, was giving us all a heads-up: “Screaming babies better stop screaming.”
As the screaming continued, the tension increased. An enormous question hung in the air that unified all the passengers in the vicinity of Screaming Babies:
Will it ever stop?
By now, we were almost into a full “Law and Order” episode of screaming, and my concerns were shifting. TSG was starting to move his body when he groaned, and, worse, real words were coming out of his mouth, mostly simple phrases like “what is this?” and “hey”.
The reason my concerns were shifting should be obvious: I didn’t want TSG to sleepwalk towards Spooky Calm Father and re-enact a scene from “Scarface.”
Wild scenarios ran through my mind. TSG lunges towards perp while I heroically get in the way and save the life of self-absorbed young father who doesn’t deserve my heroism. But before I got too carried away, TSG decided to wake up.
And like all good Hollywood thrillers, this one had a surprise ending.
TSG and I sparked up a conversation about…take a guess. We compared notes. How many kids do we have…what did we do when we travelled with them when they were babies… these young parents are real losers to let their kids scream like that… they should at least walk these rugrats up and down the aisle or cuddle with them or distract them or change their diapers or give them some ice cream or a pacifier… or anything!
Well, it turns out that during my commiserating with TSG, I heated up more than he did. It could be because I recalled the countless flights I took with my own kids and all the things I did to prevent these crying fits. Or it could be that while TSG was trying to sleep, I had a clear view of Spooky Calm Father actually doing crossword puzzles while his bambinos were in meltdown mode.
So guess what happened? The other TSG— that’s right, yours truly—decided to get up and confront Spooky Calm Father while he was concentrating on finding the right words for his puzzle.
I mumbled something like, “Hey man, we’re dying out here. Can’t you do something?”
Now try to visualize an earnest human rights lawyer with eyeglasses who knows the Geneva Convention by heart. That was Spooky Father. It was like he was expecting me. Before I could finish my sentence, he spoke about his rights, his kids’ rights, his wife’s rights, his family’s rights (OK, I’m exaggerating—you get the picture, this guy knew his rights).
I was about to counter with my own shtick on passengers’ rights, but then I saw a Do-You-Want-US Marshalls-At-The-Gate look on one of the flight attendants, and I swiftly returned to my seat to commiserate with TSG #1.
Apparently, my bold intervention impressed TSG #1. He got more talkative. We started sharing more personal stories, and then…just like that, when we least expected it… the Messiah showed up.
On this trip from hell, the Messiah was anyone who could stop these babies from screaming. And guess who revealed himself? None other than Spooky Calm Father himself, who decided to put his crossword puzzle down and take one of the screaming babies for a walk, which ended up killing two birds with one stone by calming down both babies.
The crying was over, but I wondered: Is all this drama an omen of my coming week at Hartman? We will see.
For now, shocked by the calm and still wound tight from the ordeal, I turned to TSG #1 and told him I had to work on my computer.
It was time for me to vent and blog—if you can call this blogging.
See you in Jerusalem.