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A heartwarming tale of misanthropy and self-loathing

"Hi, baby," she said. "Yeah, baby, I'm on the plane, baby. We should be taking off soon, baby. I'll call you when we land, baby. Okay, baby."

It didn't help that the woman's voice was the aural equivalent of getting stabbed in the eye with a rusty shiv. Still, our hero couldn't begrudge the woman a last-minute conversation with her baby. Perhaps she suffered from a fear of flying, and talking to her baby soothed her.

But when the woman took out her credit card and called the credit-card company to make an inquiry about her account, and when she kept talking long after a flight attendant had ordered all cell phones turned off, the young man fell prey to a combination of outrage and terror. "This dame's got some nerve," he thought, glaring at the back of the seat in front of him. He was certain that the woman's cell-phone signal had initiated the plane's self-destruct sequence, and that the airliner was going to erupt into flames any second.

Our hero contemplated clearing his throat and asking the woman if her phone call was worth erupting into flames for, but, because he was a spineless loser, he kept quiet. Luckily, a flight attendant came back and commanded the woman to hang up.

Although our hero maintained his outward composure, he rejoiced on the inside. In his head, he threw a large square of cardboard onto a patch of blacktop, popped a cassette tape of rhythmic music into a comically oversized boombox, and spent the next 10 minutes clumsily breakdancing.

But the young man's joy didn't last. Shortly after takeoff, the woman fell asleep and began flailing around in her seat like an octopus on speed. She invaded our hero's leg room and annexed the armrest that technically belonged to both of them, forcing the young man to fold up against the cabin wall, his cheek pressed to the window. He felt like an unwilling participant in an old-fashioned round of phonebooth stuffing.

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