The conditions have to be just right. After all, it is not

every day that you can witness this phenomenon. But, every now and then, if you focus your attention and are provided the inner strength and willpower not to succumb to the supernatural undertow, you can actually witness the deterioration of the human mind.

Traveling 30,000 feet in the air at a speed of 600 miles per hour can do it to us. Being only human, unaccustomed to flight, we often are not even aware of what we are getting ourselves into when we board an airplane.

People suddenly assume that civilized life, which we are adapted to, is put on hold. It now becomes an example of survival of the fittest. No one else matters. Whatever manners we had once developed, whatever courtesies we used to abide by, are null and void as soon as we have reached the oxygen-free zone of the atmosphere.

The six-month-old twins, seated only two rows ahead, who looked oh-so-cute back in the airport terminal, (that is, back on land) suddenly remembered that they were teething, and decided to make it known to all 123 passengers. No problem. Really, in time, the noise became part of the accepted environment, sort of like elevator music. I just got used to it – much like the way NASCAR drivers get used to the hum of the racecar motors. But, of course, they wear sound muffs. When the twins stopped briefly now and then to catch their breath, I almost missed the racket of their cries.

The middle-aged man positioned directly in front of me and the Hair seated next to him, whom he lovingly referred to as “Pumpkin,” were enjoying each other’s company a little too much. Or maybe I was the only unappreciative soul aboard the aircraft who was not excited to witness their public displays of affection. They must have sensed my disapproval and conspired against me, for when they finally pulled themselves together, they fell to playing a game that I later coined, “Let’s Stretch the Limit of Our Reclining Seats and Make the Poor Soul Who Was Unlucky Enough to be Seated Behind Us as Uncomfortable as Possible.” They clearly were enjoying themselves. Needless to say, the sentiment was not unanimous.

Hours later, when the babies quieted down (or had passed out from exhaustion) and the Hair and her significant other became absorbed in the airline-supplied magazines, I settled back with my Discman and Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits.

Just as my eyes were beginning to close, the Piano Man and I were rudely interrupted when my elbow was nearly dislocated by the beverage cart. I turned and my gaze met a huge magenta-lipstick smile plastered on a flight attendant’s face. Unlike the rest of us, who only temporarily lose our minds when in flight, this poor soul lives a life devoted to pushing carts, miming to a plane full of people during the “pre-takeoff program” and serving peanuts to a bunch of cranky, ungrateful passengers. What does she care if she takes off a few elbows here and there? My heart almost went out to her. Almost. Then, she told me she had run out of ginger ale, and I lost all sympathy.

Later on there was a mad dash for the bathroom, the cause of which was not a universal call from Mother Nature, but instead something more exceptional – the captain had turned off the “Fasten Seatbelts” sign! Suddenly, it was a free for all, each man for himself as he fought his way to the back of the aircraft.

Now, I know that the primary purpose of a “Fasten Seatbelts” sign is for the passengers’ protection. But, I have concluded that it also serves as a means of amusement for the captain. He probably sat there, chuckling to himself in the cockpit, as he flicked the light off and on, fully aware that his entertainment caused anarchy behind him.

It’s funny how those of us with weak bladders always seem to be seated as far away from the bathroom as physically possible. Picking my moment, I decided the coast was clear. I made one motion toward the back of the plane and immediately nine rather large women put down their Danielle Steele novels and stepped in front of me. There I was, my destination obstructed by the beasts. I reluctantly returned to my seat and avoided any thoughts of waterfalls and rain.

By the time the captain declared we were approaching our destination, I had developed a serious twitch and cringed every time a person passed by my seat. The twins were revived and the Hair and her man were at it again. But it wasn’t an entirely unproductive four hours – I had managed to calculate how many little whining children, complete with Gameboys and all other sound-equipped electronic games, I could fit into the overhead compartment.

Airplane flights tend to bring out the animal-like qualities of every man, woman and child. Sitting in an uncomfortable seat, breathing the same air as 125 other petulant people and listening to babies cry for hours on end is, to say the least, no fun. But, to be optimistic, I made it out alive, retained partial sanity when I reached the baggage claim and was rewarded with packaged peanuts and a free magazine.

Polly Burokas is a sophomore in the College.

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