I was sitting on the floor in the gate’s overcrowded waiting area when I spotted her.
Late 60s-early 70s, slim figure, short and curly helmet of black hair, glossy crimson lipstick and shimmery emerald eyeshadow. She was struggling with a gigantic red carry on. Her husband pleaded, “Whaddaya doooing? Just stay hea!” but she wasn’t having it. “Come…on. We’re. Moving,” her eyes screamed “NOW” but her voice was low and controlled. It’s all in the eyes; she was clearly some sort of lunatic. Please don’t put me anywhere near that batshit crazy woman, I thought.
As I near my seat on the flight, there she is. I look down at my boarding pass in disbelief, my eyes shooting between the assignment on my ticket and the number and letter combinations above the seat. Damn it.
I have the window, so she and her husband get out of their seats so I can get to mine. I hear her let out a grunt-like sigh as she inconveniences herself to let me in. Here we go.
After taxiing over to the runway, we’re waiting in a long line of planes. Clearly it’s going to be a while. The pilot reaffirms this on the loudspeaker. Suddenly, the woman seated in front of us starts belting out this deathly cough. Each time she does it I cringe. Somebody get this woman some water before she chokes to death right here on the plane and delays us even longer.
We’ve been waiting for about 20 minutes now, and the coughing isn’t going anywhere. As I grip my seat and look out the window trying to think thoughts other than what is going on in this woman’s lungs and what parts of it are getting into the air, the crazy woman sitting next to me speaks, “Oy gevalt.”
I turn my head to the left and we make eye contact. The coughing in front of us continues. She rolls her eyes and I give a nod of agreement, I, too, am displeased and disgusted by this woman’s coughing.
As I turn my head to look back out the window, ending our bonding moment, she continues, “Oy, the germs! Thea trapped in hea with us.”
Well, you’ve already made eye contact, there’s no turning back now. I nod again, wearing an expression of concern on my face.
“That’s an illness cough, ya know,” she says.
“Oh yeah?” I engage.
“Oh yes. I’m like…a…a medical expert.”
“Really? It sounds more like a smoker’s cough to me,” I offer my humble opinion.
She stops and looks up at the ceiling, her mouth drops and she gasps as her palm meets her chest, as if she’s had some sort of revelation, “OH! A smokah. That’s IT. Definitely, a smokah’s cough.”
I smile and try to turn away.
“So. You from New Yawk? Flahridda?”
I explain my answer, but it’s uninteresting and irrelevant to this story so I won’t include my end of the dialogue.
“My husband and I, we’re dansahs (dancers),” she continues.
“Mmhmm. Salsa,” she gushes, “just spent 3 weeks at a Salsa convention. Oh we daaance. We love ta dance,” both of her hands go in the air as she starts to do a little dancing shimmy from side to side.
“My friends say, Honey, I can’t believe it, yah so thin! Honey this, Honey that. It’s the salsa.”
“Honey? Is that your name?” I ask.
“Yeah, people call me Honey.”
I smile as she rattles off some salsa music greats, asking me if I’ve heard of them; I’m honest when I answer that I don’t know who the hell she’s talking about. Suddenly, the topic shifts.
“I’m a Jew. Can ya tell? Whatta you?”
“Ummm…none. I’m not religious,” I respond.
“But whaddya come from? What’s ya family?”
I answer to the best of my knowledge.
“Well. I’m a Jew. We’re Jews, my husband and I. I think it allows for a betta sense of humah about things. Ya hear these comedians sayin’ all these sterea-typical things about Jews, and they’re TRUE,” she pauses to laugh, looks down, palm to chest again, “They say, ‘If ya evah need pills, ask a Jewish girl.’ And I think, hey, that’s me! I have a pill, fah everything.”
I want to tell her that this is something we have in common, despite me not being Jewish, but I don’t.
The pilot comes on the loudspeaker and lets us know we should be taking off soon. It’s been 45 minutes so far; Honey scoffs, and we’re both pessimistic. Strangely enough, we start moving within a minute of the announcement. Out of nowhere, someone is now counting.
“10…9…” Honey’s husband has now joined the conversation.
“Oh, stop,” Honey gives him a playful smack on the arm.
“8…7…6…” he continues.
We’re revving up pretty much in unison with Mr. Honey’s countdown.
“Oh gawd,” she puts her fingertips on her forehead, looking down and covering her eyes, embarrassed.
At this point we’re at full speed, taking off and Honey is gripping my and Mr. Honey’s arm very tightly.
“Oh no,” She squeals, frightened.
“1!” He yells as we’re lifting up into the air.
She’s now fanning herself, surprised that we’ve made it into the air, I guess. He laughs and she slaps him again, this time less playfully.
And then: turbulence. I feel her gripping my arm again, and as the plane shakes up and down she begins screaming.
In Honey’s defense, this is more than your usual amount of turbulence, and she isn’t the only one screaming.
Mr. Honey, on the other hand, is laughing maniacally. She’s holding on to both of our arms screaming, he’s hysterical, and in turn, I cannot help but burst into laughter as well. After a good 30 seconds of pretty rough turbulence, we emerge from the clouds and are now flying steady. Honey releases her grip and resumes fanning herself.
“She’s such a baby,” Mr. Honey tells me, rolling his eyes. He pops his headphones in and leans back to remove himself from the conversation once again.
Once Honey’s heart rate has reduced to a normal rate, she restarts the conversation.
“Whadda ya do?” She asks.
I tell her that I work in marketing, but that I want to be a writer.
“Oh, a writah. You’re probably very eruidite. Do you know what that means?” She asks.
I can’t quite make out the word she’s asking me, on account of the accent and perhaps the way she’s also pronouncing it, so I say, “No, what does it mean?”
“E-R-U-I-D-I-T-E, I’m a very good spellah,” she says.
Ah, I see what she meant. She’s saying and spelling it wrong.
She goes off on a tangent about spelling, after several minutes I decide to interrupt her, “So…what’s the word mean?”
“Oh. It means you’re smart.”
I can’t help but smile.
The rest of the flight went on like this, Honey and I going in and out of “conversations”, but mostly her displaying hilarious thoughts on several random topics.
Before this becomes a novel about Honey, which it probably could be, I’ll share a few final gems…
On appropriate attire:
“I wear things that expose the shouldas. Ya know? Not low cut, that’s disgusting. Especially at my age.”
On her pack of airline peanuts:
[Struggling] “Ya gotta be Hercules to open this thing.”
On my love for French fries:
[Disgusted] “Oy gevalt, I haven’t had a French fry in 40 yeas.”
The biggest lesson? Sometimes it’s a good thing to get stuck sitting next to that batshit crazy looking old woman that you were trying to avoid, because she ends up being hilarious.