Monday, 14 January 2013

The Beer Monster

I’ve discovered that even more annoying than getting bad service from the flight attendants when you’re flying on a plane, is sitting next to a person who is willfully rude to the crew for absolutely no reason other than because he is a genuinely obnoxious person. 

The other day I had the unfortunate experience of being in that situation, and I could tell you, it was like being stuck in a farce where I found myself being part the reluctant audience and part the unwilling commentator providing some sort of narrative to the unfolding buffoonery for the entire flight.  In short, it was the kind of experience that would make one lose faith in human nature.

We were in the business class section of a certain national airline and my fellow passenger was an aging, burly caucasian chap with tattoos on his arm and with as much prepossession as a jailbird on the lam, though I hesitate to describe him not because I don’t wish to be judgmental, but because there really is no excuse for rudeness whatever you look like or where ever you come from.

As the plane was waiting to take off, a cheerful and pleasant flight attendant came by with a tray and offered the passengers fruit juices by way of pre-flight refreshment.  And for the next hour and a half I was subjected to conversations on the merit of the airline’s refreshment that went something like the following:

Passenger:  ‘I want beer.’  There was no beer on the tray.  Only the standard apple and orange juices.  The stewardess, still with a full tray and lots of passengers to serve, asked him to wait.  She finished her round and went back to the galley.

Impatient passenger: ‘Do I get my beer today or do I need to wait until tomorrow?‘  The stewardess was somewhat flustered and apologetic.  The plane was taxiing by this time.  I looked at him askance.  Couldn’t he wait until the plane was in the sky before ordering beer and make do with a glass of juice?  The attendant came with a can of beer and a glass.

Irritated passenger:  ‘It’s not cold.  Why is the beer not cold?  What kind of service is this?  I want cold beer.‘  More apologies from the attendants.  Apparently the cans hadn’t been in the fridge on the plane long enough.  The plane readied itself for take off.  He insisted on holding his glass of warm beer.  I was beginning to feel dislike for my fellow passenger.

When the seat belt sign was switched off, he asked for another can of beer.  Then the food trolley came.  The choices were smoked salmon with aragula salad, a tuna pastry or cold cut chicken.

Hungry, impatient and irritated passenger:  ‘What’s this rubbish?  Where’s the hot food?‘  The smiley attendant explained that since it was only five o’clock in the afternoon it was not dinner time yet. 

Rude passenger:  ‘This is rubbish.  What you have here is rubbish.  I’m not eating this rubbish.‘   He picked a tuna pastry nevertheless. 

‘Bread rolls?‘  the attendant offered, still with a smile.
Very rude passenger:  ‘Are they baked yesterday or last week?‘
The attendant looked confused and couldn’t understand why he was so angry.

He proceeded to attack his food with gusto, all the while foul expletives came forth from his mouth about the rubbish food he was eating.  The attendants were too nice, I thought.  Anywhere else in the world, especially on airlines where you’d be lucky even to get a smile from the flight attendant, he would be arrested for verbal assault and may be even thrown off the plane. 

‘This is the worst food I’ve ever tasted on a plane in my life,’ he repeated, as the attendant cleared his empty dish,  ‘It’s rubbish.  I’m eating rubbish.  I want another beer.’  The attendant looked visibly distressed.  I gave her a sympathetic smile.  ‘The salmon was delicious,’ I said, hopefully loud enough for him to hear.  I made a mental note of how many cans he’d downed. 

He got up to the toilet for the third time and could be heard complaining about the food in the aisle.  I could hear the attendants whispering in distressed voices behind the curtains.  ‘May be his wife just left him,’ I said to a passing attendant, trying to cheer her up, but also with a touch of maliciousness. 

When he came back his mood had improved significantly.  He even asked for more of the rubbish food.  This time he opted for the salmon dish.  Plus the bread roll.  And another can of beer.  It was cold.  Perhaps that was the root of the problem.  Warm beer turned him into The Hulk.     

By the time we were making our descent he was calling the flight attendants ‘dearie’ and gave the Purser boisterous high fives.  He was onto his seventh can.  When the plane landed he was still clutching onto his beer.  It jogged about in the glass.  Inwardly I hoped it would spill all over his knee-length cargo shorts and down his hairy legs.  It didn’t.

As the plane taxied, he pushed his seat backwards and stretched out, belching and closing his eyes, the empty beer glass by his side, hands on his belly.  He seemed contented.  I was ready to strangle him.
(Desi Anwar:  First published in The Jakarta Globe)


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