Wrath of Grapes: Yelling for a Good Reason?

On a recent airline trip, commentator Andrei Codrescu found himself subjected to a loud-mouthed fellow passenger, who kept trying to offer grapes to the people next to her. He concocted a mental picture of this annoying person — only to find out that while she is cursed with a bad voice, the passenger is speaking loud because her elderly parents she's traveling with are hard of hearing. Codrescu feels shame.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A recent plane flight to his adopted home town of New Orleans raised some questions for commentator Andrei Codrescu, specifically what to do about a fellow traveler whose voice he could not escape.

ANDREI CODRESCU: Overbearing, too loud, nails on blackboard is what I thought the woman behind me on the airplane sounded like. Want to have the tuna? She screeched to the woman next to her. Then to the man on the window-side, in 10 times amplification, grapes, do you want grapes? I like ham salad sandwiches, mumbled the old woman on her right.

I like chicken salad sandwiches, shrieked the voice, but now we got tuna salad and grapes for Pa(ph).

I hadn't turned around so I had no idea what the tuna salad and grape provider looked like but I imagine her to be about 40, extremely nervous, needing to talk without surcease and worried that if she didn't do things for people every second they might escape her control and go freelance.

I started considering what kind of medication I should prescribe as she went from food to the subject of sleep and how she didn't think that people on either side had gotten enough of it the night before, and how they had to take one of her sleeping pills at the hotel.

I prescribed for her 500 milligrams of Prozac for a year and five milligrams of Dexedrine for ADD. Then it was back to the tuna salad, which none of the old people wanted. They also adamantly refused the grapes.

I meditated briefly on the vast range of home-cooked Midwestern delights, a cuisine based firmly on chopped meats with minced celery and mayonnaise. From that rock-solid foundation, one could move to gourmet touches such as pineapples and cottage cheese. A good man's Western pantry would feature in addition to many jars of mayonnaise, rows of tuna, chicken and ham cans and an array of jams and jellies from Smuckers.

When the woman stopped talking for a second, I felt deep relief. The flight to New Orleans was very quiet, an unusual thing. People going to New Orleans are usually loud and friendly, either because they are from New Orleans or because they are going there.

I was ready to take a nap. But just as I drifted off, the rusty mechanism went off again. Are you cold? Have some grapes. Okay. I had to turn around. Who was this person who thought very loudly that grapes might keep you warm. Grapes are cold, lady. Not even tuna salad can warm you or if you're really cold or old. To my surprise, the voice belonged to a pleasant-looking mid-30s woman, who had been outfitted with the wrong voice box.

Everything else about her looked modest and kind. The old folks on either side of her were clearly her parents, two very old, very feeble folk. She caught my eye. We're going on a cruise, she said, apologetically, in a normal if not exactly soft tone of voice. They are deaf.

I was flooded with shame and wonder. She was taking her deaf, old folks on a cruise that was doubtlessly their last trip. She was fussing over them because they were old and going to die soon. I was a heartless idiot. Sorry, I said. Want some grapes? She offered. She shoved a plastic bag over the top of my seat. I took a cluster. They were purple and sweet, warmed me right up.

SIEGEL: Andrei Codrescu teaches English at Louisiana State University.

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