CABIN FEVER : Even in the Heat of Anger, Mixing It Up With a Rude Airline Passenger Wasn't the Thing to Do

I was on the red eye last week, passing the time before takeoff by poking though a magazine, fussing with my skullcap, occasionally making funny faces at my baby daughter in my wife's lap, when my preflight daze was interrupted by the crash of one of those wheeled garment bags slamming into something made of glass. Up the aisle, a man staggered toward the back of the plane bent under the weight of his carry-on baggage. He shed a garment bag into one overhead bin with a resounding scrape, thumped his computer case into another bin and a raincoat into a third. The yellow of his suspenders matched his crisply knotted tie; his striped, barrel-cuffed shirt was surmounted with a white detachable collar-- you know the type.

Before settling into his seat, he tossed his briefcase into the overhead bin above me where it landed with a thump, right on top of on my neatly folded sport coat. He then slid it toward a rear corner of the compartment, simultaneously crushing the coat's fabric into a topographical map of wrinkles .

It was a nice briefcase,--a black calfskin envelope soft as the fur at a kitten's throat, closed with a burnished brass clasp and an understated sleekness--almost enough to make you understand why somebody might want to drop $900 on a bag too small to simultaneously hold a Sunday Calendar and a peanut butter sandwich. Seconds later, when I rescued my jacket by lifting the briefcase, its owner glared at my.

Something snapped. "It's pretty rude," I said, "to pile your bag right onto somebody" jacket."

"Oh, was that your jacket?" the man sneered, burying his eyes in a copy of Forbes. I didn't see any sign saying that compartment was reserved for you."

I shook out the wrinkles and refolded the sport coat. "Yuppie scum," I muttered under my breath as I walked back to his seat. Somehow, I felt a little better.

It's true that I had acquired certain accouterments of the "yuppie" lifestyle: frequent-flyer miles and a working knowledge of the better Sonoma Chardonnays. And I knew that Forbes-reader taste helped support my friends who were painters or chefs, if not musicians. In certain years, my wife was fond of reminding me, I made almost enough money to qualify as sort of a low-grade yuppie myself, though one of my minor hobbies consisted of cutting off BMWs that flashed their lights at me on the freeway.

My jacket was sort of yuppie too, a stripy, unconstructed Romeo Gigli thing I'd picked up at a Barney's warehouse sale. Even at 80% off, it was the most money I'd ever paid for something that didn't plug into an amplifier or cruise at an easy 90 on the interstate. It may even be besides the point now to despise yuppies, perhaps an endangered with the California economy the way it is. One wouldn't bear a grudge against condors or spotted owls.

The endangered species did a slow burn for a few minutes, then wriggled out of his seat, snapped his yellow suspenders and roared down the aisle, glaring again. "Did you call me Yuppie . . . Scum?"he whined.

If there were ever a scene I was born to get into, it was this one. I had the element of surprise a good six inches and fifty pounds on the guy, and I was wronged party. I wondered if my dozing baby girl would think any less of me someday if I backed out of this challenge. I guessed not.

"Because if you call me that again, I'm walking up to the cockpit right now and I'm going, I'm going. . . I'm going to have the pilot throw you right off this plane."

I looked up at my red-faced tormentor and mentally rehearsed a series of punches. In my mind, the offender was already flat on his back. But I knew that I wouldn't so much as flick the little man on the nose.

"Boo!" I snarled instead, and my adversary, chastened, retreated back up the aisle.

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