Norwegian Nightmare 

  Charles Hartley

Copyright 2016 by Charles Hartley

        Winner--2016 Travel Nonfiction 

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

There we sat like prisoners, crammed into coach class airplane seats, feeling various forms of misery.

We were two wide-bodied Norwegian dudes and an even more wide, plump and gargantuan American male, Sammy Sportface, who happens to also be me.

Don't ask.

Battling middle-age, we became physically, psychologically, and emotionally entangled for a five-hour flight to who knows where.

Our nightmare began with the uncomfortable and non-stop rubbing of each other’s thighs and shoulders.

On my left bulged Nickolai the Norwegian, a husky load of a man who probably starred in high school as a cross-country skier. On my right sat Niels, a lengthy and burly Norwegian who must have been an Olympic speed skater in the early 2000s.

Nestled in the middle seat sat my cool self, a tall, fattened guy -- the flabbiest of the three -- sporting thick thighs, being Sammy Sportface.

All men from Norway are big. If you have ever watched the Winter Olympics, you know Norway dominates cross-country skiing and speed skating. At these games the small country has won 329 medals – 118 of them Gold. This ranks first in the world.

The nation excels at the Nordic Combined event that features long distance skiing through forests. Skiing in Norway is more important than hot dogs in America and beer in Ireland. I found out they were from Norway because I asked Nickolai.

We start skiing and speed skating at a young age in Norway,” he said. Trying to capture his dialogue in print would expose me as yet another uncultured American who doesn’t care about other countries.

Skiing and speed skating build thigh muscles. So our three-some bumped and grinded throughout the trek.

Within every group there are various personality types. Niels positioned himself as an intellectual. For the entire flight he read his book, probably a satiric novel about Norway’s Olympic skiers enmeshed with overweight Americans.

Flying lends itself to fleeing from reality.

So Sammy took drugs.

To reduce your anxiety, paranoia, depression, and schizophrenia while flying, you can take stupendous pills. Besides using hair gel, the shrewdest advice I have ever received is to take happy pills while flying. Pills vaporize any – and I mean any -- concerns you have about soaring 35,000 feet above the ground sizzling 600 miles per hour in a pencil-shaped aluminum tube in an infinite sky filled with 35,000 other planes.

Some people go to the airport bathroom to pop the pills so no one traveling with them will know they’re scared. I pop them in public.

That’s right, I’m getting on this plane and will be floating above all the rest of you the whole way because of these travel treasures,” I murmur to myself. This has always been my canned response if anyone accosts me saying it’s impolite to pop pills in public before boarding a plane.

My anxiety about flying is multi-layered. It’s not just the fear of dying that gets me. It’s the diabolical discomfort. I tend to get the malevolent middle seat. Whereas most people book their flights far in months in advance so they can reserve window and aisle seats, I forget about this until too late and book my flights when those spots are taken.

Life is an ongoing competitive contest. In this contest I lose. People out-flank and out-strategize me for the more desirable seats. Boarding the plane knowing I have already lost the game gives me inferior feelings. A beaten man I am. Losing is the loudest of life’s laments.

Taking all this into consideration, there are still a few passive aggressive benefits of sitting in the middle seat especially if you have, as I do, thick thighs, a bulbous belly, and broad shoulders. As you pull up to your aisle, the window and aisle seat people see you coming. You can see anxiety on their faces as they pray I’m not the guy who will sit in their middle seat. Their first hope is no one will sit there. Their second hope is that a six-year-old girl ballerina will take that spot so they will have plenty of room to maneuver. The worst case is a double-cheeseburger as behemoth and fidgety as me sits there.

Revenge roars. “You beat me to the aisle and window seats.  For that you must pay,” I say to everyone’s dismay.

Sadly for them and their fellow countrymen, these Norwegian guys drew me. They didn’t groan when they realized it. But you could tell they were bothered.

When drinks were served, their moods sank. I ordered a Cranberry Apple Juice cocktail on ice in a small plastic cup. There was no telling what effect the pills were having on my brain, anxiety, mental capacity, energy level, or views on what life means or doesn’t. The right word for how I felt was discombobulated. If I was on an airplane, it meant nothing to me.

For all I knew it was Tuesday and time to get out of bed and take my trash to the curb. It could have been time to pack my bags for college or maybe drive over to the Department of Motor Vehicles to confirm it remains in the same location.

Wallowing in my deliriousness, episode one struck. For some unpremeditated, unprovoked and uncontrolled reason, I whipped my arm across the tray table to the right and knocked the drink and ice off of it. The sugary drink splashed all over the thighs of Niels breaking his reading concentration.

I’m sorry,” I said.

He didn’t say anything and escaped back into his book. Silence speaks.

To incoherent to take my mishap too seriously, I felt little empathy, sympathy, or sociology. Nothing was registering. It was easy to be alive and hard to be alive all at once.

Delicious delirium dulled life. I didn’t feel much of anything about anything and wasn’t even curious about what he was reading.

Fast forward some elusive period of time. It could have been five seconds or five minutes or two hours and forty seconds. Time wasn’t happening.

Yet I become conscious that I swept my left arm across the tray table and knocked my Cranberry Apple Juice, which still had some liquid in it, to the left side.

Nicholai’s right thigh got soaked.

I’m sorry,” I said.


Attempting to calm the awkward air, I said: “Pretty amazing that anyone could spill the same drink twice.”

From 35,000 feet above sea level in clouds above Middle America, you could hear the entire country of Norway some 35,000 miles away groaning in unison.

Can you imagine what was going through their minds? It’s hard to have a strong feel for this. Outside of people in Scandinavian countries, who really knows what runs through the minds of big men from Norway?

Soon after landing, as we grabbed our luggage and prepared to exit the plane, the two of them spoke in what I perceived to be a coy manner. They spoke in a language I did not understand.  Probably Norwegian but none of us will ever know because the chance of these two guys ever speaking to me or sitting next to me on a plane again are zero. Even if by a wild coincidence we got assigned the same seats, once they see they have to sit with me they would demand another seat or deplane to take another flight, any flight, or never fly again.

This may be some passive aggressiveness on my part but it’s who I am. Whenever a serious discussion of songs by the Beatles comes up, I like to mention “Norwegian Wood.” A few times I have listened to it and am convinced it is not one of their best. Artists hit and miss. The Beatles missed with that song. I wonder if my two flight partners listen to Norwegian Wood. Probably so. If you live in Norway you know about this song. Maybe the wood in that song is a veiled metaphor for the thighs of Norwegian cross country skiers and speed skaters.

As they spoke while we prepared to part ways forever, I wondered what they were saying. It would be self-absorbed to assume they were talking about me. But let’s assume they were. It would not have been anything positive such as “that American guy sitting between us was pretty cool”; or “that guy is a big strong guy and could have won the Nordic Combined event in the Olympics for Norway. I wish he had been born in our country so he could have brought more glory to our nation”; or “I bet that guy is Sammy Sportface. I’ve read his stuff. He’s the best blogger in the world.”

More likely they exchanged verbal jabs about the American who ruined their flight by spilling juice on their pants. Sitting in wet pants for several hours ends good emotions and ruins relationships. The funny part for them, I assume, is they knew I couldn’t understand what they were saying. So they could insult me in front of me. This probably amused them.

But never mind them. Nothing really mattered to me. For all I know this flight never happened.

Fly high. 

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