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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Harpie at 30,000 Feet

I like to think of myself as a wheels-up, wheels-down kinda flyer, meaning that when I travel by plane, I go to sleep when the wheels go up… and wake up when I hear the mechanical bump of the wheels locking back down. 

When Zahava and the kids came along I had to make certain accommodations to this routine so that I could do my fair share of wrangling the children (and to avoid being stabbed by Zahava with the airline-issue dull butter knife during meals).

But this trip to the states I knew I’d be flying solo, so I was looking forward to examining my eyelids from the inside for the entire 11+ hours from Ben Gurion to JFK.

But then I encountered Haim’s family… specifically his wife.

Haim, and his three delightful children were seated in the row directly behind me.  His wife (whose name I still don’t know… and hope never to) was seated across the aisle directly to my left.

It seems Haim and his kids are my kind of travelers; relaxed, quiet… and if left to their own devices, comatose.  Haim’s wife; not so much.

As soon as we boarded I watched with trepidation as Haim and his kids filed into the row behind me.  But I needn’t have been worried.  Without a word, each of the kids allowed themselves to be changed into pajamas and placidly accepted blankets, pillows and stuffed animals from their father.

Before the doors of the airplane were even shut, Haim was tucking his kids in… and they were miraculously showing sings of actually going to sleep.

Then Haim’s wife announced her presence.

From across the aisle and one row up, she began what would become an unbroken string of imperative commands:

“Haim… the bear pajamas are Ruchi’s and the clowns are Esti’s.”  You need to change them or they wont be able to sleep.”

The two nearly identical children had not made a peep of displeasure about the pajamas theyd been issued, and showed no sign of doing so… but the tone of Haim’s wife’s voice left no room for doubt… changed they would be or nobody was going to be getting any sleep.

Once the kids had been changed, the next command was passed down from on high:

“Haim, they don’t have the right stuffed animals… they’ll never be able to sleep (this despite the fact that one of the kids was already asleep and none of the kids had made a peep about the stuffed animals they’d been given). 

But to his credit, Haim silently went about switching animals and children… glancing at his wife for confirmation as he did so.

Even after the kids had drifted wordlessly off to sleep, the harassment continued:

“Haim, Yitzy’s head is at an odd angle… fix it or he’ll be paralyzed for life!”

“Haim, they’ll be bringing the food soon, wake up the kids!”

“Haim, don’t let them eat that this late at night, they’ll have gas!”

And on and on and on…

By the midpoint of the dinner service everyone within earshot was visibly wincing with each shrill command aimed at poor Haim.  And to his credit, I never heard Haim’s voice.  He silently complied with each and every directive.

After one particularly forceful shout of “Haim!” an Israeli man in the row in front of me lifted his plastic cup of diet coke in tribute and said “L’Haim!”

From that point on, those of us who were within the range of this Harpy’s harangue answered each shout of ‘Haim!’ with a raised glass (real or imaginary) and a soft salute of “L’Haim!”.

The best part is that she was so intent on sending each criticism and correction towards its intended target that she seemed not to notice the mocking salutation that was being offered by her neighbors.

At the end of the flight when the plane was at the gate and the ‘fasten seatbelt’ light had been extinguished, the normal bustle of people retrieving their belongings from the overhead was drowned out by the now-familiar bark of “Haim… check to make sure you aren’t leaving anything behind.  The kids will never forgive you if you leave their stuffed animals on the plane.”

An unspoken thought passed among the small group of us who had witnessed the saintly and uncomplaining Haim’s trip through the seventh sphere of hell… an uncharitable thought of leaving someone else behind.   Then the Israeli man who had been in the seat in front of me turned to us with a wink and raised an imaginary glass in tribute.  And on cue we all intoned, “L’Haim”.

Posted by David Bogner on August 12, 2008 | Permalink


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I totally felt i was there on the plane with you - excellent! poor Haim.

Posted by: Hadassah | Aug 12, 2008 5:56:27 PM

That was AWESOME. :) Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: Ezzie | Aug 12, 2008 6:09:59 PM

Eishes chayyil...not!

Posted by: Elisson | Aug 12, 2008 6:26:12 PM

Haha. Poor Haim. (I hope you included him in the salute.)

Posted by: Tanya | Aug 12, 2008 6:37:23 PM

What a yenta. You and the other passengers would have been within your rights to tell her to shut up.

Posted by: Raizy | Aug 12, 2008 6:48:20 PM


Actually, I kind of live in fear of being Chaim's wife. My husband is so aidel that whenever I ask him to do stuff and he ambles along to do it I get nervous. "I don't terrorize you, do I?" Patient sigh. "No." "No, really, do I? I mean, if I did, would you tell me? You would, right?" He does a lot of patient sighing...

Posted by: uberimma | Aug 12, 2008 6:50:13 PM

The pun... very Israeli. That no one started arguing with that woman... absolutely non-Israeli.

Posted by: a. | Aug 12, 2008 6:50:18 PM

Vey iz mir...I wonder if I would have been within my rights to give her a zets in the piehole. For 11+ hours? Gevald.

Posted by: Erica | Aug 12, 2008 6:55:41 PM

I can't believe no one gave it to that lady, but she has one awesome husband. I love the "L'Haim" :)

Posted by: SaraK | Aug 12, 2008 6:57:11 PM

I never understood the gemara "nashim daatos kalos hein" until now

Posted by: Ed | Aug 12, 2008 7:04:32 PM

That story is a gem. L'Haim.

Posted by: David Bailey | Aug 12, 2008 7:18:52 PM

I am laughing so hard right now! That story is a keeper! Now when I hear L'chaim! I will always think of this woman. How you were all able to keep it together for 11+ hours of this I'll never know.

Posted by: Maya | Aug 12, 2008 7:38:47 PM

Oy, poor Haim. A high-altitude nightmare, indeed.

Posted by: Rahel | Aug 12, 2008 7:41:22 PM

One day poor Haim is going to let the woman have it...and no jury in the world would convict him.

Posted by: Baila | Aug 12, 2008 9:55:10 PM

The things we do for love... L'Haim! :-)

Posted by: Rami | Aug 12, 2008 10:21:27 PM

Trepp, this is so funny. Poor Haim and poor kids.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Aug 12, 2008 10:24:35 PM

Oy. I wish I could lend her my husband for an hour or two.
"Yaakov, can you get me a glass of water please?"
"Why can't you get it yourself?"
"I'm tired"
"Stop being lazy. Get it yourself."

Posted by: triLcat | Aug 12, 2008 11:08:21 PM

David. I have four things to say.

1. Bose Quiet Comfort 3 Headphones

2. Ambien Slow Release

3. If you're free for lunch, give me a call. I'll buy you a steak bigger than the last one we had.

4. Happy is the man who is not married to Haim's wife.

Posted by: mochassid | Aug 13, 2008 12:17:21 AM

And you didn't say anything? I marvel at your forbearance.

p.s. Ed - I believe the phrase is nashim daitan kalos, but please, don't lump us all into that category.

Posted by: mata hari | Aug 13, 2008 12:21:32 AM

I'm picturing you and the other passengers breaking out into the song "To Life!" from Fiddler on the Roof!

Posted by: JDMDad | Aug 13, 2008 12:21:44 AM

JDMDad - now that's a great image!

Posted by: jaime | Aug 13, 2008 2:06:54 AM

I love it. Can't you just envision the stage play:

Glad she's not my b**ch, Chaim.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
All day long the Yiddy biddy dumps,
'cuz she loves to torment Chaim.

He always has to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
'cuz she is a biddy Yiddy b**ch,
it'll whittle never idle Chaim.

Posted by: Bob | Aug 13, 2008 5:25:03 AM

I'm Haim's wife and I can read Hebrew.
Click on my link if you dare

Posted by: Haim's wife | Aug 13, 2008 10:10:49 AM

I'm Haim's wife and I meant to say I can read English you know....

Posted by: Haim's wife | Aug 13, 2008 10:11:38 AM

i should forward this to my husband every so often so he knows how good he has it...

Posted by: nikki | Aug 13, 2008 10:50:05 AM

there's a joke about how do you that that a man married to a woman of P*l*sh extraction will go straight to heaven? Purgatory he's already done.

Suprised nobody said Haim turn on the lights (old-timers will recognise that one)

Posted by: asher | Aug 13, 2008 11:47:19 AM

a man who knows which battles to pick or a man who is simply just fiirmly under the thumb?

L'Chaim! :-)

Posted by: BraveJeWorld | Aug 13, 2008 1:51:41 PM

And people wonder why I don't like to fly.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 13, 2008 7:46:47 PM

Initially I thought that such a relationship must be based on true love; otherwise, how could Haim stand it?

Now, I'm not sure who's crazier. :-P

Posted by: tnspr569 | Aug 13, 2008 9:18:58 PM

Haim might be a saint...or perhaps in need of a spinal column.

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Aug 13, 2008 11:20:53 PM

Hadassah... We could really complete the sense of 'being there' and let you see a picture of me in my travel outfit (Old Navy Flannel PJ bottoms (Black Watch plaid) and an old Black Dog T-shit that has been washed so often it is a soft as fleece).

Ezzie ... Don't thank me... I'm a giver (but you knew that, right?). :-)

Elisson... Just to be clear, she is probably a very nice person. Maybe traveling just sets her on edge. ;-)

Tanya ... No, that would have been breaking the code. When I guy is totally getting flogged by his ol' lady, it is forbidden (according to the guy code) for other guys to make eye contact with him or in any way acknowledge that he is being totally emasculated. Rules are rules.

Raizy... Yet another violation of the guy code (sheesh people, don't they distribute the manual where you live?). A guy can NEVER tell off someone's girlfriend or spouse, no matter how out of line she is. Because some day they will make up and YOU will be left on the outs with both of them. Bad juju baby... bad juju. Of course, once the divorce is final you can show her your bare butt and be a sort of superhero.

uberimma... Your hubby is my here. :-)

a. .. Even Israelis respect the rules (see my replies above).

Erica ... I can't say for sure if it was for the whole time. I did doze off a few times. But she was in full holler whenever I was awake. :-)

SaraK... Who knows, she may be the best mother in the world and cook steak for him four nights a week. We'll never know what buys his silence.

Ed... When I want to be funny I tell my wife at the Shabbat table, "Hey honey... let's do the short version of Aishet Chayil: "Aishet Chayil, Mi Yimtzah?" (a woman of valor, who can find?) She loves when I do that.

David Bailey... Like rubies. :-)

Maya... Just following the rules (see my replies above).

Rahel ... I doubt this was him being on his best behavior. Haim had clearly had lots of practice.

Baila... I'm humming that song from 'Chicago' (He had it coming...) with a gender twist. :-)

Rami... Yes indeed.

Ilana-Davita ... In fairness, the kids were all well behaved, well groomed and seemingly happy. That rarely comes from just one parent's hard work.

triLcat... Kinda like mixing matter and anti-matter. :-)

mochassid... The Bose will have to wait. I just bought really good Tefillin for Gilad (his Hanachat Tefillin is Rosh Hodesh Elul) and I won't be buying any toys for myself for awhile. :-) And as for the sleeping pill. I rarely need them... but when I do, Benedryl works just fine.

mata hari ... Where did everyone suddenly get the idea that I'm this confrontational person??? :-)

JDMDad... Because that happens every day on El Al, right? :-)

Bob... Way to run with an idea. :-)

Haim's wife... Nice one (others beware before clicking over).

nikki... From the little I've figured out about you since you began commenting here, I'd say your husband is lucky in many ways.

asher ... great old joke reference.

BraveJeWorld ... I'm guessing a little of both.

Jack... I usually look forward to it, what with all the sleep I get. :-)

tnspr569... In my experience, people don't stick around unless they are getting something from a marriage. Clearly this woman has something to offer Haim that makes all that worthwhile.

QuietusLeo... Or maybe at home she treats him like a king. Who knows. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Aug 13, 2008 11:48:15 PM

Rats; now i gotta go old joke hunting... L'Chaim! May his tribe increase -- mine? Not so much.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Aug 14, 2008 10:51:56 AM

Great story, on so many levels.

That said, I don't have the same visceral reaction as most of your readers.

In response to each of his wife's demands, I kept imagining the guy responding "as you wish."

(funny how an acquiescing man is romantic in the movie, but pitied in real life)

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | Aug 17, 2008 1:25:20 AM

My grandmother used to say to my grandfather over his sometimes petulant demands, "Yes, my lord and master."

Posted by: Jewel | Aug 17, 2008 11:34:38 AM

If Haim is blessed, he will probably go dear a little early. And he won't mind.

Posted by: therapydoc | Aug 18, 2008 3:28:26 AM

I meant, If Haim is lucky, or blessed, he'll go DEAF (just a little) at an early age. And he'll like it. This happens to tzaddikim.

Posted by: therapydoc | Aug 18, 2008 3:29:55 AM

David, you have my respect for your individualized responses to each commenter.
(yes, my respect is worth MUCH. store it and use it when you need it)

I wonder if I'll think of this story whenever I heard "L'chaim" now...

Have a safe trip back.

Posted by: the sabra | Aug 19, 2008 10:21:36 AM

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