The world is full of people who are setups for jokes. I met one of the cursed on Southwest airlines. I was flying back to Los Angeles from New York, with a layover in Milwaukee. She was a mother in her late-30’s/early-40’s, attractive, and had yet to succumb to mom jeans, which I noticed when she was placing one of her three daughters’ bags in the overhead compartment above her row (which was in front of mine). Her booty was an affront to the tolls of motherhood.
Normally I pack snacks for a flight, but this morning I didn’t have time, so I was forced to buy what the terminal had to offer. I went with a turkey sandwich, bananas for $1.29 each (I bought two because it made me feel regal), and a Fruit & Nut bar from Kind.
I had the sandwich and one of the overpriced bananas inside me before we took off. When we hit the atmosphere I undressed the Kind bar to about where its navel would be. That’s when the mother turned to me.
“Excuse me,” she said, which I took for flirting. (I always do that—anytime a woman talks to me. It’s one of the many delusions I allow myself.) “I don’t mean to disturb you, but…does that bar have peanuts in it?”
It was an Almond & Coconut, so I said, “No,” imagining I had disappointed her and now she wouldn’t ask me to share it with her, bite for bite.
“Because my daughter has a severe allergy to peanuts,” she said, killing the mood I had invented.
“I’m not gonna feed it to her,” I said. There was disdain in my voice—which surprised me. I didn’t mean for it to come out that way.
“It’s that we’re in a closed space,” she said, defensive but remaining civil. “The air circulation…” She pointed over her shoulder and over her daughter with the peanut allergy (who was too small to see), as if that’s where “The Air Circulation” was.
“Oh…” I wasn’t sure what to do with the bar in my hand. “OK.”
“And we wouldn’t want to have to make an emergency landing, now would we?” she said. It was all threat.
“No, we wouldn’t.”
“I apologize again for disturbing you.” There was some venom in her apology, but in her eyes…Her eyes seemed to be begging, “Please. Please, tell me I’m a good mother.”
She turned around before I could. I bit into the bar, unable to taste any coconut, and felt like a jerk for snapping at her with that “I’m not gonna feed it to her” line. I thought about the fears mothers must have for their children—that this world becomes even more absurd and uncaring when even a peanut can take a life…
But then I noticed something: The mother didn’t ask anyone else on the flight if what they were eating had peanuts in it. There were at least 100 of us on that plane—all of us involved with “The Air Circulation” in that closed space.
How many people were in fact eating peanuts outright? She never took a poll.
How many people had come into contact with peanuts at some point before the flight? Was there a Thai cook on board?
Had anyone accepted luggage from a stranger? Perhaps from an anthropomorphized legume with a monocle, top hat, and cane?
If this mother truly believed that her daughter was susceptible to peanut infection—that everything was a possible fomes—then shouldn’t she have made it her point to…?
Oh no, I thought, the flight attendant is coming up the aisle and he’s passing out little red bags. They’re pretzels! Thank god! But on the back of the package was a warning: that these pretzels were processed in a plant that also handles peanuts.
What’s this mother to do?
Well, I watched her read the warning label, but then she just went ahead and placed the little red packages (enough for her and her daughters) in the pouch of the seatback in front of her. They were unopened, sure, but being only feet from her allergic daughter made them more like undetonated.
I believed this whole situation began as a setup for a joke, but I can’t figure out the punchline.
Why me? I ask. Why did this mother choose to reveal her daughter’s peanut allergy to only me? If she even had an allergy at all…
Either way, I wonder how things would have gone if I had instead responded to her question about the bar with a “Oh yes, it has peanuts. Enough peanuts to take us all out.”