Saturday, October 1, 2011

Flight Attendants Cross-Check and Prepare for Conniption

Dear Friends,

They say that closing your eyes heightens your other senses. With that in mind, try listening to the new Hard Taco song, "The Gem of the Argosy," with your eyes closed. It will sound like a rich symphony of lustrous tonality. It will also make that pen you're chewing on burst with the flavor of 100 pens.

I think the worst sound I ever heard was a rabbit screaming. Even with my eyes open, it was indescribably awful. Wild animals are stoic, so by time you hear them scream, it is probably too late to save them, feed them, or stop annoying them. Here's the best way to predict what a screaming animal will sound like:
1. What kind of animal is it? Take the first vowel of that word and write it ten times in a row.
2. Add an 'h' and four exclamation points.
3. If the scream continues for more than ten seconds, select the second vowel in the name of the animal, and repeat.

As you can see, there are five (and sometimes 6) different animal screams. A rabbit makes a gut-wrenching shriek, but a toad may sound pleasantly surprised or even sassy, depending on the intonation.

This rule applies to people, too
But without looking, there is no way to discriminate between the sound of a torture victim, a burn victim, the family member of burn victim, or a perfectly normal toddler. In my neighborhood, it almost always turns out to be the normal toddler. (Reminder to self: investigate whether or not any of those toddlers have burned family members.)

The coolest screaming toddler I ever met was sitting a few rows in front of me on a plane when I was coming home from college one summer. The little girl's mom was employing increasingly venomous whispers to convince her to sit down so the plane could take off, but the kid kept unbuckling her seat belt and jumping on her chair.

A flight attendant came to the aid of the beleaguered mother, hoping to prevent further delays. "She's two? No, I'm sorry," the attendant said, "You can't hold her on your lap during takeoff. She will have to stay in her own seat."

So it came to this: the mother and the flight attendant each held half of the child's body, trying to forcibly fold her midsection so they could cram her into her seat.  Even with two adult captors restraining her, the child's puerile fury gave her strength to break free for a moment. She stood up, pulled her head up over the seat back behind her, and with tears cascading down her face on both sides, let out a desperate appeal to the strangers behind her. "Somebody help me," she begged, as her mother pulled her back down from behind, "I'm only a baby!"

That story, which made me giggle for over a decade, became less amusing when I found myself in the role of the parent.

You Shall Not Pass!
Lauren and I grade tantrums on a five point scale, based on the volume, pitch, and duration of the outburst. Extremes in each of those categories can only get you up to a class four. To merit a class five rating, the tantrum must also cause small blood vessels in the face and throat to rupture. This causes the voice to adopt an inhuman timbre that is only be familiar to new parents and people who have overheard a Balrog being banished back to Hell.

My own three-year-old exhibited class five hysterics on a plane once. Most of the passengers in coach were peppered with milk, spittle/phlegm, and pages of Delta Sky Magazine. I was certain that the shrill oscillations emanating from his vibrating gorge would interfere with the aerial navigation system. I was also certain that everyone else on the plane was thinking, "What horrible parents! They won't lift a finger to prevent that child from making our plane crash into the ocean!"

When the fit finally tapered off, my heart rate normalized, and I realized that the fracas may not have been as disruptive as I thought. Evolution has provided us with several skills that are necessary for the survival of our species, and one of them is the ability to ignore screaming toddlers. In fact, the other passengers probably weren't paying attention to my son's tantrum at all.

What they were really thinking during the flight was, "I wonder if a wailing yak goes aaaaaaaaaah or yyyyyyyyyyh?"

With warmest regards,