Note: Along with leftover turkey sandwiches, please enjoy this column originally published a few years back.
I knew something was wrong when a fellow traveler turned to me at the baggage claim and said, “Do you drink from the goat’s tail puddle?”
It was an odd question, one that didn’t quite make sense, and, at the same time, it was vaguely insulting. Should I ask him to repeat himself or toss him head first onto the conveyor belt with the over-stuffed suitcases?
“ Do I what?” I asked, barely registering my own voice. It was as if the sounds of the world were packed in cotton and channeled through the factory-installed AM radio speaker on a 1974 Gran Torino station wagon.
Surely, his question had nothing to do with a goat’s tail puddle.
What he shouted back was, “DO YOU THINK THERE’S A HOTEL SHUTTLE?” not “DO YOU DRINK FROM THE GOAT’S TAIL PUDDLE?”
High above the world, or at least the South Carolina portion of it, as I worried about the engine falling off the plane and wondered if I had enough life insurance to put the young ‘un through school if it did, a change in altitude or pressure or culture shock or something had closed my ears tighter than the lid on a jar of Aunt Vernice’s blackberry jelly.
I considered myself a seasoned air traveler, having flown more times that year than in all my previous years combined, though the previous years’ trips into the wild blue yonder amounted to a paltry three - once in a Cessna during a Boy Scout jamboree, where I earned the highly coveted throwing-up-on-your-shoes badge; once on a passenger jet bound for Jamaica, where I drank free rum punch and showed everyone how I had earned the highly coveted throwing-up-on-your shoes badge; and once in a National Guard helicopter where I documented the government’s efforts to eradicate the homegrown marijuana trade and scare cows.
Now a veteran of the friendly skies, I knew what time to get to the airport, what documentation to have in my back pocket, when to take off my shoes and what not to try to sneak through the airport screening process (pocket knife, nail clippers, letter opener, merit badges, leaf blower, flame thrower, live chicken, etc.).
But I had not learned how to keep my ears from stopping up during the flight, something everyone else apparently knew because they could hear and I couldn’t.
I leaned my head to one side, banged on the other side and hopped up and down, which did not unstop my ears but probably caused airport security to unholster their Tasers.
“ CAN’T HEAR!” I shouted at a second fellow traveler. “EARS STOPPED UP DURING FLIGHT!”
“ You should do what I do,” he said. “Shoot some bums.”
“ SHOOT SOME BUMS? WHAT?”
“ No. I said CHEW SOME GUM. But what really works is if you -”
And he launched into a detailed explanation of a sure-fire way to keep your ears from stopping up, but, unfortunately, I could make out only bits and pieces of it. I think it involved full-frontal nudity, learning to play the tuba and wearing your grandmother’s bedroom slippers, but I can’t really be sure.
For the rest of the evening, I nodded a lot and laughed in what I hoped were all the appropriate places.
“ Yes, Scott, I’ve been meaning to get up there to the mountains for a visit, but my wife was trampled by a horse in November and spent much of the month in traction.”
“ That’s just great, Bob. Ha. Ha. Ha. Really, really great.”
I probably volunteered for various time-consuming projects, insulted people with the power to have me killed and agreed to marry several foreign-born chambermaids. I just don’t know, because I couldn’t hear.
But, one thing is for sure: I did not drink from the goat’s tail puddle.
Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, N.C. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.