Stateside, Part 4


JetBlue has it out for me, I swear.

On my Tuesday night redeye from New York to San Juan, they boarded me in the last group . . . then seated a serial killer next to me.

It started in the jetway when the gate agent wrested my roll-on bag from me. I wasn’t even in the plane’s cabin yet, but all the overheads were already filled.

He promised that my bag would be waiting for me in the jetway when I disembarked in San Juan.

It wasn’t. Even though I wore a cap with the Vieques airport designator on it, the agent had marked the claim tag with San Juan as my final destination.


So, of course, the San Juan baggage handler sent it along to the carousel with the other SJU baggage.

Which invoked a catch-22. I would have to leave the San Juan secure area to get to baggage claim, and clear TSA security to gain re-entry for my Cape Air flight. Except I didn’t have a Cape Air boarding pass, so I would not be able to pass through TSA.

I’ll skip the detail. Suffice it to say that I spent the two hours between flights at SJU in the stressful retrieval of my roll-on.

The larger horror was my seatmate. I was afraid of him.

I was already in my seat when he plopped himself next to me. He was a big and muscular Puerto Rican man wearing a black watch cap—the kind O. J. Simpson wore when he “allegedly” slit the throat of his wife and her friend.

A lanky flight attendant was standing nearby and silently watched. We made eye contact and I knew in a second he was secretly enjoying the idea that I would be spending the next three hours and sixteen minutes in cramped misery.

The first thing the killer did was poke my arm and demand I give him more room. He did this twice. He reeked of alcohol, muttered to himself throughout the flight, drank beers, and man-spread into my leg space.

The flight attendant smiled at me wryly every time he passed by. If he had to work, why should I be comfortable?

That’s called Schadenfreude in German. Schadenfreude (ˈSHädənˌfroidə) . . . enjoying the misery of others.

Leave it to the Germans to have a word for just about anything. For example, the thirty-nine-letter Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften. That’s what your typical German calls an insurance company that provides legal protection. It’s considered by Guinness to be the longest German word in everyday use.

Which strikes me as odd because the other day German Chancellor Angela Merkel used the English word “shitstorm” because her own language does not have an equivalent word.


Do you remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the witch is killed and the Munchkins start singing

That’s schadenfreude.

Readers of my previous three “Stateside” blog posts tell me they’ve been getting a kick out of my travel woes.

Hey, guys, that’s also schadenfreude!

Just last month, Medical Daily reported on studies that define schadenfreude as a product of competitiveness and insecurity. Some studies suggest it is felt most strongly by those who have low self-esteem.

The remaining question is whether this emotion is natural or learned. One study from 2014 suggested that we might experience schadenfreude before we’re two years old.

I’m not going to hold your schadenfreude against you, though. I’m home.

Or am I?

We’ll talk about that next week.

Evil exists only if you let it. If you enjoyed reading this, you will like my new novel, Billy of the Tulips, a sensitive boy’s grim engagement with innocence and iniquity, now available in both print and Kindle from Amazon.




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