Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Pringles Incident (or Reason 1067 of Why I No Longer Drink)

March, 1997

I was on my way to France for an enjoyable week of visiting with my sister (living in Paris at the time), and my bb (best brah) Steve, who was playing a show in Paris that very same week. It promised to be an epic week of culture, buffoonery, music, and R&R.

At the time, my pre-flight regimen prior to boarding ANY flight, was to down as many beers as the clock would allow. If this meant leaving for the airport two to three hours early, just in case um... security was tight, then so be it. And so immediately upon crossing through the hallowed metal detectors at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, I found my bar and slipped loose the dogs of war (on sobriety).

Flying out that evening meant I would miss celebrating the birthday of my other brah Fredo, who would be out on the town in Chicago that evening, ringing in another year with the rest of my crew. Being a stand up friend and general supporter of all aspects of bonhomie, I promised Fredo that at an appointed time in-flight, I would procure an alcoholic beverage, turn to the rear of the plane (recklessly assuming that would necessarily face me towards Chicago), and consume a large measure of that beverage in a birthday tribute to my friend. I was, if anything, a man of my word.

Now here's an important detail: I was in the very first row of economy, so there were no seats in front of me- just the wall dividing the two classes, on which the in-flight movie/map would be shown. I was seated in the left hand aisle seat, in the middle group of seats, which ran five across. Amazingly, as we were getting ready to back away from the gate, I was the only one sitting in the middle seats. And so I had a small sheaf of music magazines on the seat next to me, and I dug in for a leisurely flight.

Disappointingly, just before the plane backed up, a harried middle-aged couple breathlessly careened onto the plane and slumped into the other aisle seats to my right. That left two empty seats between us with the one next to me occupied with my magazines.

And this is where things started going south: before they sat down, the frizzy-haired woman in this couple blankly looked at me, then took my magazines and threw them on the floor.


She then placed her carry on bag on the empty seat next to her. How's that for a great big F.O? Not only did she presume to throw my shit to the floor, but she didn't even have the good taste to then put her shit where my shit had once been! She simply wanted my stuff to be on the floor.

I was confused, livid, and oh yes, hammered as if there was a blacksmith still beating on me.

Resentments and anger cascaded over me like waves of acid, and I retreated into revenge fantasies featuring my new neighbors. Dinner was served, more drinks were consumed, and eventually the flight crew turned the lights off on the plane so people could get some shut eye.

I sat in darkness, seething under my red Air France blanket.

Then I noticed the time.

I called over the French steward and explained, in my slurriest French, that I needed a vino toute de suite. Being not just French, but gay as a daisy, he suggested that the only way to celebrate a birthday was with champagne, and so he brought me not one but two bottles of champers from First Class.

Filled with gratitude and amazement, I immediately made two resolutions: 1) be nicer to French people; and 2) I would drink both bottles- one for Fredo and one for myself.

Which I did at a speed rivaling that of the plane on which we flew.

Now battered beyond all my sensibilities, I realized that my prodigious bender had left me ravenous. I realized that I had foolishly brought no snacks with me, and there were several hours remaining in the flight yet I didn't want to bother the steward with a new request after his recent generosity. I was stumped, until...

I looked to my right, where the evil couple were sleeping in each others arms, and noticed that unlike myself, they had planned for snacking. In the woman's carry-on, an enticing cylinder of barbecue flavor Pringles protruded like King Arthur's sword from the Lake.

Immediately, bad ideas, flawed logic, anger, thrill-seeking, and emotion overtook me, and before I could stop myself, my right arm reached over and delicately plucked the cylinder from its cradle. With my eyes on my neighbors, I slowly slid the Pringles towards me, and then stowed it beneath the blanket that covered me.

I was exploding with both the excitement that only a thief can know, as well as the anticipation of beating back my rapacious hunger with a fistful of Pringles. Staring at the movie screen silently running in front of me, I removed the plastic lid from the Pringles can under the belt, only to realize the sleeve was sealed with the aluminum pull-top. It was a brand new can.


This put me in a delicate predicament. To remove a few chips from an already-opened can of Pringles was a near-perfect crime. Surely no mortal could tell if a few chips had gone missing from a stack of Pringles, resting within their can. But to steal from a virgin can required that the very crime itself be exposed through the removal of the aluminum pull top which locked in the freshness of the salted booty within.

It was a barbecue flavored conundrum.

I could have, of course, tried to return the can. But having come that far, I realized that a more plausible Plan B would be to hide the body, as it were. I'd throw away the can and play dumb if anyone asked as to its whereabouts. And so with muted resolve, I ripped open the aluminum top under my little red blanket.

I had crossed the point of No Return.

Two issues then confronted me- first and most practical, the crunching of the thieved Pringles could conceivably wake my evil neighbors. Secondly there was the matter of the pull top, which needed to be discarded far from where I sat, in case there was an Incident and a search conducted.

Shit, shit, shit. Why did life have to be so hard? I just wanted a damned snack.

Then I noticed the restroom in front of me and the solution appeared like a beacon.

Holding the canister to the outer side of my left thigh, I stood up and awkwardly darted into the restroom. Once inside, I was overcome with triumph. I could control my giggling only by stuffing my face with fistfuls of Pringles in rapid succession. I gorged myself like a man recently back from a deserted island. In a matter of minutes, I ate the entire sleeve.

I was about to throw the can away in the restroom, before realizing that someone else might see it and recognize the crime that had just occurred. I was still of the delusion that if someone noticed that a sleeve of Pringles were missing, the flight crew would launch a relentless investigation. Why I thought this, I do not know.

Yet I again shunned logic, and after depositing the aluminum pull top into the trash, I returned to my seat again hiding the can beneath the red blanket. I slid the empty tube back into the carry on next to me, at which point I passed out, smug in my victory.

It could not have been much later that the lights of the plane came on for the in-flight breakfast service. I couldn't help but steal glances to my right to see if or when the couple would notice that they had been victimized. Still drunk, I found myself again giggling uncontrollably, which must have looked odd to anyone who noticed, as I was sitting by myself, covered in my blanket.

And then the wild-haired woman next to me went for her chips. She picked up the can from her bag and pulled off the plastic cap as I practically whistled with feigned innocence. Immediately noticing the emptiness of the can, she actually peered further into it, as if the chips were hiding in the basement.

She immediately looked over at me. She KNEW. I mean, to be fair, there was no one else around us, but nonetheless, I played dumb and acted like I didn't notice her.

I waited for her to say something. I prepared my denials. I readied myself to summon my gay French steward compatriot as a character witness, in case the woman's accusations required Air France intervention.

But nothing happened.

She gestured to her companion, who looked equally bewildered and uninterested in the fate of the barbecue-flavored chips. The woman then looked at me again, rose and looked at the seats behind her, and then sat back down, holding the empty can and undoubtedly trying to remember when she had opened and consumed the treats.

My smugness returned as my criminal success was now all but assured, and I chose this moment to stand up and return to the restroom. As I dropped my red Air France blanket back into my seat, triumph turned to horror as the woman turned to look at me, and I regarded my navy blue shirt, which was covered in Pringle crumbs and barbecue-flavored dust. It was like I had just been pulled out of a vat of potato chips.

She looked at me as if I had a baby seal stapled to my forehead. I looked away and ran for the bathroom. Looking in the bathroom mirror, my face was covered in brown barbecue flavored dust and some crumbs had made their way down my shirt. My triumph wasn't short lived, it never was.

When I returned to my seat, the woman continued to stare icily at me. To avoid confrontation, I chose to play possum the rest of the flight, faking sleep until it was time to exit the plane, at which point I grabbed my carry on, absconded from the plane, and descended into France. It was the beginning of a savagely great trip.


  1. I can see the tilt of your chin as you feign innocence. Ralphie in The Christmas Story had nothing on you! The thought of you giggling while covered in a blanket is extremely disSturbing.

  2. Once you pop, you can't stop, Joe Daly! You thief!!! You alco thief at that! Love it! x