It was Passover and I was in the sky on my way from San Francisco to Newark, talking unnecessary interest in an article about two Burmese Python gatherers in the Everglades. Suddenly a stewardess popped out of nowhere and asked if I would like to eat something. Had I seen her coming, I could have pulled the card out myself and would have been prepared with a more educated answer, but so enthralled was I with the success of the Burmese Pythons in the Florida, that I found myself with her on top of me, and quite metaphysically for that matter, demanding to know whether I wanted to eat, and if so what. Not wanting to make a hasty decision I looked backed at her and asked ‘what do you have?’ She countered with the ‘do you think this is a restaurant?’ glare, which was understandable considering the stress of her day job. Nonetheless, she gathered herself, pulled out the flight card, flipped the folds to the right section, assumed the posture of the hangman and read my verdict. As for me, I made the best of it. Basking in the glory of a private reading of an airline breakfast menu, Options went by quickly in the background hum of the cabin. The first included the word ‘wrap’ which could have been corn based, but could also have been made of wheat. The second was rules out on the grounds of ‘crackers’. The third mentioned ‘Asian’ and the last included ‘focaccia’. I did not have sufficient information to make an educated choice. I never developed the skill of listening to the house specialties when sitting in restaurants. I am a simple man, driven by primordial cravings for the fast food that made America such a great nation. The stress of asking for a reading in the privacy of my isle-seat drained me. I could not find it within me to ask any more questions. The flight attendant was waiting for an answer. I was as helpless as a bunny rabbit facing a Python. No wonder their numbers were down 99%, nearly complete annihilation, even though rabbits multiplied like rabbits. Pythons had apparently decimated the raccoon populations as well, in spite of the fact that these cuddly little buggers could put up a quite fight. These snakes even devoured most of the bobcats. You have to be one nasty animal to catch a bobcat, keep it and eat it. What should I eat? ‘I’ll have the third I said’ and hastened to unfasten the tray table not a second too soon. My lunch was dropped in front of me. I asked for utensils with which to feed myself and was left to settle back and pretend to be on top of things, managing a meal and a flight magazine at the same time. Florida has these Python-hunt outings where thousands of enthusiasts rushed into the swamps to try to catch them. Bound by moral codes of conduct, those who were able to capture snakes were expected to hand their catch to research centers which studied the monetary value of snake skin paraphernalia. It was estimated that there were one hundred thousand Pythons in Florida – a nice gain considering they were introduced by a drunk who let his pet Pythons roam the grounds some year back. I worked the plastic knife very gently through the chicken breast, careful not to have the plate slide sideways and toss the soda can over to the middle seat. I developed a habit of preparing my food for eating on an airplane, as context switching between cutting and serving was quite challenging outside the confines of the higher cabin classes. First I cut what needed cutting – poultry, fish, omelet, knish or keesh – in this case it was rumored to be chicken breast. Then I ate the salad, which cleared a surface over which I could move the main course, one bite at a time. A Python swung around and sank its teeth between the thumb and forefinger of one of the hunters. Fortunately there were two of them and with four hands they could prevent the snake from coiling around a limb. I munched along; bringing alternating fork loads of chicken and side-servings over the – now empty – salad plate, with a relatively high degree of confidence that food would not fall into my lap, while I remained upright in my seat. Unlike Pythons, the noodles were more reluctant to coil around a fork. As my plate cleared and the hunters managed to get the snake into a bag, I sat back to reflect on what had transpired. Down on the ground I wouldn’t have giving it a second thought, but up here anything that passed the time deserved reflection. I checked the menu for what I had ordered. It was ‘Asian Noodle Salad’, which was not a salad, but a piece of chicken, some thinly shredded vegetables and noodles. WHAT HAD I DONE?!!! I had eaten noodles in Passover. Of all places to sin, right up there in God’s face. I peered out the window, how fast would his angry wrath be upon me? Surely they were rice noodles. What else would they be? I read the menu carefully. The ingredients included ‘udon’. I could have claimed ignorance, but I was sufficiently educated to know that udon was a Japanese wheat flour noodle. I wanted to tell myself that I had mistaken ‘Asian’ for ‘Chinese’, but that would have marked me as a bigoted Jew, who viewed Asia and China and the Chinese doing nothing other than stringing rice into noodles. My rice assumptions dissolved. What else could I claim in my defense? Wasn’t Matzah made of the same ingredients as noodles? In fact wasn’t Matzah a perforated sheet of noodles lying side by side? If Matzah dough was boiled rather than baked, could Matzot be separated and eaten in their noodle form, or rolled up and eaten like a shitty Twinkie? Were there better choices on the menu? I read it carefully. Everything contained two allergens: soybeans and wheat, and nothing else that mattered. Had I been allergic to wheat would I not have been more aware? What kind of role model was I? What would I say to the children? All these years of prohibition during the week of Passover, as I flew over them eating whatever I liked. Was there a path to redemption?
The pilot opened the cockpit door, a stewardess stepped into the cockpit as he stepped into the lavatory to pee, and a second stewardess pulled a cart across the aisle blocking the entrance to the cockpit. At least a depressed copilot would not punish me along with innocent passengers. It remained sunny and clear outside, as it should be at cruising altitude. I looked around. My fellow passengers were watching movies on their iPads and munching extracurricular sandwiches they had purchased before boarding, applying a broader interpretation to enigmatic statement ‘food for purchase’. Why could I have not done the same? Everyone was always much better prepared than I was. I simply could not get it through my head that iPads played movies for as long any plane could stay in the sky. I stood out not only as a misguided sinner, but also in every technical aspect of being. The almighty could surely see me, the only one without an iPad, yet with five iPhones, tucked away safely in the overhead bins, iPhones which I would innocently smuggle to their final destination. Did the same innocence apply to the noodles? Could he possibly strike me down with so much cargo at stake? It occurred to me that the bin over my seat was full when I boarded. Even though I had finally made it to the first boarding group, I had to place my bags in a bin which was not above my seat. Was this deliberate? He could grab me and the sticky note on each phone would tell those who collected my belongings where the phones had to be delivered. Yet, I had placed the bags away from my seat before we took off, let alone before lunch was offered. How could he know that I would fail if I had free choice? Did I have free choice? If not, had I sinned at all? Where was Maimonides when I needed him?
From thirty thousand feet the Sierra looked white, but it was impossible to tell how thin the snow cover was. Trees were smaller than grains of rice. California was experiencing its worst drought in recorded history, unless of course the Bible counts. At least we would not have Pythons coming out of our toilet bowls and our Bobcats and raccoons were safe. If only there was a river running down the Central Valley, we could have had ordinary plagues like they had in Florida where Pythons ate the alligators which ate the people. This year’s snowmelt would not last past May, what will we drink when I get back? Perhaps this would be why I would be allowed to return. The engines sounded fine, two IAE V2500-AS turbo fan engines rated at twenty six thousand pounds of thrust. If one of them would fail, the other would be able to land us safely in the wheat fields of Kansas. The pilot returned from the restroom to the cockpit. The flight attendant returned to collect the empty containers. The lady next to me was munching her Caesar salad, kind of what I had in mind before all this started. She had ranch on the side. I peeked at her iPad screen. Everyone on the screen had their coat collars raised. They were standing by a black suburban with tinted windows, on the far side of a road, facing a cathedral with towering pinnacles designed to carry the voice of worshipers to the heavens. It was clearly a black ops movie where big black cars with tinted windows came to take people away as the unsuspecting victims celebrated and prayed with their loved ones. Was this a sign? Apparently I was watching Tea Leoni, who had pulled herself together after her nervous breakdown in Spanglish, to become a ‘Madam Secretary’ (of state) – a shrewd, calculating and determined executive. If she got a second chance after what she did why couldn’t I? Tea – the secretary of state – was on the floor, dodging gunfire, touching the forehead of a man, obviously dead, her face slowly turning away, silently telling me that she and I would get through this, provided that I stuck with the line of reasoning I had stumbled upon. We flew on. Down below I was well within my human rights to err. What was Yom-Kippur for? Perhaps up here things were not so different. I struggled with how the only time that time did not fly was when one was flying. I landed safely with everyone else and went to the lounge to repent. I guzzled all the Matzah sandwiches that Imma prepared not once stopping to breathe or make eye contact with another sole. When I was done I drank four cups of ice cold water and decided that the Devine and I were on a level playing field, if not even. I promised myself that when I got back to California I would sign up for a 900 channel free three month trial and force myself to watch them all, including all those starring Tea Leoni – just to cleanse my sole of unworthy inclinations, and refocus my mind, so that I will not confuse Burmese Pythons with noodles when in the jet-stream during Passover.