Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ripped From The Headlines

As I was settling into my seat on a JetBlue flight a few weeks ago, I noticed the man sitting in front of me pull a stack of newspapers from a bag, and set the stack on his lap. I found the size of the stack rather intriguing, as he appeared to be preparing to read somewhere in the vicinity of 25 to 50 newspapers during the flight. Seriously, the stack was huge. Not long after takeoff, he opened the first paper. A few minutes later, a ripping sound caused me to look up from the True Crime program I was enjoying (LOVE the JetBlue personal televisions). The newspaper man was slowly and methodically tearing the center page from his newspaper. I watched as he finished the ripping, and as he (equally slowly and methodically) folded the separated page, and carefully placed it under his seat. Then he picked up the next newspaper in his stack, and I went back to True Crime. Two minutes later, I heard ripping again, and sure enough, Newspaper Man was doing the same thing to his second newspaper. This piece, too, he lovingly folded, and placed under his seat. As he picked up the third newspaper, he totally had my attention. Forget True Crime! This was much more fascinating. This third paper met the same fate as the first. By the sixth paper, I began to feel a little annoyance in addition to my curiosity. I mean, the ripping wasn't bothering me enough that I felt I could justifiably say something, but I did want to lead forward and ask:

"Big paper maché project coming up?"

I looked at the people in the aisle across from me to see if they were equally riveted. The lady in the aisle seat caught my eye, shook her head, shrugged, and went back to watching Dr. Phil. The man next to me was asleep. I couldn't see how Newspaper Man's seat mates were responding, so I got up and pretended to get something out of my bag in the overhead bin, which afforded me a nice view of Newspaper Row. Alas, there was nothing telling in either seat mate's facial expression. From the chatting that happened before the newspapers came out, I'd gathered they were all related to each other, so perhaps the ripping and folding was nothing new? An endearing quirk? Some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder? A way to keep his hands busy so he wouldn't be tempted to strangle someone? (I think the True Crime was getting to me.)

The methodical ripping, folding and stowing lasted the entire flight, with the exception of a slight reprieve while he drank his apple juice. He took the folded pages with him when he left, placing them carefully in a bag while he chatted with his wife (?) and her sister (?) (In conversation, he seemed perfectly normal.) Just as I had decided to ask him about the newspapers, someone asked me to help get their bag from the overhead bin, and by the time I'd extracted it, Newspaper Man was gone. And I am left wondering . . . What exactly does one do with 25 to 50 perfectly folded pieces of newspaper?