Perhaps the cold had numbed my brain. I really could not figure out any other way to explain it.
I was always the can-do person, the one who managed to get things done on schedule and reasonably well, the one on whom everyone else depended. How could I have possibly messed up so miserably?
My husband was far from upset. On the contrary he was his characteristic, unruffled self – and then some. I suspect he was secretly celebrating my rare fall from grace, though not in a vindictive way whatsoever. Instead, he was subconsciously filing this unprecedented debacle away in his cerebral memory bank, to be cashed in at some later unforeseen date.
Truth be told, however, the fallout from my temporary brain freeze snowballed so rapidly out of control and wreaked such unparalleled and unexpected havoc that neither of us shall ever forget it.
Here’s my story:
We had flown from sunny Los Angeles to the East Coast in mid-January to celebrate the Shabbos and Motzaei Shabbos festivities of our beloved nephew’s bar mitzvah. That weekend was a story in and of itself; suffice to say that New Jersey received a record foot-and-a-half of snow and the governor declared a state of emergency. Other than that minor setback, the bar mitzvah was magnificent and the wonderful man of the hour did us all very proud.
The following morning we shipped our kids off to Baltimore, and my husband and I, along with a few other relatives, navigated the freshly plowed roads to JFK International Airport. There, we were to accompany the bar-mitzvah bachur and his family on a flight to Eretz Yisrael for the next phase of the celebration.
My husband was delayed returning our rent-a-car, and I was beginning to despair that he would make it back to the terminal before our flight boarded. Baruch Hashem, he finally arrived – slightly winded but no worse for wear. That was when we discovered that neither of us had our flight tickets. Although it was already late, we had to wait on line at the airline ticket counter to claim the tickets being held for us. Then we hightailed it to the boarding gate, me with my down coat flapping around my calves and my high-heeled boots click-clacking the entire route. But thankfully we made it to the gate in time.
The rest of the flight was uneventful and, in addition to our usual joy upon arriving in the Holy Land, we were thrilled to be welcomed by sunny skies and glorious weather. We promptly stowed our winter gear in our suitcases and blissfully forgot about frigid temperatures for the duration of our stay.
We enjoyed a whirlwind week of Bar Mitzvah-related activities as well as sightseeing and visiting relatives and friends. Before we knew it, we were on our way to Ben Gurion Airport and our return flight to JFK.
Once again neither of us had the tickets, but this time we knew to follow the unusual protocol and pick up our tickets at the airline counter. So we dutifully waited in line and requested our tickets. This time, however, no tickets awaited us. In fact, the airline agents insisted that we had already been issued the tickets for the return flight a week before – back in JFK.
We left the line confused, dazed and disoriented. Surely, there had been some mistake. Otherwise, where were our tickets?
My husband checked and rechecked his pockets and computer bag. I went through my purse with a fine-tooth comb. No tickets. Our flight was announced for boarding – and still no tickets. My husband went to another airline counter to plead our case. No luck. And no tickets.
Finally, I experienced a very belated light-bulb moment. So I hastily rummaged through our suitcases, found my long-forgotten down coat, plunged my shaking hand into its deep pockets and extricated our plane tickets.
We rushed to the check-in line as the final boarding call for our flight came over the loudspeakers. After all the drama, despair and triumph, we were told that it was too late to board our scheduled flight. Instead, we were put on the next available flight to JFK, arriving an hour or so later.
Grateful to be en route at last, we boarded the flight and tried our best to avoid the topic of my free fall from grace. A few hours later, while we waited for our connecting flight, we frantically called our kids to update them on our change of plans and our new flight information.
Alas, our ordeal was far from over.
When we arrived in JFK several hours later, we went through the standard procedure: passport control, baggage claim and customs. Again, according to the usual routine, all of our luggage was opened and inspected. And, just like all of our previous experiences, the customs officers discovered the following contraband: bags of our dirty laundry, as well as cases of vanilla Crembo and multipacks of Bamba and Bissli for our kids.
Unlike our prior inspections, however, this one did not end with a smile and a casual send-off. Quite the contrary.
Two burly customs officials accompanied my husband and me to a corner of the airport customs area and escorted us into two separate unadorned interrogation rooms. It was like a poorly acted scene from an old cop show, but it was all too real. And we were the real live hapless suspects.
Unbeknown to us, an upscale airport jewelry store had been burglarized a week earlier, on the day of our outbound flight to Tel Aviv. Surveillance footage captured the image of the two perpetrators, a 40ish man and a woman, who had made off with multiple expensive watches. We were shown enlarged photos of the thieves, whom, needless to say, we were hopelessly unable to identify. The one thing that was crystal clear to us, however, was that the robbers bore no resemblance to us whatsoever.
Ostensibly, the police had done an extensive study of the passenger lists for that day, on which our names were included. The fact that we had missed our scheduled flight and had to be redirected most likely activated some type of alert, and we were consequently deemed suspicious.
Both of us were grilled regarding our activities on the date in question. Initially my apprehension prevented me from remembering all the details but, Baruch Hashem, I eventually recalled the whole stressful series of events and was able to recount it to the officer’s satisfaction. More importantly, my husband’s testimony matched up with mine exactly, and the interrogators were convinced that we were speaking the truth.
Following the longest few moments of our lives, we were ultimately released to be reunited with our children and catch the final leg of our trip. Several hours later, we were blessedly on our way back to the West Coast – and home sweet home – without a single snowflake in sight!
And, needless to say, the convoluted tale of my chilling encounter with severe brain freeze has since become an embarrassing but prominent feature of the annals of the Klein family history.Naama Klein
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