HomeMaking: Don't cross me!

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I love to fly. Ever since my first flight, from Philadelphia to Fort Lauderdale in 1978, I've been enamored of air travel. There's something about being in an airport that gets my pulse going just a little bit faster.

Every person I see -- the guy buying a coffee at the kiosk, the woman browsing the magazine racks, the college kid slumped over his backpack trying to snooze through a layover -- they're all going someplace. In a few hours, they'll all be at exciting new locations, greeting new people, seeing things they've never seen before. (Except for the college kid. He should probably go back to sleep.)

I love taking my seat on the plane, listening as the engines power up and the feeling as the jet wheels stop thumping along the runway just as we become airborne. I even love getting that little half a glass of soda. I don't generally drink soda at home, but when someone (in a uniform, no less!) is offering to pour it for you and give you a little napkin, well, who could pass that up?

There's one thing, just one thing, however, that drives me up the wall. It's the guy who reads the in-flight magazine before me, starts the crossword and then gives up, leaving a scattering of entries. That'd be bad enough, but the worst part -- the absolute worst part -- is that he does it in pen and gets almost every single answer WRONG!

I know I'm going to sound paranoid, but I'm beginning to think it's the same guy every time. I'm becoming familiar with the distinctive way that he crosses out the little number beside each clue, how he uses the blank space on the page to try and spell out words he's not so sure of. I've even begun to recognize his handwriting. In my own head, I've even given him a name: Chris Crossword-Mauler.

Just recently, flying on business, I settled into my seat, accepted my half-glass of soda with a smile, and reached for my copy of the in-flight magazine. I eagerly turned toward the back, a little voice in my head saying, "Please be blank, please be blank!" As I reached page 288, though, I shuddered in horror. He'd been there already, and left his distinctive mark.

The more I picked through the ruins of his latest crossword attempt, the more stressed I became. Some of Mr. Crossword-Mauler's mistakes were understandable. He thought an "African nation" might be GUINEA-BISSEL, instead of the properly spelled Guinea-BISSAU. But "Lamb Chop's Lewis" is clearly SHARI, not JERRY. (By any chance, are you French, Chris?)

It got worse. A "Citrus quaff" is lemon-ADE, not lemon-EGG (yuck). A Japanese straw mat is a TATAMI, not KITAMI. And what about the clue "it means 'four'" would possess you to write the letters "KUTRA"? (It's TETRA!) And a good answer for "chancy" might be "DICEY" instead of the hurriedly scrawled "DAHED." (You're killing me, Chris. That's not even a word!)

The final straw was Number 68 down, a three-letter word for "Luau chow." Even a person whose only exposure to the big island was the Brady Bunch episode where Greg inadvisedly took the tiki idol surfing should be shouting out "Poi! Poi!" about now.

Chris, your answer was not only wrongheaded, it was disgusting and possibly illegal. You wrote, and I shudder when I think of it: "EMU."

So this column is written directly to you, Chris Crossword-Mauler. Please stop before you drive me nuts, before the stewards and stewardesses have to wrestle me to the floor.

If you want, you can start the crossword in pencil. I'll bring my own eraser. You can take the in-flight magazine with you when you disembark. (I'm pretty sure they have more.) You could give up crosswords altogether and just read the articles. (They're interesting -- I promise!) Or just settle back into your seat, sip your half soda, and look at the beautiful clouds, listen to the soft hum of the engines, and think about your destination.

Look, you like to travel, I like to travel. If you want to talk about it, we can get together at some far-off location, maybe in a hut in exotic Guinea-Bissau, where we can sit on our kitamis and settle our difference over a meal of deep-fried emu.

I'll bring a big, cold pitcher of lemon-egg.


Homemaking is a column about the people, projects and pride that make a house a home. Peter McKay, a Ben Avon resident, is a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. To see more of his columns, go to www.post-gazette.com/homes .


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