Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Seat 38E

I am preparing for a big flight next week, something I don't do that often these days.  It has me thinking about some of the more noteworthy flights I have taken.  

The below is an excerpt from my as yet unpublished memoir.  The excerpt is about a last minute flight I took from LA to NY for business, just before Christmas 2010.


I found myself standing over an older Asian woman snacking on an orange in 38D as I attempted to shove my carry-on into the overhead compartment above her head.  I stood in the aisle a moment.  Just long enough to confirm that she would not be getting up so that I might easily slide into my middle seat.  I stepped over her; and somehow, the giant poster board wrapped in saran wrap that she held in front of her was unharmed. 

Once I had buckled up, she made a welcome offering of her half-eaten orange.  The orange that she had peeled, pulled a few slices from, and was chewing on following taking her seat here in the bowels of this Boeing 777 that from the looks of things probably made its first commercial flight about the time I failed my first driver's license test back in 1988. 


I shook my head and smiled, "No, thank you."

She nodded her head and offered a small smile as she brought the orange back in and pulled another slice for herself. 

Germy produce aside, I liked her already.  I gave her a name: Clarice.

The good news was that the other aisle seat to my right (38F) appeared to be open.  I scoped my neighboring middle-seat passengers in the back of the bus.  Based on the way they kept shifting in their seats and looking over their shoulders, I knew they were thinking exactly what I was thinking. 

But I was closest and feeling spry.

"Excuse me, I think you're in the wrong seat, ma'am."

My attention was diverted to the flight attendant now addressing Clarice.  She slowly shook her head no.  I could tell she was confused.

"Let me see your ticket.  I think he is supposed to be in this seat," the flight attendant continued, gesturing toward a young man (shit-head) standing behind her with a back-pack.

Are you kidding me?  Does it really matter if he sits in 38D and she sits in 38F?  They're equally screwed and I'm now screwed just a little bit more.

Clarice commenced reaching in her sweater pockets as I unbuckled my seatbelt, awaiting my cue.  When she stood, I grabbed her poster board and moved out into the aisle opposite shit-head.  She looked panicked for a moment.  I gave her my best "it's ok" nod and wide-eyed smile and stood in the aisle waiting for her to situate herself in 38F. 

Of course, I had no intention of stealing her poster - just wanted a smooth transition.  I took a look at the poster.  There were two faces that appeared to be sketched in pencil, a young Asian boy and girl who looked to be in their early teens. 

Perhaps her grandchildren? 

I wondered if she sketched them.  Maybe the drawings were a gift from her host in Los Angeles, or a gift for her host in New York.  I handed the poster back to her and went the long way to my middle seat, walking through the back galley kitchen, so I could inconvenience shit-head, who was now comfortably situated in his seat. 

I had no qualms making shit-head get up right after he had sat down.  But Clarice, I preferred to see her settled in, relaxing with her poster board.

I closed my eyes before take-off.  I seemed to drift in and out as I always do on planes, head bobbing like a fool.  I opened my eyes in time to miss the drink cart but catch Clarice in the middle of a denture adjustment.  It was the tops.  Literally and figuratively.  She had popped the full plate of upper teeth out and was holding them in her right hand - not completely on display, they were less than an inch from her mouth and with her left hand, she half-heartedly shielded my view.  I closed my eyes and attempted to shake the image from my mind.

Somewhere over the Rockies, I awoke to a fishy odor.  Clarice had already taken the first bite of her hand-roll when I cast a glance in her direction.  

They don't have sushi back here.  What the hell else is she packin'? 

At that point, I began to scan the overhead compartments in the rear of the plane, imagining a live chicken bursting out at anytime.  Like the ones that hung out on the back of the jalopy bus heading to and from the 4-0-77th on M*A*S*H

I closed my eyes and began to wonder what Clarice's story was.  My mind drifted to The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan's book about four Chinese immigrant mothers and their daughters.  Specifically, the scene in the movie adaption of the book where one of the mothers is pushing her infant twin girls in a make-shift, wooden wheelbarrow.  They are following a pilgrimage of Chinese who have left their homes behind in an effort to save themselves from a Japanese invasion.  I think it was Japan.  Let's just say my world history fluency is right up there with my geography. 

Anyway, I recalled the moment when the wheelbarrow collapses, and the mother is in tears, finally broken herself.  As the movie goes, she gently places each of her babies at the foot of a tree with her blistered hands.  She then wraps all of her worldly possessions - a few pieces of jewelry, a few coins - along with a note in a small bundle and places it on top of them.  In that moment, the poor, desperate mother felt that she would surely die and hoped that someone else - some kind stranger - would save her daughters.  Something she no longer had the strength to do.   

With this image fresh in my head, I didn't think twice when Clarice - no - when My Hero started slapping her face.  Over and over.  All over.  Cheeks, forehead, chin...  

Must be her beauty regimen.  Maybe I can pick up a tip or two.  Chinese women do tend to have such beautiful skin.

It then became abundantly clear that my nap was not happening.  I opened my laptop but found myself unable to focus as My Hero began to rummage in her bag for something. 

What could it be?   

She began to open a small blue package but I couldn't tell what it was from the corner of my eye. 

I went about my business reading and responding to email until My Hero stopped moving around and had laid her head back. 

She must be sleeping.

I turned to look and at first glance in the back of the dark plane, I saw this:

Which of course scared the hell out of me until I realized it was this:

Still disconcerting in the back of a dark plane but less so when I remembered this:

My creepy friend Heidi while our families vacationed together in Tahoe

Ultimately, my time (the impromptu, extremely uncomfortable, cross-country flight seated in 38E) with Clarice served as a reminder of how interconnected we women so many ways...especially our vanity!