LADIES AND GENTELMEN, the captain said, if you’ll look out your window, you’ll see that there’s a thousand miles of thunderstorms over New Mexico and Arizona. This was not long after we had left the Las Vegas airport, which has to rank among the ugliest, most depressing in the country
I was forced to take the captain’s word for it because the weary passengers near me had all opted to keep shut the shades on their windows, blocking any chance of seeing those thousand miles of storms. That is, until the woman occupying the window seat on my row, the one wearing a black baseball cap with rhinestones and imitation pearls covering its beak, became curious and lifted her shade. By then, however, the thousand miles had become three hundred, or maybe less, and the few clouds with a fondness for flair or fanfare were faded mutations of the ones my mind had imagined when The Voice first came over the PA system.
I DO NOT want the last taste of solid food that will be with me for the rest of this flight to be that of the solitary peanut that had stowed away in the otherwise empty and crinkled package of Southwest lightly-salted peanuts, not after I have treated myself to the crunchy contents of the orange and purple bag of Nabisco 100-calorie Cheese Nips. But the Nips are gone and the Palomo Rule of Survival dictates that no piece of food, not even a measly salted peanut, will go unconsumed. And who am I to disobey the rule?
THE WOMAN ACROSS the aisle from me, the one seated next to the two old lesbians, is cold. A light hoodie that belongs over her head and shoulders is instead draped over her pale skinny knees. Instead, what covers her long red hair and her emaciated face is a scarf in pageant pink and SeaWorld cerulean. If it weren’t for the colorless skin of the small part of her leg that is not covered by the hoodie, it would not be difficult to suspect that a Middle Eastern woman, a devout Muslim, is sitting there under that tent, looking out at the enclosed environment through the gauzy fabric of the scarf, perhaps plotting against the rest of us.
As I watch her, a soft sneeze suddenly erupts from underneath the scarf. It briefly lifts a small portion of her multicolored veil, forming a spiritless tuft that, like the ghost that it is, dissolves as quickly as it materializes.
I HAVE CHOSEN an aisle seat fairly close to the front of the Boeing 737-800. On longer flights I do not like to be forced to climb over other passengers when I leave my seat go to the bathroom. Because of the thunderstorms, the captain has kept the fasten-your-seatbelts sign on longer than normal, and when the light finally goes off, I make a quick dash toward the front bathroom. I have not seen anybody going in there, so I assume that it is empty, an assumption that is proven correct when I see the green “vacant” sign on the door.
Or so I think. When I open the door, I see an old woman bent over the toilet, as if reaching back to press the flush button. She is fully clothed, thank God, but as she turns around to look at me, there is no panic, no look of shock on her face. It’s as if having a stranger walk in on her as she performs her most private of functions is an everyday occurrence.
I don’t even bother to say oops, or I’m sorry. I just close the door and turn to walk back to my seat. “Was someone in there?” the flight attendant asks. I nod. “Some people,” she says, shaking her head and chuckling.
ABOUT THOSE CHEESE Nips. I want more, particularly after my two bourbons-on-the-rocks arrive. With every sip I take, my mouth hungers for those cheesy delights. Sip … Nip, my brain keeps telling me. Sip … Nip. When the flight attendant comes by to collect the trash, I am hoping, praying that she’ll repeat the words I have heard her utter to other passengers: Anything else I can get you?
She does, and I want to kiss her hand. Instead, I calmly and playfully ask, do you have anymore of those Cheese Nips?
That’ll be four dollars, comes back the cold reply.
My mind tells me that cannot possibly be right, but my face must be telling her that I believe her, for she quickly pats my shoulder and reassures me: I’m just kidding. I’ll get you some.
She never does.