I even thought about what to wear, as if I had a choice. Nothing in my suitcase was laundered, much less unwrinkled. Not to worry. Everybody else was in jeans and t-shirts casual, so my tasteful pale blue short-sleeve Norsdstrom-Rack shirt was just another giveaway that I was an impostor.
2-A. What was I doing at this posh location? Flying home from NY where I went to teach private swim lessons in The Hamptons. See me lolling in the salt-treated heated pool and you’ll get a picture of how I suffered on assignment. You may find this incredible but I was not itching to take it on. I’d done it twice before in the summer and, forgive me for heresy, The Hamptons do not thrill me. Signs threatening instant towing wall off every beach. The villages are terribly cute but we have those here in the West too. The potato fields are pretty, that’s so. But I have no friends there, and nothing to do but the aforementioned lolling and reading and I ran out of what I brought with me all too soon. There was one novel in the unhumble house, an espionage thriller. I read half of it and didn’t much care if our agent saved us from nuclear war with Iran.
Last year I turned down the assignment. This year, what the heck. On impulse I asked if the offer of business class, made last year, was still good. It was. Shazzam.
Business class. Such gauche words. 2A was Prem level, according to the boarding pass. Of course we elite boarded first. I half feared somebody would call me out as I entered the tube, but no.
2A was not only a window seat, it was a two-window seat. Hooray. The waiter brought the menu, I mean the steward. I ordered the pasta and sauvignon blanc. This was going to work.
We were over Kansas by the time I figured out how to electrically maneuver my barge of a seat into the fully-recumbent position of a few of my neighbors. Once I achieved it something about the pronation along with the lovely drapery of the creamy blanket brought to mind a sarcophagus. I quickly (not so quickly) reversed the various buttons until I was upright at window level. If the plane was going to crash I would die sitting up. Besides, I could sleep in my own bed. I was not going to miss out on what came next. The steward asked if I needed another glass of water (I cut myself off the sauvignon blanc over the Mississippi) or coffee. He was nice. His face had the look of someone who stuffed a lot of feelings but was not embittered.
My neighbor across the snacks counter in 2-B asked him something and the steward pulled a dark blue box from the niche behind his seat. My seat had an identical niche with the identical dark blue box with a black zipper belting the middle. I investigated. My, my. The zipper made such a well-bred, obsequious sound as it separated to reveal a vault of treasures. Eye mask, lip balm, mouthwash, toothbrush and paste, tissues, lotion, and socks. Socks. How did they know I was out of clean ones? I was meant to take it, right, so when I walked off the plane I wouldn’t be a common thief, right? It didn’t matter. I was going to stuff it in my suitcase no matter what, everything inside completely intact. I thought of my mess kit, a slumped affair that used to belong to my father. If I was scouting for metaphors I might find one here: know a man by his mess kit. I even thought about collecting the ones my cabin mates left behind when the flight ended, if there were any, and I could do so in a very dignified manner.
My steward saw me looking around and pointed toward the front of the cabin. The loo. He was prescient. All those liquids. It was empty, and turned out to be an ordinary airplane loo with a flush that could suck the tattoos right off your skin. No jacuzzi that I noticed.
I didn’t intend to make myself a complete nuisance to 2-B so I abstained from further imbibing, except for one final cup of coffee. It was good coffee, served with milk my steward brought in a pitcher so I could pour it myself. Accompanied by a biscotto.
The rule of what goes up…by the time we got to Nevada it was just another airplane ride. There were a hundred movies to choose from and not one I wanted to watch. I thought about making conversation with 2-B but small talk over engine noise with a half-deaf person (moi) isn’t a foolproof recipe for satisfaction. What is the protocol for idle chat in Prem class anyway? Probably no different than in Pleb where you can see dialogue bubbles coming out of foreheads with the caption, “Please don’t talk to me.”
It is a mystery to me how anyone in a window seat can pull the shade down and not look out, how one can one get blasé riding the clouds. “Yosemite on the left,” the pilot announced. The landscape unfolded, as it always does, one mystery after another, formations human and otherwise.
Over the Coast Range, its golden contours freckled with oaks, we began our descent. There below were the shimmering green, pink and orange lagoons of the South Bay as the plane approached the SFO runway.
Landed. My life as a toff ended. Thanks to all the little people who worked so hard to make it happen.