Smoke, Drink, Strip: A Commercial Flight to West Palm Beach
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes the friendly skies could be a little less so.
I take my seat. She smiles and waves. No adult in full self-control smiles and waves at a stranger on a plane, but OK. Her breath has settled over our row.
“Hiiiii.” She’s got something shiny — a flask. The bag at her feet holds a couple of empty plastic Champagne single servings. She starts with trivial chitchat as we approach the runway. We lift off, and she acts frightened, gripping the armrests. “I don’t like flying.”
“Champagne’ll cut the tension.”
She takes a swig. “This ain’t for the plane, baby. Only thing that calms me down on planes is a cigarette.” She’s looking at me. “What?”
We hit turbulence 30 minutes in. She starts moaning, whipping her head to-and-fro. “I need to use the…” She’s getting up, but an attendant heading to the front snaps, “Sit, please.”
She obeys, adding, “I can’t deal with this rickety-ass plane.”
It’s actually a newer 757. She’s digging in her bag for a — for a cigarette! Well, an e-cig. “I just need a…,” she’s turning it on, “a puff to calm down. You’re not gonna tell anyone?” she asks and assures me. We’re sitting in a freaking vapor cloud in the aft cabin.
“Do you have a girlfriend? A few years ago I’d have you wrapped around my finger. Guys worshipped me. Oh, my God, I was spoiled. They wanted that candy shop. You know what I mean, honey?”
“Miss?” The same attendant is standing over us in the aisle. “I told you, you can’t use that here. Give it to me.”
“It’s not a cigarette. It’s water.”
“Stop smoking, or we’ll land the plane ’cause of you.”
My neighbor acquiesces begrudgingly. Then, once the attendant walks up ahead, my neighbor stands up and flashes two middle fingers, arms out straight. She goes on and on to me about her life in New Jersey, which doesn’t have much room for advancement. In fact, she’s reversing.
“I’m going to get my man back.”
“Drinks?” It’s a different attendant — the host. I recognize her from other flights.
The host actually gives this woman two screwdrivers.
“Do you have a girlfriend? A few years ago I’d have you wrapped around my finger. Guys worshipped me. Oh, my God, I was spoiled. They wanted that candy shop. You know what I mean, honey? This one guy I dated wanted me to get my nipples pierced so bad.” The first screwdriver’s gone. “I did it, I’ll show you.” She’s reaching at the end of her V-neck. “It’s hot if you’re into it.” Well, yeah.
I hazard a diversion. “What are you going to West Palm for?”
“To get my first fiancé back.”
“Does he know you’re coming?”
“I gotta pee.” She crosses the middle seat and stumbles over me, lands halfway on my lap. “Want to help me?”
She looks for a distraction, but the plastic cocktail glasses are drought dry. She hits the call button, and the host comes.
“Hieee, can I just get a Jack and soda?” She then asks me, “You sure you don’t want one? It’s on me, hon.”
I do want one. “No thanks.”
“Make it two.” The host is off to keep bar. “Did I tell you I pierced my boobs?”
“I’ll show you.” She winks. “Don’t tell my fiancé.” First, ex, fiancé, I clarify in my head. “You showed me,” I lie, acutely conscious of our closest fellow passengers. “Even now, my babies will get me places …” She insists, “I gotta pee.” She crosses the middle seat and stumbles over me, lands halfway on my lap. “Want to help me?”
“Give it your best shot alone.”
The host sets our drinks down. Maybe she’s on autopilot, unaware of the twisted metal she’s helping to hammer. Twisted Metal is back and squealing with excitement at the two full cups. A wisp of steam creeps from the lav door. She exhales with relief, “That helped.” She sips her whiskey soda. “He knows I come down to see family, and we run into each other with mutual friends, you know? And if I don’t see him like that,” she smiles with glazed eyes, “I’m gonna show up at his house and tell him I love him. I don’t know what he’s gonna do.”
I don’t have answers, but I have empathy. I start to feel saudade.
She stares at me. I don’t have answers, but I have empathy. I start to feel saudade, a longing nostalgia for something that absolutely can’t return. She doesn’t have to feel that for this.
“You could get him back. Only know if you try.”
“You’re sweet. If I was younger, you wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“Save it for him, darling.” I attempt to maintain some tenderness.
“He’s getting it all.” She takes the second cocktail, gives me a cheers sign, downs half the glass, and lets her head fall into her seat.
I awaken later.
“Oh, hi! I wanted to tell you about my boobs.” Her head rolls with the syllables.
“You gotta see.” She’s pulled the V-neck up past a pierced belly button and stamped jellyroll. Her breasts breach, and once the shirt passes the crest, everything just bounces out. They’re huge and smooth with chrome nipple studs.
“Wanna touch them? It’s OK.” She grabs my hand and starts pulling them toward her.
“You already did this with me.” It was a half-truth. For my own well-being. If it’s God or litigation or chivalry or fear, there is definitely occasionally something out there that curbs bad impulses.
The host had apparently left discernment at the gate. My neighbor got one more drink before our initial descent, straight Jack on ice. She’s shaking her hands. “I’m so nervous. I gotta throw up.”
The moment she rises, our original attendant is blocking her way. “Seat belt sign is on. Please wait until we land.”
“Is it — is it just the rules, or are you gonna…”
“It’s federal law.”
“But are you gonna friggin’ arrest me if I go to the bathroom?” He doesn’t answer because he knows he won’t arrest her and there’s no marshal. She scrambles into the lav. I hear loud vomiting.
She asked to exchange numbers but forgot to follow through 10 seconds later. When we land at Palm Beach International Airport, they open the rear stairs so passengers in the back can exit onto the tarmac.