Airplane seats suck. Aside from making your body feel like it’s in a paused game of freeze tag, there’s just no relief in sitting on top of a life preserver, praying not to be slam-dunked into the Atlantic. Traveling 6000 miles, climbing over the Rocky Mountains, skipping the layover in Chicago, zipping over the New York skyline, zooming past where the Titanic sank, and finally, hopefully, touching down in London, happens to be just a little bit unsettling without the constant discomfort of too small seats, a kid crying behind me, and a fat old dude farting the national anthem in the seat in front of me. Throw in the laughing eyes of the flight attendant when I ask for a shot of vodka. She looks me down and up. Her eyes inhale the faded-blue overalls that I tied together with luggage tags this morning when the buckles broke. Stopping at the convenient braids that engage my blond curls and rocks, “Do you have ID?”
“It’s in my carry-on,” I lie, indicating the overhead compartment.
She flashes me a lipstick-smile, jellied with seasoned-wisdom, all at once reminding me who’s boss, then moves her coveted attention to the grandma next to me who let me have the window seat. The old woman orders two 7&7’s, instructing the flight attendant to use one glass for ice, one for the seven, and leave one empty. When the bartender-on-wheels moves her cart onto the next victim, my raisin-faced neighbor hands me one of the drinks.
“Whiskey’s what you need for a flight. A couple of these babies and you’re happier than a pig in a waste dump,” she croaks. Her grayed head barely reaches my shoulder; her stomach almost touches her tray table.
“Thank you,” I say. “I thought I’d be able to drink on an international flight.”
“Budget cuts. Don’t worry honey, that’s why I’m here.” Shaking her wild curls she continues, “I don’t understand why a girl can’t drink. When I was your age…how old are you honey, 19, 20?”
“18, well, 17.”
“Same difference,” she croaks, offering a slight tinge of an East coast accent. “At 14, I was slinging Manishewitz with my pop.” She picks up her glass, cradling it with both hands as if it was a past lover, and calls, “L’chaim.” Downing the entire glass, she presses her pruned finger on the call-button, waves her hands in the air, and snorts, “Name’s Mona.” I take a sip and cough. Through laughter, she says, “My girlfriend Edith and I went to get tattoos the other week. You want to see it?” Her eyes sparkle with childlike invitation. Without waiting for my reply, she pulls her elastic ballpoint blue pants down over the three-inflated rolls on her stomach, to show me the “mouse.” She pushes her bifocals higher on her nose and squints at her midsection, looking perplexed at the unpleasant view of her mounds. “It must be hiding on the other side.” She mutters, replacing the top of her pants and revealing the right side of her mountainous terrain dotted with spots and bruises, this time pulling her granny pants low enough to give me a full view of her undercrackers.
“Damn, my pussy must have ate it,” she says.
Over our next three rounds, served by the adorable and more importantly, non-carding Roger, Mona reveals the recent escapades at the Old Cedars nursing home in Santa Barbara. She is especially excited to tell me about her friend who started a female stripper class on Tuesday nights. It fits perfectly between Hatha Yoga and Dance Dance Revolution competitions. Adding that the pole-dancing class is nothing like the mud-wrestling competition she won at the Tropicana in Hollywood years and years ago. She says that she debated taking this trip to England to visit her sister and brother-in-law (“who has cancer…but don’t tell anyone”) because she didn’t want to miss her classes. But she had to come, saying, “A lady knows not what becomes of her, as time goes on truckin’—so she takes the trip when it’s presented, or she may never live long enough to take it.” With that, she sips her fourth 7&7, and starts to snore.
She’s right. All I know is that I had to get on this plane today, and that I want more out of this life than I am supposed to want. I could care less about a real job, kids, a degree, or a mortgage. I want to live before I have more wrinkles than Mona. A lot of life occurs between 18 and Medicare and I don’t want to spend all that time living out society’s generic plan for me. I’ve watched that glacier age that settles over the people who do what society expects them to do. They’re frozen in the same latitude and longitude for their whole life, watching the world go by, while they sit on their couch facebooking pictures of their dinners. But I can’t do that. When I was seven, I remember walking as far as my feet could carry me to see if there was anything different down the road. When we moved to California, I was the first to pack—a month early—living out of my little Barbie suitcase already. When I got older, my first boyfriend and I would decorate my world map with a happy face in a new country every time we had sex. After two months I had to get a new map. And a new boyfriend.
I guess my parents taught me well. When they were young, they tried to be explorers, abandoning the Midwest, reaching as far west as California, until their car ran out of gas in the San Fernando Valley. They spent eight years talking about the trips they’d like to take. They always made sure that I had the best maps and globes in the house, introducing me to people from all over the world, and making me watch foreign films until I cried for a movie that I didn’t have to read.
Next to me on the plane, Mona lets out a huff, picks up her head, sucks down the remnants of her drink and passes out again. I gaze around the tube at the rest of the weary travelers most with their headsets on, immersed in the business of escaping. The kid behind me kicks my seat and whines that he’s bored. Suddenly I wished my best friend Jonah were next to me, offering something witty to say about the loud-talker a few seats up front. During the last few months, I spent most of my time in Jonah’s pocket-sized studio on Venice Beach, a block from the boardwalk. I tried taking walks along the gray-blue ocean, igniting coffee conversation with the razor riders, skateboarders, actors, artists, and dog-walkers that also felt pulled by the call of the Pacific. But I found that every person I met was so wrapped up in being “somebody” that they didn’t have time to just be human. All they cared about was looking perfect when they went out, just in case that one casting director happened to be partying at the same dark club.
Jonah was my savior. I wonder if he’ll really show up in Europe like he dared last night after a few too many lemon drops. Koz will freak.
The flight attendant delivers a piece of bland chicken, which I dutifully ignore, and after suffering through some shoot’em-up-bang-bang-movie with a geriatric action star, Mona rises from the dead. I have to admit I sort of missed her. With the same vigor, she downs her final 7&7, orders us Bloody Marys, and immediately returns to telling stories. “One time, I remember, Hawaii. We went hiking. I got a new bikini. Learned to hula. Spent a week getting massages from young hunks in g-strings. I won a wet T-shirt competition. All the Spring Break babies started this-a wet T-shirt contest. I hop on the stage because I’m hot, and they shower me with some ice-cold water.” She laughs and takes a sip of her drink. “This song comes on, you know the one with the words, uh, pop that…w-what’s a coochie honey?”
“It’s what ate your mouse.”
“Oh, dear,” she pauses then smiles widely.
“So then what happened?”
“I start shaking my tuchass. All those young-un’s chanting take it off, take it off. Like a football—well not exactly a football game, but…so slowly, like a girlie in those late-night Showtime shows, did I tell you I used to work at a cabaret? Well it doesn’t matter, where was I? Oh, yeah, I took off my shirt, and my golf-shorts too. All those kiddies staring at me, I felt 21 again. Dancing around that wooden stage, wearing my panties. Swinging my brassiere, like I was a cowgirl. All of a sudden I look up and remembered: I wasn’t 21 anymore. Honey, all I can tell ya, is life passes so quick, you better live it up before it outlives you…”
The captain interrupts her with his calm voice, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now beginning our descent into London’s Heathrow airport. The weather is a chilly 62 degrees, cloudy with a bit of rain. I hope you had a pleasant flight. Sit back and relax and we’ll be on the ground shortly.”
“It’s about time! I’m dying for a cigarette here!” Mona yells. She looks over at me, saying, “What’s that?” I look where her finger is pointing and see a small ladybug resting just under my shoulder. “That’s good luck honey. My bubbie used to say—ladybugs bring ya safety and great revelations. Not to mention a good rump in the sack.” She winks, “I can’t wait to get back home. I’m on shiksas already, I think I’m going to try surfing.” The woman in the seat in front of us sneezes loudly and Mona calls, “Bless you before the devil gets ya,” just as we enter a gray bumpy cloth of sky and bounce downward. I search for any sight of permanence in the blur and as the layers shed, England in all of its dreariness appears before me.
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Joanhhash69: Love that old hag!