Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My flight to Charleston

Before leaving for Lindbergh field I stop at Target for one of those pay-by-minute cellphones. I have misplaced my old one—I can never keep track of a phone. Everyone I know can attest to this. Sometimes I wonder if I lose them on purpose so that people will not have the advantage of being able to contact me on a whim. Apart from the phone I also buy minty gum that promises to eradicate bad breath and a toddler sized suit from the clearance rack with a corduroy jacket, flat front khakis and a tie featuring tiny adorable bears. It is for baby Seamus and I can already envision the picture my sister will send of him wearing it.

My mom is waiting in the car. She rummages through my plastic bags immediately and removes the phone from its package, diligently reading the directions. She proficiently rearranges the contents of my bag and neatly tucks the tiny 12 months sized suit in my carry-on bag. She is being helpful but still, she is getting on my nerves, not on purpose and not because her behavior is annoying but because I am on edge. I can hear myself taking on the tone I used at 16 when speaking to her.

My bags are too full and I have agreed to bring along a wooden boldly painted cane my father in law purchased for my mom in Mexico two weekends ago and a thick chenille sweater. My mom will be flying to Charleston in a few days and this will lighten her load. I want to do this for her because I know she has a hard time getting around due to her arthritis but my idiosyncrasies are causing me to act a little neurotic about it.

I like to travel light. I always check my bags. I am against carry-on luggage. My mom reminds me that Continental charges a fee for checked items. Truthfully I would rather shell out the 25 bones to not have to deal with the overhead bins on the plane and the line of impatient people behind me waiting for me to get a move on so they get to their destination. But that is not my mom’s style and oddly, I don’t want to disappoint her or look like someone who spends money frivolously merely for comfort even though she probably wouldn’t care. It’s funny how at my age I still attempt to be a dutiful daughter.

When it comes to flying I can be a bit crazy. I love window seats more than anything else. I love the aerial view of plots of lands; the way cities light up like LiteBrite toys, vast bodies of blue-green water, and the clouds that look like fluffy patches of mountains. Yet, despite myself, I opt for aisle seat nearly every time. I do this because I can’t bear awkwardly annoying the person seated next to me when I have to get up to use the bathroom. Also, I rarely agree to an inflight beverage from the flight attendants. The idea of spilling it on someone is too much stress for me to handle. Also my soda is never finished when they come around to pick up the trash—which annoys the flight attendants. I am left wondering what to do with my empty cup. I just want things to be simple. The easier the better. I want to read quietly or carry on intrusive conversations with the person seated next to me.

At the san Diego airport, when I get to the security checkpoint line I have forgotten about the new airport screening.  I am taken aback when I am ushered into a strange rectangular box. Before entering an airport employee asks me if I am able to stand on my own, unassisted. I am confused by his question and look at him quizzically. “Can your knees bare your weight?” he asks. I remember the cane--they think I am handicapped. “Yep.”  I answer, not bothering to explain that the cane is not mine.

A woman with black eyeliner tells me to stand with my hands on my head. I appear to be doing jazz hands—or like I am attempting to mock a reindeer. I look like clown. I laugh inwardly over the stupidity of my pose. The woman assisting me demands politely that I remove my belt unless I want to be frisked. “I do not want to be frisked.” I laugh. She doesn’t find her question comical in the least and instead lets a small annoyed sigh escape her lips. I wonder who is viewing my full body scan. Is it a man a woman? I imagine a group of male employees hovering over the screen making lewd comments about my mom butt.

When I am lead out of the box I sweep the area to figure out who is studying the images. I am uncertain but think perhaps it is a round young woman who is smacking on gum. She looks bored and unimpressed. I wonder what implants look like in x-rays?

The man sitting next to me on my flight to Houston is diligent. He has checked ahead and is aware that the seat between us is vacant. When I get situated I notice that he has already utilized the middle seat tray table and has placed his items on the seat between us. This annoys me just a little bit and I conclude that he is a man used to getting his way.

His wife is across the aisle. She looks artistic with her polka dot spotted sweater and artesian jewelry. I offer to switch seats so they can sit side by side. They both shrug.

“No thanks.” She says.

“I get it!” I tell them, “I would want my husband across the aisle as well.”

She smiles knowingly. She tells me to feel free to pester him as much as I want. He does not appear to be the type of man that would tolerate any sort of pestering.

To my disappointment he doesn’t make idle chit chat. He puts on head phones and proceeds to fall asleep.

I read two articles form the New Yorker, an Atlantic piece on Duke Universities famous Karen Owens—which breaks my heart into tiny sad pieces over the inescapable label that will forever follow her, and two short stories by Dave Eggars . Lastly I review my notes from the previous days interview with An El Capitan Association member. I highlight and write paragraph ideas in the margins of my notebook. I read the thick pamphlet she gifted me with from the Lakeside 46th rodeo and my heart is broken once again when I read what the animals endure during a rodeo. I highlight the names of people I would like to follow up with.

At the Houston airport it appears that everyone notices the cane I am carrying. It is hard to miss with its vivid coloring. Without fail many eyes land on it and a bizarre quizzically expression covers their face. They must think I have cancer or maybe they believe a car accident has left me with a severe limp. I feel gimpish. The think I am a tragic young lady that needs a cane. I wonder if I should somehow take advantage of my odd circumstance.

When I find my gate I sit near a couple each of whom are wearing tank tops. They are traveling with a toddler who has a buzz cut. The dad is wearing a snug wife beater and has a tattoo that looks homemade. 

When their toddler starts to scream loudly I am surprised by the sweetness the dad handles his son. He puts his scrawny arm on the kids head and rubs his hair looking at him lovingly. I wonder if I judge too quickly.

When I board the plane for the final leg of my trip, I am surprised over the miniature size of the aircraft. A man in front of me bumps his bald head on the ceiling. I mention that our plane appears to have been built for tiny elfin people. He gives me a polite forced smile that says “I am in no mood to talk to odd women carrying techno colored canes” In return I hope we are not sitting next to one another and let my face show it.

My seat is the very last one in the way back. No one sits near me. Again my hope for idle chit chat is dashed. Instead I am writing this while at the same time wondering what my nephew will look like.

I have seen photos, loving shots taken of him in his Christmas outfit or studio portraits with my sister bending over to kiss his sweet little cheek but photos aren’t the same. I want to see him for myself, to study his round little face and memorize every inch of his soft skin. I am eagerly waiting to witness my big sister as a mother. Most of all I want to see if in person he resembles his namesake—my dad. I think he will.

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