Archive for April, 2003

April 28th, 2003

» ‘See? We didn’t need Justin Timberlake after all!’

in which I fly in first class in lieu of spending an extra $400, thanks in small part to Neil Gaiman and in large part to my own stupidity

In the twenty some odd hours I was in Naples, I knew it as a somewhat slimy, crowded city crammed with noise and people and the debris of a street-commerce culture. But this entry is not about fighting through the Saturday morning market clogging Piazza Garibaldi. Nor is it about waking at 4:20 a.m., nor being fleeced by an Italian cabbie.

This is a story about showing up at the Naples international airport on a Sunday morning with a ticket for Saturday.

We arrive shortly after 5 a.m. for our 7:05 a.m. flight. We have nearly two hours — plenty of time to check in, get settled at the gate, perhaps have some breakfast. It is a welcome relief to step into the airport, a lifting of some unnameable international traveling burden, the promise of an end to the exhaustion of the language and culture barrier. We walk up to the check-in counter, my heart lifting as I hand over our tickets. The man behind the counter takes our tickets and begins typing into his computer. A few seconds later he’s handing them back to me over the top of the monitor.

“You’ll just have to step over to the ticket issue desk to get a new ticket printed,” he says, “because these are for yesterday.”

I, dumbstruck, stare at him.

No, I argue, our tickets are for today. But my stomach is growing heavy with dread and I look at the ticket and there, horrible and undeniable, is 26.

We go to the ticket issue counter.

I now remember the woman there as someone enchanted: a delicate faery face and perfectly-kept blonde hair despite 5:30 a.m., the small but sturdy bone structure of a flying thing. She cannot help us because our tickets, sold by STA (evil, evil), are nonchangeable and nonrefundable. She tells us the British Airways person will arrive at 6:00 and she will be able to tell us what to do.

We retreat to a row of hard plastic chairs and claim them with our looks of bleak despair and our forty-pound backpacks and our world-weariness. In ten years, we say as one always must in these situations, in ten years we will look back and laugh about this.

It occurs to me that I am the adult. Whatever becomes of us will be because of us — we have no parents or teachers or chaperons looking out for us or peeking over our shoulders or waiting in the woodwork. There is no one who can lift this from us, though it would be nice.

We discuss the possibility of a miracle as 6:00 comes and goes and the BA woman does not appear. The flight is already eight people overbooked; everything leaving later is in the 350 euro range. I imagine someone simply descending with extra tickets, some kind outside assistance.

“Do you need tickets?”
“Yes, Neil Gaiman, yes we do.”

At 6:15 we move from our vigil on the chairs to an anxious (if overloaded) hovering in front of the issue counter. I am reminded of a movie.

At least, I say, keeping up the string of possible worse things that could have happened, at least we didn’t forget our son at home over Christmas, leaving him to fight off burglars alone because we can’t get a flight back. I think of the mother trying to sell her earrings.

If we had Justin Timberlake’s scary old lady earring I bet we could get a ticket.

So we hope on Neil Gaiman and tacky pop prince jewelry and whatever else we can think of and at 6:30 the BA woman shows up.

You’ll have to fly standby, she says apologetically after a brief conversation (in Italian) with the faery-woman, as though standby is a horrible fate. I want to kiss her, though, because until that moment I am half convinced I have a $200 piece of paper for my scrap book instead of a plane ticket.

She leads us to the check-in counter where another faery, this one dusky and serious-faced, tries to type us into the computer. Then she frowns and shakes her head and converses in Italian with some of the others behind the desk. This continues for some time. The minutes drain away and with them my hope. It is perilously close to 7:05, and we are shuffled aside.

At last, at nearly 7:00, she prints us a boarding pass and gestures us forward. We check our bags quickly (and unwillingly; we had planned to carry them on, but at 40+ pounds we are not allowed) and then we run through the airport and it is like a movie as I sprint with people and signs and chairs and luggage flying by, only my jeans are loose and hanging low on my hips and at passport control we stop.

And wait.

I try not to fidget. Smiling is easy because we have been sorted and we will make it and our passports are stamped and we are sprinting again, an all-out legs-stretched thing that feels so good because I am moving. I am getting somewhere, I am doing what I can.

We take a curious bus to our plane, where we climb the external stairs (I did not know until Mexico that such a thing was even possible, being from Minnesota and on a plane only once). It is when we are stepping onto the plane that I look at our seating assignment.

1A, my pass reads.

1A, reads the first seat in first class.

Do the numbers start over? Steph asks. I do not think so but we check twice and a few moments later we are seated, relieved and grateful and giddy and yet disbelieving, in first class.

Take-off is delayed a half hour or so because they have accidentally, unbeknownst to them, scanned someone in twice and they are looking through all of the luggage for the pieces belonging to the person who has not boarded. The captain comes out to speak to the people in first class personally, conciliatory. I can do nothing but smile hugely at him, so happy am I to be able to sit there for a half hour while people monkey with the baggage.

Finally we are underway and breakfast is served. It is the best I have had in nearly four months. Scrambled eggs are wrapped in a thin crepe, accompanied by grilled ham and fresh tomatoes and potatoes. There is water, orange juice, tea, apple juice. A large cup of fruit with kiwi, pineapple, grapes, melon. A cup of fruit yoghurt. A fresh roll with a pad of butter, slathered in jam from a tiny glass jar (and I really may remember this roll until I die). Later there are more rolls and chocolate-filled croissants.

We send up jubilant thanks to Neil Gaiman.

April 3rd, 2003

» flip-top head

A few nights ago I had one of the most disturbing dreams I ever remember having. Stephanie agrees with me, I think; at least she gave me the shocked / good-naturedly horrified look over breakfast when I told her about it.

I dreamt I was a fat little boy who ate people whole. I can’t remember the entire thing (and I’m rather glad), but I know that my eating them was somehow also a sacrifice to a higher power, that they offered themselves willingly. What I remember most clearly was one young dark-haired boy closing his eyes and looking down. My torso stretched, flexible, and my mouth opened wide and I descended on the boy. I simply swallowed him head first, clothes and all.

I only got about halfway down his body before I shook myself out of the dream. Far too creepy. I long for my own bed, for quiet and rest and an end to dreams where I’m screaming at or eating people.