Woolly Wig: Trip to Prussia Cove

I have a tip for you.  Don’t check in online for your London flight at 4 AM, while lying sprawled in bed, after closing down Little Branch (a favorite spectral haunt, these days.)  You may fall asleep in the middle of check-in, snoring peacefully while you get assigned—by default, that rascally demon of bureaucracies—a middle seat.  You may, then, attempt to rectify the situation the next day by phone, which might land you in a surreal dialogue:

—There’s plenty of aisle seats, sir.
—So give me one now.
—But you already checked in.
—Don’t worry sir, there are plenty.
—But when I arrive at the airport, there won’t be.
—Sir, don’t worry.  There are plenty.  And everyone is requesting the middle seats.

I swear to you he actually told me that!  Which meant he was truly desperate to get me off his case.  And I let him off, weakling that I am, avoider of conflict.  Of course, when I arrived at beautiful Newark Airport (a structure which never ceases to make me feel glad I am alive), the first words the young man at the counter said to me were…

—We’re completely overbooked, sir.
—But the man said to me on the phone [etc. etc. tedious unconvincing pleas etc. etc.]
—Okay, I can give you an aisle seat, but it’s at the back of the plane.

I smiled gratefully, admiring his perfectly crafted hair.  He smiled back.  Everyone was happydappy in the land of airplane travel:  everyone gets what they want, more or less!  And yet this story was not yet at the end of its tether:  when I boarded, I discovered that my seat, 63F, though delightfully proximate to the engines and toilets, was not in fact at all aisle-ish.  AGGGGGHHHH.  What had I done wrong?  Had I offended someone?  Was this deliberate revenge?  Vast conspiracy theories sailed through my brain.

I found myself, in fact, well-hedged between two ladies, of very different aspect.  One was bone-thin; she was 80, Indian, garbed in white and walked up and down the airplane all night, a ghost, a moth.  She was the spryest 80-year-old I have ever seen.  When she consented to be seated, which was rare, she contorted herself into all sorts of yoga positions—pretzels, half-Nelsons, polygons—and her flying knees soared across my airspace and collided with my appendages.   Finally, bump 93, waking me yet again from nascent sleep, made me sniff with annoyance;   she beamed at me saying

—you know knees good you know and I move

She had a cane.  She walked a good game with her cane, amid turbulence remaining untossed.  Each time she got back in her seat she had to resettle the cane under my feet (lift, squeeze, jiggle, giggle).  Again, I became annoyed …

—does it hurt you?, she asked,
—No, it doesn’t hurt me.  (What more could I say?)

My other neighbor–a Haitian woman–was built thickly where the other was thin.  She was not fat, but broad; she settled in her seat like a marshmallow.  But she was a stubborn marshmallow.  Her elbow fought with mine furiously for control of our armrest.  It was a silent battle to the death; her will seemed indomitable.  She left her light on most of the night.  I turned it off when she went to the bathroom.  She mumbled something at me (perhaps some voodoo curse?) and turned it on again.

I felt squeezed by fate and humanity, by a kind of counterpoint … firm plump elbow pressure from my right (pedal point, trombones), against an endless series of spry touches and nudges floating, fluting their way at me from my left (fluttertongue, agitating tremolo).  A physical music of discomfort.  I was never happier than to stand on my own two feet in the middle of Paddington Station, bags hanging from my shoulders, with a dangling superhot coffee … exhausted, but free of my lady brackets.  I was monophony, I was plainchant.

Then some hours later, after sleepily falling in and out of Balzac’s harlots on the train, I felt an urge for crisps.  I staggered to the cafe car.  Something didn’t look or sound right.  I blinked, looked again.

—Will you be paying for your tea?

Blonde flowing stewardess hair, deep baritone.  There was a transvestite working the cafe car.  Outside, sheep dotted the green, green meadows of Cornwall.  Wool and grass and estrogen and Thai chili crisps.  Surreality hounded me, a jetlag quicksand, the nightmarish confluence of the deepest sleep insanity with the absolute weird fact that everything is really really happening.

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  1. Emily
    Posted September 11, 2007 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    1) Restoril
    2) noise reduction headphones/earplugs
    3) geeky face mask
    4) the phrase, “Nooo speeka Eeenglish.”
    /- elbow pads for the insufferable middle seat

    Four things that can substantially improve your quality of life on a transatlantic redeye. As for the lady brackets, ah well….that’s a tough one all around.

  2. brent
    Posted September 12, 2007 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Enjoyed your latest entry, as I do all your posts, Jeremy. This article came out last year in the Wall Street Journal,and although it may have no bearing on international flights, perhaps it can help you when flying here in the States.


  3. Posted September 14, 2007 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
  4. Posted October 25, 2007 at 10:19 am | Permalink


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