My dear Sue O’Sullivan gets up with me at 6:00am in London, serves me a hot breakfast, packs me a lunch full of snacks and goodies, orders me a cab to the one Tube station in the area with an elevator down to the platform, and I make it to the airport in plenty of time. However, I fail to remove my Kindle from my backpack – because nowhere does it say I should – and I am hung up as all my stuff is searched almost as rigorously as my body was on the way over.
I get to the plane and settle in. I have a blessed aisle seat, but no one is in the middle seat. Last minute a woman in her 40s turns up for the seat, sloppy and loose, carrying a variety of odd bags and packages. It takes her an unseemly amount of time to pull out the things she wants with her, and these include 5 or 6 books (one of which is entitled “Christ Lives”), 3 or 4 magazines, a laptop, a tablet, a crumpled Sunday newspaper of many sections, bottles of drink and bags of food. I am standing in the aisle a long time as she plucks things out of a large backpack, a carry-on suitcase, and a carry-all. She sits down but remembers more stuff that she needs and I get up again as she climbs with her shoes on my seat to reach up to her gear.
She is Pigpen (from Charlie Brown). She is dirty and noisy and large and cannot constrain herself to her own space. She puts her foot into the space where my feet go, she projects her elbow into my ribs when it’s not threatening my eyeball. Her thigh rubs mine, which is beyond unpleasant. I develop a type of non-verbal communication – as I am determined not to exchange a single word with her – that indicates when I disapprove of her encroachments – and she reads me and momentarily pulls back.
The Captain announces that there has been a serious fire at the British Airways building where people determine which planes go and when. Therefore, there is a backup of BA flights. No plane can take off until these people find an alternative location with working equipment and can start working again. It may well take three hours he says, but in the end it only takes 90 minutes and we are off.
Pigpen begins shedding – clothes, newspaper sections, crumbs, books, a neck pillow, a pencil, shoes – all of it falling onto me or onto the floor below me. She gets up several times to go to the bathroom and of course I get up to let her out. As she squeezes by me I cannot help but notice that her jeans, much too tight for such a long flight, reveal her bum crack and it adds to the general environment of distaste that she so thoroughly creates. She leaves behind a chair littered with wrappers and sticky candy and parts of bread crusts and pieces of paper. Inevitably she tries to buckle in with the part of my seatbelt that is closest to her.
So much for my fantasy of a restful ride. I put on the headset and watch three episodes of some Washington DC based drama called House of Cards with Kevin Spacey doing an embarrassingly poor job of a southern accent and turning intermittently to the camera to speak directly to the audience, interrupting any engagement in the story. The headset gives me a headache, the tiny screen is only inches from my nose, but somehow it puts a barrier between my neighbor and me.
Then I have a shock. Just before landing, a flight attendant kneels down next to me and looks at me solicitously, with a condescending smile. “What kind of help would you like to deplane?” I stare at her in horror. How fucking bedraggled do I look? The elderly woman across aisle taps the attendant on the shoulder. “That would be me.” “Oh,” says the attendant. “I got mixed up – you’re seat D not seat C.”
Now I’m home, thanks to a ride from my old friend Judy, and I’m fighting to stay up late enough to get quickly into the rhythm of this, my fourth country in five weeks. The view from my balcony shows that I have not entirely missed the colors of Autumn. Now where did I put that Melatonin?