Hung-over, my usual condition for flying, I climb out of the back seat of the hired car, wander through the automatic doors, drag myself through the airport terminal, canvas duffle in tow slung over my right shoulder, feet skating over the glassy linoleum, head throbbing with each step, each step reverberating with a resounding thud in my already pounding head. Luckily, I have an e-ticket with a smart tag stored on my app, and I never check baggage to avoid the first of the three mandatory lines at an airport. The line to get through “security” is obscenely long, which aids in the development of my hangover.
Screaming and impatient children run around, bumping into me; two women with, it seems, every product sold by MAC plastered on their faces, find it necessary to talk loudly enough so everyone in line has a deep psychological insight into their boring lives; wealthy men traveling on business release their frustrations and broadcast their annoyance at the heightened security with exacerbated sighs. All this activity stimulates a burp, and I liberate the gas from my stomach, a feat that would win contests at some of my favorite bars downtown. At that moment, the Mary-Kay mothers grab their children and express their disapproval with disgusted looks. The people around me back away, and I finally find respite from the mayhem.
At the security checkpoint, the U.S. Marshall gives me a dirty look as I set off the alarm. It’s the pin in my right hip, I tell them, as a calm and disinterested security guard in a grey polyester suit runs the wand over my body. After I’ve emptied the loose change and my keys out of my pockets and the guard makes a few more passes over my leg, they let me continue to the gate. Nam, I announce, glancing sideways at the Marshall, subtext F-bomb You, as I push on towards my flight, cutting it close again.
I’m always almost missing flights. It gives me a kind of high, an adrenaline rush to arrive at the gate as the fat woman in her airline-issued polyester navy blue uniform makes the final call for boarding passengers. I’ve grown accustomed to the rolled eyes, the annoyed and arrogant tone that reminds me that I’m supposed to be at the gate at least 30 minutes prior to take-off, and I’m lucky the flight wasn’t sold out or they’d have had the right to give my seat away. I smile, nod, and think, Well, with the way airlines treat passengers now, no one wants to fly, anyway, you stupid bitch. You should be happy to have my business. But even that much thought brings me to the verge of an aneurysm, so I opt to give my brain a rest and coast. She asks for ID, and I give her my passport, worn and frayed and soft and slightly curved from years of slipping it in and out of my back pocket at moments like this. She taps her pudgy fingers – fake nails painted a frosty pink laced and cheap jewelry from Service Merchandise on the computer keys, and in a moment her stern face softens, even smiles. She starts to kiss my ass because she realizes I’m seated in 2A, first class, not like some common cattle herded into the cramped seats of rows 7 – 45. Those people deserve the bashing. I’m spared her wrath because I’ve paid an astronomical fare for the courtesy of a smile. That was a close call, but we sure are glad you made it in time, Mr. Blah Blah. They’re expecting you on board. Have a nice flight. I take my boarding pass from her, toss her a knowing smile, wink at her just to rub it in a little more, and leave her to her misery, carrying mine with me.
Down the jetway, onto the plane, more annoyed stares from the blue-suited sky waitresses. I pause, to the horror of everyone seated up front, and stuff my puke green army issued duffle bag into the compartment above my head. The gay man in charge of bringing me things quickly transforms from annoyed to stunned and finally to composed after I show him my boarding pass. I climb over the woman in 2C, plop into my extra large leather seat and immediately request a vodka and OJ, because the only known cure for a hangover is to get drunk again.
I must smell awful because the woman sitting next to me keeps holding her perfumed wrist over her mouth and nose. She offers me a tight-lipped smile, commonly reserved for a cute joke, a polite introduction, or an awkward moment – such as when a hungover, long-haired man reeking of stale alcohol and tobacco sits in the previously unoccupied seat next to her. Her? White, attractive, thin, khaki pants, blue blazer, Mallorca pearls, Ferragamo flats, diamond earrings, tennis bracelet, two-toned Rolex. She is supposed to be sitting in first class. Me? Second-hand Levi’s, second-hand plaid shirt, beat-up black Puma sneakers, Timex, unshaven face, unwashed hair tied back with a girl’s ponytail holder. I belong under the rock I climbed out of.
It’s cool. I let her hate me while she smiles. I allow her to feel her contempt as she pretends to accept me. I ride the pipeline of this moment until her judgment is confirmed, her opinion justified, her elite superiority glorified. I drink this vodka straight, shoot it back, forget the OJ. I let it sit in my decaying stomach for a moment until it marinates the slice of pepperoni I ate at four o’clock this morning, until the motion of the plane causes the bile in my stomach to churn and burn and expand and bloat until I get that wave that washes over me – begins slowly in my stomach, hot, filling all of me until it moves its way up my esophagus, slowly, slowly, until I get dizzy and my head turns itself to the right and I explode all over her – chunks of pizza, the shot of vodka, bile, saliva. All over her clothes she just picked up yesterday from the cleaners. All over her perfectly manicured nails. All over her soft, tan skin just back from two weeks in the Caribbean. She screams, You IDIOT! What is your problem? A question that simply hangs in the air because she will never get the answer she seeks. But I finally find relief, settle back in my seat, and pass out. And that pisses her off even more.