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Kat Meads

CiCi Gets Drunker on Airplanes


Which begs the question why. Unrelieved tedium, leg cramp, toe swell, ear pop and crackle? Contributing factors, but not the gut of the thing.

A young professional with enough legitimate accomplishments to fill a résumé, CiCi is. Neither now nor ever a certified party gal. An intern at accounting firms and charitable foundations before absolutely having to enter the world of commerce. A productive citizen yet to default on any loan or cheat on any of the men she serially dates/beds. A woman who does not automatically prefer male company come the weekend, but a female who would prefer every now and again to skip her monthlies simply to escape the buildup prior to gush.

Buildup is a significant factor in CiCi's airport/airplane experience. Even to flash her boarding pass two steps shy of the jetway suckhole, she must resort to desensitizing visualizations and other calming measures. If she neglects to do so, she will instantly sweat up the lace of her bra and through any number of clothing layers situated between flesh and air. Then she will begin to cough, then to gasp, then to choke, as if strangling. Such a sequence was proved, then confirmed, by the twice she attempted to "tough it out."

For an associate partner in a nouveau consulting firm, air travel is a salary imperative. Over the past six months, CiCi has repeatedly flown to Dallas and so far, to her amazement, managed to negotiate the madness that is DFW. Attempting to return home, last trip, she sat stranded for hours on a Texas runway as lightning flashed and silvered up an ominous sky. Her seatmate on that homebound journey passed his wait consuming bag after bag of peanuts and, in consequence, farted up his own storm. Chicago is another regular on CiCi's itinerary (usually visited during the blizzard season), as is fog-bound Boston, a destination she has yet to reach without prolonged circling or to depart from without multiple delays. Bad weather, chaos and inconvenience notwithstanding, to get to and from job sites, CiCi must buckle up in the pressurized cabin of a winged machine and speedball across the continent at 575 miles per hour, cruising altitude: 35,000 feet.

Thus, in consequence, CiCi tipples.

She knows (as a result of compulsive research) several nuggets of airplane lore. For instance: the Wright brothers flew their craft at a mere 30 miles per hour, a speed retarded enough to get them killed by a tailgater on any present-day California freeway and, quite possibly, on CiCi's own side street. She knows the air outside the cabin window zips faster over the top of the wing than the bottom. She knows the lift of a wing is proportional to the amount of air diverted times the vertical velocity of that air—the latter tidbit conveyed during an interminable flight to Singapore by a pigeon-shaped man in a gray business suit. "Are you an engineer?" she slurred in response to that confidence, halfway through her third gin and tonic. "Nah," he dismissed with what sounded like pride. "I just read a lot of aeronautical stuff." And indeed such a book lay gaping on his serving tray. She had drunkenly failed to notice.

Since that Singapore flight and its rash of errors in judgment, CiCi has tried to space her drink requests. A harangued/pissed off flight attendant is capable of meting out punishment in a number of ingenious ways. Sluggish service, partial service (tonic but no gin), no service at all. Up there in the clouds, beyond the checks and balances of a competitive marketplace, sky bartenders serve what and when they damn well please and pity the consumer who expects otherwise.

On the ground CiCi is, no discussion, a three-cocktail femme. In the air, by drink three she is hallucinatingly drunk. Not queasy or headachy drunk: separated—mind from body. But oh the charms of those wee liquor bottles! So cute (versus corrupting). So dainty (versus dangerous). To run a thumb around a two-inch Tanqueray label makes CiCi feel like a tea party hostess, a child at play—even at 35,000 feet, 575 miles per hour.

For this fly-away she left the office midmorning, eluding commuter traffic. It's midweek, so she easily snared a spot in long-term parking. The shuttle buses were not packed to overflowing. She was not crushed in transit nor made to linger in a graffitied plexiglas shed an additional 15 minutes for the next circling transport, presumably less stuffed. For an overnight excursion such as this, she makes do with only a carry-on. Ticketed electronically, she avoids a check-in line that coils around three trash containers, buzzes with cell phone chatter and threatens podiatric injury from wheeled luggage. During the flight, she plans to review her meeting notes; however, should she fail in that resolve, she also packed a breezy historical tell-all about English royals that glosses over Tower of London confinements and subsequent executions. In her cups or no, at 35,000 feet, CiCi shuns narratives long on death and suffering.

A cloudless day, excellent flying conditions, as CiCi steps from the jetway's tunnel into the claustrophobic aircraft proper. Sidling past the "welcome aboard!" flight attendant, she sniffs her first blast of stale/frigid/recycled air, rechecks her seat number, steels herself for the crapshoot of flying partners and zeroes in on her (theoretical) seat.

"Excuse me," she says, glaring at the squatter whose tinted glasses, hairstyle and hue come off Sophia Loren-ish, bust and waistline not so much so. Rudeness couched as inquiry CiCi supremely hopes will save progression to the tiresome: "I believe you are in my seat." It does not. Her deep breathing rhythms already severely compromised, CiCi tries once more to engage the attention of Ms. Loren of Flight 563, who appears, behind her tinted glasses, to be staring fixedly ahead, her russet-colored fingernails dug deep into her armrests—a clawing CiCi would have preferred not to notice, overly susceptible to copycat panic.

From the middle seat, a seat she loathes, the seat she was NOT assigned, CiCi struggles to block out the cloying proximity of cabin walls and her own wretched kind while desensitizing herself to departure procedures.

To secure the hatch, the flight attendant must go at it full-body: hands, shoulder, hips. Wham, bam, handle wrench, shudder, click. Those inside now are in for the duration: air sickness, terrorist attack, mechanical malfunction, inadequately stocked beverage cart, the works.

Breathing, breathing, is CiCi as the jetway retracts, the orange batons flail, the behemoth lurches, bye-bye-ing Terminal A, Gate 34B. Drawing air from the very bottom of her diaphragm, CiCi is, giving over her fate to air traffic controllers who may or may not have made a pit stop at CiCi's favorite airport bar en route to their workplace.

Breathing, breathing is CiCi, drawing what comfort she can from all the upcoming tedium she'll be spared should this plane indeed spontaneously combust, scalp a mountain, shed a wing, eject her naked into air, into sea. First up: a three-hour, bells and whistles sales presentation designed to impress, charm, cajole and badger another skittish client into signing on the dotted line. Next: an inedible room service meal. Followed by "Mod Squad" reruns. Followed by wakefulness in a bed big enough to accommodate three strapping he-men.

Breathing deep, breathing deeper, breathing deeply, CiCi assumes she is before Ms. Loren's spiky nails grasp, shove and pin her head at barf-bag level through a fully articulated count of ten.

"You were starting to hyperventilate," says her savior, very likely expecting thanks.

Which CiCi has every intention of extending once she's finished smoothing her bangs and tucking her blouse and resizing her seat belt.

Yet, what pops out, come the moment, well in advance of six gin and tonics, three to the woman, is the unconscionably bathetic: "I hate my life."

In response to which Ms. Loren advises: "So lose it."

Kat Meads is the author of a short fiction collection, Not Waving (Livingston Press) and her second novel, The Invented Life of Kitty Duncan Benedict Roberts Duncan, will be published in 2006

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