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