I’ve always found travel on a plane romantic, sexy even. There’s that whole idea that you can be anyone, going anywhere. But after four-and-a-half hours at J.F.K., surrounded by travelers desperate for home, I realize that desperation is far from sexy.
“Whiskey, I need some whiskey,” my aisle mate is saying as, at last, I take a seat in 27F. I’m not the only one tired. He’s dressed like he’s going to Vegas, in black slacks and a bold dress shirt. I suddenly feel underdressed in my Angeleno leather flip flops and cardigan. His steel-blue eyes look me over: “How old are you?”
“Twenty-three,” I blush.
“Good, then I can buy you a drink.” He flashes a white smile.
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Next to us, the big lady with the crispy tan clucks. Above her, a businessman attempts to shove his roller in our aisle’s overhead compartment but there’s something in the bin blocking his progress.
“Ma, you want to move your pocketbook?” the whiskey man asks. His voice is New Jersey–loud like he’s related to Tony Soprano. His tanned mother shakes her head defiantly; The rainbow-rhinestone palm trees on her oversized T-shirt shine. “Why they gotta mess with my properties?” the mother asks.
Defeated, the passenger with the beefy bag moves on and the whiskey man grins at me as if to say, “Mothers.” He introduces himself as Daniel from New Jersey. I tell him I’m headed back to L.A.’s ocean waves and tacos after a New York getaway. He immediately invites me to stay at his house next time I go East. He wants to take me to Little Italy.
“You can tell your friends you’re going to stay with Danny the clown.”
“You’re a clown?”
“Oh, yeah, have been for years.” He owns his own dunk tank, where he sits and heckles people on the boardwalk. I decide I like him. He explains that his real job is a fireman; it’s then I decide to let him buy me a drink.
“Do people tell you you look like John Travolta?” I ask. He looks like a shorter, silver-haired Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever, he even has the chin dimple.
“Happens every day! Except I’m a better dancer. Ma, tell her how good a dancer I am!” His mom nods her head nonchalantly.
“Where’s the whiskey?” he cries out. “Whiskey, I need some whiskey, ” he repeats as the blonde flight attendant with the good hair walks by. She promises with a wink that it’s on the way.
His mom tuts, shifting in her green stretch pants.
“I swear I’m not an alcoholic. Do you think I’m an alcoholic?” he asks me.
“You’re on vacation,” I shrug, “it’s good to celebrate.”
He’s antsy now, looking up and down the aisle. To reassure him, I tell him we should just pretend we’re on our honeymoon. He lights up.
“Ma, meet my new wife, Sophia.” He says my name slowly, the way it’s meant to be said.
Finally, the drink cart arrives. When it comes time to pay up for the whiskey and my order of rum and Coke, the blonde flight attendant hands Danny’s money back with a flirtatious arch of her eyebrow. Normally, I feel a sisterhood with other blonds — blond bonding — but I don’t like this one.
“I’ve got to make you a flower. I can make the most beautiful flower with a straw,” Danny says. Damn, he is a clown. No one on United has the big straws he’s looking for so Danny makes do with a napkin and fashions a pretty little rose, sixth-grade style, out of the white material.
We toast our five-hour marriage and I suck down my rum and Coke.
“Ma, look! I’ve finally found someone that can keep up with me,” Danny near-hollers. His mom looks over at me with a bored gaze.
“Where in L.A. are you staying?” I slow down with the drink.
“Ma, where’s Aunt Phyl’s house?”
His mother grumbles something. “Mission Viejo,” he answers. “I love traveling. Love it. I always travel by myself. Always. I’ve been to Italy, Greece, Spain ... ”
“You must meet so many people.” I think about the blondie attendant and imagine him with a girl dangling on his arm in each country.
“Yeah, but women always think I’m gay,” he says. I nearly choke on my rum. “It’s true, you can ask my mother. It’s because I cook, I keep my house clean — I mean, you could eat off the floors, they’re so clean. And I’m a really good decorator ... every room in my house is in pastels.” He says “pastels” softly as he plucks up the SkyMall catalog.
“Pick out a nice ring for me,” I nudge.
I sift through The New Yorker, tired from the booze but too amped by my new hubby to actually fall asleep. The urgency that Danny had with the whiskey seems to have been replaced with an urgency to check up on me. That, or the two extra whiskey minibottles that the flight attendant slipped him are starting to take effect. I feel him constantly looking over in my direction. When I make eye contact, he says, “Hon-ey.” Then we go back to our magazines.
Horton Hears a Who comes on. My new honey has already seen it, he “loves the movies,” but he still watches, pointing and laughing at the bumbling Horton. I picture myself then as his real wife, watching a boat-sized television as we cuddle up on last season’s terracotta-colored couch, laughing at sitcoms made for middle-schoolers.
I drift to sleep moments later. When I wake, after what seems like hours, he’s looking right at me like I’m a handle of his favorite whiskey. His eyes are all moony.
“You know, if we had children, they’d have blue eyes,” he says. I respond as any other 20something California girl would: I giggle.
The blondie flight attendant has given Danny, along with extra minibottles of Johnny Walker, a huge water bottle. She swings by, a napkin rose tucked in her lapel, pausing when she comes close to our aisle.
“See over there, that’s my husband.” She points out Danny to her co-worker. “We’re on our honeymoon.”
I look at my plane hubby. “It’s only been two-and-a-half hours and you’re already cheating on me?”
His voice lowers. “Puh-leeze,” he says and then nods toward the attendant, “did ya see the size of that rock on her finger?”
I smile at my in-flight husband, knowing our relationship is secure at least until landing time.
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