22 Hours of Steerage: Hours 2 thru 10

Seat 12 B.  I am situated somewhere between business class and full blown steerage with its rows upon rows of coughing, sniffling, wheezing unfortunates.  In front of me is a divider separating me from the privileged, behind me is a food prep station saving me from the plague.  My mother, God bless her, picked the seat for me.  And I am happy with my little area, my little piece of this plane.  Instead of 150 people surrounding me, I’ve only got to deal with about 28.

Still, I am tortuously close to the business folk; just a stone’s throw away from a more pleasant experience.  I watch a man flipping through his in-flight menu, sipping a glass of orange juice.  Later I will have to watch him actually eat each delicious course.  Hot fudge sundae?  How nice.

The pilots introduce themselves on the radio.  My plane will be flown by John Cheverhorn and James Hart.  I love America.  No muss, no fuss.  Just a Texan accent and a lack of prose.  As much as I love traveling to distant and strange lands, there’s nothing better than coming home.  The plane begins to make its way down the tarmac, gradually speeding up until the rain batters against the window like a car wash.  And we’re off.  Ciao, Italy.  Hello, purgatory.

The clouds that sent me into my usual case of premature death paranoia proved to offer little along the lines of violent bumps.  It was actually quite smooth.  We reached cruising altitude without any real gut wrenching fan fair.  The flight attendants began their journey with the beverage cart.  Meanwhile, my buddy in business class is on his second course, the clinking of his real silverware distracting me from my writing.  He is watching CSI on his personal television and his gray comforter covers his legs.  Monsters vs. Aliens begins to roll on the community television located closest to my right eyeball.  I’d complain but 27 Dresses is coming up next and I sense that’s going to be infinitely worse.

My blonde flight attendant with large round nostrils and pink lipstick asks if I would like cheese tortellini or beef with rice.  Bugger.  I stare longingly at the vegetarian plate served to the girl across my isle: couscous and other indiscernible items.  Another word of advice from my mother has always been “Order the vegetarian plate.  It’s much less foul.”  Again, I regret not heeding her words.  “Beef and rice, please.”

My tray fits neatly between my torso and the seat back in front of me, allowing me enough room to bend my elbows to shovel food in my mouth but not enough to make a mess on my leggings.  The salad appears to be dehydrated astronaut food, although if it were I am sure it would have been marketed to me as such.  The radish looks like something that fell on my kitchen floor during a dinner party that I’ll sweep up 7 days after the fact.  I open the plastic seal that has “Beef Strogganoff” printed on it by a computer.  I appreciate that the flight attendants didn’t try to over hype it.  “Beef and Rice” really sets the mood for reality, leaving no one with heightened expectations.

Beefy soupy mess on the right, rice on the left, and overcooked carrots and one broccoli floret disintegrated in between.  I accidentally eat a piece of beef hidden under the soft orange stub that once was a vegetable.  Given that I only have two more carrots to go before I’m done with what I want to eat of this meal, the mistake does not have the opportunity to be repeated again.  My dry brownie, sad salad, Jacob’s Table Crackers, a plastic wrapped white roll, and my Kerrygold Original Irische Butter pat go untouched.  I pull out my wheat Italian breadsticks fortuitously stashed in my carry-on and proceed to dip them into the 20 grams of Laughing Cow cheese provided.  This ample meal lasts all of 31 seconds.

Pink Lipstick comes around again.  She takes away my tray, surely assuming I have an eating disorder.  “Anything else to drink for you madam?”  It makes me feel comfortable, more comfortable than I ever did in First Class.  Having a perfect stranger asking me by last name if I wanted hot fudge and berries on my sundae seemed awkward.  Having a perfect stranger call me madam thirty years before I ever want to be called madam is more on my wavelength.  I hope this doesn’t mean I have low self esteem.  She serves me a cup of coffee with two containers of Millac Maid “Tastes Like Fresh Milk” milk, which might be the liquid equivalent of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.”

The people nearest me are quiet as mice and no one is coughing leaving me to think I might actually not be sick for two weeks when I get home.  My Mullet Man doesn’t get up the entire time, not even to use the restroom and he says things like “Cranberry Yoos.”  When we land I will see him cross himself.  I sense he was perhaps more nervous than myself about this plummeting to your death business.  I find him endearing but I never tell him so.

In front of me is a woman so large that she requires a sort of self-propelled launch into her window seat.  She pulls her legs up onto the aisle seat with her arms pulling on the seatbacks, then slowly swings her nearly obese body in tangerine capri pants above the chairs where I imagine there is more space for her thighs to navigate the trip.  Then she slowly lowers herself into chair 11 A.  The act brings to mind gorillas in the wilderness, forklifts at Coscto, and Olympic balance beams.

The hours pass by excruciatingly slow.  Dehydration kicks in and I go to scavenge the food galley.  There are others on the hunt: short, muscular Italians with tight Football t-shirts on and their arms crossed.  The flight attendants are no where in sight and I sense they don’t mind that we’re raiding the air pantry.  Seeing as my “Help” light has been lit for the last 45 minutes to solve the problem of my Italian language customs form, the flight attendants are on auto-pilot at this point.  I steal four more packs of Laughing Cow and a cup of water and sit down.

Things get desperate and I treat myself to a reality show Hola Mundos: The Hookup.  The premise involves Frankie J the singer/producer helping out this nobody named Ivan who wants to be a professional singer.  It’s like social charity, I don’t know.  Ivan is in the studio being lectured by Frankie about the lack of soul he is putting into the lyrics “I can’t believe you ended this relationship.”  Frankie implores Ivan to think about the first girl who ever broke his heart and then sing from that place.  Acting, if you will.  Yet Ivan still struggles.  Cut to Ivan outside talking about the interaction: his voice is high pitched and effeminate.  I surmise that Frankie’s advice wasn’t sticking because – shot in the dark here – Ivan likes boys?

The show continues with Frankie J advising further with sayings like “Stay firm” and “…come out naturally” which I think was the editor’s twisted sense of humor and Frankie’s ignorance of double entendre.  Ivan closes the show saying that he’s got Frankie’s contact information and hopes they stay in touch.  This is emphasized with the snappy closing of his Transformers-esq T-Mobile Sidekick circa 2001.

Frankie then sings a song in accordance with the rules of celebrity and self promotion.  His voice is smooth and R&B.  He sings the type of songs I used to listen to in the 7th grade when my hormones raged and all I wanted to do was to slow dance with Chad Calvert to “All My Life” at birthday parties.  The resurfacing of this memory is the only redeemable aspect of this mindless abomination of a television experience.

And next we have…Millionaire Matchmaker!

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