I sit in seat 22F, the plane idling on the Tampa runway, my brain idling in my skull. I am assigned 22E, the dreaded middle seat, but a heavyset, elderly woman offers me the window seat so that she can sit beside her husband. I mumble a thank-you.
I'm hung-over and I didn't sleep very well. After I settle into my seat, the woman leans over and whispers in my ear "I like him,” and points at her husband, “better than you anyway." I clutch my heart in mock pain and say ouch. She laughs, a meaty thing, a lifetime of Wednesday night baked zitis and too many Diet Cokes.
I'm flying Continental, or at least that's what it says on my boarding pass, but everything else is telling me United: the terminal, the departure displays, the United magazine in the seat-back pouch, and the constant reminders that if you sign up for "The United MileagePlus Explorer card, you will receive up to 40,000 bonus miles and have access to priority boarding." I find myself partial to the priority boarding. They have their own little line to wait in, complete with a dusty United carpet that covers less than 20 square feet. United's not letting my Economy-seating feet grace their carpets. Anyway, Continental and United must have merged. You'd think I would have read about that somewhere.
The heavyset woman pokes me on the shoulder: "Where are you going?" I tell her I'm going to Hawaii to visit my girlfriend. "You lucky son of a gun." She slaps her voluminous thigh. "Hawaii. Earl, did you hear that? Hawaii." Her husband nods without looking up from his Kindle. I ask her where she is going. "Peru." Direct flight from Houston? "Yes," she says pulling a little book out from her purse. I ask if she's going to see Macchu Picchu, but it's her husband who pipes in, looking up from his Kindle for the first time since taking his seat: "Yes, we will be visiting Machu Picchu." He looks and sounds like an Ivy League professor, tweed suit and golden-rimmed glasses, and a sharp, articulate, lecturing voice. The Incas will love him.
The woman's eyes have widened. "Have you been?" she asks, the words firing out of her mouth. I shake my head. I have not been to Machu Picchu, but I have seen pictures. Her eyes drop and wrinkles stream across her forehead like a thousand intersecting rivers. "Oh," she says, as deflated as a kid at the park when his ball pops.
She opens her little book: it's a Sudoku magazine, the ones you buy at the register from the grocer. She begins fumbling through her purse, and asks her husband if he has a pen. He eyes the Sudoku book, crinkles his nose, and says, "I don't know why you bother with that nonsense." The woman taps her temple with two fingers twice. "Keeps the mind fresh." I pull a pen from my backpack and offer it. "No, thank you." I offer a pencil. She looks at it for a second and shakes her head, continuing to rifle through her purse, pulling out lipsticks and mascaras. I open my backpack pocket, revealing a dozen writing instrument, telling her I have plenty. "No," she says, "I put two in here this morning. I know that they're in here."
She eventually finds one and spends a half hour scribbling numbers into their appropriate squares, and when she makes a mistake, she curses and scratches it out, the pen whisking over the regrettable number like a paintbrush filling in a missed corner. She switches back and forth between Sudoku and a worn paperback before nodding off on her husband's shoulder, her snores piercing through my air-pressure affected ears. Her husband closes his Kindle, places it in the pocket in front of him, shrugs at me, closes his eyes, and goes to sleep.
I dive back into Five Point Something, a novel about college kids rebelling against the norm. The main character, Hari, is finally going to kiss Neha, the girl he has been dating for a year, when his friend stumbles over to them and ruins the moment. I close the book, place it on my lap, and lean my head against the window. It's not quite as comfy as a shoulder.
I'm halfway between LA and Hawaii, more water under the plane than I care to think about. I play Risk on my iPad, conquering Europe the way Hitler never could. I'm the red team, and I just vanquished the yellow and blue armies; now it's just me and the purple team. If you think I'm letting Barney take over the world, then I'm George Clooney.
There's something about watching the world turn red that makes me lick my lips. Watching the red bleed out of Africa and blossom through Asia and Europe. Purple has a stronghold in Australia—reminds me of Newman's Ukrainian stronghold from the classic Seinfeld episode—but I'll shortly sweep through the down-under like a Missouri twister.
They play The Descendants, that new Clooney flick about Hawaii, which seems appropriate since we're flying to Honolulu. It's a good movie. Clooney should have gotten the Oscar. It wasn't quite the performance Up In The Air was, but it was pretty close. Crazy how an actor can pump out quality movie after quality movie when most of the movies in theaters are sequels to movies that weren't any good in the first place. It's like a waiter continuing to bring you poor food that you didn't order in the first place: "The steak was overcooked and smothered with rotten bleu cheese? Here, I'll bring you some more, only this time it'll be in 3D." That's what this world is headed to: 3D steaks. They'll set the glasses right next to the fork. Make sure you recycle them on the way out.
It's ironic though: In the movie Clooney's defending his inheritance from mass commercialization, and here we are, a couple hundred tourists invading the homeland. And speaking of invading, I just demolished Australia. Bow to your leader.
Cory Emerson is from Rockport, Massachusetts. He will graduate from the University of Tampa in May with a B.A. in Writing.