I fly a lot for business—sales. I fly so much it feels like commuting. The flight attendants all know me by first name. They know my wife’s name, our kids’ names, the dog’s name. Well, the now dead dog. A few months ago when somehow the dog came up in conversation with one of the usual attendants, she burst into tears. Later, one of the other attendants said the woman’s mother had died the previous week and that she hadn’t gotten to the funeral because of a plane malfunction in Salt Lake City. I commiserated as I once was stuck in Utah after a skiing vacation and had to spend an overnight in Salt Lake City’s airport with my family. My wife was the cheap one that time, not wanting to spend a couple of hundred on a hotel room. I didn’t really mind sleeping on the floor with the kids. We pretended it was like camping, even though or maybe especially because we’ve never gone camping as a family.

I’ve almost forgotten my point: In all my trips I’ve seen a few celebrities. Mel Gibson—sipping champagne in first class. William Shatner in an exit row—I thought he might have a phobia of flying since he looked tense. Gillian Anderson—shorter than I expected, though I didn’t hesitate in pushing someone out of the way to help her get an overhead bag.

The oddest experience I had was with someone I could have sworn was the novelist Joyce Carol Oates. My wife’s read almost all of her books and even made me read the one about a teenager getting raped and her family falling apart because they try to cover it up. According to my wife there are a lot rape novels by Oates. One was enough for me. But I recognized her sitting next to me, and when I tried to say something about her books, she just glared at me and said, “What are you talking about?”

I said, “Aren’t you Joyce Carol Oates?”

“I don’t know who that is,” she said. But then she smiled widely, and so I thought she was playing with me.

I said, “Well, she’s this writer who writes a new book about every three months. She’s…well…” I then started to feel badly that I’d made a mistake and said something flattering about Oates’ looks, even though Oates’ photos on her books kind of give me the heebeejeebees.

I don’t remember exactly what happened next except that we both went silent. I retreated to my headphones and tried to take a nap, and I believe she was reading a paperback. At least until we hit the turbulence. That rock the plane back-and-forth stuff. I’m immune to it, but I couldn’t really sleep through it either. The Joyce-Carol-Oates look-alike, however, was terrified. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her hands on the armrests, her book held tightly between her legs. After a few minutes we seemed to hit clear air, but then suddenly another jolt and she grabbed my arm, let go, and then grabbed it again when we hit more rough air. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I don’t like this.”

I’m not sure why I said what I did next, but God will probably figure out the karma later. I said, “It’s punishment.”

“For what?” she said, as if all of us had done something terribly wrong.

“Joyce,” I said, “you shouldn’t have lied about who you really are.”

She smiled through her fear. “You’re a real son of a bitch, you know that?”

“Joe Sonufabitch, yes," I said, "nice to meet you.” And then I pulled her arm off of mine.




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