By today’s beauty standards my latest GF was an oil tanker. A beauty without grace, a hook without the bait, that thought Dom Perignon was a Mafia leader. The worst thing about her was when she wasn’t drunk she was sober, and our sexual life start looking as shooting at sitting ducks. You know, I think sex is nice; no person should be without it. Of course, there are other things that are just as important as sex, like uh . . . like . . . uh . . . well, I’ll think of it later. So, one evening I sat Beauty on my knees, and I found her bitter, so I told her I got a business in South Africa. A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking, and better laid than never.
So there I was, in a substandard Ford Siesta taxi on my way to the airport, trying to put myself in the right mindset of a travel expert, the Chicano driver being the first test, “Que pasa Gringo, flying too far?” he asked. “Well, going to Cape Town.” I started to explain the length of the flight when he said, “’ Mira puto, I’m not trying to make you look stupid, but Cape Town is in Massachusetts”. Smile and be pleasant, “Cape Cod is in Massachusetts, Cape Town is in Africa.” Immutable, “Ahh bueno cabron. Sarah Palin has to be African: she has a job and her husband don’t work. She’s gonna be a grandma, and has an infant —she’s African. Hey chica you looked muy caliente today!” to a teen on the sidewalk… Heading to the airport was definitely an adventure!
The terminal was filled with terminally drunken businessmen and sleep-deprived families stretching their legs and shrinking their minds as they count down the hours till boarding time. Isn’t significant that the place where you have to take off or land is called “terminal”? I think world is divided into two kinds of people: normal, intelligent, sensitive people with some breadth of imagination, and people who aren’t the least bit afraid of flying. You know, I don’t have a fear of heights. I do, however, have a fear of falling from heights. On other hand —I tried to convince myself— if Charles Lindbergh, flying with no instruments other than a bologna sandwich, managed to cross the Atlantic and land safely on a runway completely covered with French people, I should make it.
When I arrived to the Always Awful (AA) check-in desk, I asked the lady to book one bag to Helsinki, one to Athens, and one to Seoul. She told me, “That’s not possible.” “Why not? Last month you sent one to Abidjan, one to Berlin, and one to Moscow. Now they would like to visit different destinations.” You know, ironic musings are essential to mental well-being —apparently she didn’t get it. That’s another thing they don’t like at the airport: jokes. The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage. Airlines are so fuck up that you need to fly Air Force One not to lose the luggage. I asked for a seat in the back row of the airplane, not for security reasons. There are only two reasons to sit in the back row of an airplane: Either you have diarrhea, or you’re anxious to meet people who do. I always get diarrhea in the planes.
My joke resulted in a SSSS boarding pass. The Muslim behind me got free of the “randomly” selected for secondary screening. That sucks! I went through a separate security line, diverted there by the “look at your passport” person, which was actually a feature since I got whisked to the front. Then I stood in the middle of a big open space and went through the enhanced TSA pat down that brought back tearful memories of growing up a choirboy. I had more thorough searches post x-ray —and I was told to hand over my face lotion and my disposable lighter, to prevent, I suppose, any threat of “Do what I say or I’ll light this Camel and you’ll all die —in thirty years due to inhalation of secondhand smoke.” I asked the TSA guy, “If you find explosive my underpants, may I keep them?” He said, “Shut up!” Then he asked me the reason of my trip to South Africa. “I’m going to the dentist” I said. “Don’t we have dentists in the States?” “Of course we do, but we are not allowed to open the mouth.” A bit disjointed he then asked me if someone helped to pack and if the luggage has been with me all time? Would someone be stupid enough to answer, “I was helped by my new neighbor from Colombia, and while waiting for the taxi I left them with the Iranian of the press kiosk?” I said, “yes, and yes.” “Move on!”
Last month was worse. The sweet little stewardess came out and went, “Ladies and Gentlemen, before we board the flight we are just going to do a few “random” bag checks. These are totally random. I’m just going to read off a few names. Hassan bin Seen, Akin bin Led, Havin bin Fooked, Judy Smith …” 14 Arabs and a blonde. Every Black man and every Hispanic man in the room was going … “Thank you Jesus!”
The flight was delayed because “Reasons beyond the company.” Broken plane. The Russians will never be able to get their missiles thought the dense protective layer of delayed flights circling over the United States in complex, puke-inducing holding patterns. Finally we got on before we got on. Pre-boarding they call it. “First, passengers traveling with small children.” Well, what about those passengers traveling with large children? Suppose you have a two-year-old with a pituitary disorder? You know, a six-foot infant with an oversized head. The kinda kid you see in the National Enquirer all the time. Actually, with a kid like that I think you’re better off checking him right in with your luggage at the curb, don’t you?
Finally I boarded the plane. I was hungry to leave behind the care of vigilant minders who wanted me saved from myself. I feel about airplanes the way I feel about diets. It seems they are wonderful things for other people to go on. Hope my luggage hadn’t gone to that big Bermuda Triangle in the sky. The captain mentioned that it was a nonstop flight. Well, from New Your to Cape Town, call me old fashioned, but I insist that my flight non stop. At least till we reach an airport.
I was in my way to my own misadventure, flying hours and hours of boredom sprinkled with a few seconds of sheer terror —a powerful jolt and an abrupt change in acceleration that caused the airplane to plummet more than a pilot would like. I thought I was going to stop sinning suddenly. I was Catholic until I reached the age of reason, so I was going to be a dead atheist who was all dressed up with no place to go. The woman next to me gripped my arm. I guess she thought I could fly. Just as in nearly every other delicate situation in my life, I began to laugh. Then the fodder came. Some of the best fiction writers got their start writing airline menus. Some more flying hours and hours of boredom until we landed without mayor problems.
A woman had an issue at immigration, her stay required a visa, “Look, I’ve been to South Africa four times and every time they have accepted my American Express!” I got my ass as fast as possible out of the airport. I was prepared for anything, you name it. Human flesh? Make mine rare. Cup of blood? Pour me a double. The heat hit me out of the airport so, as night follows day, thirst follows heat. I only drink to make other people seem more interesting, but I distrust camels, and anyone else who can go a week without a drink. My God! When it’s 90 degrees in the shade and humid to boot, the thought of unchilled beer is almost as bad as no beer at all. I kept walking, until almost hidden in the leafy folds of a giant banyan tree, and there on a bank I found a watering hole.
It was really little more than a wooden deck, about ten by twenty feet, covered with thatch and tin, but set within the boughs of the fig tree. A treehouse! The shady limbs of the great tree held the little hut in a cool, dark embrace, giving protection from the midday sun while still affording a delicious view of the placid sea.
I heard the friendly sizzle of food frying in good oil; that inviting sound that beckons travelers and laborers anywhere. And I heard the clink of ice and the pop of bottle tops. I stepped off the bank and went inside. “Mistah. Welcome, Mistah,” a Madiba shirt-clad woman greeted me. “You drink bia, Mistah?” “You bet!” I said, and took a seat at one of the low tables near the far railing so as to have the best view of the ocean.
The lady served me a cold one, and it foamed down my throat in icy relief. I slowly sipped the second one, and as I did I noticed a girl of about eighteen sitting across the deck and engaged in some household activity that looked like it might be stringing beans, and so I assumed it was. I smiled at her and she grinned in return. Obviously she wasn’t going to be Snow White, but she was as well shaped as a good horse. We exchanged numerous smiles until she finally gathered up her work, brought it over to sit beside me, and resumed her labor. I’m telling you that at eight she knew more about reproduction than Xerox…
When I was young I used to read about the decline of Western civilization, and I decided it was something I would like to make a contribution to. All of which goes to prove the old adage, “You can’t keep a Good Crook Down…”
The bizarre tourist – Dugutigui (Photography by Alain Paris)