Honeymoon turbulence

For really getting to know someone, there's nothing like a 10-hour flight where everything that can go wrong, does..

Published March 31, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

"When did the bossy boys seize control of U.S. carriers?" I ask my husband at the start of our flight. The flight attendant stands at the front of the steerage class section, hands on hips, and shouts, "People, we're not going anywhere until you take your seats." He then brushes by a pregnant woman holding an infant and a diaper bag, struggling to put one of them in the overhead bin. "Suck it in, honey," he says as he wiggles his way past her.

"I know I'm going to be suicidal by the end of this," I mutter.

"Calm down," my new husband, Chris, says. "It's not that bad."

We are en route to our honeymoon. No, wait. What's more ghastly is that I guess we are now officially on our honeymoon. And if we're on our honeymoon, shouldn't things be a lot more romantic?

I daresay that anyone who has flown more than a handful of times has probably been on a flight like the one that took us to our honeymoon destination -- a flight where everything goes wrong. A flight where you almost want the plane to crash in order to end the misery. Maybe you were one of my seatmates. Or maybe you were the guy in front of me, the one who somehow managed to recline his seat during takeoff without getting caught, the one who kept it reclined for the entire 10-hour flight. The one who got up looking rested -- which is surprising, given the volume of your snoring -- and ready to meet the challenges of the day.

"No, I mean it," I say. "What's that Dorothy Parker poem I love? The one about all the different ways to kill yourself. It starts out with razors -- 'Razors pain you. Rivers are damp. Acids stain you' -- I forget what's next."

"Airline seats cause cramp," Chris says.

"No, drugs cause cramp," I say. "Do you have any drugs, by chance?"

"Oh, sure. I've got a bag of heroin duct-taped to my belly," Chris says.

Sarcasm is never a good thing on a honeymoon, especially when it occurs at the start of a 10-hour flight.

If you want to get to know someone -- really know them -- you simply must fly together. Never mind dating. Time spent thigh-to-thigh in a dark movie theater isn't going to reveal the nitty-gritty about a person. Nor will breaking some naan together in that adorable Indian restaurant around the corner from his apartment. Nor will meeting each other's families when everyone is on their best Cleaver family behavior.

In fact, I think the government should do away with marriage licenses and blood tests. Henceforth, all people intending to trot down the aisle together should be required to first stagger down a jetway, bent under the weight of their carry-on items. If they still want to get married when the flight is over -- if they've become allies, rather than turning on each other like a couple of frenzied dingoes snarling over possession of a sheep's head, then OK. They can do it. They can get married.

Having recently lived in Asia (and I don't like to brag, but I've also seen "Seven Years in Tibet" twice), I try, as much as possible, to live in the moment. But minutes into this flight, I realize that -- Dalai Lama be damned -- getting out of the moment, ignoring the moment, is key to survival.

I decide to block out the presence of all human life other than Chris. I pretend that the head of the guy seated in front of me, the head now in my lap, is a cute furry animal that I love very much. I smile at the young couple next to me when I notice they have lowered their tray tables and placed their infant son on them. I elbow Chris as they undress the baby and whisk off his diaper. I feign fascination in my book while the baby and all of his baby parts lay on the little tray table, exposed for all to see. (Just what is one to do in such a situation? Say something like, "My, what a well-hung little boy you've got there!")

Then something -- a water mark, thin but undeniably there -- rat-a-tat-tats its way across the pages of my book, ending with a firm, steady stream as it finds my hand. "Whoops," the baby's father says. "Sorry about that. Is that your first golden shower?"

"Oh boy. I guess my wedding ring is christened now," I chuckle. I wonder if the baby's parents would be offended if I get up to wash my hands. Then I wonder how I have become the kind of person who worries about the feelings of people who seem unconcerned when their progeny pisses on you, an unsuspecting stranger.

"Chris," I say, "let me out." Chris is laughing so hard he is unable to lift his legs to let me out of my seat. I put my dry hand on his head and fight my way past. I make it to the aisle, and look to see where the restrooms are. But the queen of the skies is a mere six feet away, and in front of him is the most unwieldy transport device known to man: the airline food cart. I look at him, he looks at me, and then he says, "Look out, sweetheart, or I'm going to rrrrun you over."

"Can I get by you?" I ask.

"Honey, you're a big girl," he says. "Can't you hold it?"

I wipe my hand on my jeans and sit back down. I suppose it's only right that the passing out of peanuts and four ounces of soda takes precedence over one passenger's squeamish need to get baby pee off her hand.

While waiting for my book to dry, I try to sleep on Chris' shoulder. Being a bride, committing oneself to loving, honoring and cherishing another, giving up a single life well lived is a traumatic, tiring business. I haven't slept well in days. I bury my face in Chris' shoulder. "God, I never realized your shoulder was so bony," I say.

"Listen, baby. Don't pick on me," my beloved says. Then he bends over and extracts something from his backpack. It's a bottle of brandy. My favorite, Calvados.

"Happy honeymoon, girl," he says.

"I knew I married you for a reason," I say.

"Might as well live it up," Chris says as he fills our plastic cups.

"That's the last line of the poem." I say. "You might as well live."

"Good, my sweet wife," Chris says, draining his glass. "Try to keep
that in mind."

"Razors pain you. Rivers are damp. Acids stain you. Drugs cause cramp. Guns aren't lawful. Nooses give," I say.

Chris lifts his shoulder twice in invitation and says, "Why don't you try and sleep."

And -- all praise unto brandy -- I do sleep. For 20 minutes. Then I wake up because the baby is crying. I must here insert the predictable disclaimer that I don't dislike children. But there's a difference between understanding that it's almost inevitable that a baby is going to cry on a long flight and staying cheerful while it's happening. I'm about to offer the baby some Calvados when the little fellow's parents get him settled yet again. We hold our collective breaths while the baby drifts off. I'm so happy -- for the parents, for the baby and for the possibility of quiet.

Our little row sleeps for a while; I know the baby's father is asleep, too, because his head falls on my shoulder. I dream that I'm being forced to walk up and down in a badly lit mall. The only song playing is "What If God Was One of Us." Singing along is a gang of teenage girls who are looking in store windows at striped sweaters and tiny corduroy miniskirts, the same kind I wore in 1974. (Get your own generation!) I move along in the mall. The smell of the guava-scented bath products coming out of the Body Shop is making me dizzy. I'm about to kick the guy whose job it is to stand in the doorway of Banana Republic, greeting everyone ("Hey, how you doin' today?"), when I wake up, having been kicked by the baby.

"I'm sorry," the baby's dad says. And I'm able to say, "Really, I understand," because by now I do. I feel for the parents. Not the baby; I'm not so fond of the baby. But I really do feel for the parents.

I put on the headset and try to become engrossed in the movie. It's yet another National Lampoon vacation movie starring Chevy Chase. Is Chevy Chase on the Elvis diet or what? Why is his face so swollen? Has he been flying recently? I myself am bloating even as we make our way to our destination, the place where I am supposed to slip into the black lingerie that fit me a mere three hours ago. Is it the peanuts? The cabin pressure? My ankles have disappeared to the point where my legs look like my Polish grandmother's.

The crackling of the intercom interrupts the movie. It is our flight attendant: "People, if I could have your attention, please. One of the bathrooms in the rear of the aircraft is out of service. We believe someone tried to flush a" -- and here there is a lengthy pause -- "a paper towel," he says. Then he looks up and down the cabin, as if expecting someone to step forward and confess to the commission of this high crime. As if any of us could spring out of seats after five hours of sitting with cramped limbs. He clicks the mike back on and says, "I repeat, the bathroom in the left rear is out of service." He emphasizes "is" in that way that flight attendants have of emphasizing unlikely words. As if one of us had argued with him and said, "No, it isn't out of service. I just went in there to smoke a cigarette and everything flushed beautifully."

The movie resumes, but even that is no longer a pleasant diversion when Wayne Newton's face appears on the screen. Chris, seeing me stiffen, pats my arm and whispers, "It's OK. It's probably just a cameo. He'll be gone soon." But he's wrong. Wayne Newton has a part in this movie. He's got lines to say, more than just "Welcome to Vegas." I take off the earphones and shut my eyes, but there's Wayne, in my head. He's singing, "I want some red roses for a blue lady."

Going to sleep is now out of the question. We are sitting in the rear of the aircraft, and the line of bedraggled passengers waiting to use the single working bathroom on our side of the aircraft resembles a wartime queue for butter. I amuse myself by noting that, when approaching the last person in line, three out of four people utter the words, "Is this the line?"

I finally nod off, snapping my head this way and that as I doze, not waking up until I hear the flight attendant say, "Excuse me! Wake up, honey! Chicken or beef?"

"Chicken, please."

"OK." There is a pause while the chicken is searched out. Then he says, "Oops, we're out of chicken. Beef OK?"

And I think to myself, Beef? Beef? Yes, beef would be just fine. Give me a great big hunk of something, anything to gnaw on for a while. I'm being treated like a dog, might as well throw me a big old bone and then hustle back to that little curtained-off area where you've hung out for most of this flight and eat the chicken -- the one you saved for yourself -- while I wrestle with the gristle on the damned beef.

"Beef's fine," is what I actually say.

By the end of the flight, we've finished the brandy, and I've got the poem down:

Razors pain you;

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren't lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful;

You might as well live.

And I might add, Calvados kills -- but way too slowly.

By Rosemary Berkeley

Rosemary Berkeley is a freelance writer.

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