It was a mild Seattle area's Christmas Day in the year 1995, and while this reminiscence begins on Christmas Day, it is not a Christmas story. Good God, no it isn't.
Part IDecember 25, 1996:
My college girlfriend was flying in to spend a couple of weeks with me and my family. Mother Nature contested her arrival with a heavy fog that seemed to descend upon the Sea-Tac airport and the airport alone, delaying her flight by hours and striking me with acute (though only temporary) hypertension.
I barked angrily into the telephone to a Northwest Airlines receptionist that a fog-delay and rerouting a flight to Portland, Oregon, was perfectly reasonable in the event of fog, but from where I looked out the window on that cool but mild Christmas morning, there was no fog to be seen.
"Calm down, sir," she insisted. "It's Christmas after all."
"Yeah, it is Christmas," I shot back, "and you guys don't seem to care that you've sent someone very important to me to the wrong freaking state!"
"Sir, as soon as the fog lifts, we will make arrangements for her prompt arrival. We are sorry for your inconvenience, and--if there's nothing else--a Merry Christmas to you," she stated in a tone that indicated the end of the discussion.
"Yeah, to you too," I replied, though it had all the tone of a "Bah! Humbug!"
While her arrival was indeed delayed, nothing could keep her from my arms. She was, as the saying goes, the only one for me: beautiful, intelligent, patient, kind, responsible, and--after dating for a year--she had yet to seek a restraining order against me.
Yep, it was true love. I was only 19 years old, but I knew that I wanted to marry this girl and build a family. I was pretty sure that she wanted the same, and I was more than willing to assist in the conception of her children. I was 19 years old after all, an age when it is easy for one to imagine the conceiving of children without thought of having to raise them. Hell, I'm 32 now, and my wife's tubes are tied, but I'm still more than willing to...well, never mind.
Now I said that this wasn't a Christmas story, and I meant it. Sure, we spent Christmas Day together--what was left of Christmas Day, that is--, and it was lovely, but It's what happened after Christmas but before New Year's that really gets the ball rolling here, so let's proceed.
We were out and about, taking in the downtown Bellevue scene--you know, window shopping and the like--when we came to a jewelry store.
"You wanna go in and look?" I asked. As if a woman will ever say no to a jewelry store.
"Why not?" she replied rhetorically, as if the answer that "It'll cost me" was inane.
So we went in.
Have you ever really watched a woman in a jewelry store? It's quite revealing. There may be no male equivalent, but if there was one, it would be something like a day in which the Superbowl, World Series, Stanley Cup, NBA Finals, and Swedish Bikini Team Strip Show were all on television simultaneously. It's one, solid 15-30 minutes of, "Ooh, look at that," "Wow, that's beautiful," and "Oh my God, do you see that?"
But for every male who's surfing the channels, there's always that one show that pops up, and it says, "Watch me, baby. Watch me all night long." And about 20 minutes into our Jewelry store jaunt, the female equivalent to a hot double-D mud-wrestling marathon appeared.
It was, of course, an engagement ring; and Lord Almighty it was beautiful--so beautiful, in fact, that even I momentarily stopped thinking about how awesome it would be if there was a hot double-D mud-wrestling marathon on ESPN.
"Look at that one," she said.
"Which one?" I asked, for she was pointing at a ring surrounded by at least a dozen other rings.
"That one," she insisted, "the perfect one"--as if that was a help.
"The one with the square..."
"No, that one! The one with the marquis."
"Three down, two across!"
"Oh, yeah, that one. Wow, it's gorgeous!."
"Can I try it on?" she asked, as if I would say anything other than yes.
"Why not?" I replied, as if I could say anything other than yes.
So she tried it on, and it was a bit tight. She looked a bit dismayed, as if she'd expected to be like Cinderella with the perfectly fitted glass slipper.
She seemed, according to the salesman, to be about one or maybe even just a half-size off.
"Well, then can you measure her?" I asked, hoping that my intentions did not seem too obvious.
"Boot oof course we ken," he replied in a classless faux-French accent that made me think that he might have been born and raised in Queens but forced as a young man to watch Gerard Deperdieu movies.
Sure enough, she was a size too big."But eet eez oof no problam to feex eet" said the salesman, confirming two things in one statement:
1) I was going to buy this ring and propose to her.
2) He was a giant douchbag.
My only problem was the money, so enter mother.
When I told my mother that I planned on proposing to my wife and that I had already found the ring for the occasion, she was elated. When I told her the price of the ring, she was only slightly less elated.
I told her that I would need her help. After all, I was only employed part-time at the college cafeteria and my wages were then well below what is now the federal minimum wage.
"Of course I'll help you, honey," she said (much to my relief). "I'll cosign for the financing, and you can pay me back later." (It goes without saying that, even with all of her faults--and everyone has faults, so don't construe that statement as anything against my mom; I'll put my mom against your mom any day and leave you to weep over how pathetic yours is in comparison--my mom is awesome).
So over the next couple of days we arranged to purchase the ring and have it altered to fit properly--like a glass slipper should.
Part IIJanuary 4, 1996:
I arranged for my mom and dad to be out of the house for the evening. My plan was a romantic dinner for two, candlelit and prepared by yours truly. Whilst we dined, a hefty fire in the living room (about 90 feet from the dining room) would combine with the music such as Ravel's "Bolero" to create just the right ambiance for a marriage proposal.
After dinner, I led her to the living room to sit in front of the fire. With orchestral music from the Romantic period softly playing, I knelt before her and presented her with the ring.
"Jennifer, you are everything that I dared to imagine and more than I imagined to deserve. Will you marry me?" I asked.
The look on her face was that of someone who knows that she should be surprised but isn't at all. Still, she got all flustered and began to fan her face as she said, "Yes, yes, I will marry you."
Actually, that's not exactly what she said.
What she said exactly was "Yes, yes, I will marry you, but..."
Now there are times when I like "buts." In fact, you might say that I like big butts, and I cannot lie...
However, I was somewhat taken aback by this particular "but." I wanted to blurt out, "But what?" but I figured that there was a perfectly reasonable "but" in hand, and that I best just play it smooth--so I let her finish (which is more than she has allowed me ever since!)
"I will marry you," she restated very clearly, "but" (there's that damn word again) "there's a tradition in my family that the suitor asks the father for his daughter's hand. My dad asked my opa, and my opa asked my urgroßvater, and so forth. No matter what, I'm going to marry you; but you should ask my dad for permission before we make it official."
This was a weight off of my shoulders, for her dad was (and still is--especially if he's reading this now) a pretty cool guy. I knew I liked him a lot when he took me golfing for the first time. Throughout the round, he cursed so much that I couldn't help but think that this was a guy with whom I could connect.
"No problem," I assured her.
We then embraced, and this narration will now move forward from this moment because this blog is intended for use of people of all ages...
Part IIIJanuary 6, 1996:
My newly anointed fiance left for Michigan a full day before me, and I spent the day tinkering around but not doing much. That evening, after my mother and father had gone to bed, I sat in my old bedroom with little to do but watch the last 30 minutes or the Tonight Show. I don't remember who the guests were on that date, but they were obviously poor enough that I chose to turn off the television.
However, I wasn't tired, and I didn't feel like playing my Sega Genesis.
Not one bit.
Instead, I began to consider that asking for Jennie's hand in marriage would be, perhaps, the most important speech of my life--therefore, it ought to be good; ergo I ought to plan for it.
So I began to envision my asking. Something like:
"Mr. Zuzga, I love your daughter with all of my heart, and I intend to care for and provide for her every need for as long as I live. All I ask of you, sir, is for your consent to take her hand in marriage."
Whilst I pondered the many ways that I could ask a doting father if he would approve of my marrying his daughter, I began to notice that the room seemed very warm.
Indeed, I was sweating.
I also noticed an uneasiness in my stomach, and this uneasiness grew and matured until the point that I realized that I was about to vomit.
Now my parents house was rather large, and the closest bathroom was a couple dozen yards away, so I ran.
I ran faster that I've ever run before, even in comparison to football tryouts.
I had to run past my sister's door, past the den door, down the hall, make a sharp right, and past two sinks before I was anywhere near the porcelain god.
About five yards before the sharp right turn, I realized that I wasn't going to make it. My dinner was about to come up, and I was a full fifty-feet from the toilet.
Something deep inside allowed me to hold in what could not be held in, and I made the corner to the bathroom.
Knowing that reaching the toilet in time was impossible, I went straight for the first sink.
What came up was not indescribable, but I will forego description for your sake. All I'll say is that at that moment I learned that I need to chew my food better before swallowing.
It was awful. I felt my stomach clench, my bowels nearly (but thankfully not) give out, and I collapsed on the floor in a sweat.
The sound of my retching woke my mother up, and I could hear her a room away as she frantically put on her robe while asking, "What happened?"
"I just puked," I admitted pathetically.
"Have you been drinking?" she asked--making me feel even worse, as though my mother just assumed that I was a young, troubled drunk.
"No," I asserted--and I felt that nasty "puke line" that forms between ones upper and lower lip after such a vomiting episode.
When she arrived at the bathroom door, she took one look at me doubled-over on the floor, and a quick sidelong glance at the sink.
"You threw up in the sink?" she asked--but it was more of a statement than a question.
"Yeah," I said, "I couldn't make it to the toilet."
"But that sink doesn't drain!" she shouted in a way that expected me to know so even though I hadn't lived in the house for over four months.
She quickly got a hold of herself and realized that her son was in a rather bad condition, and she helped me to my feet.
"You have a fever," she observed after touching my forehead in that universally motherly way; and then she escorted me to bed, brought be a glass of water, and (God bless her) told me that she'd take care of the mess.
She said something else that bothered me.
"If you're sick, then you can't fly tomorrow."
Oh shit, you're right--I thought to myself, and so I slept.
I slept deeply and gloriously. No dreams; no worries; nothing but rest.
Part IVJanuary 7, 1996:
When I awoke, I was fever-free and hungry.
Nope, there's nothing wrong with me, I thought. I must have just had a bit of food-poisoning.
And so the day passed. I packed my bags, said my goodbyes. Before I knew it, I was on Interstated 405, headed to the airport.
My dad was driving, so I suggested a pit-stop.
You see, there's a fast-food restaurant in the Seattle area that is not in the Mid-West. It's called Taco Time, and it serves (among other things) crispy--that is deep-fried--beef burritos that are so good that even a pacifist realizes that some things are worth killing for.
I ordered two crispy beef burritos, some "mexi-fries" (i.e. overly salted tater-tots), and a large Coke. I don't remember what my dad ordered--if he ordered anything at all--, but I remember how good that meal tasted.
My flight was (and still is) called a "red-eye." This means that you're going to be freaking tired the next day because it leaves Seattle between 11:30 P.M. and 12:30 A.M. and arrives in Detroit between 5:30 A.M. and 6:30 A.M.
This means, essentially, that you're going to spend the next day tired as Hell--even if you sleep through the entire flight, which I did not.
This all took place back in the good old days when friends and/or family were allowed to escort you all the way to the gate--as opposed to now, when they frisk, fondle, and harass even the most honest ticket-paying consumer. Seriously, if I have to explain one more time that the giant bulge in my pants is merely a genetic "gift" and not a poorly concealed weapon, I just might have to wake up from one of my wife's dreams...
But I digress.
Seriously, my dad was able to sit with me in the seating area until I actually had to bid farewell and board the plane.
All was well. If I was lucky, I'd get some sleep. The worst-case scenario was that I would not sleep at all and be horribly tired the next day. As far as worst-case scenarios go, that didn't seem too bad.
The only problem was that not getting sleep was only a worser-case scenario. As it turned out, it was nowhere near the worst-case scenario.
As far as air travel is concerned, the "red-eye" is a pretty low-key affair. Rarely are there small children aboard, and everyone just assumes that he or she will spend the next four hours in a less-than-comfortable slumber.
My seat was at a window, with the middle seat empty and the aisle seat occupied by a man very obviously of southeast Asian descent--maybe Vietnam, perhaps Laos or Cambodia. Either way, as I listened to him try desperately to get a point across to a stewardess, this man was in no way fluent in English.
All the better, I figured, to give me extreme boredom as an added incentive to sleep. This was, after all, the time before hand-held DVD players or even more advanced digital movie devices. What with the dim-to-non-existent lighting available on such a flight, reading scarcely seemed an option. Sleep would be my only recourse.
But I couldn't sleep, even though Phan-Duc-To had slipped quickly into dreamland.
So I sat there, essentially alone and bored out of my mind.
Part VJanuary 8, 1996:
Anyone who knows me well can tell you that unless I am asleep or on the verge of sleep, my mind is never idle, so I sat in my seat thinking about things until I realized that it was time for me to establish clearly what I needed to say to Jennie's dad:
"Mr. Zuzga, I truly love your daughter, and I promise to care and provide for her every need for as long as I live. All I ask of you, sir, is for your consent to take her hand in marriage."
As I pondered the efficacy of these words, I couldn't help but notice that the atmosphere seemed rather warm and stifling.
I felt a little uneasiness in my stomach, and it was then that I realized the cause of the previous day's acute illness. I was nervous.
Luckily, I came to this epiphany before it was too late. I managed to calm myself and, with a great deal of will-power, force myself to sleep.
Now think of how random your dreams are. There's no saying, "I'm going to dream of this"--otherwise I would sleep more--just me and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Michael Who? Yeah, I don't know either...
I've dreamed of everything from fighting pirates with swords to running from giant bird-monsters that wanted to eat me to going to work "under-dressed." There is simply no logic to how I dream.
However, the psychologists would have had a field day with me on that night, for--in the few moments that I managed for sleep--I dreamed of asking Mr. Zuzga for his daughter's hand in marriage.
I jolted upright as I awoke and proceeded to make two actions.
First, my right hand sprang forward for the vomit bag tucked cozily away in the rear flap of the forward seat. At the same time, my left hand went up, index finger extended, to the button that alerted the stewardess of my need for assistance.
In retrospect, I should have used both hands to secure the vomit bag. After pressing the alert button, my left hand descended with such force that instead of assisting the right in opening the bag, it knocked it to the floor. At that very moment, I began to heave.
No adjectives or adverbs, no matter how extreme and vaulted, could be accused of being hyperbolic in the description of this episode.
The vomit poured. It rushed. It spewed forth as a mighty deluge of partially digested crispy beef burritos and mexi-fries (with a side of stomach acid to boot). The force with which it flowed would have extinguished an active Hawaiian volcano.
I remember watching it in slow motion as it shot from my gaping mouth and succumbed to Newton's law of gravity. The center of my lap (just in front of the aforementioned "bulge") became ground zero. From there, the splash-back sent particles of puke to all corners of the aisle.
Hiroshima was closely followed by Nagasaki, and the devastation expanded to include my shirt and shoes.
Jimmy Wah woke with a start and began to scream in repulsed terror. He kept trying to get out of his seat, but while his legs flailed about he was unable to unlatch his safety belt.
At this point, I had a stream of barf from my lips to the floor, but there was no time to be grossed out or to wipe it off, for the orders to drop Fat Boy and Little Man soon followed.
The hurling continued, and I could feel my stomach twisting in all directions as it evacuated its contents. I'm pretty sure that I tasted some yams on their way out, even though I hadn't eaten any in years. On the other hand, maybe yams just taste like puke, which explains why I hadn't eaten them in so long.
By the time that Ho Chi Minh had freed himself and barreled down the aisle toward the rear of the plane, I was finished. I just sat there, covered in nastiness, sweat dripping from my brow and emisis dripping from my lips, my chin, my shirt, my legs, my shoes--you get the picture.
I could hear people all around me talking in urgent whispers, and one particularly rude woman stating quite audibly "They need to get that man off of this plane"--a very sensible request at cruising altitude.
The stewardess arrived, finally. And taking quick stock of the situation asked, "Are you all right, sir?"
I have to admit that she asked it in a most sensitive and sympathetic manner, but looking back I have to wonder what in the hell she meant.
"No," I blurted before adding the obvious, "I just puked."
"Oh dear," she said--again in the kindest manner possible--"let's get you out of this seat and into the bathroom."
I paused for a moment, trying to build up some energy, before I said "OK."
I reached down to unbuckle my safety-belt, only to find it so covered in vomit that I actually had to brush particles of food away as I pulled the latch to release the clip.
"This is disgusting," I said as I let the belt drop to both sides and tried to stand up without touching anything--after all, my hands (and everything else) were a haz-mat case.
I remember taking my first walk of shame that early morning, down the aisle to the rear of the plane. People seemed to have an uncontrollable urge to look at me and an equally irresistible need to look away immediately.
My soaked shirt and pants clung to my skin and the inner soles of my shoes squish-squashed as I walked in that awkward, locked-joint manner, like a toddler who has just soiled himself.
As I neared the rear bathroom, I could see and hear Nguyen. He was facing a stewardess, waving his hands and rambling about in his native tongue, sounding a bit like John Lennon's gibberish at the end of "A Day in the Life." To her credit, she seemed to be listening attentively, even nodding her head upon occasion. As I approached, she glanced at me over Le Duan's shoulder. Something in her eyes made him turn around. What I saw in his eyes was more fear than hate. To him, I was a monster: "The Thing" from 16A. For every step that I took forward, he took a step in reverse--until he backed into the galley. His eyes grew wider as if I was coming for him.
Now to make this story more interesting, I could have fictionalized a complication by having both bathrooms occupied; and in subsequent retellings, perhaps I will make it so.
For now, however, we'll have to settle for the truth: both bathrooms were unoccupied, so I didn't have to wait. A stewardess opened the door to the starboard bathroom, and I entered.
If the mirror had been full-length, I may have screamed aloud. The mere sight of my face was enough to give me a start. At some point, I must have wiped my mouth with my right hand, for a light-brown smear ran from the right of a my mouth to my right sideburn (hell yes, I had sideburns--and they were awesome, so just shut-up about it).
My eyes were bloodshot and my lids sagged. I also must have run my fingers through my sweat-drenched hair, for it was messy, nappy, and--to put it mildly--offensively unsterilized.
But still, this was nothing that a few (maybe twenty or thirty) splashes of water wouldn't solve. It was my clothes that posed the biggest problem. Carrie White's prom dress had nothing on me.
The shirt simply had to go, and while I was removing it I heard a knock on the door.
"Just a second," I grunted as I tried to pull the shirt over my head without touching my face or hair.
I cracked open the door and innocently asked, "Yes?"
It was the stewardess who had escorted me from my seat, and she looked excited, as if she had found the perfect solution to my dilemma.
"I brought you some club soda to treat those stains," she said in her bubbly way. The only way that it could have been more stereotypically blond would have been if she had ended with something like, "You silly goose!"
"Uh, OK, thanks," I said, as I opened the door slightly wider to receive my club soda.
She handed me a can. One stinking can. 12 flipping fluid ounces of club soda, which was great--seeing as how I was covered in no less than 72 fluid ounces of vomit.
"Just pour that on your clothes and it might prevent any stains from becoming permanent [you silly goose!]" she said, and I ungratefully closed the door without further comment.
Even though I was now shirtless, I had barely begun to disrobe.
Next came the shoes, my nice, leather Clarks Men's Falcon Oxfords. I thought briefly of salvaging them with my precious can of club soda, but while I might be able to clean the outside, the inner-sole was unsalvagable with just a mere 12 oz of club soda--or even napalm, for that matter--, so I just splashed some water from the sink on them and laid them on the floor next to my shirt.
The socks were similarly contaminated, so I removed them to the ever-growing "discard" pile and began working on my belt.
The belt was one of those woven from brown, leather straps. You guessed it, there was biological material on, in-between, and (as it turned out) under much of it. I would have tried some club soda on it as well, but I knew fully well that I wouldn't be wearing any pants once I left the bathroom, so just rinsed it with water and dropped it on my shoes.
Unbuttoning my pants, I finally realized that I wasn't going to be able to wear anything. I was going to sit in a seat, possibly next to someone, clad in nothing but epidermus. On the bright side, I was still in good physical condition (pecs, almost-abs, and such), but--given my recent misfortune--I wasn't going to lay claim to any new fans.
How wonderful it was when, upon slipping out of my pants, I realized that my boxer shorts were, for the most part, unscathed.
So there I stood. Naked except for my boxer shorts--a dark green/darker green plaid with a Bugs Bunny picture on the left, upper thigh. While these afforded some tiny degree of modesty, they were also the kind of boxers with no button to secure the flap that is typical amongst men's undergarments. Still, it was better than nothing.
I used the club soda on my chest, abdomen, and legs. I figured that might help get the smell off of me. I rinsed my face with water over, and over, and over again. And I stood there, in my partially-revealing Bugs Bunny boxers, contemplating my next move.
At that moment, I had an epiphony: a blanket. I could ask for one of those cheap, felt airline blankets; and I could wrap it around my waist like a towel, or at least a white-trash kilt.
So I opened the door ajar and whispered, "Excuse me," hoping that my doting stewardess would respond.
Instead, I met a new stewardess: Karl. And let me tell you, Karl was very happy to be of, as he would say, "athistance." From the moment that I first met Karl, I knew that he would "Tumble 4 Me."
"Yeth?" he said.
There was, I'll admit, a brief moment when I felt uncomfortable talking to Karl. I was, afterall, in my underwear; and he was, after all, very happy to be of "athistance." But reason took hold of me and I got right to the point:
"Hi, uh, Karl, " I said. "I need two favors."
"Go right ahead," he said--and I think that he might very well have added "you silly goose!" as well.
"First, I need a garbage bag for these clothes," I admitted. "Second, I'm gonna need something like a blanket to wrap around be because I'm kinda standing here in my underwear."
"No problem," he assured. "I'll be right back [you silly goose!]."
So I closed the door and waited.
If Karl was anything, he was gay--as gay as they come; a living, breathing stereotype. The kind that makes less effeminate gays upset because Karl was so gay. If he was anything else, he was fast--and I mean by his work, not by anything else.
In no time at all, he was knocking at the door with a garbage bag (check), a blanket (check), and my carry-on luggage (bonus check!), which he told me would be waiting just outside once I was ready to emerge from my hideout.
I shoved my shirt, my pants, and my shoes into the bag--knowing that I would never again wear them. I kept the belt out of the bag--wrapping it around my left wrist--for it was still wearable, and I tied the blue, one-layer felt blanket around my waist like a beach towel.
Still embarrassing, I thought, but at least presentable. After all, I could still bench-press 250 lbs, so if all people saw were my pecs, then big-damn deal.
I opened the bathroom door and stepped out, garbage bag (and brown, slightly wet leather belt braclet) in hand.
"Ok, good, I've taken the liberty of getting you a new stheat!" Karl exclaimed as I exited the bathroom.
"Uh, where?" I asked as I bent over--nearly losing my blanket--to pick up my carry-on bag.
"Right here, next to the bathroom!" he informed me, in a tone that betrayed his belief that he had solved a terribly difficult equation that held all the secrets to life.
So I took about three steps to my row, placed my garbage bag-o'-sickness underneath the forward-window seat, my carry-on underneath the forward-middle seat, and myself in the aisle seat. All was quiet, so I had a few moments to think.
First and foremost in my thoughts was how I was going to explain my wardrobe and ruined clothes to my fiance. Just because honesty is the best policy didn't mean that it was my only (or even most preferable) option. However, I was at a loss as to any alternative versions to my recent history.
On top of this, I was scheduled to land in Detroit sometime before 6:30 AM. Detroit in January--not a good time to be mostly naked, So I also needed to figure out some way to secure my body from the elements.
A partial answer to my dilemma looked me right in the face: an airphone. They aren't around anymore, but there was once a time when you could make a telephone call from an airplane. The phones were installed in the back of the forward-seat, about eye level. All you needed was a credit card and a good reason to make one hell of an expensive phone call.
I had both.
My credit card was, of course, in my wallet; and my wallet was, of course, in my pants. My pants, you will remember were covered in vomit and stashed in a garbage bag filled with even more vomit covered clothes.
I didn't even try to open the bag right there. I simply grabbed it and went into my fortress of solitude.
Now it had been nasty wearing those clothes, and pretty much just as nasty taking them off. However, neither compared to the sheer foulness of opening that garbage bag, getting hit by the smell, and then rooting through them until I extracted my wallet.
I retied the bag, vigorously washed my hands with a thoroughness that would have impressed even Howie Mandel, exited the bathroom, and returned to my seat.
Once seated, I glanced over to my left, and there, sitting alone in the opposite row, was Ngoc Minh. For the first time since we'd met--what seemed like ages ago--he looked me in the eyes.
"You-ah no moh sick?" He grunted (who knew that he was semi-bilingual?).
"No, man," I said. "I'm OK now."
He uttered something quite incomprehensible and turned away. We had always been an odd-couple, what with me always vomiting and him always not; and this exchange was our last. If I really cared, I'd wonder what he's up to now-a-days, and maybe give him a call: "Say, Lua Xan, what have you been up to? Remember that time when I puked all over the place, and you screamed like a banshee? Yeah, me too. Man, what happens to the time?"
But since I don't really care, I haven't ever wondered what he's up to, so I haven't called.
However, a phone call was in order, so I removed the airphone and swiped my credit card. There may have been more to it than that, but that's all I can remember. Next, I dialed my fiance's number and prayed that she--rather than her parents--would answer the call that was coming it at, oh, around 3:30 AM their time.
There's something about the ringing when you're waiting for someone to answer that makes you want to shout, "Jesus Christ, just pick up the phone already!" But I'd hoarded my share of the attention on this flight, so I just listened and hoped that she would pick up soon.
Then, suddenly, a tired voice:
I've always wondered why people answer the phone with "hello?" There's an inflection in it so as to make the word a question, but "hello" isn't a damn question. It's a salutation, for God's sake. Still, this particular "Hello?" was from the mouth of an angel--my beloved--so I declined to ask why she had converted a salutary declarative into an interrogative.
I just got down to the point.
"Hi, sweetie," I whispered. "It's me."
"Where are you?" she asked, sounding a bit more awake (and using an interrogative in its proper context).
"I'm on the plane," I stated. "Listen, I need a favor."
"What?" she asked, about 80% sleepy and 75% confused.
"There was a little problem on the plane--nothing big--but I need you to bring something like a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and maybe some socks and slippers," I blurted in a manner reminiscent of George Costanza.
"A sweatshirt and sweatpants. Can you bring them?" Once again, think Costanza, only more urgently, like when he would get really frustrated and panicky at the same time (Vandalay Industries!).
"Yeah, I guess," she half-breathed, half-said.
"OK, I'll talk to you later," I said. "I'm hanging up now, so go back to sleep, but don't forget."
"Thanks sweetheart. I'll see you soon." And while I intended to close with an I love you, she beat me to the punch.
"Love you too," she said, which was alarming since I hadn't said I love you yet.
"Yeah, I, uh, love you as well. Just remember, right?"
"See you soon."
The rest of the flight proceeded just as any other flight, with the exception of my partial nudity and possession of an extra carry-on bag. We landed early--about 20 minutes ahead of schedule--so I just sat in my seat and waited for everyone else to exit.
It's funny how time can be so relative. When all you want to do is get off of the damn plane, there's always those SOB's who take three minutes apiece to retrieve their carry-on luggage from the overhead compartment. You end up just sitting or standing, waiting for the line to begin moving until the next group of SOB's realize that they need to get their crap together before they can exit, so that takes another three minutes. When it's finally your turn, you're annoyed and past ready to get moving on.
Not surprisingly, I was in no hurry to exit the plane. We were twenty minutes early, and my fiance (now my wife) is usually twenty minutes late to everything--unless I'm running a little slow, then she suddenly wants to leave early. I knew that I would be walking off the jetway into an empty terminal. So of course, this one freaking time that I wouldn't mind if it took awhile for everyone else to get moving, they moved like hell.
As I watched the last person turn left and exit the plane, I knew that I had to go. To say that the maintenance men had some cleaning to do would be an understatement. So I grabbed my bags and walked slowly up the aisle. When I reached my initial seat, I didn't know whether to be repulsed or impressed. To be honest, I was repulsed then, but now, in retrospect, my perimeter of destruction was pretty damn impressive.
When I was at the door, about to turn and leave, Karl said, "Thirrr, you can just go ahead and keep the blanket! [You silly goose!]" in his happy/gay/happy-to-be-gay manner.
"Thanks a lot," I replied; but I felt like saying, "Really? Do you think that for one freaking moment I even once considered that you'd take this from me before I left?"
So down the jetway I walked. Sure enough, I entered a virtually abandoned terminal. The few people there were of no interest to me, though I did seem to be something of an interest to them.
I stood alone at the gate for a few minutes before deciding that things couldn't get any more embarrassing for me, so I might as well just head towards baggage. Had I been reading this narrative instead of experiencing it, I would have recognized the ironic foreshadowing.
I walked slowly, deliberately taking as much time as possible. Everyone from my flight had made a beeline for baggage, so I was pretty much alone. Just before I reached the baggage area, my fiance and her mother rounded the corner in my direction.
I stopped about twenty yards from them, wondering to myself why she had to bring her mother, and trying to come up with a spin to my story--one that didn't leave me so ridiculous. I had nothing.
My fiance, who had wondered why she was supposed to bring a sweatshirt and sweatpants, spotted me and started to reel with laughter. So great was her merriment that she actually tripped and fell. Her mother was chuckling too.
I laughed not a whit.
"Did you bring the clothes?" I asked in my most irritated just-shut-the-hell-up manner as I resumed my approach.
Fighting through laughter and still on the ground, she held up a tightly-stuffed, plastic grocery bag and said something like "Here, sweetie." By this time, her mother was patting her chest with her right hand, and her mere chuckles had matured into full-blown guffaws. In that moment, I knew John Merrick's pain, but I spared any apologetic rants ("I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!").
I took the bag of clothes and marched to the restroom that, thankfully, was just ahead.
Inside the restroom, I once again caught a look at myself in the mirror. I wouldn't be able to pass of any kind of indignant refutation of my fiance's and her mother's laughter at my expense. As far as reactions go, theirs was--however unfortunately--appropriate.
I opened the bag and shouted the f-word three times in terrific dismay. When I'd asked her to bring me a sweatshirt, sweatpants, socks, and slippers I had assumed that she would bring something belonging to her dad or maybe her brother. Instead, she'd brought me a set of her own clothes.
Do not for one moment believe that I am exaggerating here. The sweatshirt was so tight that I couldn't properly lift my arms or bend my elbows. The cuffs only went down my forearms about two-thirds of the way, and they were tight enough to restrict the blood flow to my hands. And of course, the bottom scarcely extended below my bellybutton.
The sweatpants were no better. Pulling them on took a great deal of effort--an effort not at all facilitated by the immobilizing qualities of the sweatshirt. Once they were up, they were tight enough for them to pass as a redneck leotard. They extended only about 2/3 down my calves, and up top they barely contained the crack of my ass. These pants pressed against me so tightly that anyone looking could see that I was circumcised.
Added to all of this, the socks didn't fit properly, and the slippers were tighter than an unwarranted simile. For a moment, I honestly considered taking everything off and returning to just my boxers and blanket, but it was January. The way I saw it, I was going to be an embarrassing sight no matter what, so I exited the restroom clad in my fiance's clothes.
Both my fiance and her mother resumed laughing upon my exit, and they continued to do so throughout my truncated and more than slightly modified retelling of the past few hours' events.
While waiting for the baggage to unload, I was again an object of much curiosity. However, by this time, it didn't really even bother me anymore. I looked odd, and I deserved to be pointed out. All I wanted was to get my suitcase, get in the car, take a shower, and get some sleep. That's when it occurred to me that I would soon have a change of clothes at hand. As soon as my suitcase arrived, I could head into the restroom and change.
It seemed that things were looking up for me.
My luggage actually arrived rather swiftly. We who patronize Northwest Airlines know all too well how long it can possibly take to get suitcases off the plane, across the terminal, and onto the carousel. However, I waited a long time to get off the plane, and I walked slowly down the terminal. I took a good several minutes in the bathroom, and another couple on the way to the carousel. Meaning it only seemed like my bags arrived quickly. It was more a case of me arriving slowly.
Part IXI don't remember the forty minute ride to my fiance's home. I don't think that I slept, but I don't think that we really conversed much.
I do remember laying down in bed after my shower, and my fiance gently knocking on the door.
I bade her enter, and she did. Kneeling down beside the bed, she looked very serious about something.
"You can sleep for a few hours," she whispered, "but, when you wake up, you must speak with my dad. I don't know how, but I think that they suspect something."
"OK," I replied, "right away, after I wake up."
I passed a wonderful four hours of dreamless sleep before my fiance gently shook me awake.
"Honey," she whispered.
"Yeah," I groaned.
"Mom's making brunch, and you really need to talk with my dad."
"Alright, alright," I said as I sat up and rubbed my eyes. "Where's your dad?"
"He's in the basement," she said.
"OK, I'm ready," I concluded. And for the first time in two days, I actually felt ready.
I stopped in the upstairs bathroom to tidy my hair and wash my face before heading downstairs to the basement. Her parents live in a quad-level home: three bedrooms on the top, a living room, kitchen and dining area on the main floor, a family room and extra bed and bath on the lower floor, and a small basement below that. It sounds bigger than it really is, but as I descended the third set of stairs to the basement, it began to feel even bigger.
I had learned from unhappy experience that anticipating this moment was bad for my health, so I did my best to think of nothing as I took each white-tiled step down the basement stairs. Just say it, I told myself; and I was fully prepared just to blurt out my intentions upon the very moment that I addressed him.
I'd been around long enough to know that the basement served three main functions. First, it was the location of the laundry room. Second, it had the computer. It wasn't until I hit the basement floor and turned to my left that I remembered the third function.
The gun safe is in the basement, and anyone familiar with gun ownership knows that you should always clean a gun after firing it, and you should occasionally oil the barrel and stock whether you've fired it recently or not.
Now I had no idea at the time that my fiance's father foresaw the question that I was about to ask, and he had no idea at the time that I had endured a great deal of suffering in anticipation of this moment. That's why he thought it would be funny if he was oiling one of his shotguns when I asked him for his daughter's hand in marriage.
Think Goodfellas: "Funny how? I mean funny like I'm a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh?"
Yeah, I didn't think it was very funny as my breathing quickened and my heart began to suffer from ventricular fibrillation. Here's an idea, let me kick you in the nuts for fun. Wasn't that hilarious?
He seemed to be glaring at me as I neared, so I just stopped and quickly blurted in a manner that put the Micromachine Man to shame, "Mr. Zuzga, I really love your daughter, and I want to marry her and love her for the rest of my life, and I was hoping for your permission."
He'd been waiting for this moment, and he was happy. So happy, it turns out, that he just had to jump out of his seat. His purpose was to embrace me and say "Yes, of course!". However, I was so scared that I nearly shit my pants. I've admitted enough already, so why not confess to that? I 'm serious, you know how a squirrel pokes its head out of a tree but then pulls it right back in? That's what happened.
However, once smothered in his great, manly bear-hug, I realized that all my angst had been for naught.
"Welcome to the family," he wept joyfully.
"Thanks," I said, and three little birds sang Every little ting is gonna be all right.
"Come on, let's go upstairs," he said while wiping his eyes.
When we got upstairs, all four of us--my fiance, her parents, and I--embraced in a group hug.
I could smell the omletes, so I asked, "Who's hungry?"
Jesus Christ, was I ever hungry!