Sunday, May 10, 2009

Flying Home

Closing in on three years ago, faced with a stark financial situation, I packed my wife and newborn onto a plane and sent them halfway across the world to Dubai, to be with my wife parents while I wound down our affairs in Canada, and scrounged up enough coin to join them. It took three months, working seven days a week on 12 hour shifts as a security guard in a Toronto hospital, before I could join them.

Stepping on that plane, I was elated. As with any parent, husband, or wife, separated from their family, I simply could not wait to be with them. Every minute was a minute too long. Perhaps it was that hyper-awareness of not wanting to be going, but to already be there. I'm not sure. But whatever it was, whatever power in the universe, or jesting deity it may have been, something was tapping on my shoulder, telling me to focus a little more on the here and now.

That, or they were just having a little fun.

My wife always told me to fly KLM. "They're the best," she always said. There was always this mix of satisfied contentment, of revisiting a pleasant memory whenever she spoke of flying with them. So it made sesne, for one born and raised on the "luxury" of Air Canada, to try a real airline for once.

At first, everything went swimmingly. I checked my luggage, bought a book or two, got some coffee, and waited for boarding. When the call came, I passed on into the plane without a single problem. Then I sat down.

When I sank into my chair, armrests pinching my rear like a vise, I found that I was very foolish to be born so tall, as my knees were instantly crushed into the hard and painfully scratchy fabric of the chair in front of me. To add further indignity to this state of affairs, it seems that the chair pocket was designed such that the wire that holds the pocket would be placed right where my kneecap joints pressed most firmly into the fabric, resulting in painful spasms from time to time, as my knees registered the sensation of a knife cutting into cartilage.

In any event, I felt sorry for the guy next to me. When I sat down he had this look of terror on his face that was like Jonah just before he was swallowed by the whale. Not that I was going to swallow him, but by his obviously European standards, he probably envisioned a tidal wave of flesh spilling over the armrests, smothering him in a long, slow death.

His relief was palpable as I seemed to squeeze in without causing an explosion or sudden seat breakdown. Even I breathed a little easier, though little being the operative word since I felt a strange constriction in my chest, which I later gathered may have been some of the softer, more movable organs pushing up into my lungs.

The seat belt sign flashed, and I tried valiantly to put it on, but my flailing was to no avail. It was just too small. That's when the flight attendant came over to me, and in her loud Dutch accented voice, said "Pleeze put yuur seetbet on, saar."

A bit embarrassed, I whispered "It doesn't fit."

"What do you say?" She replied, of course.

"It doesn't fit," I said a little louder.

"Eet does not feet?," she then yelled in response, loudly enough so that every passenger in a five seat radius was suddenly turning and looking at me.

Happily further comment ceased, and she walked away to get me a seat belt extender. Unhappily, she brought it down the aisle, holding it aloft for all to see, and proceeded to pantomime, for all and sundry, how one worked one of these magical devices, making sure to stretch out the belt as a far as possible while doing so.

This lady and I? It was love at first sight.

Later, the stewardess was serving coffee. She picked up a cup for the guy in the chair opposite me, but her pouring arm was only inches from my face. As she poured, she seemed completely oblivious to the GIANT HOLE in the bottom of the cup. It was like watching a Nescafe machine start to pour you a steaming hot cup of mediocre hot chocolate, only your crotch is the cup.

The boiling water splashed across my shorts, running across my legs, and over my knees like a dark Niagara Falls. Making a valiant attempt to stem the flow with the forearm, I learned that the thin flesh of the arm feels the pain of burn most intensely.

Coffee splatter illumined my face, and adorned my glasses, yet this lovely lady in blue was still twittering away at the numbskull opposite me, while I frantically tried to shift in my tiny, itchy fabric covered prison. I tried to speak, shout, say, or do something, but all I could do was stare silently horrified, in terrible pain.

When the stewardess got to the point where she would normally stop pouring, she looked at the cup with a confused look, not quite understanding where all the coffee went. Thankfully two other stewardesses had seen my head thrashing strangely, and rushed over and came to give me some cold "hot towels" to wipe myself off with.

By the time the pain had subsided enough that the scalding burn was a not-quite-incandescent red, and the coffee soaked into my shorts had chilled significantly, it was dinner time.

At dinner, I got the chicken. It was a tad, I guess 'boiled' was the word. Accompanied by an inedible couscous salad, and some rubber "it's supposed to be chocolate" dessert, dinner did not fail to disappoint. But silly me, I was sure that lack of texture or taste was the only indignity I would suffer from that meal. I was wrong.

It was not merely nausea, I felt. In fact, I felt my whole being was being ripped apart from the inside as my innards fought over the half boiled chicken, battling it out with salmonella and other pathogens for supremacy in the gastric tract. Needless to say a trip to the loo was in order, and when I finally squeezed my way into the two foot, by two foot confines, I entered a whole now realm of adventure.

I have this hypothesis, and it is that a) Europeans have tiny rears, and b) the men are all eunuchs. Why do I say this? Well, because I could variously sit down and aim my maker at the proper target, with my boys hanging over the porcelain edge and clanging on it's clammy surface, or I could shift to do the other job, but at the expense of my other the tender bits being pinched by the curiously knife sharp lid edge at the back of the toilet.

When the business was done, and it came time to wipe, I must admit a few minutes of panic when I realized I couldn't. Because the pot was so small, I could do the usual reach-under-and-bend wipe, but had to try some sort of reach around that only 10th level Guru Yoga masters might have been able to pull off.

In that terror filled fifteen minutes, I had numerous knocks at the door, inquiries into my well being, as I variously banged into every wall in that benighted wee cubicle. Contemplating hours of sitting with nasty wee dark bits adorning my boxers until I arrived in Dubai, terror led to creativity, and I thought like
a South Asian - I stood on the toilet. Well, actually, I placed one foot on the lid and got enough leverage to carry out a good proper cleaning. Saved by the tilt, as it were.

But alas, the struggle was not at an end. In order to get the foot up, I had to take off the shorts. Suddenly the bangs on the door were more insistent, and the bangs in my head from the rapidly growing migraine were worse. Somehow, someway, I got my boxers and shorts back on, washed my hands, downed two tiny cups of water, and a handful of Advil, and was out of there.

I got to my seat, soaked in a sheen of cold sweat. My hands, and head twitched from the migraine and the nausea. I decided to sleep, and did sleep through the two terrible movies (Step Up, and Mr. Bean), and awoke partly better. Luckily breakfast was coming around, and when I got it, it was much better than dinner had been. The yogurt container was a bit tricky, but eventually I jerked off the tin covering, and quickly wiped off the spatters that landed all over my shirt, face, glasses and arms. Then I ate the nature bar, and drank the 4ml cup of orange juice. Contemplating the thimble-ish nature of the orange juice, when the juice cart came around, I requested a bit more.

It was a simple request, that instead of coffee or tea, I wanted juice. But no, that lovely lady, she of the coffee and seat belt extender, stared at me, her eyes boring into my skull as she said "You ave ad de joos in de breekfest."

There was simply no arguing, so I meekly requested water. Thankfully she gave me some, but as she moved on, she gave her cart a mighty jerk, strong enough that an open water bottle on it tipped over, pouring it's contents into my lap.

Mercifully it was time to land, and I got off the plane as expeditiously as I could.

One half of the journey finally over.


  1. Quite an epic of a journey...
    Luckily you missed the trip to the underworld, but you met Medusa.

  2. I'd love to hear more about this experience -- perhaps as a prose poem or essay? A security guard in a hospital?? In the ER or psych ward?
    "It took three months, working seven days a week on 12 hour shifts as a security guard in a Toronto hospital, before I could join them."

  3. I think I will write a poem or three about that time. Lord knows I took many stories out of that place.

    I actually worked everywhere. The ER, the psych ward (Many, many tales....) the morgue, the ICU, all over the place. Part of the standard gear included bulletproof vests and knife resistant gloves... all of which were very much needed on the job.

  4. Here's a really stupid question from a Yankee -- did they have gangs in Toronto at that time and did you see much gang-related violence? What kind of training did they give you before having you don such glamorous work attire??
    "Part of the standard gear included bulletproof vests and knife resistant gloves... all of which were very much needed on the job."