I talked to my Boss before I boarded. A conference call, just us. He was like "We're thinking a purple shade with that one edgy font -- in all caps of course. Maybe a Sinatra backdrop for the girl? And her-not too raunchy, say, a perm, not a body wave but a spiral, the corkscrews, but teased out. Nice. Tall, with finesse - think Alanis Morissette, when in Canada. Then a zooming camera on a mountain and on top of that - a crashing gold logo, or the word just zips back and wow! explodes into a fireball! Have you considered shoulder pads and epaulettes? Very Rhythm Nation."
I took notes, said nothing, made a face, stood in the line, removed my shoes. Put my phone in a tray, got searched. Do I look like a terrorist? A woman runs her gloved hands through all my pockets and pouches, fondling my make-up, shaking my pills. I stand akimbo and let her pat me, let her do her job.
Beating the odds! Brink of death! Taking control! Inspiring + true! Colder than average! Warmer than average! My mind is all bad copy and my thoughts come with graphics. It is the light of television, a breaking story that needs to catch eyes, the big office, all my executive trekking. I tend to struggle with grasping my struggles. It's a slippery pulse thing.
Then I was on the plane, sneaking my cell phone. I was all reclined, under that acrylic blue blanket they give. Called Him back. I said: Consider the following for the upcoming: A little trench coat mafia, some neo prog, a 767, three Bloody Marys, ranch and hot bacon dressing, French manicures for everyone, lots of dairy, gold buttons, lace in plastic. And then think: warm mixed nuts, celery stalks, taco trucks, navy blue nylons, corporate responsibility, spin control, blue skies, travel anxiety.
He goes: "It all reminds me of last month, but OK."
Last month was pinstripes, ineffective love, security concerns, code orange, the same old dill sauce, a brief heart stop, the helicopter over the bridge, a missile pointed, everyone I love in a metropolis, another doctor, the only not-sham.
The stewardess, she sees me, narrows her face, pendulums her finger, wags her head, mouths "noooo." No phone. I just endangered so many lives. And yet I feel fine, just want another little drink. I do everything in my power to sustain the belief that I do indeed care. About myself, the world at large, at my feet. I take my plane pills, they take me to my comfort zone. I breathe in: waterfalls. Out: rivers. In: cotton. Out: skin.
I meditate while we lift: handmade cosmetics, a shared soft thigh, the band and the studio, the stretch Hummer, a lime wedge, an obligatory shoulder touch, wide open mouth, silver seats, a 4 year old yelling, those choking sounds, new batteries, how will you look for me, glass tumbler, we danced, the veins in the hand, a perfect curve, above the ground, baby carrots, cruising altitude, the way my chin is slipping, the skin under my arms, cloud coverage, I bet he thinks that...
Then my laptop. I had heard rumors of a reunion tour and he confirmed them, via email. They need a montage, numerous opens, blasty graphics, sponsor beds. He has written aim high! Our own Intern Mia is BIG help with this list: We're thinking Gerhard Richter, Elvis, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, Lisa Loeb, Joel Schumacher, Candye Kayne, Jimmy Carter, Betty Carter, Christian Slater, Ione Skye, Terence Trent D'Arby, Bobby Brown, Gertrude Stein, Dan Rather, Lisa Bonet, Art Garfunkel, Arthur Lee, Ian Curtis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Freddie Prinze Jr, Sherlock Holmes, Debussy, Soft Machine, ee cummings, Eleanor Rigby, Ted Kaczynski, Will Farrell, Alvin Ailey, Karen Finley, Edith Wharton, Kiki Dee, Luther Vandross, Duff McKagen, John Bonham, the Grimke sisters, Emma Goldman, Lady Miss Kier, Mike Lookingland, Marie Curie, Alan Ladd, Julia Louis Dryfuss, Carrie Brownstein, Nancy Pelosi, Jeremy Irons, Ron Jeremy, Nelly, Teena Marie, Gloria Gaynor, Donald Fagan, Paul Ruebens, Eddie Vedder, Ann Lauterbach, Judith Butler, Tea Leone, Fran Drescher, Winnie Mandela, Zora Neale Hurston, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chancellor Schroeder, Hirohito, Ms. Matisse, Catherine the Great, Ben Stiller, Ari Up, Colin Powell, Cindy Sherman, Wallace Stevens, June Jordan, and, if she's available, mother.
What? Who are these people? Who is He? He has no idea! Fucking Mia, the hip bitch, with her pointy shoes and "super-low" "dress jeans." With this list! A behind-glass girl, the hardest little worker, perpetually younger than everyone around her, plucked last month from the potential intern pool. Already making me tense.
But this list: how do you tell him it will never happen? That's right -- you don't. The first rule of improv is "Yes" and in the seminar we went to, the speaker said that life is improv. Work is improv. I wrote that on a Post-It, promptly, and shoved it into my purse. And so I sent, from my mid-air stage:
YES sure love it. Sounds good -- promo package on the way. Demographics? Will check later. Also, no-go on the "crashing gold logo:" it's gauche, so '93. But I like the explosions, let's keep it stylized, suggesting a journey. Lunch is here - alfredo sauce again. Call from O'Hare. PS "Rhythm Nation?" Not sure about that one. We'll talk.
The sauce is so heavy, as always, and there's iceberg lettuce. The movie is "Outbreak" - this is an awful movie to show on a plane. That fucking monkey. The man next to me keeps coughing. I avert, strap on my sleep mask, take more pills, and watch my life. I imagine California getting farther and farther behind. We jet to the Heartland. I take away the modulars, give myself a lot of room, and add the sparkle effect, as well as the deep-shadow shadowing. I have a great theme song: it is intense, and wise, and has a lot of forward motion.
We land on the ground and I start - have I slept this whole time? Yes: I had my Halloween anxiety dream again: October 31, no costume to speak of, I rifle through my childhood closet, desperate to create something clever. Isn't that always my way? In the end I'm perpetually a bee, my third grade bee costume. With the big stinger and wide stripes.
My tongue rubs around my mouth. I feel like dry slime: very off, and odd. My lipstick is gone, to my chin and cheeks probably. We are not allowed to get up and leave yet, although we are here. The cramped passengers make me dizzy: Where are we? Chicago? What time is it now? Is there a war? I can't recall, I am lost. I ask my neighbor, the coughing man. He looks right past me, glaucomaed, and lugs his luggage from beneath the seat: "1:00, Central, O'Hare, it's a war alright." His wife, or wife-type, leans in. Her hair scares me. She looks so sorry for me, disheveled in post-sleep, still drugged. She whispers: "It's in Iraq, dear, and beyond. It's a broad war. On terrorism." Right. Right. I know this. We did a huge promo spot for FoxNews. Broad shots of mass destruction, all those struggling soldiers.
The captain comes on: my connecting flight is delayed, stalled by a fog morass somewhere above someplace. The layover will be two hours, or forever.
As a herd we crowd the aisles, then stumble through the jet-way tunnel. Then thrown into the welcoming crowds, bearing signs, lattes, itineraries. I try to snap out of it. Shake myself awake, say slowly: "You are here, now. Here, here, here. Now, now, now." There are eight messages on my cell phone. The ceiling here arches in this way that miniatures me, and the floor is long and grey. I am totally here, in this present space.
I will center myself with a drink. I beeline to the bar with haste, bumping my luggage along. Weaving in and out of teenaged tour groups, in town for some group singing activity. For a second I want to be wearing the same purple sweatshirt, the same hanging nametag, just listening, catatonic, to a frazzled chaperone.
This couple blocks my passage. How slow, with their wideness, their excess baggage and plastic shopping bags, folded up copies of USA Today, the statistics that shape our world. They are both flags, wearing only those stars and stripes, in every variation and more. All around me are knee-length jean shorts and large blouses. I think Thomas Kincaide paintings, thick soups, dogs with neckerchiefs. I feel comforted by the men in suits with rushed scowls: I locate and follow them, then barrel through, to the bar.
It is a "pub," with televisions with sports. I order vodka, top-shelf, and set-up my laptop. Sometimes the thought comes: what if I leave? What would happen? To me, the world, my stuff? To just go, be one of those people with no money but nice simple foods, in a place with a great deal of green, and space, and animals. I go with this for a moment, then remember: that is unappealing. My life is amazing. There are 17 new messages in my inbox.
He has written: Saw the Bravo spot - bravo! Now what the fuck to do with the red steps and beach umbrellas? Viewers need unexpected but familiar - what about a war theme? We need all images digi by 4 - do-able? PS - bad news about Chinese fighting fish in your office. Mia will fill you in.
Mia has written: Hey lady, so glad you like the list! Crazy right but oh my god so much fun! And work! LOL! Oh and btw, this smell was coming from yr office so I went in and -
A woman clomps down next to me, and not out of necessity: there are many other stools. She is inappropriately close to me: I sense her thickness, her breath, her berry lotion. The bartender greets her promptly, with a tall tequila shot. She shoots it, and leans further into my space, invading my people bubble.
She says "You working?"
I keep my eyes ahead. "What? Yes. Work." She looks at my hands as they type to Mia, hip Mia, always with wet lips and teeth, blinking, shining, exuding, suggesting! I type: My fish? My fucking fish? Weren't you supposed to feed -
"You on the Web?"
I give her a glance. She is dressed like two different animals - a leopard, I think, and a zebra - and she carries one of those carrying cases - a Caboodle? - the ones young girls used to have. I wonder what's in it. Chapstick, lighters, hand lotion, emery boards, pennies, lip gloss, phone numbers, Juicy Fruit, crap. There are little scalp flakes on her coat, like old snow on the street.
"Yes. I am online."
"What? Yes, email. I am sending an email." This expectant look then. "To my coworker. Intern. At work."
"Expensive. What's that, Apple?"
"IBook - I'm sorry - " I turn, exhale in a way that should suggest go away. "I don't know if this is-"
"My daughter wants one real bad..."
On she goes as if I am not here. Maybe I'm not? On the television above her head the baseball game concludes, and I see some shoddy work: the spots are poor, very little flash at the head, and such weak, fading tails. I note to self: find out who did ESPN work, never hire them.
"...Yeah, Jill - my daughter? - she wants to be a writer. When she gets out."
"Mm. Out. Juvenile Hall." She stresses Hall. "She's done in three months. Which is good because she's due in four."
"Due. A baby. Another girl. I have three myself. Girls, that is. That's a lot of tits and stress" She draws back and seems to soak me in. What is she seeing? I don't know what to do with this disruption; my mind flies, my inbox swells, the floor seems far away.
"You on the 3:45 to JFK?"
I check the online confirmation that Mia sent yesterday. "Yes. Flight 808."
"Yeah, it's always delayed. That's actually the plane, right out there." She points through the window. The sun glints off the gold logo on the tail. "We won't leave for another hour though. Too much fog, ice, snow, that shit."
The bartender slides us three shots and many wedges. Out of my eye corner I see her see me see her, and she winks. "One for you, two for me. Down the hatch!" and she makes a fast production of her procedure: salt, lime, suck, lick, etc. She drinks all three, then looks to me. "Come on. You look like you need it."
My jaw tight, I drink it. It burns, nicely, mixing well with everything, I think. I look like what? A hot blotch on my neck, creeping up, spidering my sensitive face veins, involuntary nostril flare? I should look tight-eyed, non-jowly, intense-but-serene. I ignore everything, and look to the other TV, out there, in the lounge. CNN: There is no power in France, someone famous has died. There's a report: American kids are fatter. Beating those odds, taking control.
She exhales loudly. "You have kids?"
"What? No. Jesus, look - I'm really busy - " I wave my hands at my laptop, cell phone, shoulder bag, good leather-bound planner. I have to focus: Ujai breath. From deep down, from my back body. This project, that list: what do I do with all those people? A morphing face montage? Flashes and snippets? What does he mean a war theme? A now-war or an old-war? Vietnam or Gulf? Totally different looks, images. She looks at me up, down, in. I think I am drunk because her face looks a little beautiful.
"You. My sisters are like you. Busy, fancy, nylons, no runs. What's your job?"
I give in. I breathe. "I work in television."
"Many different networks."
"Oh. I like Fox. What do you do? You on a show?"
"No, I do interstitials."
I hate explaining this. You either know or you don't and it doesn't matter otherwise. Everyone sees them, my little projects, all the time: they go in the eye, swim the brain, brand a logo, then leave promptly.
"I make - design - interstitials. Short graphic works: pre-commercial lead-ins, post-show showcases."
I slur, or mumble. "We talk in terms of length. :15s, :30s, :45s, etc. I do bumps, lower thirds, movie mortises, transitions. Program foundations, beautiful optical shapes. I complement on-air images, use color palettes, that kind of thing."
She blank stares. "Yeah, you and my sisters...Huh."
This pub is shrinking, or moving. How many more years? Of sword toothpicks, varnished wood, pre-prepared foodstuffs, headline news, neck tension, my different language, her swinging feet, in chunk-heeled shoes, kicking the bar and her stool rung over and over. I put her head in a fuzzed-out frame and let it stagger a bit, then do a prep and swap, wipe out the background and put her in a high corner. I nicely let soft light in on her face. I use iconic images to bring out her past and highlight her jawline .
"So where are you from?"
"Cool. You ever see stars?"
I think. "Well there was a meteor shower - "
"No, famous people. Like Julia Roberts?"
"Oh. Helen Hunt lives in my building."
I am not from L.A. I think maybe I should just be honest, remember my home for her. It was a house, or a series of houses, in the same town, only in different places. I was in love with everywhere that we were not, and my fantasies were centered on cities: I wanted buildings that built and built and didn't quit and die after the fifth floor. I wanted people to rush by me during the day, to grab at me secretly at night.
I was going to tell her this.
Why did we look out the window together? For no reason other than to turn our heads, to get out of here somehow. So that we swiveled, or glanced, peeked, maybe, to see if our plane, Flight 808 to JFK, was ready. And through the plate glass window that became our screen we saw the first burst, like a flare, below the right wing, fire spinning, and the still moment before the second burst, and the smoke plume and then. The specks of people running away, hands in the air, forklifts with luggage fleeing. Then some of the plane engines just blew, up, in a fireball that sheared off the wing, sending brilliant black and gold crashing everywhere. So that debris fell almost like glitter in a real-time storm and the black smoke and pieces churned toward us, smacking into and splaying out flush against the strong window, before us. We are frozen spectators. Our view is ash and flame. We grip our stools and sit glued to the scene, and the acrid airport begins to violate my nose.
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