Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spirited Cringe

For northeasterners with Floridian snowbird parents, there’s an airline called Spirit. It’s less luxurious than a city bus. I’m five-foot-one (and one half!) and my knees graze the back of the seat in front of me. My husband’s knees rest under his nose. No snacks. Not even water unless you whip out a credit card. But the basic fare is cheap. Crazy cheap—I often wonder if Spirit Air is a front for drug running.

Spirit charges a la carte for checked luggage, carry-on bags and seat assignments. I’m not partial to any section on a plane, so I never opted to pay for seat position. It always just worked out when we checked in. No seat assignment presents a problem when the following variables exist: oversold flight, all seats assigned, two little boys stuck sitting alone, both kids simultaneously vomiting during flight.

I’ve changed my laissez-faire policy on seat assignment fees. Going forward, I’ll pay and pay.

The cringe started on a Wednesday afternoon in February when we drove into Atlantic City International. What international folk visit Atlantic City? Brendan, my four-year-old, complained that his stomach hurt as we parked. He un-clicked his seatbelt, opened the car door and puked on the pavement. There’s a moment when parents look at each other in these situations, facing up to the inevitable snafu. Then, they try to cheer each other up: maybe it’s something he ate or car sickness? He’ll probably be fine to fly. Yes, yes.

It’s been a dismal snow-slammed winter in New Jersey. Florida was so close.

At the gate, I edged through a packed crowd to appeal to the attendant. Can she try to switch our seats so that our children don’t have to sit alone? She hates me. I’m the cheap jerk who didn’t cough up the $10 to avoid this scenario, and now I’m making it her problem. The flight is oversold and she is busy begging passengers to voluntarily bump. She’s offering two flight vouchers for the trade. I look over and see Brendan sitting on the floor next to a potted plant, throwing up in his lap. Marty is standing guard like an accomplice to a robbery.

“When is the next flight we can get on?” I ask the harried Spirit rep. It was probably prudent to delay our trip. She sighs. “Sunday.” That’s no good. We’re scheduled to come home the next Tuesday. A generous couple offers to change seats so that at least one of our children can sit with a parent. I mop the terminal floor by Brendan with wet-wipes and think he might be over the worst of it. He’s content--even cheerful.

We board the plane and Marty sprints towards row nineteen—a seat near the back of the plane --with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest under his arm. I’m next to Brendan in row eight. Seven-year-old Christopher sits directly in front of me between two middle-aged men. The take- off and first fifteen air minutes are quiet.

“Hey, Chris. How are you doing up there?” I say, trying to peer through the space to see him. His freckled nose appears.

“I’m okay. Except I barfed in the barf bag.” He’s holding a sack of vomit and the two guys next to him, reading their newspapers, didn’t seem to notice. I beg the man next to me in the aisle seat to trade positions with my little hurler. He obliges.

Synchronized puking ensues. I’m sitting in the middle of two kids tossing their cookies, lunch, breakfast, last night's chicken nuggets. Their skin looks like pistachio ice cream. I’ve blown through my wipes and hand sanitizer. The people around me are both annoyed and sorry for us. Cringe!

An angel flight attendant, Julian, comes to my rescue. He brings a kitchen trash bag and packs of ice to stick behind their necks. “Have they flown before?” he asks me. I nod yes. Spirit’s fares to Florida have made them frequent flyers.

“I think this is more than air sickness, “Julian offers.


“I think you need some wine,” Julian suggests.

“Yes.” I agree. I down a mini-bottle of sugary Sutter Home like a shot.

Julian comes up the aisle to check on us. Chris is resting his head almost inside the giant plastic bag.

“Another wine?” Julian points at me with his fingers in a trigger gesture.

“Yes, please.” I answer like a person who has just come upon a water cart in a desert.

Now Marty, although shoehorned in row nineteen, is enjoying the Swedish adventures of Lisbeth Salander and Michael Blomqvist.

“Julian,” I ask my savior-friend, “My husband is the tall Irish guy in row nineteen. Can you clue him in as to what is going on up here?”

He smiled like a cat and sashayed up the aisle.

“Sir, Sir? Marty? I want you to know that your wife is handling two kids barfing their little heads off up there. I just want to tell you that Valentine’s Day is next week, and I’d suggest the purchase of a little blue box.”

When we finally landed, we waited for the other passengers to disembark. Julian teased Marty over the intercom.

“Sir, I’ve got the limo waiting to take your wife to Tiffany’s!”

I love Julian.

P.S. It was a quick twenty-four hour stomach flu, and our vacation proceeded nicely after the flight from hell.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Psycho Cat Attack Cringe

I bet you haven’t heard of too many people who have been attacked by a psychotic domestic cat. Well, hello.

It’s the reason, understandably, that I cringe when I see any feline. I more than cringe…I cross streets, hold my breath, remain a hostage in my car in my driveway if a neighborhood cat is slinking around ready to pounce. In my phobic mind, any cat is ready to strike. Me.

My attacker was a Blue Russian female cat named Mischa. How cute. It was 1984 or 1985, an era when it was standard practice for parents to allow twelve-year-olds to babysit for their young kids. They also drove their sitters home after enjoying three bottles of wine over dinner. I managed my own babysitting industry back then. I was booked solid on Friday and Saturdays at my rate of $2. per hour, swerving home in the passenger seats of my clients’ cars at midnight.

I put one of my little charges, seven-year-old Noelle, to sleep in her room and turned on the yodeling record that she faded off to each and every night. Her father was Swiss. The sound of yodeling is now a separate, but related, phobia for me.

“Turn the record over, Tracy!” she called from her bedroom when the yodellee-yodello needle bumped up against the center of the record.

I went and flipped it over on her Fisher-Price stereo. In the hallway on my way back to the TV, Mischa lurked, hissing. It’s a scary sound. I decided to shimmy on past Mischa, quickening my steps to clear her. That’s when the crazy Russian jumped on my back and added her horrible cat-fighting shrieks to the sounds of the Swiss yodelers. I ran around the first floor of that house like a lunatic, my bad perm standing on end, as she jumped at my back, swiping and screeching while the yodelers yodeled on. I flew up the stairs and found refuge in the bathroom across the landing, slamming the door behind me. Mischa continued to hurl herself up against the other side of the closed door—a total nutcase cat.

Now here’s the next cringe—and the reason why most modern parents don’t hire twelve- year- olds to care for the safety of their children. Noelle was up out of her bed downstairs, crying and confused.

“What’s happening?” she sounded absolutely miserable at the bottom of the staircase. I could barely hear her over my own heartbeat.

“Can you pick up your cat and put her in the basement?” I called, instructing the seven-year-old to handle the violent enemy.

“Ok,” she sniffled and did as told, luckily without injury. I wasn’t worth two cents that night.

My cat phobia was born.

Years later I visited Key West on vacation. One of the points of interest is the estate of Ernest Hemingway. We’d thought we’d check it out on a rainy day. As we approached the gated southern villa, I saw cats, many cats, milling about on the lawn. I stopped abruptly by the man in the ticket booth.

“Are there a lot of cats here?” I asked, panic-stricken.

The booth attendant, a tired old Queen, looked at me with the frustration reserved for extremely stupid tourists.

“Do you have allergies?” he asked with a sigh. “The home is known for its six-toed cats. They’re all about the property,” he obviously had this interchange all day with allergic patrons.

“No, I’m just really afraid of cats.”

He pushed his eyeglasses down on his nose to examine me and sighed again.

“Well, Mam, then this is NOT the place for you.”