A short short story by your old blogger.
I was distracted. Blame the crossword puzzle. The clue was: “Three letters. They… come… in… last.” I struggled with the clue and finally cheated and looked it up three pages later. The answer was “X,Y,Z.” That took just enough time to miss securing an “A” spot in the boarding line for the Southwest flight to Vegas.
To get a free “A” spot you had to log on to the site and click “CHECK IN” at the digital stroke of the clock exactly 24 hours before your flight’s boarding time. I missed it at 8:15 AM plus 30 seconds and ended up in the loser “C line” with all the other travelers too lazy or cheap to get the good seats. Find me now: “Row 34 Middle”. I could have paid an early boarding fee and “beat the dance” but that would have been another thirty bucks; against my social security nature and budget.
I avoid flying but 263 miles in a 14-year-old Toyota with 210,000 miles wasn’t an option. So, I booked the senior fare, LA to Vegas, on Southwest. They don’t charge extra to check your bag. The kids with their backpacks can scramble for the overhead spots. Apparently, they are in a hurry. I’m not. I like the baggage carousel. The horn blasts and then the parade starts, and I can wonder what’s in all those bags that look just like mine.
I would have scored an even cheaper fare with more notice. Last minute bookings are expensive. Lenny wasn’t supposed to die for at least another month.
I’m not dressing up for the funeral. Screw that. It’s going to be held outside at grave site. There was no mention of a dress code. I don’t need to pack a suit or wear it on the plane. No one dresses for air travel anymore. I don’t but you won’t catch me in shorts and flip flops either.
The young thing that was standing in front of me in the C line had a tee shirt with sparkles and what I think was a band name, “Exploited Lady”. She looked about 12 and wore flip flops and painted toenails with dayglow polish. She wore a skirt that I hoped my granddaughter didn’t own. I couldn’t see her face. It was buried in orange teased frizz which cascaded and covered most of what wasn’t already hidden by the large iPhone she was studying. I was hoping not to sit next to her.
Engaging that kid in a conversation would be exhausting and probably hopeless. My own grandkids are difficult but they’re blood. What’s the incentive to make conversation with a very young stranger? I don’t TWEET, I don’t have a Facebook page and I don’t understand SNAPCHAT. And I don’t listen to music on my phone. I prefer vinyl with McIntosh amps, and Lansing speakers.
I admit my tastes are different. I am old enough to remember propeller flights and planes that arched up instead of resting parallel to the ground. Angling to your seat you could light up and use the armrest ashtray. Cigars were not allowed but unfiltered camels were OK. Chewing gum was available if you needed it. You didn’t take the flight for granted. You were never sure if you were going to make it as you bumped along in the clouds.
Now I hate to fly. It’s no longer civilized. If I could drive from LA to Vegas I would do it. But old guys shouldn’t drive. Even if I had a new Mercedes I wouldn’t drive. My eyes are shit. Cataract and detached retina surgery. Night blindness.
To my surprise, the woman seated next to me actually has a real book. Not a reader that needs electricity and violates all that is spiritual about the reading experience. (I will concede that easily changing font size on a Kindle is a plus.) Her book is not Hemingway but at least it’s not Patterson. It’s that New Age guy Gary something promoting Karma Bliss or “Soul for the Masses.” Oprah loves the guy. I think its Bullshit. Pablum.
I hate to have to break my seatmate’s concentration and engage a stranger, particularly one who is reading, but my enlarged prostate is calling. I should have taken a magic pill before the flight.
“I apologize, but I’m afraid I have to get up. And this may only be my first of a few more requests. Again, I’m sorry. Getting old is a bitch.”
“Not a problem, sir You go right ahead.”
The flip flop toenail girl is in the same row on the other side of the aisle. She glances up from her iPhone and uses that upspeak dialect I detest to ask:
“Mom…How long is this flight?”
“It’s only one and a half hours.”
Mom’s probably thinking, “How many times can this guy get up to pee in a flight that’s only one and a half hours?” Actually at least one more time. Maybe two.
When I returned the plane was ready to take off. My aisle seat lady with daughter across the row stopped reading and asked me if I was going to Vegas for fun. I gave her points immediately for actually attempting to engage me in conversation. It’s nice to not be invisible.
“Nope, I’m just going to visit an old friend.” And then to reciprocate and attempt to be polite since I would be crawling over her again in the near future I respond:
“And what about you. Going gambling with your daughter?”
“Funny. No. My daughter is hosting a YouTube event called “Pretzels with Zooey.” She’s actually become quite a star, and I might add, money-maker. Her first video on YouTube making a marshmallow pretzel went viral with 12 million looks.” Now she has a regular series with sponsorship. Every time someone views a video she scores.”
“Isn’t that right honey? I’m telling this nice man you have become quite the star.”
Apparently annoyed to have to remove her ear phones to find out what her mother was saying, she finally responds again with that upspeak annoying tone: “Yup, I’m the marshmallow pretzel girl.”
Wondering but only for a second how you mix a marshmallow with a pretzel, I can only offer up a “Congratulations…you must be very proud.”
My second thought was would I have still become an accountant if there was an internet when I was a kid. Could a Jewish boy from Cleveland tell his mother:
“No, mom, I am not going to be a doctor or a lawyer…not even your third-choice accountant. I’ve decided to make marshmallow pretzels and become a YouTube star.”
Finally, the window kid on the other side on me, who I had barely noticed or engaged since he had his laptop open watching some movie with headphones on that dwarfed his head, tuned in for the first time with:
“Yup…I’ve seen that video. Very cool.”
I counted many passengers crossing themselves or muttering a silent prayer as the plane glided through the mountains and landed on the table top that was the Vegas airport. My seatmate took time off from the Buddha to do the same. The fake Eiffel Tower grabbed my eye as I thought about what I should say to Alan.
Alan wasn’t holding a sign with my last name on it but he was standing near the terminal exit so I couldn’t miss him. This was a surprise since the planned arrangement was for me to call him once I retrieved my luggage and then he’d pick me up.
“What are you doing here? I thought we had a plan.”
“Ok so: Can you say Hello Alan. “
` “I figured out how much the short-term parking would cost, and the car rental in Vegas, and decided I’d finally learn about UBER and how to use it. So, I UBERed here to greet you. We can UBER to the hotel and eventually tomorrow UBER to the funeral home.
Just in case, I also downloaded LYFT, whatever the hell that is. Apparently, it is the same deal but maybe cheaper for seniors.”
Alan was a guy who refused to accept he was 78. He wore a baseball cap he probably bought at his third Grateful Dead concert. His Levi jeans said his waist size was 34 and inseam 32. His actual waist was probably closer to 40 but the jeans were around his hips, so the waist size was irrelevant. He could have bought them ten years ago. And probably did. No one but me knew what Alan did for a living. I am sure none of his three ex- wives knew. Alan was a “finder.” He would get you investors for whatever your project was for a fee. This was technically illegal according to securities law if you weren’t licensed, but rarely enforced. If Al found ten buddies to invest 50 grand each he would pocket 50 G’s for himself for doing nothing special other than playing golf and drinking Macallan at the right spots. That’s how he knew Lenny. He would find him investors and sometimes women. Lenny had paid him a lot of fees.
“We are staying at the Mandarin. No smoking. Just for you, Richard.”
“I appreciate it, Alan, and hope you don’t mind lighting up on the porch. I know I’m a hypocrite to complain since I smoked for 40 years, but I just can’t stand the smell anymore. If I still liked it, I would be smoking. I’m going to probably die from my prostate cancer so what the hell if I double up and get lung as well. Do you worry about what it’s doing to you Alan?”
“Hell no. I only worry about my troubled erections. The horror of not being able to get it up without a pill. The damn pill gives me a fierce headache. And if my penis’s target has lost her interest well then, I have a headache without a benefit and I also wasted money. Those pills are expensive. Do the pills give you a headache too?”
“I wouldn’t know. I don’t need it.”
“Your dick still works without it?”
“I have no idea.”
“What do you mean you have no idea?”
“It’s been a very long time, Alan. I live alone. I am not looking for company.”
“Ok so you just masturbate.”
“I used to but looking at very young women on a porno site stopped being a good idea for me. Too much of that assures me that if I ever find a live one my own age I will be confused. Real women over 50 don’t look like that. Young guys should have to visit a women’s locker room to see what their 20-year-old will look like after motherhood.”
“So, what do you want to do tonight? Not a strip club. You don’t like to gamble, and you don’t like the shows. Actually, I admit I don’t recognize any of the headliners anymore either. Who the hell is JayZ?”
“Well, we both like to drink, and we have UBER.”
The bar off the strip was some German Hofbrauhaus club that featured Jägermeister shots and a wooden paddle for guys willing to get whacked for a free shot.
“Can you believe what’s happened to our homeland? We are truly marching toward a new political reality. Not great for the Jews.”
“I refuse to talk about politics or the baby king”
“Actually, I understand. The least I’d like to say is the President has too much power.”
“What do you think Lenny would say about the funeral tomorrow?”
“He wouldn’t go.”
“A guy is no longer useful to Lenny if he’s dead. Nope he’d skip it.”
“Isn’t that a little harsh?”
“Not really. Believe me, Lenny is not going to be playing poker with Jesus in heaven. He didn’t believe in any of that stuff. He gave to Jewish welfare because he had to. Same reason he took golf lessons and played when he hated the game. It was all about business.”
“I think your right.”
“What about you, Richard? You time will be up like mine probably in the next 10 or 15 years.”
“What do you believe?”
“For openers I don’t believe we should go to the funeral.”
“Alan, I just needed an excuse to see you. You are one of my few remaining friends I actually care about. I would go to the funeral if I knew Lenny’s kids or his fourth wife. But I don’t, and I’m not good at faking it. Lenny would not be at my funeral. But then he wouldn’t be able to come because I don’t want one. Burn me up and forget me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Who is the most significant person that lived during your life time? Don’t answer with a sports guy.”
“Ok, probably Einstein.”
“How many years will have to go by before no one will know who he was? Remember the planet is four and a half billion years old and there have been five extinction events already. Many think the sixth is on the way. Everyone eventually will be forgotten. Even those who might deserve to be remembered.”
“What does that have to do with honoring a guy for a few minutes at his funeral?”
“What would you say? I’m sorry for your loss.”
“With Lenny they might be thrilled he’s dead. He cheated on all his wives and left lots of money.”
“And what would I do there?”
“Recite the mourner’s prayer? I have no idea what that prayer means: Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba. It sounds like you are thanking God for not being dead yet. I read the translation. Truth is there is something to be said for being lucky enough to be dead before you get Alzheimer’s or Lewy Body.”
“Yup living too long can be a curse.”
“So, do you really want to skip the funeral?”
“I’m too old for guilt. Yes, I do.”
“Ok, well then I’ll send you home in the morning. I may go to the funeral. I’m not sure yet. But then I live here. There may be potential clients. If I go, I will call you and let you know if you were missed.
The other great thing about Southwest is that you can change your flight without any penalty. This time I will pay the thirty bucks and get an aisle seat.
Maybe I should think more about what happens to me when I die. There’s quantum consciousness, reincarnation and there is still a step up in basis for estate tax purposes.
If there is a next time around, I should be more relaxed and go with the flow.
Or maybe not.