Sunday, December 26, 2010

Occupational Fantasy, Part Two

I am standing in a quiet, empty metro station when I feel a stranger’s hand on my shoulder. I turn and see a man in a long trench coat with wild snakes of hair and suppose that he is either homeless or a wizard. He says that he is a cubist furniture designer and that I will be his apprentice. He will teach me to upholster cubist furniture and restore antique cubist furniture to its former condition, and when he has taught me all that there is to know about cubist furniture I will be the greatest maker of cubist furniture in the world. I say okay. The metro appears and he pulls me inside with great haste. We go to his cubist furniture studio where I choose appropriately coordinating fabrics for each grain of wood. The cubist furniture master tells me that we will have to work quickly through the cubist furniture curriculum because of those who would have me fail. His rival cubist furniture designers have spies everywhere, behind the cubist wardrobe and under the cubist bed. In just a couple of weeks I learn the appropriate skills of a cubist furniture designer and open my own shop where my cubist chaise lounges are purchased by wealthy collectors from all over the world. After a long day of upholstering, I have time to write stories.

Occupational Fantasy, Part One

I am educated by a wealthy patron who sees in me the potential to become a scholar or a corrupt official in the local government. I am sent away and boarded in another city where I become worldly, cultured, and fluent in Greek. When I return to my patron he is boundlessly impressed by my Greek and the witticisms that I produce at his dinner table to amuse ladies in powdered wigs. He insists that I come to dinner every Tuesday and recite sonnets and essays I effortlessly compose when I am not shadowing a controversial, bearded philosopher who thinks of me as his own son and frequently clutches me to his own breast. My patron commissions me to write comedies for his amusement, and in my free time I write stories.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Little Mother With Claws

“Prague never lets you go… this dear little mother has sharp claws.” Franz Kafka

My flight home was scheduled for December 18th, but Prague would not let me go.

My friend N. and I arrived at the airport, all packed and ready to return to the US. I checked my baggage, spent my last crowns on a souvenir beer mug for my dad’s shelf, and waited in the terminal for a plane that never came. Eleven-thirty came around and there was no information on the ticker, but it did promise more information at one or so. At one, the ticker insisted that it would give us more information at three. The airline’s website insisted that we got on the plane and that we landed safely in London. After several hours in an airport pub trying to stay awake with some overpriced beverages, we all found out that the flight had been cancelled.

The first thing I had to do was pick up my luggage. My Barney purple suitcase was immediately visible but my black duffle was nowhere to be seen. The belt went round and round, but it was empty. I talked to a woman at the luggage desk. “Just sit down and wait. There will be more baggage coming.” So N. and I sat down and waited. No luggage came onto the belt and then the belt shut off completely. I went back to the woman at the luggage desk. “I’ll call them and have them turn the belt back on,” she said. “But there’s nothing on the belt!” I said. She insisted that it was probably stuck inside of the machine and told me to sit down and wait. The belt came back on and no new luggage appeared. I went to the woman at the luggage desk again and she gave me some forms. I suspected that my bag caught a plane to Heathrow Airport  by itself.

The next ten hours were spent in line. This mind-numbing wait would have been entirely unbearable if I hadn’t accidentally adopted a stray child who named me “Penguin.” For ten hours, Vicky and I shuffled up and down the floor, played “Touch Brittany’s camera lens,” and pretended the electronic ticket machines were TVs full of penguins. My childrearing services were paid for in yogurt which promoted my intestinal regularity. Vicky led me around by the hand, announcing to the other students that I was her friend and that no one else was her friend. “What about N.? Isn’t N. your friend, too?” “No,” she said, finishing off my Subway sandwich. She reluctantly left before me with her real mom and twenty of my Czech crowns jingling in her tiny backpack.

The other students and I got a direct flight booked from Prague to JFK, but we had to wait for two days in a hotel. The airline paid for our rooms and our meals at the hotel. I was all ready to get back to New York, see everyone at home, and sleep with a cat at my feet, but when I looked out the window it seemed an awful lot like the Devicka metro stop. I picked up the lost black suitcase that was discovered in another terminal entirely and spent the rest of the day sleeping. N. distracted himself by choosing our seats on the Delta airlines website.

On Monday, N. and I went to the airport again, checked the luggage again, and waited in line again. Most of the other students were put on standby because the flight was overbooked, but since N. reserved seats we had a guaranteed ride home. After that, the only obstacle in my path from Prague to New York was security, and security made sure that I got a little more waiting in before I took off. Before I went through security, I was told that I had been randomly selected for a special search and that if I waited in the seating area an employee would soon assist me. Two hours later, someone woke me up to escort me and the other randomly selected passengers to a special section of airport security, just in time for the plane to board. “We can’t miss the plane in security, right?” someone asked me. Ahead of us, a punk rocker covered in metal chains was walking back and forth through the metal detector.

Luckily I didn’t miss the plane going through security. As I took my seat, the pilot came on over the loudspeaker and greeted us. “I have some bad news,” he said. “I’ve been told that we lost our timeslot. We were scheduled to leave by a certain time, and now another plane is using our runway. I never imagined anything like this could happen. In all my years as a pilot, nothing like this has ever happened to me. I don’t know how long we’re going to have to wait.” After spending sixteen hours waiting in the airport, losing a suitcase, and becoming a mother I felt like I could endure anything.

And then the stomach virus set in. Not because of the movement of the plane or the quality of the plane food, but because it was the most inconvenient time possible. After an uncomfortable nine hour flight, I arrived at JFK green in the face, but happy to be in a land that doesn’t fall to pieces under the weight of four inches of snow.