Friday, June 19, 2009

The other day, while flying to Seattle with Lula and Malko, it was made clear to me that I'm still a pretty good liar. I don't have as many opportunities these days to practice the skills I honed during most of my youth and, specifically, during my first attempt at college, when I double-majored in Lying and Fucking Off at UC Santa Cruz, but life is full of surprises, and there I was--rattling off lie after lie in a way that would make the most psychotic psychopath jealous.

If Lula's discomfort about every aspect of the trip--from having to remove her shoes before walking through a menacing gate, to being strapped into a cramped seat next to a strange man, to going way, way too high up in the sky in a rickety-seeming "flying machine"--hadn't matched my own so perfectly, I might not have gone to such lengths to calm her, but as it was I completely agreed with her on every point, and understanding what she felt allowed me to come up with benign answers to her terrorized questions before they even left her mouth.

Pre-departure, it went like this: "Maman, why do we have to take our shoes off? What are they going to do with our shoes? What is happening?"

I didn't miss a beat, and was even able to inject the right amount of aren't-you-silly-for-worrying in my voice: "Oh, they're just checking our shoes to see if they're clean, Lula. If they're not, the plane will get dirty. That's why we're taking them off and putting them in these plastic bins."

A little later, after three separate stewardesses told me I'd need to put my mask on first, before Lula and Malko, if cabin pressure went cuckoo, Lula demanded: "Why did they say you need a mask? Why do you need a mask? Maman, why do you need a mask??"

I silently thanked the stewardesses for reminding me that things can go very wrong in airplanes and for adding to Lula's worry. "The masks are in case it gets too warm in here. If it gets too warm, cool air is sent through the masks and we breathe it that way. Isn't that nice?"

She was quiet until we took off, and then we heard an ominous creaking coming from somewhere in the plane. It sounded very much like big pieces of metal pulling apart, and Lula whipped her head around to face me: "What's that sound? What's that sound? Maman, what's that sound??"

Hm. I didn't like the sound either. I looked out the window to see if the wing was still attached to the plane; it was, so I assumed the other wing or the tail was falling off. I didn't tell Lula that, though, as it would have prompted more questions and ultimately prevented me from slipping into the soothing world of upright steam cleaners and self-filling dog bowls portrayed in the in-flight magazine--a magazine whose sheer weirdness was obviously devised to take people's minds off the fact that flying around the sky in a big metal object is, well, totally unnatural. I looked at Lula's flushed face, noting her watery eyes and her breathing, which came in short wheezy gasps; something drastic needed to be done. A little desperate, I threw out my resolution to insist on healthy foods during the trip, her "at least four" cavities be damned: "That sound, Lula, is the food carts moving around in the closets. They're packed with all kinds of sodas and snacks. You know you can have as much as you want, right?"

It did the trick--her next question was motivated by greed, not fear, and when the carts began rolling down the aisle and I saw a spark of excitement in her eyes, I turned my attention to Malko, who was slumped like a drunk against my chest in the Babybjorn. Unlike his sister, flying had a narcotic effect on him, and the only sign of life came in the form of a recurring dribble of spit-up that slipped from his cutely gaping mouth to a small pool above my sternum. Reaching carefully to pat the barf with a burp cloth, I felt grateful that it was just in that spot and not on my back, in my hair, and down my pants, the way it was the first time I flew with Lula. We'd gone to Rhode Island when she was two months old, and halfway through the flight she looked at me with adoring eyes, opened her mouth, and blessed me with a tsunami of regurgitated milk that drenched my entire upper body. I spent the rest of the trip smelling of throw-up and making crinkling sounds when I moved, from all the paper towels stuffed beneath my shirt.

Having successfully cleaned up this particular mess--I neither woke Malko nor jabbed my elbow in my neighbor's ribs--I folded up the burp cloth and reached down to stuff it in my backpack. Doing so reminded me of another plane trip: I was headed to Rhode Island again, but this time my traveling companion was a white rat named Allegra. I was in my sophomore year of college, and since no one had begged to keep my pet rat while I went home for Christmas break I'd decided to take her with me. Everything went fine, more or less: she rode in my coat pocket until we passed security, and then I transferred her to my backpack in the bathroom. We got on the plane and I congratulated myself on my ingenuity until I glanced down and saw Allegra's head and shoulders sticking out of a hole in my backpack. I spent the rest of the trip compulsively reaching down to check if any new holes had been made, certain that any second I'd hear a scream and see a little white body scampering down the aisle. I tried not to think about what would happen if she did escape, but something told me the things I'd learned the past quarter in Evasive Bullshitting wouldn't help much.

We arrived without further excitement, and ten days later we made the trip back to California, again without trouble. Allegra returned to her cage in the corner of my room, and I returned to my half-ass collegiate ways, spending more time chugging Gallo with a fellow degenerate than reading or, for that matter, going to class. UC Santa Cruz was great because evaluations, rather than grades, were issued at the end of the quarter, which allowed for much more creative interpretation of my performance. More importantly, it allowed for creative renditions of my performance while talking on the phone to Certain Key Members Of My Family (CKMOMF). Evasive Bullshitting came in handy at those times, and the creative renditions continued until the spring of my junior year, when I dropped out/was kicked out, depending on the perspective. I spent the next few months trying to hide the truth about the depressing end of my "studies" from CKMOMF, telling them anything I could to avoid admitting that I'd fucked up, and fucked up bad.

Looking back on those days, I've often regretted many things. Mostly, I regret deceiving CKMOMF, but I also regret simply not having the courage to say "I can't do this." It was a difficult time overall, but as the years add up between now and then I've started to see that in some ways, it wasn't such a loss. At the very least, I learned how to tell a lie, and the other day, my lying helped my daughter with her flying. And for that I'm happy.

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