$36.

Lessons from Maine, and a foray into first class.

The following was first presented as part of CHIRP Radio’s The First Time series at Martyrs’ in Chicago. If you enjoy independent radio, please consider supporting CHIRP’s mission.

Years ago, I made a short vacation out of my friends’ wedding in the bride’s home state of Maine, a state famous for two things — shellfish and white people, most of whom are...fine. Both the lobsters and the white people. There’s nothing particularly wrong or terrible about the white people there. There’s just so, so, so many of them in Maine and so very very few...anyone else. And so few of them have been shitty to any friends of mine who aren’t white! Don’t get me wrong — there are DEFINITELY racists in Maine — I’m just saying that maybe most of them are too covered in butter and cocktail sauce to make trouble for people of color.

Even less problematic than the white people were the shellfish, which were always delicious. We kept visiting lobster pounds — that’s where they keep captured lobsters alive in freshly circulating seawater until they are sold or cooked alive in boiling water — a practice that sounds barbaric until you remember that a marine biologist once told me at a party that most lobsters voted for Trump or Jill Stein (okay, so, maybe still pretty problematic). That whole week, I feasted — lobster and platters of firm, toothsome clams and oysters brimming with ocean brine, as salty and sweet as how I imagine kissing Ron Swanson for the first time must be. And with almost every meal, more of them. 

I now believe that one of those oysters, in its last moments, prayed to, I dunno, Aquaman or something, and asked — not for grace or peace or even salvation — but revenge. 

Now, a few weeks before, American Airlines offered me a first class upgrade on my return flight for $36. $36! Like most folks, I’d said “fuck off” to paying hundreds or thousands for the warm-toweled, fully-reclining seat luxury of an upgrade — but 36 dollars for FIRST CLASS, how could I say no? It was like I’d waited my whole life for the future, and here it was, finally kissing me like it meant it, for less than the cost of a Sun Wah Peking Duck dinner. I was done waiting for my life to be over. I said YES to American Airlines. A thousand times, yes.

And honestly, by the time my trip was over, after vacationing hard, eating roughly 250 oysters and clams, at least a half dozen lobsters and enough booze to pickle an ox, I was exhausted and READY for a comfortable flight back. 

But not before I decided to indulge in one more platter of clams and oysters. 

At the airport.

The trouble started before we got on the plane. At the gate, there was a...rumble. But I’m lactose intolerant, and I was sure that what I was feeling were just the effects of a dairy-heavy breakfast. Certainly not food poisoning.

We boarded, and looking down at the buttery, supple leather of my bougie-ass aisle seat, I began to worry the impeccably well dressed doctor couple across the aisle from me could tell I wasn’t a frequent first class flyer. I felt oddly weird about my shoes. But after a while I cared less about looking like I belonged there and grinned like an idiot with every proffered dish of warmed mixed nuts or elegant flute of sparkling wine. 

None of which I ate or drank, because after a half hour on the plane, what I thought was impostor syndrome-fueled sweat oozing out of my pores was clearly a symptom of something else. My body started to yell-whisper “I THINK THERE’S A POSSIBLE PROBLEM AND GETTING ONTO A SEALED METAL TUBE WITH NO WINDOWS YOU CAN OPEN MIGHT HAVE BEEN A BAD IDEA.”

Please, if you will, imagine the aggressive, gloopy, grindy, gurgling cacophony of dropping a raw chicken into a running garbage disposal. Now imagine hearing something like that noise inside you, and realizing what that means. Then imagine feeling like you’re both the garbage disposal AND the chicken. Now imagine that, unlike the garbage disposal, your tail end isn’t affixed to a purpose built drainage system, so that now you’re carrying all of THAT around in you. Now imagine you have to get rid of it all. In close proximity to 11 people who have paid a lot of money for what they thought wouldn’t be three hours and five minutes listening to some sweaty weirdo turning the first class lavatory radioactive.

During my first of nine agonizing trips up and down that aisle, I looked around and thought something like “regardless of what sins you people up here have committed...none of you deserve what’s about to happen to all of you, and I’m sorry.”

There were a dozen of us in that first class cabin. But believe me, I was all alone. 

I should have known even a brief visit to the good life would cost me more than $36. I just never thought an oyster’s dying oath of vengeance would be the harbinger of the terrible karmic price me and my butthole would have to pay. The awkward, resentful glances from my fellow passengers and flight crew as I disembarked have served as a reminder that bounty is no excuse for greed or gluttony, and you should prepare for unexpected opportunities by trying to make good decisions when you can. So that when that opportunity comes along — you don’t shit all over it. 


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