My First Class Face

I drained my frequent flyer account for a first class upgrade on a flight to Las Vegas. It’s only the third or fourth time I sat in first. It’s not a subtle difference. It’s a significant improvement. It’s like the scene from The Wizard of Oz when everything goes from black and white to color.

I was praying my seatmate would be a wealthy boor. Someone who’s accustomed to luxury and whose standards are so impossibly high that nothing is ever good enough. Hypersensitive, unaware of their good fortune and not afraid to point out the inferior. I love having my prejudices and preconceived notions validated. Well, I got what I wanted. That’s only happened three or four times as well.

I boarded right away. Group 1. Other passengers started their slow Bataan Death March past me to coach. I imagined them looking down at me and thinking I must be a person of substance. Someone with gravitas instead of just regular, which is what I am. I put on my best blasé face. Like I’ve been there so many times before.

A beautiful, stately older gentleman sat next to me. Late 60s. A plume of white, expensively cut hair. A mahogany tan with alabaster teeth. An easy smile. Effortlessly dressed in a casual jacket, crisp, white, open collar shirt, linen trousers and woven loafers without socks. He was going to Vegas to give a talk at a conference. That’s what he does for a living. He travels the world and gives talks.

Soon after takeoff our steward set two small, white porcelain bowls of nuts on our ample armrest. He popped one in his mouth. “They’re not warm.” This led to a discussion on the deteriorating quality of first class air travel. He said it’s lost its élan. “It sure has,” I said.

He asked if I was going to Vegas for wine and women half my age. I told him I’m past all that and just want to shoot craps a bit, see some magic shows and sleep. He winked and said he understood. Said that, in his experience, the men who talk about it the most are the ones who get it the least.

I think he thought I was being coy but, good Lord, I don’t have game anymore. If a woman half my age threw herself at me I doubt I’d realize her intention until after she stormed off insulted. I really did just want to get some sleep.

*     *     *

“Where are you staying?”
“The Palazzo.”
“That’s a nice place. *sniff* I’m staying at The Wynn. I’ll only stay at The Wynn. It’s written into my contract.”

*     *     *

He refuses to eat airline food. For lunch, I ordered the chicken and he said, with 100% certainty, that I was going to regret it. He pulled a zip lock bag out of his soft, leather carry on. It was filled with high-fiber granola cereal. It looked like a bag of stuff he scraped out of his backyard. He told (told, not asked) our steward to bring him a bowl and some milk.

The chicken *was* pretty awful. Even by my low standards.

*     *     *

We finished our meals and he said, “At least the warm cookies are still good. They haven’t ruined those yet.”

When they weren’t forthcoming fast enough, he beckoned our steward over and asked for his cookies. “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t serve those anymore.” He gave me a conspiratorial sideways glance and said, “See what I mean?” I nodded, knowingly.

I was reading the new David Sedaris book. He said he’s published two books and likes to keep up with contemporary literary trends but never heard of Sedaris, which I found hard to believe. I told him that Sedaris has a worldwide audience and has sales in the millions.

“Let me see that a minute.”

I handed it over. He opened it in the middle of the book, read a page and handed it back.

“That stuff’s not for me. I stick with biographies of the greats. Margaret Thatcher. Benjamin Netanyahu. Ronald Reagan.”

*     *     *

There were two children sitting in first class. They were about five and 10. How will they ever acclimate themselves to hardship and suffering?


The next time you go to your favorite seafood restaurant and order the mussel appetizer and go to throw the shells away, DON’T.

Marcel Broodthaers
Poêle de moules
Mussel shells, frying pan and resin on painted wooden base
Est: $350,000 – 450,000
Sold for $439,500

I have a stack of newspapers in the corner of my garage that look exactly like these.

Robert Gober
Est: $20,000 – 30,000
Sold for $56,250

Almost double the high estimate. So worth it.

68 thoughts on “My First Class Face

  1. I wonder what your seat mate talks about that people pay big bucks to hear? I wonder if he lied to you and was really just going there for the Vegas staple?
    This offering of art? No comment.

    • I’m an idiot for not asking. I should’ve asked what books he published as well. Now I’ll never know. He said he didn’t really like Las Vegas and only goes there for business. I believe him.

      • No, I got that from this one. And was so glad to read one of your contemporary pieces, despite how much I love the 90s ones too. Nice job and thank you for releasing this little guy into the universe here. This is what I’m talking about. Beats the hell out of Ronald Reagan that’s for sure.

      • I actually hadn’t done anything ‘fresh’ for quite some time. I’m convinced that the journals are far more interesting that anything I have to say today. They’re a crutch. So easy. Just retype.

  2. Three bull’s eyes, whatever you call that in darts. One nested in the butt of the other, perfectly. Thanks Mark, well done. Bill

  3. I bet he is one of those people that goes to church every Sunday and gives you the finger when he cuts you off in the parking lot……

  4. A wonderful slice of life, Mark. So glad you weren’t disappointed.

    We were actually flown to Geneva 1st class by my husband’s employer. My son had been incredibly excited for days and didn’t sleep between excitement and nervousness. He wet the seat. I think of that every time I walk by those smug bastards. 😏

    • I love being a fly on the wall. Who doesn’t? I was so out of my element but I can talk a pretty good game, so he never suspected. He really opened up like it was us against the hoi polloi.

      Look, not everyone who flies first class is a smug, insufferable prig. But SOME of them are and I was hoping one would sit next to me. How dull it would’ve been otherwise.

  5. He thought you were a middle-aged playboy? Maybe that was a compliment. I wish the steward had asked him whether he wanted cow’s milk or mother’s milk.

    Amazing that people pay to listen to him speak. What does he say to them?

    • Can you imagine? Just because you’re sitting in first class doesn’t mean all the girls want you. That’s gross, right? Or is the opposite true?

      I’m an idiot for not asking about his work or the two books he published. I felt like I was intruding. Like it was none of my business. What a dope.

      • That’s very kind of you. Thanks. I still think it would be so unexpected that I’d miss the signals. I talk a good game but sometimes I don’t pay attention to what’s in front of me.

  6. I would have felt like hanging myself next to that guy. It’s like you couldn’t make a move without him commenting. And for the record, he’s an idiot for the David Sedaris comment.

    The last time I flew was in March, and for the first time ever I paid an extra $20 or $30 (I can’t recall precisely) for the opportunity to board in Group 1 even though I was sitting in coach. I just wanted to make sure there was room for my bag above my seat. P.T. Barnum would have loved me. – Marty

    • No way! It was completely entertaining! The five and a half hour flight went by way too quickly. I loved it.

      They’ve perfected the art of picking your pocket. But do you know what? If you fly first class, they don’t make you pay to check a bag or restrict your overhead bin space. On some tickets, you have to pay extra for that.

      If the airlines would stop charging people to check a bag, the bottle necks and fistfights at the gate would cease. People would stop trying to jam big suitcases under their seats. Fat chance that’ll happen.

      Thanks for read, as always.

  7. Your evasions to skirt around the hidden class differences were really interesting. You’ve got this ability to kid someone into accepting you in a club to which you don’t really belong. I do it ll the time myself. It’s a good skill to have in life. Anyway, did you come back with a profit?

    • I’ve gotten further by talking a good game and pretending I’m something I’m not than I have by working hard. And it’s a hell of a lot more fun, too. All worlds are worth visiting.

      Four days of wagering left me -$37, which I consider a success when you consider the amount of time I spent in the casinos. All I want is to play—to be entertained—with casino money.

      • I’ve somehow avoided the wealthy but man if i don’t get down with the low-lifes, somehow i’ve always been able to blend in with those in the lower rungs, strippers and dealers and petty criminals, maybe it’s because i was one (not a stripper mind you) and in the end they’ve always been more interesting, i guess i do know my share of rich kids and trustafaris but they’ve always bored the shit out of me… Reagan, Thatcher, Netanyahu, i’d have asked if he read anyone who wasn’t a right wing prick, egads!

      • I love mixing it up with everybody. He wasn’t a bad dude. No evil intent. No malice. Just very satisfied with his lot in life. Can’t say I blame him. But I like hanging with ‘my people’ as well. I feel for those young children in first class. They’ll grow up in a vacuum, never knowing the pleasure of mixed company. Only ever talking to people liked themselves.

      • The oldest boyo had a footie tournament near DC over Memorial Day, driving through neighborhoods gawking at huge houses i decided to look them up, most were listed at 5 million plus, then i saw a school, The Norwood School, and decided to look that up, it was 29K for kingergarten and topped out at 40K for 8th grade, don’t worry about those children, they cherish that vacuum, when they want culture they talk to the hired help, the land of milk and honey, what a trip.

      • I hope they get bumped to the back of the plane once in a while. Then, when they’re older, they can sit on the veranda that overlooks the 18th green and reminisce about the times they had to slum in coach class.

    • I remember you. I haven’t seen you around here for years. Hope you’re well, sir.

      He was okay. He was just an old guy who was very satisfied with how he did in life. He wasn’t malicious. That counts for something.

  8. We’ve only flown first class once. It was after my husband got blood clots in all four limbs at the same time (!). He wasn’t supposed to travel for long periods, but we needed to go, so we flew first class so he’d have more leg room to move around and not get any more clots. It was a lovely experience (we were served ice cream!), but the price can’t be justified to ever do it again, in my opinion. I’d rather use the money saved for something else.

    That man next to you sounds like he needs to do some humanitarian work with the Peace Corps or some other agency for a bit. Needs to get a dose of reality. 😄

    • I imagine that most people flying first class have it paid for by their company. It looks like mostly business travelers to me. That’s a pretty sweet idea though. Flying first class for medical reasons. It really is a nice experience and makes flying far less tedious.

      He was an interesting dude. Almost like a walking cliché. But he was nice enough. It’s not like he was vicious or anything.

  9. If the kids were very well dressed, they might have been airline employees’ kids. The ‘down side’ of the free travel some airline employees get is that one must dress very well and behave very well (including understanding that, if the food runs out, you won’t be fed). In the 80’s, as assistant to the president of an airline, I took my girls to Chicago. They were indignant when they saw two kids their ages wearing T-shirts and jeans. And I pointed out that those kids’ mommy had paid several hundred dollars.

    • Wasn’t there recently a case where some airline employee kids weren’t allowed to board because they were dressed inappropriately? I think it was on United. I don’t fault the airline. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for people to look respectable if they’re flying with a free ticket. If you paid for it, do whatever you want. But if you’ve been given the courtesy of a free ticket it’s a simple request to follow.

      • Yes…and this isn’t the first time an employee or dependant has been turned away.

  10. Just so you know, when I walk past the 1st class on my way to coach, I think something like, “thanks you, rich rubes, for subsidizing my coach ticket for the privilege of getting to our shared destination three minutes before me.

  11. When I went to Vegas, I stayed at the Wynn. By default.

    I loved that airline chat. Im incensed about the cookies and I wasn’t even there!
    Don’t throw away your crawfish either. There’s art waiting to happen.

    • Was the Wynn nice? It looks very dark and earthy to me. Do you know the Cosmopolitan? That’s one of the most fun places I’ve ever stayed.

      I didn’t need no stinkin’ cookies. I was happy to be there. Don’t know if it’ll ever happen again.

  12. I saw your name on The Japing Ape when you left a comment and found the name interesting so I thought I’d pop over and say Hi. Funny thing, I actually live in Vegas. I’ve been here for 30 years now. Hope you had a good time.

    • Hello and welcome. Any friend of there Ape, etc. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      Are you kidding? I love that place. I did the typical tourist stuff and had the best time. Wish I could afford to visit more often.

      It must be strange to live there. Or is it not? I’ve lived/worked in NYC for over 30 years and it’s a odd sensation to live in a place where people come to visit for vacation. It’s kind of a privilege, if you think about it.

      • It was strange at first but now the city has been built up so much from when I first moved here that the neighborhoods away from the strip and downtown are just regular neighborhoods. I do like that most of the grocery stores are open 24/7 though. Too hot in the summer to venture out so people go at 2am.

  13. I remember you telling me that a Vegas trip was near. You did good coming home $-37. I got upgraded 25 years ago and never been past row 3 since then. It’s like once you play golf at a Country Club, you never want to play at a public course again. It is totally worth it for large me. Especially for a 10 hour round trip. I am surprised to hear the negative comments from your readers about your seat neighbor and people in first class. I always read all the comments. I also like the Wynn/Encore, but they are all great, i.e. Venitian/Palazzo, Bellagio. Every gambler has there own preference in what they want in a hotel/casino. Basic bed or surrounded by luxury.
    I use to go out there by myself, but now bring my wife. There is so much to do. But I still rather vacation in NYC. More bang for your buck.
    You have lowered the bar (if that was possible) on these Art pieces/prices. Amazing! I just don’t get it! Who are these people?

    • Believe me, if I could afford to sit no further back than the third row (or join a country club, for that matter) I’d probably do it. You know very well where the negative comments come from and that includes mine. Especially mine! Envy. It’s not very mature but it is a sad facet of human nature.

      My favorite hotel, hands down, is the Cosmopolitan. I would’ve love to stay there this time as well but it’s gotten very, very expensive. Well outside my range of affordability. The Palazzo is very nice. I have no regrets. But it ain’t the Cosmopolitan. Who could resist those balconies overlooking the strip? Not me, brother.

      I dare say that the people who put up the money for those art pieces never, ever, under any circumstances, fly coach. Just saying.

  14. I don’t think I’ve ever sat in First Class. I’m usually in Steerage with the goats and chickens and the rest of the downtrodden immigrants cooking thin soup over an open fire.

    Which reminds me of a favorite episode of “30 Rock” where they’re stuck on the runway and the captain keeps saying “20 minute delay” every 20 minutes for hours as the passengers consider revolt.

    Did you get a lot of sleep? Win craps? Score lovely young ladies?

    • You’re better off never knowing. All it did was exacerbate my awareness of my own mediocrity. I should’ve remained blissfully ignorant.

      I got *some* sleep. My internal clock wouldn’t allow a proper sleep-in. I was minus $37 gambling and as far as young ladies are concerned, I might as well have been an errant whisp of vapor. They looked through me like I didn’t exist.

  15. I’ve flown first class a few times, but fortunately for me, my seat companion was my husband, so the conversation was stellar! Besides, there was more legroom, comfy seats, and free drinks, baby! (Full Disclosure: we were upgraded because of his FFM status, not mine!) The last time I flew out to LAX, my daughter had purchased the ticket and put me in a “Delta Comfort Seat” more legroom and a seat that reclines 50% further. It was fine and cheaper, too!

    The art? I hope those mussels were good! 😉 xoxo

    p.s. great read and yes, you are a great Dad!

    • Flying first makes a big difference, doesn’t it? It’s crazy expensive, though. Only worth it if the company is paying. Airplanes are not a democracy. They’re a monarchy. And they take great pains to separate the royalty from the surfs.

      Thanks for your p.s. One can never hear that stuff enough.

  16. How crass of me – I never knew nuts should be warm. I’m glad your treat paid off. A writer needs to experience all levels of life.
    I do think the mussel arranger is – as we say over here-” ‘avin a larf,”

  17. Do the mussel shells smell? I can’t help hoping they do.

    So glad you had your prejudices validated, great start to a trip. I’ve never flown first, but I have had warm nuts, and they are delicious.

  18. Most people in first play The Game. Points, credit cards, upgrade chits… your buddy got it the other common way: job. i’m always delighted to end up there (i’m a points, miles, credit card weenie), and never take it for granted. My only objective is to pound as many free drinks as possible – so long as i’m not driving on the other end. Eat all the food, all the nuts (warm or cold), and enjoy a solid experience of privilege.

    Sadly, once you get the perqs? It’s hard to go without. I get grumpy when i fly airlines where i don’t have early boarding, better seats. I don’t whine. It keeps me grounded, i think…

    • It’s YOU! I’m so happy to see you around. I just got back from Ohio yesterday. How are things on your end? How’s your daughter? I think about her. Your son, too, but mostly your daughter. Hope she’s safe.

      I felt SO privileged. That sort of thing can get under your skin. It can be a real addiction. Luxury travel is not part of my world. I have to fly like a piece of meat. It makes me glad I don’t get on planes very often. It’d be detrimental to my self-esteem.

      • i’m retired. fucking retired. but i’ve spent the first 2 weeks of it in Colorado – helping my very pregnant daughter-in-law with my 2 year old grandson while my son is off on a month of training in California. a miasma of home repair projects, coordinating contractors, and chasing a toddler has kept me pretty swamped. i brought my laptop out here with me – thought ‘yeah, i’ll have time to blog again’.


        yeah. i owe y’all an update…

        keeping in line with the original post: i’m going to be flying in/out of Denver a lot in the future because The Boy is nearby. i’m retired, and no longer bagging frequent flier status due to business travel. i’m flying backofthefuckingplane coach now. boarding group ‘EVERYBODYELSEGOTONALREADY’. i shall adapt…

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