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.