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Flying Solo

Spank gazed out the window and stared at the mountains dusted with early snow. A thousand black lines squiggled through the whiteness like make-up cracking on an old face. It was like they were intended for air-born travelers, for whom they made beautiful patterns and abstract outlines, like ancient Nazca spiders etched into the Peruvian soil of the altaplana. Unintelligible from the ground or even from a height of fifty meters, their shape only became meaningful from the clouds. Up at 30,000 feet, looking down at the pattern of roads and trails in the Colorado snow, Spank strained his eyes until he could see the outline of a monkey giving him the finger. Wow. He couldn’t help but laugh at the strange vision, though, having eaten nothing except his apple, he wondered if he should slow down on the cocktails.

With a glance at his sleeping seatmate he decided it was a good time to look for an open aisle seat in the back of the plane. As he pulled himself up and walked down the aisle, he realized the plane was completely empty behind where he had been sitting. Strolling for a dozen aisles, he plopped giddily into a center seat and pushed the button for the stewardess.

It took her a while to respond, and when she did, she seemed annoyed to have to voyage into the unoccupied aisles. "Yes?" she asked.

"I wanted to get a couple more screwdrivers."

"Sir, we’re only allowed to serve one at a time."

"Come on… I’m all the way back here."

"Yes, you are," she said, lips pursed. She went off to the front, coming back with two drinks and a sour expression.

"Thanks." He smiled and gulped them down, pushing himself over the edge into drunken euphoria. Soon his mind was racing, making him eager to sing songs and call friends and play air guitar and do the hokey-pokey. Ingesting the last of his liquor, he flipped through a discarded copy of Sport Jockey Digest, looking at pictures of horses winning races, big dudes dunking basketballs, muscular young women holding up trophies, and then in the final pages, a colorful ad. Phone sex. He looked up at the sky-phone and did the calculations. He was the only passenger for aisles and aisles, and the stewardess wasn’t going to come back here unless he pushed the button or started a fire. He knew it was a crazy idea and let out a drunken brapp, half belch, half laugh, and then reached with one hand for the phone and with the other for his wallet. Hee hee.

He looked around the cabin again and then stared at his Visa. With the coast clear, he dialed some number in the Netherlands or Poughkeepsie, before punching in his Visa digits. Somewhat to his surprise, the card was approved and he wasn’t transferred him to a collections agency for a stern lecture on fiscal responsibility. Instead he was taken to a computerized menu of choices, where he selected the fetish that sounded most promising, and he was soon cavorting with a young Hawaiian woman who said she was touching herself "like crazy" and that he sounded "really attractive." Double-checking his privacy, he made sure no one could see him rubbing himself. At first it was subtle, with him using the magazine to hide his motions, but he was soon hopped up on Hawaiian love hormones and absolutely had to unzip his pants, just a little bit, just to finish what he had started. With drunken logic, he was confident that no one could see what he was doing and so with one final glance up the aisle to make sure he was alone, he whipped it out and, with a wild sense of accomplishment, began letting loose on the back of Sport Jockey Digest. Wincing and biting his lip, he was letting out final contraction on an Absolut ad, when he looked up to see the horrified expression on her face. Fuck! He had no clue how the stewardess had come back so quickly. All he knew was that she looked like she had tasted a rancid egg, just before she pirouetted in dismay and marched to the front of the plane. Oh no, oh no… His hands shaking, he hung up the phone, his climax ruined. Dumb ass! He cursed himself nine different ways and prayed not to be arrested. Should he apologize? Could he apologize? He felt nauseated as he jammed the magazine into the seatback, hoping to hide the evidence. Dumb ass!

The plane touched down 20 minutes later, but the time passed very slowly for Spank, even as he waited for the door to open and the front rows to disembark. When he staggered past the cockpit, he averted his gaze from an unfamiliar stewardess who smiled and wished each passenger farewell and was relieved when he sneaked past, flushed and light-headed, into the ramp. Had he gotten away with such depravity? Was this a small stroke of good fortune? He started walking more quickly, thinking it was just possible for him to pull one off, but as he got closer to the end of the ramp, he noticed a worrisome thing in the terminal ahead: two stewardesses talking to several men in blue shirts. One woman was crying and as Spank tried to saunter off behind the "I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt" stand, the other pointed at him. It was no good. One of the large men approached him in a military quickstep.

"Excuse me, sir, may we have a word?"

Spank froze, tempted to run, though he could only manage a gloomy nod.

"Please come this way, sir. It’ll only be a moment." Waving crisp goodbyes to the stewardesses, the two men escorted Spank down a narrow hallway off the terminal lobby. One held open a door marked "Security" and waited for Spank to enter a small and unremarkable room— beige carpet, fluorescent lights, Venetian blinds pulled shut. He was instructed to take a seat at an empty conference table as one of the men sat down, opened a folder, and started filling out forms. The other man remained standing with his arms crossed.

"Sir, we’ve had a complaint from some of our airline personnel." The standing man was speaking in a smoker’s voice.

Spank tried to appear surprised. "Oh really?"

"Yes, it’s about your conduct on flight 794," the standing man said. "Do you know what we’re referring to?"

Spank paused as if he were racking his brain and then said, "Uh… no."

The standing man peered at the runway through a lifted blind, then turned back to him. "It seems that a flight attendant observed you as you were engaging in what appeared to be a lewd act," he continued. His partner stopped writing on a form to let out a macho snicker.

"You’re kidding?" Spank looked at the ceiling and pretended to think for a moment, as if the flight had been years ago. "Oh yes, there was something. Small thing, really." Terrified, he tried to smile casually and said, "I was having, ah, ah, a small medical problem and was, ah, ah, adjusting it."

"Adjusting?" asked the standing man, rubbing his crew cut skeptically.

"Yes, that’s correct," Spank replied, extra polite.

"Could you be a little more specific?" said the standing man, while his partner continued to stare without blinking, his pen poised for note taking.

Spank sat up straight, feeling implausibly sauced. "Of course. You see, the thing is… that… I had some pepper… in a certain location."

"Certain location?"

"Yes," Spank said, looking down at his crotch. "Actually, it was my urethra."

"Pepper in your urethra?" The medical term seemed to confuse them.

"Yes, that’s right," Spank said, suppressing a burp. "I think it was from… er… eating too much… corn chowder… for breakfast. Yes, too much pepper, I’m afraid." He touched his hands to his lips.

"Corn chowder?" the standing man asked. "Why didn’t you have a donut?"

"Or oatmeal?" asked his partner.

"Normal breakfast foods," the standing man clarified.

"Yes, they are. I enjoy them. Whenever I can." He noticed their stone-faced reactions and quickly went on: "And by enjoy, I mean, simply, that I like to order them at Denny’s. Pancakes, donuts, oatmeal. Normal breakfast food."

"So what gives with the chowder?"

"Uh, well, it was a leftover," Spank said. "Yeah, my, ah, wife made it for me. She’s a Mormon."

"Fine people." The partner nodded.

"Yes, very fine," Spank agreed. "But the Mormon food can be a little… bland.

Another nod from the security men.

"Which is why… I went a little heavy with the old peppermill."

Everyone nodded somberly.

"And then?" The standing man asked, still taking notes.

"And… it hurt like crazy when it came out. I mean, it burned."


"My area."

"Your area?"

"My urethra."

"Your urethra."

"Yes," Spank said earnestly. "So I adjusted ‘it’ and, well, I suppose I could have given the impression of…. well… of doing something that should be done in private." He noticed them frowning and added, "If at all."

"I see." The standing man seemed to be mulling it over. "So this was not a ‘pleasurable exposure’?"

"Oh no." Spank smiled reassuringly. "Not at all."

"Because sometimes that happens," sitting man said, losing some of the menace in his voice. "People expose themselves… pleasurably."

"Really?" Spank tried to look surprised. "That’s something to ponder. I wouldn’t know where to start." When sitting man arched an eyebrow, Spank tried to explain. "I mean, it’s not rocket science, but…" he laughed nervously, almost simpering, "But why bother, right? That’s what matrimony is for, right?"

The sitting man rubbed his temple before speaking. "Mr. Mullin, we’re busy men."

"I understand," Spank said.

Sitting man bit his lip in response, glanced at his partner, and said, "Can we assume that you will not have a similar medical problem on the return trip or on any other flight in or out of this airport?"

"Oh yes. Without question. I can’t see it flaring up again. In fact, I’ll be laying off the pepper from now on."

"That might be wise," sitting man said. With that, he closed his folder and jolted himself upright. "Enjoy your stay in Reno, Mr. Mullin," he said, without extending his hand.

This excerpt has been brutally yanked from a newly completed manuscript entitled This Must Be the Place. If you would like to find out more about this dark comic novel, please contact the viscously perspiring author at


Randolph Lewis


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2003

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