This week I nearly hijacked an airplane, which officially puts me one up over the time I tried to rob a cemetery. If and when they ever come to arrest me, I will plead Felony Dumbness (although I think the statute of limitations has run on the cemetery thing).
What happened was this: we were coming back from Wisconsin, on a Northwest Airline flight that left Milwaukee at 2:15 a.m. Okay, it was actually 7:30 a.m., but it felt like 2:15 a.m. When the announcement came on to disconnect all electronic devices, I disconnected my Ipod (I don't know if an Ipod counts as an electronic device, but I wanted to be a Compliant Passenger), put it in the front pocket of my blouse and wrapped the cord around my neck so I could easily plug back in once we were aloft. Time passed. We took off, the seatbelt light went off, and an urgent need to pee asserted itself. I extricated myself from my Passenger Holding Device (comedian Lewis Black is right--in coach, they should can the pretense of seating and just give you a wooden rod; then you can stick it up your ass and sit anywhere you like) and slowly made my way down the aisle of the plane toward the lavatory. In my sleep-deprived state, I was working on the fixed idea that All Lavatories Were In The Back. I walked right past the lav and did not notice. The next thing I saw was a woman flight attendant coming up the aisle toward me with a cart of Passenger Kibble or whatever it is they call "refreshments" on airplanes these days. I continued my forward lurch. She looked at me and did a double take. What she saw was a passenger way in the back of the plane where said passenger has no business being, looking disheveled and rather stoned, with wires wrapped around her neck leading to some kind of small device concealed in the pocket of her shirt.
She began backing up. Thas' nice, I thought dreamily, thinking she was going to let me pass her so I could get to the lav. (I've known stewardesses who won't yield an inch to desperate passengers suffering a severe case of the runs; the kibble must be served, goddamit.) This flight attendant, however, kept backing up. At this point, her eyes were really, really big. We're talking approximately the size of salad plates. Something vaguely rang a bell; I had seen that look before. It began to penetrate my fogged-in brain that something here was not quite right. At that crucial moment, a male flight attendant appeared behind the woman with the cart and announced in an extremely loud voice, "THERE ARE NO LAVATORIES BACK HERE."
"Oh," I said, in my most intelligent "I knew that" tone of voice. It wasn't until I saw myself in the lavatory mirror that I realized what the flight attendant must have been thinking. By that time I think they had probably already started the chest compressions on her.
Some people embark on a life of crime; others have a life of crime thrust upon them. My previous experience with law-breaking happened some years ago, when I was a carefree single gal, traveling with my friend Ann in Paris. We decided to go to the Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise, where, among others, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison and Frederick Chopin are buried. Ann was the map-reader; I, with my minuscule French, was the all-purpose translator. Somehow we got off one subway stop past the cemetery, and entered via the back way. For some reason, I had the fixed idea (are we beginning to see a pattern here?) that the cemetery charged admission, being a major tourist attraction and all. Ann didn't seem to think so, and I had to grant that I had never been to a cemetery which required paid admission, but hey, this was France. They do things different there.
So we wandered through the cemetery, me with the uneasy feeling that at any moment a gendarme was going to step out from behind a tombstone and say sternly, in French, "Yo! Numbskulls! Get your ass over here." Finally, we spotted a big administrative-looking building. "Here we go," I said to Ann, and marched in. Inside was a small lobby and a barred window--like the kind banks have in 1950s Westerns--and, behind the barred window, a lady sitting on a stool. Above the barred window was a single word: caisse.
Now, here's the thing: caisse is roughly translated as "cashbox" or "cash register." But, still working on my fixed idea, I immediately made the brilliant deduction that it meant "tickets." So I marched up to the window, presented myself and said in my best college French, "Pardonnez-moi, madame, mais j'ai besoin de la caisse"--which can be literally translated as "I need the cashbox" or, if you want a rougher translation, as "Hand over the money and nobody'll get hurt." This was my first encounter with the Eyes-The-Size-of-Salad-Plates phenomenon, and I was thoroughly baffled. Was it my grammar? My accent? At this point I began to repeat my request more slowly, but my attempts were thwarted by Ann, who being light years ahead of me, was suddenly pulling on my arm and yelling, "No, Tracy! No!"
In the end, Ann managed to turn me aside from my doggedly inadvertent attempt to rob the joint and we did not get arrested. The lady behind the barred window recovered her composure very quickly, with a Gallic shrug that said eloquently, "Goddamned fucking stupid American tourists," and we went on with our expedition. I believe that was the same day I discovered that those coin-operated street lavatories they had in Paris at the time (do they still have them?) had a door that operated via some electronic signal triggered by a person's weight on the floor, so that when--just to take a hypothetical example--a person is sitting on the john with her pants around her ankles and lifts her foot to take a look at a sandal strap that is getting ready to break--eeerrrrrrruuummmmmm--the electronic door slowly slides open, giving the person on the john a view of all Paris and all of Paris a view of the person on the john. But that's another story.
And people wonder why I don't get out more.
I did get out last night, however, to a book signing at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., where about 50 people showed up--including a significant number of people who I did not know and who were not related to me--to hear me talk about my new book, The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children and Struggling with Depression. It was a terrific turnout, considering the fact that this is the month that anyone who can gets out of Washington and dogs can sleep undisturbed in the middle of K Street. Many thanks to the P&P folks and to all the non-relatives who bought books.