I am writing this while riding Amtrak's City of New Orleans. I'm riding the rails because certain members of my travel party think train travel is safer than flying. However, given that Amtrak's sanitation policies are
modeled after those used in the slums of Calcutta, I think it's very likely that we won't survive the siege taking place in our sleeper cabin by a crack team of bacteria commandos.
About an hour ago, my shirt rode up on my stomach and briefly exposed my flesh to the upholstery on the day bed. I have watched with growing alarm as the resulting skin irritation has spread up my chest and is now as red and angry as the birthmark on Gorbachev's forehead.
I'd love to spend the next 20 hours (travel time from Chicago to New Orleans) complaining about the
miserable state of rail service in this country, but my heart's not in it. (Note to Congress: Give Amtrak some money, cheapskates!) Although I'll probably disembark with a raging case of cholera, it will still be a fun trip. After all, where else can you mingle with ex-cons and the Amish, all while enjoying really bad food and watching an endless parade of the ugly backsides of low-income housing that lines the nation's train tracks? (I just returned to my cabin after having a meaningful encounter with an Amish bulimic who was bingeing on forbidden salted snacks in the lounge car. But that's a story I'm saving for my memoirs!)
We are going to New Orleans to celebrate Stacy's 40th birthday. I use the word 'celebrate' in the most
sinister sense. Think of the underbelly on any celebration — cigarettes floating in half-drained cocktails; limp streamers; hostess anxiety; crushed expectations; clowns—and that should give you some idea of what type of party it will be.
Stacy has long held her friends personally responsible for her inability to slow the aging process, and she has promised to make us particularly miserable when she turns 40 in two days.
I imagine her now, speeding in an airplane above my plodding train, hovering like a dark, little cloud (correction: a dark, little, drunken cloud), and wondering how the hell she got to be so old, and whether she'll ever attract anyone again. She makes a desperate attempt to flirt with the flight attendant, but, sadly, the stewardess is wearing glasses and, therefore, can count the wrinkles in Stacy's neck. A young child across the aisle blinks at Stacy and cocks his head in a curious manner. Stacy smiles and waves (and briefly considers her dusty ovaries and their dwindling stockpile of shriveled eggs). The child points his finger at her and says, 'Grandma?' The child's mother apologizes to Stacy by explaining, 'You look a lot like my mother.'
I struggle to empathize with her plight, but it's difficult because I am so much younger than her, and still very supple and desirable. Still, I've tried to cheer up Stacy by reminding her of all the people who are older than her (the Reagans; a tortoise at Lincoln Park Zoo; the characters in the Old Testament; her mother), but this seems only to
irritate her—much like the effect of rubbing Amtrak upholstery against naked skin.
Next time: Lots of good reasons to hate people who are younger than you!