Daddy Long Legs and the HAZMAT Girls

It’s not immediately apparent if he’s having a private Pentecostal service or if I should seek protection from his projectile vomit. It could go either way.

It’s a red eye flight from LAX to JFK. My skin is telling the story of the 23 hour day; paper thin and dehydrated. I buckle myself into 4A, a Jet Blue Even More Space seat. My momentary hopes of the middle seat remaining open are dashed quickly as he approaches; a very LARGE man sits next to me, his knees barely fitting. At least I have a night mask?

The crew makes final checks and run through the cabin like a military coupe, shoving bags into too-small overhead spaces and hawk-eyeing unfastened seatbelts.

Then it starts.

My knee-y neighbor keeps nodding off into me, like the free-fall-and-catch number on repeat. He’s lights-out, except there’s clearly nowhere to lie down. Except on me. He begins the type of burping and breathing that makes the olfactorys keenly aware his organs are swimming in an ocean of rum. It violently swishes around inside him, like Jonah trying to backstroke his way out of the belly of the whale.

This guy is wasted.  5 hours on a plane somehow just got much worse.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have closed the cabin door and are doing our final cross-check. We plan on having you out of here about 20 minutes early tonight, ” says the captain.

The long legger suddenly bolts up like his seat is a faux leather electric chair. He shoots up the aisle and takes a hard left to the bathroom. 

Minutes pass. We’re admonished repeatedly to turn off our cell phones. The overhead bins are triple checked.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we can’t leave the gate until everyone is in their seats with their seatbelt fastened,” Captain says. 

The man bursts out as quickly as he entered.  He seems lighter, calmer as he sits. We settle.

My fool’s-gold relief vanishes. The red-headed flight attendant looks in the bathroom, cocks her head and barks,

“He puked in the sink. Get the HAZMAT team in.”

Scattered groans create a cacophonous accompaniment track to the ringing that begins in my ears. Cabin door pressure is released. Air blasts through the overhead air valves. An incessant beeping. Our 20 minute head start just took a nose-dive into the ground of Murhpy’s Law. 

A pungent odor wafts my way.

I escape it all underneath my night mask.  White Noise iPhone app completes the escape as I choose beach waves and relive last night’s Santa Monica trip. I wedge my head between the plastic plane wall and faux leather seat side. I’m dazed and confused, hearing the HAZMAT vacuums begin their sucking and spitting. Protective rubber gloves pop onto wrists, punctuating the roar of my mechanical waves.

Occasionally I feel the Puker, Daddy Long Legs, shift in his chair. I play a sleepy, contrapuntal breathing game with myself, lulling my senses and defying this wait; He inhales, I exhale. He quickens, I hold my breath. And keep holding it. I hold my breath for longer than I know.

I’m falling, feeling heavy.

I startle in a sputtering gasp and breathe deeply. I cough into space as the waves still roll in my ears and blackness surrounds me.


It’s then I notice the beeping and the ringing have stopped. HAZMAT suit crinkling has stopped.

Like an oven timer going off, I’m jarred in alarm by techno music and electric guitar riffs. Everyone’s Jet Blue TV screens are jarringly alit with the face of Olivia Newton-John singing the end of “Magic” from XANADU and the subsequent accompaniment. Her sexy legs are accented by a red, shimmering skort ensemble. 

Dated choice for the in-flight movie, I think. This a very bad sign for getting out of here any time soon.

Stasis evens into the serenade of XANADU.
I slink my head back, escaping the TV glare of Olivia gearing up for “Suspended in Time.”

Then: herding cattle noises start in the boarding terminal to the left.
Cue: roller skating HAZMAT girls in their crinkling suits. Three of them roll in looking much too happy for the task.
“Suspended in Time” swells from each TV screen as they dance, twirl and bucket out puke. The song’s duet begins. 

“… a miracle is what we neeeeeed…”

Daddy Long Legs bolts up, charging the isle again. He takes a determined hard right this time, going behind the flight attendant cubby hole, not the expected bathroom left.

Is Daddy puking into the Diet Coke stash?

Madness ensues.

He comes out from behind the cubby with a drink cart overflowing with pre-poured Bacardi rum and coke instead. He now wears a foam lobster hat and has a plastered teethy grin. The cabin lights simultaneously dim as he emerges and the floor strips burn a gentle pink. He’s passing out rum and coke with more charisma than Michael Jackson’s ‘Scarecrow’ prancing down the Yellow Brick Road.

He doing the shimmy into the silicon breasts of a Jersey Shore wannabe. He clicks the lobster claws at her. “I’m gonna pinch you. I’m gonna piiiiiinch you, lady.” Three rows back is a Margaret Thatcher look alike. “You’re a tough hussy, aren’t you? CHUG CHUG CHUG!” He pours a rum and coke down her throat from midair.

A new team of roller skating HAZMAT girls burst through the back door of the plane with wide-mouthed, blue plastic tubes. The pink floor strips begin to flash, and the tubes spray fraternity party-style foam all over the back half of the plane.

People give in and start mingling in the isles. The crew couldn’t care less at this point.

“Seatbelts are for sissies!” the red head attendant yells. She giggles maniacly. 

It’s a Daddy Long Legs HAZMAT Puke Party. I’ve seen everything. Except Taj Mahal.

Daddy is now mid-plane with one of the blue tubes blasting foam from the back half of the plane toward the boozed half. A man’s face is totally white with it. Rows of people’s hair is ruined, clothes soaked. TV’s are sticky. I watch in tranced shock at people’s utter compliance.  Next up: a camera crew yelling “YOU’VE BEEN PUNKED!”

But no camera crew materializes. Just Daddy and the HAZMATS. He stands very close to a Puerto Rican business man with a belly. He blows foam right into his face and mouth-breathe sings, “a miracle is what we neeeeeed.”

All I can think is, “His puke breath has got to be RANCID.”

A Charlie Brown-esque pilot announcement cuts in on the fun and, like XANADU magic, it’s pitch black again. White Noise waves return to me, and there’s a fade up on the beeping.

“Ladies and gentlemen, We appreciate your patience and WA WA WA so please WA WA WA…”

My neck is stiff and there is something RANCID hurling toward me. I reach up to feel my nightmask still strapped firmly in place. I peek out to see Daddy Long Legs quietly drooling and mouth breathing on me. His breath is swamp bottom nasty.

Oliva Newton-John is gone and the TVs are blank. People looked predictably strapped in and pissed. And the only foam I can see is around the corners of Daddy’s mouth.

Shoe-wearing HAZMAT men finish the clean up task.

I turn around to see if the Margaret Thatcher look alike is there.


Nap dreams are the worst.

We’ve been in the air 47 minutes. So says my iPhone stopwatch I set when we took off. I’m delirous, but it’s better than a bad acid trippy dream again. I read A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES out of one eye. The New York Times TV program Hot Chicks in Wheelchairs: Push Girls flickers as I my head bobs and catches. 

The red-headed flight attendant begins in-flight service in our section. 

“Coffee, please,” I whisper. “And Blue Terracotta chips.” 
Daddy Long Legs sleeps soundly and doesn’t order.

The woman on the other side of him asks for cranberry juice and hand wipes. She bemoans that her seat recline is jammed. 

A bald African American man in Aisle Three says, “I’ll take a Corona. Actually, no… I’ll, yeah… I’ll uh, I’ll take a rum and coke.“

Coincidence, of course. 

I dart my eyes back to Daddy. He doesn’t stir; he just drools. Surely they have a travel toothbrush in all these bins and storage. Mouthwash, at least?

I check my own breath: NOT stellar. So, I eat my chips and incoherently flip channels, catching sounds bites of ESPN, MSNBC, Nickelodeon, Animal Planet, Food Network, XANADU, HGTV, CNN, National Geo…

Wait. I flip back and freeze. 

Olivia Newton-John sings:

"Goodbye is a crime
Suspend me in time. In Tiiiiime.”

I scroll the Brightness all the way down until it goes off and snap my head toward Daddy. 

His eyes are open and he stares impishly toward me. “Do you know how long we’ve been in the air?” he asks.

I slowly nod my head and reach for my iphone as if it’s a loaded weapon. The air has become suddenly palpably heavy and I can’t inhale.

“47 minutes,” I gasp out. “Wait. No… that can’t be right. It was 47 minutes 10 minutes ago…” But the seconds still tick away, giving no indication that it has stopped or malfunctioned. 

“47 minutes,” he repeats without surprise. “47. Aisle 7. You know the XANADU revival was in 2007? Olivia will forgive us on that one. The 80’s with Olivia were clearly superior in every way. Yeah… seems a good place to get stuck. You like her? No? You’ll grow to like her… Now, if you get cold during our very extended flight, I have a lobster hat in the overhead. Just let me know, lady.”

He puts his head back and lets out a rancid, happy sigh of air. He hums “goodbye is a crime…’

I think I’m awake. And I think I’m going to puke.