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Just When I Thought I Was Out (of Albany) They Pull Me Back In. [California Seething]

If you were to go back in time and tell some poor schmuck schlepping across the country in a covered wagon that in a century’s time he’d be able to make the same journey in a matter of hours in an enormous metal flying machine, he’d probably be shocked and amazed. He’d be even more shocked and amazed when you told him how much it totally sucks to travel that way and that he’s probably better off with the covered wagon.

Even though the wagon trip takes many months and he’d probably freeze to death or get scalped along the way, at least he doesn’t have to pay $80 to check a lousy suitcase or wait in line for an hour for the privilege of taking his shoes off and getting his anus x-rayed by moronic TSA agents that shouldn’t be trusted to guard the Monopoly bank, let alone to make sure that no one is trying to blow up the airplane, before being crammed into a seat in Guaranteed Blood Clot Economy Class and spending $6.75 on an ass-and-cheese sandwich on a hard roll every bit as stale as the germ filled and lightly puke scented recycled air on the plane because for $475 the cheap cocksuckers running the airline can’t even throw in a really shitty meal for free or give us something remotely worth breathing. It is, in fact amazing just how effectively the airlines have stripped away any sense of wonder from what is, when you think about it, the rather magical act of flying, as though forcing you to step in huge piles of Pegasus shit before letting you ride the mythical beast or a theme park forcing you to sign a waiver that you’re not gonna sue if the alcoholic midget child molester in the Micky Mouse costume grabs your son’s winkie while taking a picture before letting you go into The Happiest Place on Earth.

And when you finally get to your gate with all sense of childhood wonder destroyed and any semblance of enthusiasm that you might have been feeling about your trip crushed like a small paper cup, the aging bimbo with the plastic smile and her snippy metrosexual sidekick behind the counter decide to announce that the plane is too full and try to bribe you not to go after all, because obviously you’re just some masochist who went to all the trouble of getting to the airport at 5 am and having your privacy and personal space invaded by nimrods for fun not to mention the fact that you spent hours at work for weeks before trying to find that one combination of the best possible flights at the best possible times with the best possible layover at the best possible price as an academic exercise because you had nothing better to do with your time and not because you actually wanted to get where the fuck you are going at the fucking  time you fucking planned to fucking get there and if they knew the fucking plane was already full then why did those fuckers keep selling tickets???? Sorry to swear so much but I’m writing this on the flight home and it’s the only fucking word I can type on my iPad consistently without autocorrect changing it to something else. Not to mention that the stewardess is coming down the aisle and I think that sweater wearing Southern whore just told the guy in front of me that she’s all out of cookies and I’m really going to lose my shit if that happens. Wait, never mind, I misheard. They’ve got cookies. What a nice person she is.

So, anyhow, yeah, I flew to Albany last week and am just heading back now. I would have taken the covered wagon but I didn’t feel like dying of scarlet fever in Utah or resorting to cannibalism halfway over the Rockies (though I did come close during my layover at JFK – $21.95 for a hot dog and chips with a bottle of water???? Puh-leeze. Find me a dead soccer player and light up the fire, there is no way I’m paying that much for a snack) plus I had to be back at work on Monday so I sacrificed leg room and dignity for convenience and survival.

Albany is a great place to visit if you have absolutely no choice in the matter. It’s a fine city to be born in, to die in and to spend some time in the middle if you’re too lazy to leave or have absolutely no imagination or have completely failed everywhere else and need to live somewhere with extremely low standards and no expectations (plus, you know, the schools are good.) Albany is the 325 year old spinster city of the family. Sure, she’s not as successful as her investment banker sister to the south with all of her fancy-pants theatres and big gaudy stock exchange and millions of fawning tourists telling her how beautiful she looks for her age because of all the Botox and green-space that Dr. Bloomberg has given her, even though she lost her two front teeth ten years ago and still hasn’t replaced them. She’s also not a total train-wreck like her junkie sisters to the west, all strung out on lost industry wearing tattered old factories and train stations as a sad reminder of faded beauty and better times. No, Albany just puts on a navy blue cardigan over her cream colored blouse, pulls her graying hair back in a tight little ponytail and goes to work collecting taxes, fixing roads, and figuring out how to keep the family going with less and less money every year. Even though her fast living rich sister keeps telling her how nice she’d look with a little urban renewal and lipstick, she’s happy with her little gold chain of a skyline and, after work, she’s content to go back to the little house where her parents used to live, feed her cats and go to sleep right after Castle.

Wait, hold on, got to change planes in Minneapolis. Looks like I’m getting off at gate C6 and have to walk down to gate C13, take two escalators up right across from the food court, go all the way across the skyway and catch my connection at gate G19 conveniently located in downtown Duluth. I guess the Minneapolis airport has decided to tackle the obesity crisis by forcing me to walk my fat ass halfway back to LA before letting me get on a plane the rest of the way home. Well the joke’s on them because I’m standing still and riding the moving walkway the entire way there no matter how painfully slow it is and cramming a Cinnabon down my throat as soon as I get to the other side of the terminal. Screw you, airport health Nazis! (actually, that was wishful thinking. I was too impatient to ride the moving walkway without walking on it and there was no Cinnabon so I had to make due with a reduced fat cinnamon coffee cake from Starbucks for $4. Damn you airport health Nazis!!!)

Right, so, anyhow- Albany. With it’s half-empty tan leather banquette seating and exposed brick walls, the Albany airport feels like an upscale brew pub in a refurbished building that’s just about to go out of business. I landed at the absurdly late hour of 7:45 pm, so naturally everything was completely deserted and totally shut down. Only Dunkin Donuts was open, so I was able to greet the northeast in the traditional fashion with a Boston Creme donut (which is like trying to find a lobster roll or well read person on the West Coast) and a cup of their absurdly cream laden delicious coffee drink. I was in Albany to see my sisters and my adorably batshit crazy nieces (is an 8 year old girl supposed to kick so hard? Seriously, She’s like John Claude Vandamme with a suitcase full of stuffed animals and a major iCarly fixation) play Godfather in my best friend’s son’s baptism, and visit my aging grandparents. Basically, it was a weekend of hanging out with children and old people, which meant that I spent most of my time speaking LOUDLY and CLEARLY and continually reminding people who the hell I am: “HI GRANDMA- IT’S ERIC. YOUR GRANDSON. REMEMBER ME?”. “ HI THERE. IT’S UNCLE E-DOG. YOUR UNCLE. REMEMBER ME?”

Last year, my grandparents were living in the Jewy Jew Jewelstein Home for Really Old Jews Who Like Jews, an assisted living facility. Since then, though, it was determined that they actually required more assistance to remain living than the assisted living facility felt comfortable providing, so they moved into Daughters of Sarah, so named because of the joke “your moms is so old that her parents are Abraham and Sarah”, a full on nursing home which provides all the assistance that Medicare is willing to pay for to keep them alive like an all you can eat Ensure buffet (shhhhh. Don’t tell the Republicans we’ve got socialized medicine. It’ll be our little secret. Don’t let them make you show them on the doll where the government touched you.) Thanks to my grandfather’s cardiac issues and grandmother’s dementia their lives have turned in to sad reenactment of The Wizard of Oz– he has no heart, she has no brain and I barely have the courage to visit. Because of their different needs, they are separated by a yellowing brick road of linoleum tiles and several locked doors with alarms that go off every time my grandmother walks through them, because it’s been proven that nothing is better for the sanity and well being of a dementia patient than deafeningly loud alarms that go off behind her every time she walks through a doorway. Nothing confusing or hard to explain about that!

My grandfather spends his time watching CNN, reading the news online and scrutinizing the newspaper to stay in touch with current events, I suppose to reassure himself that the world he’s about to depart is, in fact, a totally crappy one and he probably won’t miss it. It’s a good thing he’s a Jets fan, so he doesn’t really even have to stick around for the playoffs this year (though I certainly hope he manages to keep hanging around a little bit longer anyhow. Maybe if they can get their running game going. They looked good against the Bills!) My grandmother, meanwhile, had not lost any of the charm or social graces she developed as housewife in the 50s. She was actually voted both Miss Congeniality and Best Dressed in the Miss Alzheimer’s pageant for 2011. She is also very aware of what others are wearing, particularly my sisters when they come to visit, and she’s not afraid to point out every little flaw when it comes to their hair, clothes and makeup. Unfortunately, being hyper-critical and extremely forgetful can make for a painful combination, since she makes the same observations over and over again and pretty much distills every conversation down to “who the hell are you and why do you look like shit?” Of course, she thought I looked very tall and handsome and told me so over and over again, so I really don’t know what my sisters are whining about and why they kept freaking out about putting on eyeliner before they went over there. I think she’s quite delightful and charming (even if she did keep calling me Ralph.)

Jesus Christ, I’m still at the goddamn gate. This has got to be the longest most boring nightmarish layover….wait a second… Is that a half bag of combos left shoved in the back of my carryon bag from my last trip to Albany? And they’re almost not totally stale at all. This is the greatest layover ever!!!

In case I wasn’t having the futility of existence and inevitability of mortality rubbed sufficiently in my face, the room across from my grandfather was occupied by a person named “Grace Kelly.” How delightful to imagine the eternally young and beautiful movie star slowly withering away in an overheated room at Daughters of Sarah. What a nice reminder that our only real option in life is dying tragically young or miserably old. Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit smoking. (Hey, that’s only the First Airplane reference. Surely you’ll agree I’ve shown remarkable restraint. I guess you’d be more impressed if I stopped calling you “Surely”.)

Oooh look, we’re boarding. And just for fun a couple of TSA geniuses have decided to join the party for random screenings- and they’ve got plastic gloves on so you know what that means- they’re making free Subway sandwiches for everyone! (or doing random invasive strip searches, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for a BMT. Turns out those Combos were pretty stale after all.)

Having spent plenty of time seeing how Jews wrap up their lives, I was excited to find out how Catholics begin theirs. Before this point, my only experience with baptism came from watching the end of The Godfather, so the only thing I knew for sure was that the baby gets wet, Satan gets disavowed and Moe Green gets shot with a shit load of other people. Of course, the only thing I knew about being a Godfather also came from the Godfather, so I figured I knew that I had to speak incomprehensibly, do everyone a bunch of favors and eventually drop dead with an orange rind in my mouth- which, aside from the third part is pretty much all I do at work, anyhow.

Turns out it’s a pretty straight forward ceremony. There were just a few things I had to know:

1. The baby wears a dress, even if he’s a boy. My friends live in Seattle, so I figured this was some sort of freaky-deaky, Free To Be You And Me, boys like dolls, girls like trucks leftist new agey, gender neutral super crunchy kind of total bullshit but it turns out it’s totally traditional. I did think the tiara and the sash were a little over the top, and they shouldn’t have put so much glitter in the holy water, but I was assured that it’s all perfectly normal. Even the fact that we now have to call him by his Christian drag queen name of Ms. Holly Ghost.

2. The Godparents are supposed to help raise the kids Catholic if both parents die. Honestly, I was kind of stressed about this one at first and I even insisted they fly back to Seattle in separate planes just to make sure nothing terrible happened to both of them, because there’s no way my condo is big enough for a couple of kids and the dog is going to be seriously unhappy about sharing his bed and his water dish. It turns out though there are actually two Godparents for the other kid already in line ahead of me plus my fellow Godparent for this kid who is actually Catholic, so she would totally wind up with the kids before me which means that there are a whole bunch of people I’d have to murder in order to wind up being responsible for these little guys, and frankly I just can’t see myself going all Richard the Third just to get a hold of a four-year old girl and a freaky little boy who wears dresses, no matter how smart and adorable they are. Frankly, I’m sure you’ll agree. I know you’ll agree if I stop calling you “Frankly”.

3. I had to trace the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead. I know that drawing a couple of intersecting lines may seem straight forward, but there’s a whole left to right up and down choreography to drawing the damn thing and I think that I completely messed up and as a result screwed up the poor kid’s chances of getting into heaven forever. I guess the bright side is that he can sin as much as he wants now and when Saint Peter asks him why he was such a complete asshole all his life he can just be like “dude, they threw me in a dress and picked a Jew for my Godfather – I was fucked from the get-go. No way I was going to heaven. I had to eat those hookers.”

Uhm, but, yeah I sure hope none of that happens and he ends up living a good and virtuous life. God, I suck at this.

Ooops, we’re about to take off. Better put away the iPad like the stewardess asks. I hear the Pages app can really wreak havoc with air traffic control radar. Not as bad as a text message, though. That will just blow up the engines immediately. And, by the way, if it turns out that I’m not just being sarcastic and somebody playing Angry Birds during takeoff really can bring down the plane, then get me the fuck off of this death trap and find me the nearest covered wagon. I mean, I guess we’re in the air now, so it’s probably too late. Crap, looks like I picked the wrong day to quit drinking.

As grateful as I was to spend some precious time with my grandparents and as honored as I was to participate in the Baptism simcha, I have to admit that the highlight was being able to hang out with my wonderfully insane nieces. I last saw them over Passover when I learned how to play their favorite game “let’s beat the shit out of Uncle E-Dog and then Hug him A Lot and Giggle.” To be honest, I may have encouraged this behavior because every time one of the other adults would say something like “now let’s settle down and stop hitting each other with couch cushions and behave ourselves” I would yell “pillow fight”, pick up a cushion and start swinging.

I must have done something right, though, because on this trip I was entrusted with reading the bedtime story. Honestly, though, after doing it a couple of times I really have no idea what the point of reading the bedtime story is actually supposed to be. The one thing I know for sure is that it has absolutely nothing to with putting them to sleep. Every time I finished a story the one thing I could count on was that they would be way more wide awake then they were before I started. This may have been partially my fault, since I’m so needy and insecure about being entertaining that I had to read the stories in the most lively and theatrical fashion possible, giving each character a different voice (do you know how hard that is for Winnie the Pooh? There are like 4,000 characters in that fucking forest. It’s like trying to do a one person version of the Ring cycle) and making all sort of side comments about how Owl at Home was kind of an idiot for not knowing that the bumps under the blanket were actually his feet and that Eeyore’s the only guy in the forest who’s even remotely in touch with reality. As far as I can tell, the only way to get kids to sleep with a bedtime story would be to read them the warnings and ingredients on the side of a box of Ambien after grinding one up in their apple juice (kidding! Just kidding! I would never advocate drugging children and besides I want to be invited back.) Anyhow, we all had a great time together. I’m told that the girls were pretty upset when I left, which is sad on the one hand, but is kind of a major win for me on the other hand, so I’m pretty psyched about it.

OK, well, that’s the whole trip. I didn’t think I would be able to finish this post on the flight. Thank god I’m too cheap for airport Wi-Fi and  Larry Crowne was the movie on the plane and the last thing I needed to do was stare at the screen for two hours and contemplate just how much I hate Julia Roberts. Seriously, does anyone think she’s attractive? Every time I watch Sleeping with the Enemy I just want to shout at the tv: “Dude, get over her. She’s totally not worth it. She’s funny looking and her hair’s out of control and she faked her own death to get away from you plus she can’t straighten a towel to save her life — literally. Have a little dignity man, you’re rich- you can totally do better.”

Alright, looks like we’re landing. The Co-Pilot’s making his final announcement. Hmm, sounds like there’s gonna be a little turbulence. And some crazy wind. And visibility problems. And the airport is making us circle around. And we have to fly out over the ocean and come back over the land. And STOP SAYING “There’s nothing to worry about” — it only makes it worse every time you say that! None of you fuckers better be on your phones Tweeting! I swear, if I die in a plane crash this will be the worst trip to Albany ever. For now, anyhow. Seriously, I mean it. And I know you’ll agree if I stop calling you “Seriously.” Well, I better go so I can concentrate more on being absolutely terrified for my life. Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue.

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