Category Archives: Stories

The Joys of Airplane Travel

I feel like I’m teetering dangerously close to bad stand-up with this topic, but I’ve had some pretty interesting experiences on planes, I swear, so bear with me. They may be sadly devoid of gremlins and thus not up to a Shatnerian level of greatness, but I’ll do my best to be a worthy replacement. After all, my parents didn’t name me Russell Kirk Nickel for nothing.

I’m under the impression that everyone shares the fantasy of meeting a tall dark stranger on a plane, hitting it off over a mutual hatred of the shoddy in-flight entertainment and, thanks to the cramped seating that ensures levels of intimacy which would normally take months to develop, deciding to share a cab fare to the hotel (for the sake of economy, of course), and as long as you’re both staying in town for a couple of days, there’s really no reason to waste money on individual rooms when hotel beds are so sizable…and so lonely.

At least, I know I’ve been waiting for this to happen ever since that whole puberty fiasco. This unspoken desire that I assume is shared by every passenger adds an exciting and erotic undertone to all those forced conversations of uncanny politeness. The people who refuse to talk to me when I assail them with an unending barrage of friendly inquiries into their line of work, reading material of choice, and sex life aren’t actually trying to sleep or work; they’re using body language to convince me that they’re not particularly interested in getting a hotel with me. Most likely because they’re already spoken for. What else could it be?

But I don’t let failure after failure get me down. Every flight, I disregard my A-priority seating, wait until about half the passengers have boarded, then try to sit next to the person who looks most receptive to hours and hours of friendly conversation and a little flirting. College was a golden era for this, since every flight to or from Spring/Christmas/Thanksgiving break was packed with students.

The very first time I flew home from Stanford was at the end of admit weekend. I spent the whole weekend wandering campus and taking in life with a beautiful girl (with whom I was very honorable since my then girlfriend was waiting for me back in San Diego), and before I knew it, I was taking a flight home. And just by chance, aforementioned beautiful girl Emily was on the very same flight. So of course I sat with her…and her mother, who’d come along to keep her safe from predators like me. Having a girl you’ve just met’s mom sit a foot away from you makes hormone-driven dialogue a difficult endeavor, and age-specific innuendo becomes the better part of valor. I kept having to engage her mom in conversation to seem polite, and somehow the discussion shifted rather unfortunately to their belief in Catholicism, a topic that God in no way intended for in-flight banter. What followed was nigh on an hour of high-minded philosophizing that my half-semester of Dante could never have prepared me for. Attempting to atheistically deflect the good-natured religious prodding of a cute girl’s mother is like walking on eggshells (or water), and meeting the parent(s) after just 2 days made me feel like things were moving faster than locusts on plague day. Still, I must’ve been sufficiently charming and uncontrarian, because during the descent, Emily offered me her number.

Before I’d left for admit weekend, Klaus (the ex) had informed me that I’d better not come home with any cute girls’ phone numbers. But how could I turn down Emily (especially in front of her mother)? It would’ve been one thing if I’d simply input her into my phone, but this was a plane, and apparently turning on a free-with-a-two-year-contract piece of technology causes multi-million dollar flying contraptions to crash. So good, ol’ fashioned writing it was. I didn’t have anything to write on, so Emily solves this problem by retrieving a giant colorful pen from her purse and scrawling her digits across my entire arm, then decorates my guilt-limb with cutesy hearts and stars.

I got off the plane, bid her farewell, headed toward the baggage claim, and ran right into the girlfriend, who’d come to pick me up as a surprise. Yay! Well, at least I had fond memories of the flight to keep me happy throughout my stay in the dog house.

But wait! There’s more! Like that time the pilot made an announcement on the P.A. during our descent. Apparently someone had left one of those extremely useful and cost-effective Juicy Couture handbags in the bathroom, and when they’d gone back for it, it was gone!

Suddenly, the plane was abuzz with rumor, and the witch hunt was on.

No one would fess up, and the plane quickly became a cramped prison, but without the amenities. The pilot announced that no one would be allowed to leave until the purse was recovered, and once we landed, police would be brought on board to search our belongings. Chaos broke out. People erupted in anger, jumping up and yelling at anyone and everyone, and I huddled in the corner attempting to appear as unobtrusive as my massive girth and witty t-shirt would allow.

The shouts continued, the threats escalated, and the pilots promised ever-increasing retribution, from “we’ll turn this plane around and go straight back home” to “we’ll force you to eat a second in-flight meal.” Finally, from just a couple rows in front of me, the purse hurtles through the air, flung with the vigorous abandon only a criminal fearing his or her capture can achieve. In this case said criminal was a her, and the her was a 6-year-old girl. Everyone watched as the purse sailed over their heads, bounced off an elderly man’s shoulder, and came to rest in the aisle, the lone testament to the purloining atrocity that had occurred.

Or what about that time I sat next to the very professional looking Asian man? We made a bit of small talk but mostly kept to ourselves. Then halfway through the flight an old man collapses in the aisle literally right next to me. A woman starts screaming, and a flight attendant rushes to the situation, then shouts those classic words: “Is there a doctor on board?!”

The guy next to me is already leaping into action, checking the old man’s pulse, looking into his eyes, trying to rouse him to consciousness. I can’t believe I actually got to experience that scene from all the movies, and first-hand, too! Dr. Lin helped the guy regain consciousness, then helped him back to his seat and administered some friendly and charming advice along the lines of “no more collapsing!” As the old man stood, the plane erupted into cheers and applause, and the doctor waved graciously. “Just doing my job,” I think I heard him say before he proceeded to get all the ladies.

I’ve found myself on some flights even that soulless character from Up in the Air would’ve found interesting (including a four-hour flight during which this guy paced up and down the aisle the entire time like a crazy person, casting waves of anxiety over every other passenger), but the most important flight of all was the one on the way to Stanford’s admit weekend. A lot went down going to and from that place. You see, that was the day I met life-long friend, sexy hunk of man, singer extraordinaire, and best artist in the blogosphere, Sam Julian. I guess technically we’d met before since we were both captains of our rival high schools’ Improv teams, and thus had needed to organize our fair share of competitive Improv battles, but it was on this flight that we truly got to know each other. Sam’s mom (in classic mom fashion) had forced him to get to the airport 3 hours early, you know, just to be safe, which meant that he arrived at the same time I did. Nothing particularly interesting happened, other than my sitting next to someone who would end up changing my life. We’ve kept in touch ever since, and look where it’s gotten us.

So even if I’ve never managed to have that airplane fling, I did end up with that special someone who’s more about the long term, and even though he can’t quite fulfill all my wishes (try being female, Sam. Seriously), he can certainly draw them.

Do you guys have any good plane stories?

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I Made a Music Video!

I hope some of you out there are Game of Thrones fans, because for some unknown reason I was inspired to write a song and make an embarrassing video. And by write a song, I mean take the music from a Flo Rida song and write new, Game of Thrones–based lyrics for it. Then I talked my buddy’s girlfriend into singing and my cousin into filming the thing. Ah, the joys of impressionable friends.

Check it out!

Woohoo! I hope that cross-dressing didn’t frighten you too much, or worse yet, arouse strange new feelings you weren’t sure how to handle.

If you liked it enough and are reddit folk, I posted it over here and it could probably use some upvoting:

Sorry that wasn’t a blog post per se, but I hope you enjoyed it!

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A Good Medium is Hard to Find

I’m relatively certain most psychic establishments are actually drug fronts. Like that one closest to my house down by the docks whose neon sign always flashes “Open,” but when I stop by after a 3-in-the-morning burrito run and knock on the door, a man with a frighteningly gruff voice tells me I’d better scurry on home if I know what’s good for me. My whole life, I was pretty sure there were no real Psychics, and by that I mean no people who actually earn their livelihood pretending to be psychic.

If Psychics were real, you’d expect they would be easy to find. They should anticipate exactly where you’ll be when you suddenly have the urge to hear your future told, and they should go to that spot years in advance and spray-paint their phone number on a nearby wall. And yet, like a coconut palm in a cold climate, Brian-the-roommate’s girlfriend’s multi-week search for a Psychic had borne no fruit.

That was all about to change…kind of.

***

One day, Brian, Rachel (the Brian’s girlfriend), and I found ourselves finishing a brunch that Sam-the-artist had failed to attend because he had to “do laundry,” a task so trivial and time-unsensitive that I was sure he either didn’t want to hang out with me or was trying to discreetly tell me he had a girl over. I’m leaning toward the former, because Sam has to “wash his hair,” “de-flea his cat,” and “look I just don’t want to hang out with you” way more than most people.

Anyway, we refused to be thwarted by Sam’s seemingly inexhaustible list of excuse-chores and told him to meet us at some Psychic we located through the very real magic of our iPhones. At first he said he needed to read up on the new clauses in local zoning regulations, but I reminded him he’d done that last week when I’d invited him to dinner, and, finally, he caved.

After some dangerous navigation by the directionally-challenged Brian, we pulled up to the Psychic’s house well in advance of Sam, who probably hoped that if he waited long enough, this endeavor would also bear no fruit and he wouldn’t have to drive anywhere. Wait. House?

Would a Psychic really operate out of a house? Confused, we took stock of our surroundings. The middle of a residential area. We weren’t about to knock on some random citizen’s door. What was this, the ’50s? The resident could be one incorrect door-knocking from totally losing it and destroying all hand-held technology in a luddite-infused rampage.

Then again, “Who were we to predict where a Psychic might live?” asked Rachel.

“If this is it, shouldn’t she know we’re out here and come to get us?” countered Brian. In the end, we decided to give her a call and see if we were in the right place.

Needless to say, we were nowhere near the Psychic.

In fact, she lived right next to Sam’s apartment!

Just then, Sam pulled up.

Frustrated at having been tricked out of his apartment in the first place, he was none too pleased to find that he’d just wasted his time. Luckily, my indomitable cheerfulness can usually cow people into conforming to my will, so within minutes, we were on route to the Psychic…for real.

It wasn’t the way I’d imagined. First, the windows were lined with security cameras (a drug front, perhaps?), and second, instead of the place being dark and mysterious with tapestries and crystal balls, it was bright white, completely clean, and scented, with Zen music wafting through the air. The actual Psychic was dressed in a woman’s suit and was much better groomed than I would have liked. Plus her teeth were all straight and she didn’t have an accent and she seemed pretty friendly. She didn’t seem the type to curse me with a horrible prophecy like I’d been hoping.

This would have been much more satisfying:

While Rachel got her psychic reading done (she repeatedly insisted on being alone so as to avoid any sort of cosmic interference with the mind rays), Sam, Brian, and I moseyed around the waiting area, looking at all the mystical objects that we could purchase. Along the walls were various chakras that could help with anything from intestinal blockage to a lack of sportsmanship. In the center of the room were five globes of oil, each with a different crystal inside, presumably so that the oils could absorb their various energies. Price tags were disguised as artsy placards so as not to ruin your suspension of disbelief.

After declaring Sam to be the Root Chakra, known for its inability to accept change, we decided to do a shared reading to save money. Who knew that Psychics were so expensive?! (Probably they did). After about 15 minutes, Rachel walked out with a demure, knowing look on her face.

Then it was our turn.

***

We enter the future-dispensing room, which contains a table and three chairs. It is not enough chairs. While debating the proper setup of the room and who will be forced to kneel, Sam dispenses off-hand remarks about the chair imbalance causing a disturbance in the reading,  then flashes the Psychic a devious grin. The Psychic, being able to read not only thoughts, but also overt body language and speech, takes an immediate dislike to the curly haired artist.

When it comes time to decide who should have their future told, we ask the Psychic to do all three of us, but she refuses, just like most women have. Chagrined, we ask her to pick one instead: “You’re a psychic,” we say. “Shouldn’t you know which one of our futures will be the most entertaining?”

She tries to avoid the question, but we press her, and finally she says, “Ok. Well, definitely not him,” and points to Sam.

“Why not me?” demands Sam petulantly, reinforcing the same anti-Psychic attitude that got him excluded in the first place. Eventually she explains that it’s because I “have the third eye.” Anything that links me to Bran Stark is pretty cool in my book, so I’m excited.

To perform the reading, she deals out tarot cards in a circle, then points to one or two of them and says something about my impending riches. Sam quickly chimes in. “What about those other cards? What do those ones mean?”

But she’s onto Sam’s tricks and manages to slither out of the grip of his question every time. “Oh, those death-looking cards aren’t important,” she might say, or “they’re facing north, so they’re irrelevant.” She’s not so deft at avoiding Brian’s questions, however, which are tossed in purely to increase the amusement factor. Questions like: “Will Russ have a lot of enemies?”

“Oh yes! A great number of enemies!” the Psychic replies enthusiastically, as if this is exciting news. She then expounds on how people will hate me through all walks of life, and that I will have to crush them to get ahead.

“I’m going to get ahead by crushing people?” I ask, saddened.

“Oh yes! You’ll crush a great many people!”

“Even his friends?” asks Brian.

“His friends especially!” says the Psychic with inexplicable joy. We discern that this Psychic responds positively to every question ending with an upward inflection. After all, you’d only ask a Psychic about things that were weighing on your mind, so confirming your fears gives her a solid chance of being correct. I don’t think she’d ever considered that a bunch of young guys might simply be messing with her, so I’m getting the most inaccurate reading of all time.

“Your constant friend-crushing will lead you to untold success,” she chirps. “In fact, you should start a company. Citrine crystals are particularly good at helping you achieve success. We have some in the shop.” This is particularly amusing since Brian and Sam are both starting a company together, but not me.

Brian takes off with this whole shaping-my-future thing. “Will Russ have problems with gambling?”

“So many problems! He better watch out or he’ll lose all his money!”

“What about alcohol?” I add.

“Definitely alcohol. But he won’t have to worry about that for—” She sizes me up to be in my early twenties— “five or six years. And if you’re really concerned, Amethyst crystals help protect you from basic vices.”

“Where are you getting all this?” asks Sam. “Is this anywhere on the cards?”

“Err…yes. See, it’s here, here, and here.”

“You’re telling me his gambling problems are in the knight of wands? How does that make any sense?”

“Well you see, it’s pointing left, meaning it’s off-balance, and knights balanced on horses, and betting on horse racing is a form of gambling, and Russ has the third eye, so I can sense it in him.” She quickly deals another dozen cards down over the last set and changes the subject.

“Will I have problems with my love life?” I ask.

“Many problems! And many enemies! Your wife will have a great deal of baggage, probably children. She’ll be divorced, and you’ll have to deal with all her ex-boyfriends, and even an ex-girlfriend or two.”

“So I’m Scott Pilgrim? I can dig it.”

“Basically,” says the Psychic. Those last two sentences may have happened only in my head, but that’s pretty much the main thing I took away from my reading.

Sounds like a pretty good future. I’ll be completely friendless, but satisfied by my work as a leader in a company I founded. I will crush everyone I meet to get ahead, and my wife will come preloaded with drama, which I will have to crush.

This goes on until she makes it through the entire deck of Tarot cards, which, if you’re trying to allay suspicion that you’re just flipping through the deck and pointing out cards at random, is a bad way to go about doing a reading. Once she’s out of cards, apparently the reading is over. “While you’re here, I have various crystals for sale that could help you with your future. Remember how I pitched them many times during your reading? You should now give me money for them.” It might have been more subtle than that.

Sam saunters up to the table, a mischievous glimmer in his eye. “So I was wondering, are there any crystals that can be used for evil? To harness like, dark energy or something?”

“Well,” stammers the Psychic, caught off-guard by such a question. “I suppose there are crystals that could do what you ask.”

“Which crystals? Tell me.”

“Um. Obsidian. Black Quartz. A few others.”

“And I could perform evil with these.”

“Well, in a sense.”

“So, where can I find these crystals?”

“If…If you’re going to use them for evil,” she says, mustering courage, “I simply can’t sell them to you. I’m sorry.”

Brian, overcome by uncontrollable laughter, does his best to drag Sam away. The Psychic watches as we exit her shop, all too happy to see us go.

You may think it ends here, but I know better. Sam will not be stopped. Someday, he will find those crystals, and that day will be our last.

 

And remember, if any of you are divorced, bi-curious, and burdened by single motherhood, hit me up!

 

 

Oh, and here’s one last joke for all you psychics out there:

 

 

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