About two hours into our flight from Philadelphia to Cancun, I discovered that I had committed The Biggest Fuck-Up of All Time … like, to the extent that I knew it would be best for my marriage if I just went ahead and threw myself out of the aircraft. Which was a shame, really … because everything had been going so well.
The kids were sound asleep at my in-laws’ house when my wife and I slipped out into the chilly, predawn darkness and drove to the airport. Once there, we breezed through check-in and cruised through security without being so much as groped inappropriately by TSA.
A short while later, when the flight attendant snootily announced that she and her entire airline would like to welcome aboard their snooty First Class passengers — an announcement that normally means my wife and I will now watch the Haves parade past us Have Nots — we gleefully marched through the gate thanks to the boatload of frequent-flyer miles we’d cashed in for the much-coveted First Class upgrade.
As evidence of how infrequently I travel First Class, I was caught completely off guard by the fact that First-Class seats no longer are simply extra-wide versions of coach seats. Turns out they now are magical space contraptions imported from the future:
Yes, I took a picture of the seats in First Class … and as I was snapping it, I said in a loud voice, “Well, taaaaarrrrnation! Honey, get a load o’ these here new-fangled sittin’ thingies!” It was tough to understand what I was saying, though, because I was clenching a long stalk of wheat between my teeth, and the pot-bellied pig I was hiding in my overalls was making a lot of noise.
Actually, taking a picture of the First Class seats wasn’t the thing that most clearly demonstrated what an uncultured rube I am. That honor went to the tears of laughter streaming down my face as I discovered that my seat not only reclined, but actually turned into a bed — a discovery that prompted me to repeatedly raise and lower myself from upright to prone and back again during the entire boarding process in a remarkably passive-aggressive display designed to taunt the coach-cabin passengers who were skulking past us on their way to plebeville.
“You’re going to get us kicked out of First Class!” my wife said in a tone she’d perfected over roughly seven years of motherhood. She had a point. I stopped.
Not long after I ceased my childish antics, it was time to take off, and because I am unable to let myself fully believe that the good thing I’ve planned is going to come to fruition until that good thing actually is happening, it wasn’t until the plane left the ground that I was able to begin shifting into that blissfully unstressed state known as “vacation mode.” We’d made it. Nothing more to worry about. Or so I thought.
After we’d spent a couple of hours relaxing and fantasizing about the several days we’d be enjoying in paradise, my wife decided to fill out the customs forms that the flight attendant had given us shortly after takeoff.
“I need your passport,” she said.
It was during my third fruitless search through my pockets and backpack that I began to worry.
“Um… I can’t find my passport,” I said in a way that suggested I was genuinely concerned, but not yet panicking. Surely, it was here somewhere. I knew I’d had it with me; I had even tweeted a picture of it while seated in the gate area prior to boarding the flight. See?
My wife searched through her belongings. I searched through mine. And then we searched through them again. And then again.
And then I officially began to panic. Like, full-on, no-holds-barred, the-sky-is-falling panic.
“This isn’t happening,” I said in disbelief. “There’s no way this is happening.”
We summoned the flight attendant.
“I can’t find my passport,” I said as I collapsed into her arms, sobbing hysterically and calling her “mommy.”
“What happens when we get there if we can’t find it?” my wife asked.
“Well, I’ve seen this happen before, and, unfortunately, I can tell you that they won’t let you into the country without a passport,” she said. And then I died.
“But I’m sure it’s here somewhere,” she added reassuringly, “so take a deep breath and go through your things one more time. I’m sure you’ll find it. I mean, seriously: There’s simply no way that you’d actually lose your passport seconds before boarding this flight, thereby allowing your unfathomable incompetence to destroy your dream vacation.” She didn’t say that last part out loud, but I still heard it.
And I appreciated her reassurance … but I was 100% positive that I did not have my passport. Not 99.99% sure; 100% sure. I was utterly devoid of hope.
Tears of disappointment — and, I’m sure, frustration, resentment and anger — began welling up in my wife’s eyes. For almost 17 years, she’d been putting up with me repeatedly misplacing my wallet and/or keys and/or camera and/or iPod and/or whatever other item whose whereabouts a person not afflicted with pervasive A.D.D. would have been able to keep track of … but all of those incidents paled in comparison to this unprecedented and monumental fuck up. I had actually ruined our vacation.
And so, resigned to the fact that I would now have to jump out of the aircraft in order to save face, I made one last desperate attempt to locate my passport before plunging to my death.
After extending my First Class seat into its fully-reclined position, I crawled underneath the footrest and, using the mini-flashlight I keep with me when flying (because one of these times I’ll need it to help guide all of the passengers to safety when we crash and I’m forced to save everyone … duh) I searched the underside of the futuristic device more thoroughly than I’d already done during several previous searches … and this time, to my complete astonishment, I found lodged in the seat’s mechanical innards my passport, which had fallen there after slipping out of my pocket while I was acting like an asshole and using my seat as a carnival ride.
“OHMYGODIFOUNDIT!” I said as I burst out from under the seat clutching it in my hand and flung myself onto my wife, knocking my glass of orange juice all over my shorts in the process … a development that didn’t bother me in the least, so overwhelming was my relief upon realizing that our vacation was still intact and I didn’t have to die just yet.
The flight attendant smiled in a friendly “I told you so” way as she handed me some napkins with which to dry myself, and her expression felt completely foreign to me, because I am never wrong.
“OK, now you two relax while I go get you both a drink,” she said as she became My Most Favorite Flight Attendant Ever. A few moments later, she placed in front of us two cups of ice and assorted fruit juices, as well as four little airline bottles of Smirnoff vodka, which we emptied with tremendous haste.
Ironically, the near loss of our vacation — which, to me, had seemed a complete certainty only a few minutes earlier — ended up multiplying exponentially the degree to which I was now excited about our Mexican getaway. I had gone from Dead Man Walking to Dude On Vacation in a matter of seconds. I’m assuming this is what Jesus felt like on that third day, only better.