Laying it on thick
I read that line and wondered what exactly it meant. Do we now get less oxygen than we're supposed to? Is this somewhat like putting air travelers in suspended animation, putting their brain cells on hibernate while they're dragged through the Arctic skies? Is this why flying has such an adverse physical effect on me?
Or is it just my plain old bugbear, dehydration? It was about six years ago, on a late night trans-Atlantic shipment, that I found one of my prime desi characteristics stripped from me. It was the night after Christmas, and the temperature had dropped to 17 F in New York. Our plane was one of the last to be able to take off from JFK before a snowstorm closed the airport off for a couple of days. Small wonder that once aboard, I climbed into the alcohol. Well, not quite. One glass of wine, and a cognac after dinner, I think. That was enough to do it -- I spent the next six hours in agony, and when the morning came I realised that the combination of alcohol and the interior of an airplane were more dehydrating than my body could bear.
That realization brought with it two changes in my behavior. One, I stopped consuming alcohol on board. It hurt a little at first, but then the omniscient American airlines started asking you to pay for your drink, and then all was well. And two, I started hoarding those little tubes of moisturizer that you get at hotels. And carried them on board. In my cargo pants. In my laptop bag. In my carry-on strolley. Everywhere. Just in case.
And I used them too. Every few hours. Drink water. Apply moisturizer. Suspend-animate. Repeat.
And then they banned moisturizers on board. It defies me completely. Someone's going to hijack a plane with Vaseline? Attack a flight attendant with Nivea? Watch out lady, or I tar you with this vanishing cream and then where will you be? How does one synthesize, on board, in full view of a few hundred people, an explosive out of cosmetics?
But more on that in a second. The announced ban was on "liquids, creams and gels". Solid moisturizers, such as lip balm, were allowed. My task was obvious. I needed to locate me some solid moisturizer. So I roped in a lady friend (you think I was going to try this alone?) and made paths for the cosmetics shops.
Unfortunately, as I have had occasion to comment before, Hong Kong is not the best place in the world to try and communicate in English. "Excuse me, do you have any solid moisturizers?" we said.
"Soh-lid-ah?" they said.
They looked at each other. They looked around. They had never heard of this brand before.
They offered us the closest tube. "No, no, not liquid," we said, "Liquid. Not. Not liquid." "Ahh, gel-aah?" "No, no! Not gel. Not cream. Solid."
Blank stares. Next shop.
We tried Sasa. We tried Shue Uemura. Crabtree & Evelyn. The Body Shop. A hundred other places I'd never, ever, ever be dragged into under normal circumstances. No one had heard of "Solid", the brand or the state of matter. They looked at us, wondrously. What childs of creation were these? What crazy gweilos.
We came home defeated, two days in a row. That second evening, however, someone suggested the brand known as Burt's Bees. I recalled having seen a counter in a particular mall. The third - and last possible before flying - day, we went there. The usual mixture of noxious chemicals greeted us, arranged to trap all passing insecurities. "We don't sell lipstick," had said Charles Revson, "We sell hope." And so it was - hope it is we were after, after all.
Ignoring the English-sounding overtures of the sales rep, we rifled through the stocks, opening up the cans labeled "Tester". Sure enough, Burt's Bees was it. Two little jars, side by side, contained what could arguably be said to be a solid substance. One was labeled "Day Creme", the other, "Night Creme". Day Creme was the larger of the two, but only marginally more expensive. Night Creme was more solid.
What's the difference, we asked the rep. "Oh, Day Creme is for day, sir, Night Creme is for night," we were told.
Of course. Silly %^ing me.
I bought the Night Creme. After all, solidity was the attribute of choice, and I could always argue that I'd plan to be asleep on the plane, right?
Back home, I was even smarter. My friend and I divvied the little jar-ful up into three. One she kept, as commission. One I shoved into my suitcase. The third, in the original casing, went into my carry-on. And I, with hope, went to the airport.
I cleared the first round of security with flying colors. Nothing explosive about me. It was at the second round, in the face of an impassive security agent, that it all came undone. My bag was on his table. His hand was in my bag. He felt around. I'm guessing he ignored the laptop, the camera, the i-poodle, the various power cords, the cereal bars, the book, the papers. Purely on touch, he pulled out the jar. His grunt signaled that he wanted me to open it. I complied, safe in the knowledge that I was standing in front of a sign that said solid moisturizers were allowed.
Mr. Hong Kong grunted: "Cream".
My delicate ear winced. Not only was it "Creme", it was not. It was solid. I said as much. "Not cream. Solid." "No," he said, "Cream." "Solid!" I said. "Soh-lid-aah!" I pointed at the sign. "Solid! Solid! Not cream!"
Nothing doing. He wanted the jar for his collection.
In dismay, I plunged a finger in and scooped out half the remaining contents. Dashed them against my forearm - an angry welt of white. Dammit, if this was explosive, then I'm a suicide bomber.
Funnily enough, he didn't object to my walking away with the gunk on my arm. He just wanted the bottle. Figure that.
I spent the flight feeling like a piece of wood, whorls of dryness lining my insides like the rings of a tree.
And I got off the plane to read that the rules changed while I was up their. The authorities (the words infinite and wisdom come to mind) have now decided that hijackers will not be able to synthesize explosives from small quantities of liquids and gels and creams. Overnight, technology has retarded so fast that terrorists will henceforth be unable to mix four-ounce portions of Jergens to create a box cutter. Or maybe someone wanted papaya infusion for the "steak" they got served on board.
PS. Just in case you were wondering why KY jelly was never on the forbidden list, it's because them jehadists ain't into sex bombs.