Anthony Bourdain and Britney Spears, bringing folks together since, well, two days ago

Very recently, I found myself once again the victim of Northwest Airlines utter ineptitude. According to all weather reports, the skies were clear from where I was flying from, to where I was flying to, and, in fact, better, brighter, more well-guided skies had rarely been witnessed in the month of January by any meteorologist, ever. This, of course, meant Northwest had to continuously delay my flight home because, while every other airline that I’ve flown has managed to have its fucking ducks in a row, Northwest never fails to postpone my departure, if not randomly cancel it altogether. With endless hours suddenly on my hands, I made my way to the airport TGI-Friday’s, grabbbed a bar stool, and ordered a Sam Adams Winter Lager. I am not much of a beer drinker generally but I felt the need for a mellowing pint to keep me from losing my temper with the blameless ticketing agent, to whom not moments earlier, when my flight was delayed for the eighteenth or twenty-first time, I finally said “Just be honest with me. This is going no where good, right?”

Around the bar sat three other Northwest orphans. Across from me a woman with lots of streaky blonde hair, meticulous makeup and the highest boots I’ve ever seen. She ordered a glass of cabernet. Let’s call her Sue.

Two seats down from Sue sat a man who looks exactly like the host of the reality television show The Amazing Race, Phil something or other. If you don’t know what Phil looks like and REALLY need a visual you can google the show + Phil but I do not link to anything but blogs and articles here. He ordered a shot of vodka, which he sipped. We’ll call him Phil because it’s easy.

A couple seats away from Phil was a larger man in a short sleeve polo shirt, khakis and boat shoes with socks. I don’t know where his coat was and since we were all heading to Detroit I found his choice of attire annoying, but whatever floats your boat, I guess. He was returning home after a golf weekend in South Carolina. He ordered ice tea with lots of sugar and then turned to me and said “In Charleston I could just order tea and it would come sweetened. They really know how to make their tea down there, he he. If you ever get a chance to go, you have to try it. And barbecued shrimp!”

I kept my inner snark in check and just smiled at him but I felt like taking a swing at him with my briefcase and saying I’ve been there, dumb ass.  We will call him Ralph.

I ordered my beer and pulled out Kitchen Confidential (review to come in next post).  The weakening sun gleamed through the bar, mockingly, I thought. I started another chapter of my book, hoping Bourdain wouldn’t ruin any more of my favorite meals, having fully turned my stomach off the idea of mussels and swordfish. On the televisions above my head, one of those cable news stations were following Britney Spears.  The volume was up so I couldn’t ignore Spear’s antics if I wanted to, and this, I guess, is how I come to know so much of the random pop culture knowledge that I do, without ever wanting to – I know about Spears and her troubles, and I always know who was kicked off American Idol, and i know the end to the Harry Potter series not because I sought the information out myself but because I am forced to share public space with other people and this how I learn these things.  I even have a whole essay in my head comparing Spears to Chopin’s Edna in The Awakening…the outrage surrounding Spears when she gave her children over to her husband and then went out to a party…remember that? Around here every radio station dj and every editorial simply could not BELIEVE Spears didn’t go immediately consult with her lawyers on how to get her kids back because, after all, she’s a MOTHER, and what kind of mother could just give her children away like that? I’ll tell you what kind of mother – a mother who wants to party. Remember how Edna sends her kids off to their grandparents and nearly immedietely throws that dinner party with all that booze? And how free and happy she is when her children are gone…how she starts painting and flirting and living how she wants to live? We could explain Britney Spears’  behavior much more easily if we simply turned to literature. Of course, I do hope Spears receives some type of intervention because in the end it didn’t work out so well for Edna and even in this day and age, I think our society is determined to force Spears into being the kind of mother we expect women to be, rather than leave her alone for one blessed minute. A-hem. Anyway.

So apparently Britney shows up hours late for her custody hearing, arrives at the courhouse, and then doesn’t even go inside. She simply turns around when she reaches the door, rushes to her car and leaves. Or is driven off. I don’t remember which. It’s not important. So this is what Sue says:

Sue: Oh my God. She didn’t even go into the court house. What is she thinking?

*Note – Sue cares.

Phil: Seriously! Does she just want to, like, never see her kids again?

Me: Well, look at all the cameras surrounding her! She’s mobbed! I wouldn’t have gone in, either.

Ralph: She has had cameras surrounding her since she was sixteen, or even younger. She should be used to it.

Phil: Dude, remember how hot she used to be? (playfully does some sort of punch to Ralph’s arm)

Ralph: Hell, yes. She was gorgeous! Now look at her – I wouldn’t take her out if you held a gun to my head.

*Note – I don’t believe this.

Sue: She really was beautiful ten years ago.

*Note, Sue nods a lot. I believe her to be saying this to get along with Ralph and Phil and not because she truly believes that Spears was beautiful but of course, I’m cynical.

Me: I just don’t blame her. I think it’s sick the way she’s followed. I’d have a mental breakdown if that were happening to me.

Sue: I disagree. She deserves it. She chose to be in the limelight, she chose to be a star.

Phil: I agree. And did you hear about her little sister?

Sue: She’s pregnant too! And the boyfriend DUMPED her!

True delight, all around.

Sue: I know one thing is for sure, I won’t let me daughters watch the Spears on television anymore. They just aren’t good role models.

Phil: Well, you’re obviously a good mom.

Sue smiles.

Ralph: Hey (to me) – what book are you reading?

I hold up the cover.

Phil: No way. I didn’t know he had a book out! I love that guy!

Ralph: He’ll eat anything! Dude is so gross. He’s awesome! And he still SMOKES.

Sue: I read that book.

Me: I like it so far. It’s an easy plane read…

Sue: He’s a mysoginist pig. The whole time I was reading it I wanted to know where the heck his wife was in all of it…

Phil: He’s married?

Note: Phil seems rather crestfallen

Ralph: Not anymore, I don’t think. (To me) – Do you like his show on the food network?

Me: I’ve never seen it. Now I’ll look for it.

Note: I have only ever seen one television show on the food network ever, and after watching Rachel Ray destroy gouda cheese by turning it into a gravy, I doubt I’ll go back unless I receive really stellar reasons to do so…

Ralph: Oh, man. You’ve got to watch it. It is just so great. He travels the world and eats gross food and – like – his life is my dream life, man.

Sue: That’s sick.

Phil: What’s sick about it?

Sue: Oh, nothing, I guess.

Sue turns to her menu and begins studiously examining the options, a move that in airport bar language means it’s been fun but I’m done talking now.  The bartender turns the channel on the television to ESPN and Phil and Ralph, gender roles perfectly in tact, turn to it, and I to reading more of Bourdain’s memoir, not knowing, even in the moment, that this one conversation carried on by four northwest orphans will frame the very way I read the rest of the book and even inspire me to work on a review of the (now old) book. 

This conversation left me buouyed – happy, even. On it’s surface, certainly, not all that much was said, but on a late-afternoon, in air-travel limbo, it was nice just to talk about something other than work. And I always appreciate when strangers are ready to engage because so often, really, we don’t – we move through the moments not at home and not in the office keeping our heads down and our feet moving one foot after the other, holding our breath and hoping not to collide with one another. The sources for our conversation – well, Kate Chopin and Hemingway they were not – but from them ideas on motherhood, and an idealized way to live, came to light, and to me, as a writer, as a person…that’s significant. In the words of my father-in-law, it’s just very, very cool.

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10 Responses to Anthony Bourdain and Britney Spears, bringing folks together since, well, two days ago

  1. Inspiration can come from anywhere, can’t it? And I could just see Sue, Phil and Ralph, and indeed, Courtney, nose in a book but still noting exactly what was going on.

  2. Emily Barton says:

    Oh, I just love this comparing Britney to Edna. Truly inspired (airports are great places for writers, I’ve always thought — and always remind myself when I’m stranded in one for ten hours). Wouldn’t it be fun to write a story in which children of the two meet each other in some other world/life? Looking forward to your review of Kitchen Confidential, a book that was highly entertaining when I read it (as well as being informative. I never order specials in restaurants anymore). Oh, and tune into The Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. You won’t be disappointed. She’s just wonderful and will have you believing you can do anything, ANYthing in the kitchen.

  3. Katie says:

    Excellent storytelling. Love it!

  4. Cam says:

    As I read this I thought This is why I don’t talk to people in airports….and then I realized: and why I find the time spent in them so incredibly boring. Maybe next time I’ll go to the bar rather than the WorldClub where I think there is a rule that you don’t talk to others unless you’re making some sort of business deal or planning a reception at your club — which makes it a perfect place to work, put your head in a book, or surf the ‘net undisturbed. But the booze is free there.

    Great post, Courtney.

  5. Litlove says:

    Wonderful post! I think random conversations with strangers also have a certain charm, and you describe the moment beautifully.

  6. Dorothy W. says:

    It’s great how a short conversation covered so much. And I too love the comparison between Britney and Edna!

  7. Courtney says:

    Charlotte – YES! Nose in a book, absolutely, but I did raise it occasionally enough to interject a comment or two…
    Emily – Okay, I will absolutely check out the Barefoot Contessa. You are one of the few I trust on this subject…
    Cam, thank you!And, um, free booze? I would join the world perks club, too!
    Litlove,conversations with strangers are definitely some of the most enlightening!
    Katie – thank you!
    Dorothy – thanks! I do think the comparison is apt, especially after briefly perusing The Awakening again…

  8. Stefanie says:

    I love this post! You are right, we so often don’t talk to strangers that when a conversation like this happens it leaves one feeling happy. I loved your Spears/Edna comparison. And I agree with you about Northwest. I avoid using them as much as possible which is rather hard since Minneapolis is one of their hubs.

  9. nova says:

    I love that you recounted this conversation!

    And (now on the subject of TV) I don’t cook, but Anthony Bourdain’s show is in fact very interesting — it’s not on the Food Network if it’s the one I’m thinking of. It’s on the Travel channel, and definitely worth checking out if you watch TV.

  10. I wrote a comment to this on The Existence Machine… should have it here, but what’s cut and paste for?

    Me too… get my pop culture catching the TV in breaks from playing bar room pool, listening to conversations not unlike the one you describe here… describe, I’d like to say, “beautifully,” but that doesn’t catch it, the there-and-not-there of overhearing, or the way I felt it in my gut a few minutes after I read it, like something I didn’t want to let go, something I’d like to pick up on my way out–the way I do with “found things” … put away, just for knowing it won’t be lost… that if I think of it again, it will be there, the kind of thing you want to say, stupidly… thanks, man. I’m glad you wrote that.

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