Terror in the Skies, Culinary Edition
20,000 miles above the Atlantic a few days ago, I was asked "Beef and Potatoes or Lasagna?" A Sophie's Choice for some people, but not for me! I love airplane food. I love how compartmentalized it is. Unless they ever actually drop those yellow breathing cups from the ceiling, it is the only thing about air travel that really makes me feel like an astronaut. "I have to eat this glutamine-and-salt-ration, it's the only thing I'll get for hours." I also like limited choices. I hate the BLT-restaurant concept of choosing your own sauce and sides for a dish. Isn't that the expert's job? I don't go into the Mercedes factory and tell them where to put the aluminum. I'm ranting. This has nothing to do with the story.
"Lasagna, please," I said to the stewardess. I get my lasagna. It's awesome. It's so fake. Teddy Ruxbin could digest it. I enjoy picking at my plastic blanket of cheese for a few minutes-- a good 5 minutes-- and suddenly I begin to hear raised voices.
"Are you sure this is beef?"
"Funny kind of beef!"
The lady behind me is a real loudmouth, she's been yucking it up with the stewardess the whole flight, so when the stewardess realizes something is up with dinner, she goes to the yucker-upper behind me to check in. The yucker-upper, by virtue of being obnoxious and possibly drunk, has become the passengers' representative. She is our congresswoman.
"What's going on here?" the stewardness asks Congresswoman Vodka-Breakfast. The Congresswoman alerts her that the beef "seems a lot like" chicken.
At this point people have been eating for 5 minutes. I don't know who started it but someone cleared the whole thing up by shouting "It's chicken-beef!"
The stewardess picked up on this as a plausible solution. "Haven't you heard? It's a new thing invented by the French! CHICKEN-BEEF!"
The Congresswoman and her aides love this. This is a huge hit.
The stewardess then leans in to the Congresswoman and says, very loud, opening her body out slightly to the others across the aisle and around her to announce that this is a Shakespearean aside, "HEY MA'AM, HOW'S THE FISH??"
"HOW'S THE FISH!"
"HAHAHAHAHAHA [deep smoker's hack] AAAAAAHAHAHAHA"
"WAAAAAAAA HAHAHAHA [frontier-style whooping cough] HA! HA!"
At this point I was cowering in my seat. I wanted desperately to know what this slab of protein looked like, such that it might take 5 minutes of dining for a passenger to realize it was masquerading as a different meat. Maybe everyone realized right away but did not care. What would they do, send it back and demand the beef they'd so tantalizingly been promised? "You got me all worked up for a rib-eye. This is just really disappointing." I get the feeling that airplane food is all basically made out of old tennis shoes, that there is a side wing of the Nike factory where they stamp out American Airlines broccoli; that maybe there's not much difference between air beef, air chicken, and Air Jordan.
The fact that the meat was fake and undecipherable was not surprising, nor scary.
The scary part about this was the cabal, the camaraderie that immediately emerged around the chibeef. There was a hearty, mocking laugh at the French: "Haven't you heard? They invented a new meat!" There was the general, bonding insouciance over the fact that the meat was indistinct. "HAHA. CHICKEN-BEEF. WHO CARES. WE ARE LAUGHING. VODKA BREAKFAST. LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH. COVERS THE SADNESS. SADNESS OF MY LIFE THAT I AM RETURNING TO. HAHAHAHAHAHA BEEF-CHICKEN. WE ARE BEST FRIENDS, ALL OF US WHO LAUGH AT MEAT VAGUENESS TOGETHER. IF ONE OF US WERE FRENCH, WE WOULD KILL HIM NOW WITH OUR PLASTIC KNIVES. HAHA. WHO ORDERED THE FISH?? WHO ORDERED THE FISH?? THE STEWARDESS KNOWS US DEEPLY. NOTHING MATTERS EXCEPT THE DEEPNESS OF OUR INTIMACY OVER THE NOT CARING ABOUT MEAT SPECIFICITY!!!!!"
I huddled in my seat, covered in my blanket, pretending to sleep. I was not one of them. I did not want them to kill me because I was not of the beef-chicken crew. I watched a Nicholas Cage movie called National Treasure. I liked it. It was cheap and shitty and dumb, but I was scared to laugh out loud. I thought the Congresswoman might hear me, and want to bond.