The waves crashed down and I pretended I was Deborah Kerr in 'From Here to Eternity'
Saturday 07 September 1996
At JFK, they really hate me. "We are called FLIGHT ATTENDANTS, not air stewardesses." It seems that I have deeply offended the staff of American Airlines despite the fact they have kept me waiting for four hours at San Juan International Airport so I miss my connecting flight from JFK to Heathrow, then bumped me off the next two flights home. When we finally board, I agree to swop seats with a man who wants to sit with his family, and find myself in the last, most dishevelled and bumpy row of the plane.
I explain the situation to the lady, pointing out that since there are so many empty seats in business, and since my treatment had been somewhat lacking, could I not sit there? Her eyes narrow: "Oh, gee, how gallant it was of you to give up your seat for someone, but it's not my problem." Her sarcasm practically brings tears to my eyes. I'm glad I wasn't at high school with this woman. "Why is it such a big deal? The stewardess back there said it should be okay." And that's when she goes off on her Patrick McGoohan-style "I am not a stewardess, I am a flight attendant" rant.
What a way to spend a Saturday night. Actually, the four hours at San Juan were my favourite part. The Puerto Rican airport staff are unstintingly gorgeous and supremely chipper. "Hey, we've got the same birthday," cries the man stamping my passport, "so, happy birthday for next year!" As far as I'm concerned, the Puerto Ricans should rule America. But as Rita Moreno sang in West Side Story: "Nobody knows in America, Puerto Rico's in America."
OK, I met one nice American, if you must know. I was practising my gymnastics on the beach and prancing around like Madonna in the "Cherish" video. Then I had to lie on the shore as the waves crashed down and pretend I was Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity even though there was no Burt Lancaster around. That's when I heard this booming voice: "Miss, are you OK?" It was a real Southern accent, Alabama or Tennessee. Blushing, my eyes clamped shut, I hissed that I was fine. But he wouldn't go away. "You have sand all over your body." Yup, this is a beach. "But it looks uncomfortable." Well, it's not. Then I shaded my eyes with my hand, looked up and stone me if it wasn't Burt Lancaster. Well, obviously it wasn't but he looked like him. I rearranged myself into a more ladylike position and we started chatting, although every few minutes Burt would glance over his shoulder.
"What's your name?" Emma. "Oh well Miss, I have to tell you, I am a great fan of Emma Thompson." Where are you from? "Tennessee." [Pause] Oh, I love Tennessee Williams. And he tells me very kindly that Tennessee Williams was from Missouri and I say OK, but that would have made a crap name. He tells me he's an environmental geologist and I shriek, "Blimey, an American who does something useful." Finally, I ask him what he's doing here, and he looks over his shoulder again and announces, "I'm on my honeymoon." I say, "Oh, congratulations" much too enthusiastically, then go back to my beach hut and sulk.
From then on, Tennessee Burt and his wife are everywhere. He finds me reading on the beach, and he smiles, but I look away because, even though we haven't done anything wrong, I exude a natural guilt like a carefully bottled pheromone. But he comes right up and says, "Susie, this is Emma, we met yesterday. She was covered in sand," as if that makes it above board. Susie, a pretty little brunette, shakes my hand limply. "Emma, this is my wife," and then he starts chuckling. "My wife ... it sounds so funny." I glower at him. My travelling companion consoles me. "Look," she reasons. "Maybe he's just a nice man." I consider this and realise she's right. He's just nice. Well, how rude.
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