Monday, April 26, 2010

Lessons from a Wise Sky: Number Three

A Wise Sky
I very rarely need to talk. Often, I go all day without opening my mouth (I can eat through my ears). As a language teacher, I’ve been trained to listen patiently, nod occasionally and smile. I’m not a good listener; I’m the best (except of course when I’m eating through my ears).

Why is it, then, that the moment a plane takes off (with me in it of course), I clam up and pray that the person sitting next to me is deaf/mute or doesn’t speak an Indo-European language or just wants to be alone? I adore the person who avoids eye-contact when he takes his seat. It’s the universal signal for “I’m going to ignore you for the next nine hours, and you’d better do the same . . . buster.” This, my friend, is true love. Wouldn’t it be great if there were Talking and Non-talking sections on planes? Case(s) in point . . .

Munich to Washington

“Oh, sorry,” my rowmate said. “I need something out of my bag . . . again.”

“Oh, no problem," I said. "I need the exercise. Getting up and down like this is kind of like deep knee bends. We're up to forty reps. That's good.”

“Maybe I should just keep the bag under the seat.”


“I’m Gertrandi by the way,” she said—or some more believable Norwegian name. (I can’t be bothered to find a believable one—but this doesn’t mean I don’t love you.)

“Hi, Gertrandi. I’m an anonymous person you’ll never see again.” I didn’t say this of course; I said, “I’m Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

See, once you’ve introduced yourselves, you’ve set the game rules. You “know” each other well enough to chit-chat. Most humanoids will chat for a few minutes and then turn to their novels or their crossword puzzles. Some will sleep or watch Sleepless in Seattle, but there is one humanoid subspecies known as the chatterboxius infinitea whose instinct it is to keep talking to you until you’re running from it forty yards down the concourse after you've landed.

The Norwegian? A national women’s wrestling champion. Raised in the Fjords but traveled far and wide from Thailand to Toronto, hates fish. The rest of the nine-hour gabfest was utterly forgettable. The crowning irony of this trip was that when the plane landed she didn’t even say good-bye to me. I was hurt. I thought we were close.

Washington to Nashville

Bill, as he introduced himself, sat down next to me and offered his hand. He was your typical slightly overweight, button-downed, khakied businessman.

“I really hate touching people,” I didn’t say. I took the hand and reluctantly introduced myself. “I’m Poopah Gandhi. It's such a pleasure to meet you."

Bill talked about business blah and family blaher. I nodded and smiled and wished him harm. Soon, the conversation steered toward Nashville restaurants.

“How do you like The Sunset Grill?” he asked.

“Well, it’s OK for people who don’t know anything about food,” I said. “The owner, [bleep bleep], has been serving the same tired pasta dish for more than a decade. It’s a good place to see and be seen, maybe take a date, if she’s dumb but pretty, but—”

“OK, OK,” he grumbled. He was probably an investor. Oh well.

I continued. “If you want good food in Nashville—”

“OK, OK,” he said and flashed his end-of-conversation hand.

Goodness. He started it.

The Wise Sky's Lessons: 

LESSON ONE: A grassroots movement in favor of Talking and Non-talking sections in planes would be worth the fight.

LESSON TWO: You are where you eat.

LESSON THREE: Marry rich (which has nothing to do with this post, but it’s always a good lesson).

I must be off,

Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lessons from a Wise Sky: Number Two

A Wise Sky
When I fly, I always have something gluten-free in my backpack. Be prepared, right? Well, I haven’t always been such a Boy Scout. This lesson took me several years to learn, like playing the clarinet or acquiring Urdu.

Last year I was on my way back to Munich from Nashville on my whipping-boy airline United, when my transatlantic connecting flight in Washington, Dulles was cancelled. I was stranded in Washington without my bag (but with a nifty little toiletries bag provided by United) for the night. The hotel was so far outside Washington that I think it was in Delaware or Dubai or something. I’m almost sure the shuttle ride took longer than the flight from Nashville to Washington.

United gave me a dinner voucher, but the restaurant in the hotel—I think the name was BORING FOOD or OUR COOK SUCKS—was not very good, and the cheapest wine on the menu was twelve dollars a glass. (I’ll give twelve dollars to anyone who can tell me the exact moment when wine went from being four dollars a glass to twelve dollars a glass. This is Zimbabwe inflation, folks.)

I’m building up to my nervous breakdown on the plane; just give me time.

The following day, I got up early to spend the day in D.C. before my afternoon flight. It was cold. It was a week before Barack Obama’s inauguration, and I remember thinking what a privilege it was to see it all without the throngs of people.

I walked all over D.C. trying to find something gluten-free to eat. A salad bar? No. A moderately priced restaurant that knew what gluten-free meant? No. Pizza? Hamburgers? Sandwich shops? Asian fast food? Yes.

I finally kicked off my shoes at Starbucks where I found a large container of fruit. Fruit’s OK, but I don’t normally eat much fruit. It’s just prettily colored sugar.

But I ate it and was full for a few seconds.

I walked on and on through cold, windy D.C., imagining parades and assassins. Soon all the walking and imagining made me hungry again, so I ducked into another Starbucks and grabbed another container of fruit. Really, in the center of D.C. there’s nothing besides fast food and upscale restaurants (many of which don’t open until late afternoon).

“But, Chris, you could have gone to a supermarket.”

“Shut up.”

By the time I boarded the plane to Munich, I was on a strawberry-pineapple high . . . and starving.

“Excuse me,” I said to one of the flight attendants.

“Just a second,” she said.

“Oh, sure. One Mississippi, two Mississippi. OK, so I was wondering,” I began.

She turned around and shot me a look that pretty much assured me she did not share my sense of humor.

“Yeah, so as I was saying, I wonder if my gluten-free meal made it on this plane. See, I’m on this flight because my flight was cancelled yesterday.” I smiled because you catch more flies with honey.

“No,” she said. “Special meals are lost when flight details are changed.”

“So,” I said, still smiling, “United Airlines assumes that my problem with gluten is cured when they cancel my flight? They should tell the medical community. This is important news.”

“Excuse me?”

“This flight is nine hours long. What am I going to eat?”

“It’s not my fault,” she said.

“Of course it’s your fault,” I said. “You are United Airlines.”


Another flight attendant moved in to provide back-up. “You can have my fruit plate,” he said.

My travelling companion moved ever so slightly away from me. His seat started shaking with laughter, which only fueled my fury.

“Fruit? Fruit?! Fruit?!?” I must have sounded completely off my rocker. Soon there were several flight attendants circling me. This must be what happens when someone lights their shoes or when their crotch starts smoking.

I was shaking from the fructose coursing through my veins, and I had tiny ulcers in my mouth from all the pineapple.

“I need food,” I said. “Real food. Look at my hands. See how they’re shaking?” OK, I shook them myself, but still.

A few minutes later when I was tucking into my filet mignon from business class, I was calm enough to forgive the flight attendants and concede that it really hadn’t been their fault. All was well that ended medium well with garlic butter. I encouraged them to start working on my “lite snack before landing in Munich” early . . . to avoid tears.

Lesson Number One: Always have a gluten-free snack in the pack
Lesson Number Two: Squeaky Wheel gets Food from Business Class

I must be off,

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Publishing News

It's my birthday, so I'll boast if I want to.

Stand back. April is starting off with a bang. On March 31 (which, come on, is almost April) my sad citrus saga "The Orangery" appeared at

At the moment the story is rated quite high on the site. You can help, though, by popping by and rating it. It is my birthday. ::coughs, makes pouty face, sneezes::

A few days before my birthday I officially became an editor (although I've been editing everything I say for years, so nothing has really changed). Check out
You'll be metaglad you did. It's a great place for writers. My story "A Literary Separation" appears in the post about the three new editors along with two stories written by the other new, witty, talented, intimidating editors, Julie Innis and Finnegan Flawnt.

Just moments ago, smack-dab on my birthday BootsnAll Travel sent me an email informing me that they've published one of my stories. Try to top this present. Just try. I've been trying to wiggle my way into travel writing for a while. It's a start, and here it is:

Rate and share it if you love me!

There. I'm done. I have a birthday to celebrate.

I must be off,

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Taste the Pinca!

In keeping with my obsession for travel, I’ve just returned from a weekend trip to Croatia. The original idea was to enjoy Easter in a spa hotel on the Mediterranean. Buffet breakfast in the morning, lounging about on the rocky shores of Poreč, Croatia until the late afternoon, drinking wine and assuring one another that the weather here is much better than the weather, say, there.

Sauna would follow, followed by more wine and then a twenty-course dinner that would send us and our arteries to an early grave, or at least to an early bed.

The reality turned out to be less sunny. The spa hotel actually charged extra for the use of their wellness facilities. The gym was free, so we worked out every day. The pool was free as well, but, despite the fact that we’d brought our bathing suits, we didn’t make use of it. Why? I’ll tell you why. That’s why I’m here, after all: to go off on tangents.

A few months ago on one of those evening magazine TV shows, I saw a report on chlorine. Did you know that chlorine smells only when it is mixed with urine? According to the German magazine show, it does. And according to the strong smell of chlorine coming from our hotel’s swimming pool, I’d say it was at least 40% kiddie pee.

What is so appealing about urinating in a pool? OK, I’ve done it myself. I admit it. But I was very young then—no older than twenty-six—so it was excusable.
End of tangent.

The buffet was excellent—I’m three kilos heavier and considering a C-section—but Croatia was ill-prepared for my gluten-free hysteria. The first morning, I steered clear of anything that could have had gluten in it, but the second morning, I spotted those dry, tasteless rice pucks that usually have “NATURALLY GLUTEN-FREE” stamped on their cylindrical packaging. They were in a basket and disrobed. There was a label on the counter next to the basket, but it’s only purpose was to confuse. I looked around for help. “But why?” I had to ask myself.

What’s so appealing about eating food that tastes like insulation? OK, I do it all the time. If it says “GLUTEN-FREE” on it, I usually sink my teeth into it, even if it sticks to my teeth for four hours and tastes like construction materials. Butter and honey help.

“Excuse me, do you speak English or German?” I asked, hoping to get the attention of the cook who was scrambling 20,000 eggs.

“A little,” she said.

“Good, so can I ask you something about this label here?”


“This label says ‘Rice (wheat) cakes.’ See, that doesn’t make too much sense. It’s either rice or wheat. The brackets actually mean that rice is wheat. Ha ha. See? You do see what I mean and don't think I'm an arrogant prick, right?”


“See here. Rice and wheat . . . oh hell. Can I see the package these tasteless wafers were in?”

“Hachbledschnorkski?!” she said, gesturing to another cook.

“Yes, can I help you?” the other cook asked, approaching us.

I explained the confusing label once again to him, and he promptly and correctly pointed out that some of the wafers in the basket were wheat and some were rice.

“Great, which ones are which?” I asked.

We all stared into the basket for a good, long time.

“I’ll get the packages,” he said.

By this time, another cook was involved, so there were now four of us discussing the possible contents of the most worthless, cylindrical bread-like products ever made. I don’t even like rice cakes. Does anyone like rice cakes? Could it be that people eat them only because other people are eating them, and that none of us likes them?

“Can’t we just read the ingredients?” I suggested.

“Good idea,” they said.

“This one is, how do you say . . . ?”






“No. Soy,” he said.


“No, corn . . . I think.”

“Read me the ingredients on the other one.” I smiled. For future reference, when I start smiling, this means I’m losing my patience and I’m about to slap you.

He read the ingredients. Nothing on the list remotely resembled wheat or barley, so I announced that after careful deliberation I would be partaking of this particular product. Seeming pleased and relieved, they began to disperse.

“Oh, um, just a sec. Could we open that package so I’ll be sure of what I’m getting? The ones in the basket have been . . . touching . . . the wheat products.”

The cook opened the package for me. Honestly, I only wanted one, but, considering the mean look he was giving me, I took three.

When we got back to our room on Easter morning, the cleaning person had left a pinca on our beds. That sounds like she'd done something rather similar to what the kiddies were doing in the swimming pool, I know, but in fact she’d left the traditional Croatian Easter bread. Yes, bread. A fist-sized lump of gluten. The little label on the bread read “Taste the Pinca!” which is the rudest thing I’ve read in weeks.

What is so appealing about bread, anyway? After almost four years of not eating the stuff, I have to say I don’t miss it at all. Hotels, with the exception of our hotel in Croatia, always try to make me happy with gluten-free bread, when their chances would be much greater with gluten-free wine.

I must be off,