Flying to New Zealand, I Meet My Dominatrix

Boarding the flight to Auckland, I held my knapsack in my

right hand and, in my left, a pressed shirt and pressed jacket, both on hangers

in the dry cleaner’s plastic sleeves, and when the flight attendants greeted me

I said, “Do you think I might be able to hang these up?” The nearer one leaned

forward-the blond, smaller one-and said, sharpening her face into a pencil-like

point, “Are you in business class?”

I said no.

She settled back into herself with triumph exuding from

every pore and gave a little shake of her head, and then the other one-the

darker, taller one behind her-said, “Where are you seated? I’ll see if I can’t

come round a little later.”

I glanced at my boarding pass. “C17.”

When I found my seat, I turned the matter over in my mind a

couple of times before deciding to put the pressed clothes temporarily in the

overhead bin. I draped them over my knapsack and got out my book, and tried to

make sure that no one put anything on top. But before long the bin was crammed,

my clothes creased. And that was all. The flight attendants never came back-not

the tall, dark-haired one and, of course, not the smaller blonde.

They did pass up and down the aisle to assist late passengers

and serve drinks and breakfast-the flight left a small South Pacific island at

2:45 a.m. and arrived in Auckland at 5:15, losing an hour as it did- but never

for my clothes.

The blonde did two other things. An old Polynesian came back

wearing one of the ridiculously large ankle-length coats the islanders wear,

anticipating the first winter of their lives, and carrying two large green

duffel bags, and even as the blonde helped him to squeeze them in, she said,

“I’m sure these are both under the seven-kilo limit?” With fake politeness,

knowing the answer already, and knowing too that the old Polynesian had no idea

what she was saying. Dutiful and vicious.

Later she adjusted someone’s bag behind me, pushing it under

my seat, and her hip swung against my elbow and shoulder like a little battle

ax. What a perfect weapon a woman’s hip can be.

And the only other thing that happened after that was when

she served breakfast, and I asked for tomato juice, and she said, “Will that be

spicy?” And it seemed to me that, still savoring her triumph, she put in a lot

of Tabasco sauce, more than was called for ….

I was thinking about the dark-haired flight attendant, her

dilemma. She had met my eyes; there had been a sincere exchange. I knew that

she wanted to do the right thing, she wanted to come back and take my clothes.

She had understood that it was important to me-understood that even though I

wasn’t seated business class, couldn’t afford business class, and hadn’t

thought to bring a garment bag out from the States, I was arriving in Auckland

in the morning and would want to put on nice clothes for my business, that my

business was terribly important to me, the way everyone’s business is to them

(my editor had said something about the Auckland International Film Festival

and the buzz over Lord of the Rings ,

lately shot in New Zealand), and there was even something faintly moving about

a passenger on a route with a lot of Polynesians and vacationers carrying on

his dry cleaning, which she had to know was not easy to obtain on the island,

on July 4-the king’s birthday, no less. And for all these reasons, for several

minutes I had been sure that she was going to come any second; I had myself

primed to spring up and say something polite about her kindness.

Then, after that, I felt she was only waiting for the right

moment: maybe when the blonde wasn’t looking, when she could flit down the

aisle with that purposeful take-no-prisoners air of a flight attendant and give

me the smallest smile, and I would jump up and get down the laundry, and she

would disappear-again with a serious look, not betraying the little act of

sedition she had committed-and slip it into the little bay there, between

business class and the cockpit, and not hold it over the blonde.

In fact, she would do all she could to keep it from the

blonde. Not smile or gloat or let on in any way, but maybe at the end, as we

were filing out to the jetway, I would look at her and she would look at

me-with something of a smile, then, on both our parts-and knowing that I would

be perfectly discreet about it, she would give a little surprised “Oh!” as if

she had just remembered, and darting in front of me for an instant, find my dry

cleaning and pull it out and hand it over.

Then neither of us would look at the blonde, and it would be

our moral victory. We would set out happily along our separate paths through

the city, and the blonde would be punctured, and maybe even forced to

contemplate her own petty cruelties, and maybe change for the better and not do

all the things she did to make passengers feel so bad just because she was

having a bad day. But, of course, the dark-haired one never did appear ….

I tried to sleep on the

flight, because I had business in Auckland in the morning and wanted to be

fresh. But I couldn’t sleep (I had a faint inkling then that my assignment was

already blown) and, sleepless, it occurred to me just how wrong I was. The

blonde was the boss. She wasn’t a peer who insisted in a persnickety way on the

rules, but the enforcer of those rules, and though the dark-haired one might be

tormented and angry about it, still she would hold all that down and try to

smile, and not be able to. And though she suffered thinking about what had

happened, and looked ruefully over at the hanger bay (which wasn’t filled) and

thought about what she’d said to me, still she would do nothing, she would obey

the rules.

She would abide by her oppressor, as the oppressed so often

do. The oppressor would have the consent of the oppressed.

As she had mine, too. When I exited the plane, I held my

rumpled dry cleaning in front of me like a flag of injustice and did not meet

their eyes, either one of them. The first blast of cold Auckland air hit me in

the jetway and I took savage pleasure in my mistreatment.