So I ran into this guy Sanchez the other day at the airport. Always a pleasure; he’s gay, he’s gorgeous, and he’s always happy to see me. We first flew together when he was brand spankin’ new and I was still based in San Francisco, and shared some memorable experiences in the three days we were together, not the least of which was getting drunk out of his flask in the aisles of the Dollar Tree at the Mall of America, but it always takes him a second to place me. His “hello” is always gregarious, his cutie-pie face always lights up under his latest haircut or facial hair experiment, but his eyes invariably narrow while he racks his brain, and I brace for the announcement. Because we are always in the computer room with a hundred other flight attendants, and he always remembers, loudly, with a snap of his fingers: “We had the Tastykake Incident!”
The Tastykake Incident, which would have been unmanageably mortifying with pretty much any other flight attendant I’ve ever flown with, was actually quite hilarious in context, and I am not ashamed of it in principle. Sanchez and I had bonded over our common body image issues and love of snack cakes in general, and what happened on the flight from Minneapolis to Denver seemed almost inevitable in its poetic timing. But it would be OK with me if even once in a while he could say hi to me without telling everybody within earshot all about how we broke the jumpseat.
As you may or may not know, Tastykakes are more or less Philadelphia’s answer to Hostess; a line of mass-produced, packaged snack cakes that is one of the few truly “regional” foods this country has left and of which Philly is inordinately proud. Our airport layover hotel, which otherwise has few redeeming qualities, gives them to us for free when we check in (although the last couple of times I’ve been there we’ve practically had to beg), and there is a Customer Service Representative at our Philadelphia station who grew up across the train tracks from the Tastykakes factory and worked there summers growing up. He will happily talk about them at length, not only to anyone who will listen, but to anyone who will stand within earshot for more than a few seconds. More than once, including this trip I flew with Sanchez, he has presented the crew of whatever flight he might be working with an entire box, even allowing you to choose your favorite flavor from the variety stashed behind the counter.
Sanchez is the type of fat guy who has maybe ten extra pounds on his jock frame. Not in combat shape any more (ex-Army, in Sanchez’s case), but he can joke about being “fat” freely and easily because, well, A: he isn’t fat, and B: he is 25 years old and could lose all ten pounds in fifteen minutes if he applied himself. He’s even got a slew, apparently, of inside jokes with his friends about the Fat Girl inside him who is dying to eat her way out. I am the type of fat guy who loves to eat and hates to work out and is in total denial about not being 25 and not being able to drop so much as one pound any more without going on reality TV and having a personal trainer, a plastic surgeon, a dance coach and a D-list Celebrity Host to shame me into doing it. In my shorts-and-a-t-shirt, drinks-on-the-patio life I have few hang-ups about my body, and celebrate my love of red wine and ice cream even as I crow about the fact that I have finally, at 40, graduated to occasionally adding vegetables to the things I cook. I eat brown rice and broccoli specifically so there will be room in my diet for half and half and peanut butter cups. I had shared much of this with Sanchez, and we were unapologetic about working our way through the box of Tastykakes on the airplane on Day Two and Day Three, even after laying waste to the Dairy Queen at the Mall of America on our second night, while our (ironically) more Twinkie purser prudishly forbore.
But I am a member of a particularly image-conscious work group. Many flight attendants still judge each other by the 1960’s ideal of the Sky Girl as a false-eyelash-wearing, devastating young farm girl who chose a flying career because she was too beautiful to be believable as a model, whether or not they come close to living up to this ideal themselves (although you can always tell the ones who rather fancy that they do live up to it by their frequent and vocal lamenting of its passing). I am often told that I “don’t look like a flight attendant” (to which I invariably say “Thank you”), and am a staunch and vocal supporter of the notion that as long as you can open a can of pop, strap yourself into the jumpseat, and shout “Brace! Brace! Brace!” once in a while, there should be few requirements related to size, shape, or age for this job these days. As a rule, I try to take pride in both my job and my body, but I have to say that this is easier when I am not in a room full of people who are judging me based on my size, strolling (all loud) down memory lane with a little hotty, remembering how we “ate so many Tastykakes that we broke the jumpseat.” Like maybe I was 180 pounds at the start of the trip? And I promise you, ain’t nobody in that dang computer room looking at Sanchez like Gee, no wonder.
Obviously the jumpseat would have broken anyway. I had been sitting on 737 jumpseats for 10 years prior to the Incident, and have sat on a hundred since. This jumpseat was busted, and should have been written up by the crew before us, if not the crew before them, if not a month earlier. It creaked and sagged the minute we first sat on it for taxi out⎯which got a big laugh out of us, of course, since our weight and junk food consumption had been the uniting theme of our layovers. But when we went to sit on it again for landing, after a hundred more jokes about being fat in the narrow-ass aisle of the stupid 737 (which skinny people have trouble negotiating with a passenger load of more than 20%), and it broke off the wall right out from under us, we just gaped at each other (on that gross, sticky floor) like What the fuck do we do now? We weren’t full, but the back row was, and we had to move somebody so at least one of us could sit by the doors. I begged Sanchez to do it, and I sat next to the purser on the front jumpseat for landing. Without breaking it, I might add. Hmmm; maybe the Tastykake Incident was Sanchez’s fault. I’ll ask him about it⎯next time we’re in a room full of people.