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Planes, Pains & Automobiles
By Tonya Kong

"Back when she was still practicing law," my mother hisses at my father. He nods conspiratorially in her direction, then pumps the brakes to punctuate their disapproval. A gas tanker nearly piles us from behind.

"Uhh, yes, anyway, I was flying from Oahu to Maui for a deposition."

Oops. Mom closes her eyes and sighs painfully, "My daughter was an attorney. In Hawaii." Way to go, Five-O. This stupid airplane story needs to be EPIC.

I raise the volume to compensate. "Right!! So, I'm boarding the plane!! I get to my row and there's this Sigma Chi-tattooed frat boy in an SMU Football cap with an overly rounded brim blocking the aisle."

Time Out. Before anyone rushes to judgment and assumes I'm a man-hater who's gonna rip on this guy just because he's in a fraternity, likes football and wears a baseball hat, let me set the record straight. (1) Fraternities: I'm admittedly wary of the frat pack in general. However, my boyfriend Mike was in a fraternity and he's the most decent, respectful guy a girl could ever know. Score one for the Greeks. (2) Football: I love football. LOVE IT. Since I was a little girl. I cried on Christmas morning at age four when I unwrapped a doll in a pink dress rather than the blue nerf football I asked for. I stopped believing in Santa right then and there. That doll had my mother's handiwork written all over it. When I hit six, my family moved to Colorado, where it's a state residency requirement that you worship the Denver Broncos. No problem there. I went ga-ga over the "Orange Crush" -- scary, hulking defensive linemen named Lyle Alzado, Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson. These were D-men so vicious that they crushed opposing offenses despite having to wear bright orange jerseys. Nowadays I watch more college football than pro. Regardless of the bullshit rankings rigged by east coast-bias. Can you tell I went to a PAC-10 school? Don't talk to, call or otherwise bother me when my Washington Huskies are playing. Even when they suck. Especially when they suck. (3) Baseball Hats: There's nothing cuter than a guy in a vintage tee, jeans and a baseball hat. Just don't bend the brim in half. In my opinion, it looks like a vagina and interferes with the effortless, manly look you're trying to achieve.

Dad turns down the golden oldies station and Mom fires up a cigarette, signaling me to get on with my show.

"So I get to my seat and there's Football Frat, shoving his massive Eagle Creek duffel bag into the overhead compartment and blocking the aisle. As I'm waiting for him to finish smashing this beautiful orchid plant that's already been carefully placed in the overhead by another passenger, I can't help but notice the back of Frat Man's t-shirt. It says: 10 REASONS WHY BEER IS BETTER THAN A WOMAN. Followed by a list of reasons, which include, but are not limited to: 'BEER never has a headache.' 'BEER looks the same in the morning.' 'A BEER is always wet.' 'If you change BEERS, you don't have to pay alimony.' And my personal favorite: 'BEER doesn't demand equality.'"

My dad's chuckling is cut short by a withering stare from my mom.

"Anyway, about a half-hour later, I'm sipping some POG juice -- Fun Hawaii Fact: Pineapple-Orange-Guava juice is always served on inter-island flights to quench your tropical thirst! -- while reviewing my depo questions when I feel Frat Hat staring at me. I study my file harder. 'Sooooo,' he growls in his best strained come-on voice, 'If I do something bad, do you promise to arrest me?' I choke, and a little juice squirts out my nose, but I recover. I smile sweetly without looking at him and purr, 'No, but I do promise to prosecute you and get you sent to a place where you'll be raped repeatedly by large Polynesian men.' Blitz! Run, quarterback, run! Frat-Fuck backpedals for his life. 'Uhh, geez, I was just kiddin -- ' I grab the Budweiser can off his tray and sack his ass, 'You're boring me. I think I'd rather talk to your BEER.'"

My mom's giggling is cut short by an uncomfortable cough from my dad. Evidently the audience is responding along gender lines.

"Fratty goes down hard, fumbling his Aloha Airlines blanket as he spins toward his other neighbor looking for pass protection. But the little white-haired Asian woman in Seat A is playing for my team. She delivers the fatal hit -- 'Haole boy, YOU PAYING FOR MY ORCHID!' Grandma then strips him of his blanket and starts up the trash talk. Okay, technically I'm not really sure what she was saying because I don't speak Japanese, but it sounded super harsh. At this point, our opponent wisely decides to take himself out of the game. He pulls his SMU hat over his face and stays that way for the rest of the flight. Grandma and I share a wink. There's no way we're gonna risk an excessive celebration penalty with high-fives, dancing or chest-butting. We know we're mightier than the Orange Crush. We're the Orange POG!"

As the Gus-mobile pulls into the sales office of the Sunny Days Senior Experience Condos (Phase II Grand Opening!), I wait for the plane story verdict. Apparently this is not an open and shut case for Judge Mom, so her law clerk steps in to clarify a few points.

"What happens to the guy?" asks my dad.

How the hell would I know? Still, you're never supposed to admit you don't know the answer when the Court asks you a question, so I decree with conviction, "My Frat Friend now uses his beer t-shirt to dust the mansion he bought as a gift for his lovely wife when she gave birth to his quintuplet daughters."

What can I say? I became a lawyer because I'm an idealist. It's also why I quit. It's easier to bring fictional people to justice.

Strangely, this satisfies Dad. He moves on. "Was there any turbulence on the flight?"

Damnit, I was hoping the football angle would be enough to distract him from the lack of special effects.

"No. There was no engine trouble, no sudden dip in cabin pressure, NO TURBULENCE." People, this is the reason the American legal system is so slow. Lots of time spent on tangential matters of little importance. I might as well throw myself at the mercy of Lady Justice to speed things up. "Any questions, your Honor?"

Mom tilts her head thoughtfully, "Yes. Why should we care?"

Nice. First she forces me to run with this plane idea, then she expects back story and personal symbolic meaning. Picky, picky. I have to admit it's a good question though. "Umm, the reason you should care is…it was one of those truly fantastic moments where some jerk degrades you and instead of staying silent, you respond perfectly. That never happens. At least not to me, anyway. Usually I think of a great comeback when I'm laying in bed hours later and then I kick myself because it's too late."

"I see. And could this be a skill you learned as a lawyer?" Oh, that mom is a shrewd one. She will impeach me and use this as irrefutable evidence of why I shouldn't have quit the profession that taught me not only how to stand up for others, but for myself. My mom is no longer going Hollywood on me. She's going Supreme Court. She's going Sandra Day O'Connor. Retired, yet still powerful.

What would Sandra do? She could go either way. She's a swing voter who might surprise you. And that's just what my mom does when she renders her final judgment: "You should write your plane story. But Dad's right. Add the turbulence."


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