A Travellerspoint blog

January 2019

I’m Here! I’m Queer! My Boxers are Stained!

My flights from Indiana to Chile and my first day in the country

sunny 32 °C

I took my first proper step toward adulthood when I was thirteen; my mom dropped me off at the grocery store with a list, and she told me she would be back in twenty. In my mother’s handwriting, along with the other items on the list was “1 watermelon.”

I remember making my way through the store to the watermelons and carefully observing the old lady in front of me choosing one. She picked it up, held it to her ear, and tapped on it. Now, nobody had informed me that there was a Melon Etiquette. Not at all. But I could tell that, clearly, there are Good Melons and Bad Melons in this world, and there is a way to know the difference. I just had to figure it out.

I stood there watching as adult after adult, with their business suits, and mortgages, and tensions with the in-laws, and bad credit scores, and solid grasps on what constitutes acceptable produce, performed their own personal melon rituals: smacking them, tapping them, lifting them up, shaking them, scratching the rinds and sniffing them—a bizarre amalgamation of suburban ceremonial behaviors.

I wasn’t sure which of these fine specimen had discovered the best melon-choosing ritual. So I chose to go with the Tap then Shake Method™️, as it seemed the least ostentatious. I wasn’t sure (and still am not sure) what a “good” melon should sound or feel like. But insofar that I can remember, the one I chose that day was acceptable, and I have used the same melon-picking method ever since.

. . .

Boarding the plane to fly from Indiana to Georgia (the first leg of my trip to Santiago) was the first time I had set foot on an airplane. It was a dinky, economy-class flight of maybe twenty people. I was informed after the trip that the skies had been abnormally turbulent, which is great to know—I thought planes were always just…like that. The shaking and bumping of the turbulence seemed to fit the ambiance. With the curved walls and clouds passing by out the window, it truly never managed to slip my mind that I was in a metal tube rocketing through the sky.

About 20 minutes into the flight, the attendant came by offering drinks from a cart. She asked if I would like coffee. Apparently, the altitude up there at 35,000 feet had affected my ability to foresee the problems that might arise when you combine the variables of a very bumpy plane and a hot cup of coffee.

“Yes, I would love one. Thank you.”

“Cream or sugar?”

“Just sugar, please.”

The man sitting beside me got his cup first, and he took a sip nonchalantly, no problems whatsoever. Then I reached for my cup, promptly spilling a third of it into my lap during the handoff. I continued to spill it as the plane shook and I tried to use the little square napkin to wipe myself off (with little success). I smiled at the attendant and said “thank you,” wanting nothing more than to find a parachute with which I could jump from the plane.

For the rest of the flight, I sat with hot coffee slowly seeping its way into the boxers I would then have to continue wearing for 20 more hours. Is this what traveling is going to be like? I thought. Me having pubes that smell like stale Starbucks ‘We Proudly Serve’ Pikes Place Roast® while the strangers around me have seemingly gyroscopic grips on their cups?

However, with time, I have come to appreciate that plane ride. At no point in Santiago have I felt quite so low as when I wet my pants immediately after a flight attendant wet my pants for me on what was supposed to be the first “best day” of a string of the 116 Best Days of My Life.

The second flight seemed much more like the airplane rides I had seen in the movies: overly-friendly flight attendants, weird food in impossibly asinine packaging, little TV screens on the backs of the chairs, etc. I did find myself wondering, while we were flying over the Pacific, if they would give me some of the free champagne if I asked for it. (Because at what point in the air, really, did we leave the 21-and-over law of the US and start following Chile’s 18-and-over?) And I was terrified of flushing the toilets. But other than that, it felt relatively “normal.”

When we landed, I went through something like the five stages of grief in reverse order, ending in complete denial that I, some queer little Hoosier, from a college in the middle of nowhere, with $0.00 of local currency and a never-before-stamped passport, could be 5000 miles away from home, trying to explain in broken Spanish to my host mom that I don’t like milk and that I didn’t bring a towel.

That first night, she took me to the grocery store to by some food for the next couple of days. I was still wearing my coffee boxers, and I didn’t understand why all the soups were sold in bags instead of cans.

We went to the produce section and my host mom pointed to a honeydew.

“¿Te gusta el melón?”

“Uhhh..sí, sí. Me gusta. Sí. Es muy bien. Uh-huh.”

She then proceeded to sniff the melon before shaking it a little. Thank goodness. It was the first familiar thing I had seen, the melon ritual. So, while standing in the middle of a grocery story in the metropolitan region of Santiago, with no money, no memory of how to talk in Spanish in the future tense, and with no soup cans in sight, I thought to myself: Okay. Well, at least I’ll be able to choose a melon.

Posted by Tad Kaufman 15:40 Archived in Chile Tagged planes chile santiago flights lgbt gilman usac lgbtq+ queer_and_abroad Comments (1)

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