My friend Stuart Bousel has been writing observational short stories as Facebook status updates, based on people he sees and conversations he overhears in airports or restaurants.
I have been sitting around Heathrow airport for the last two hours waiting to learn whether I'll get a seat or not on the overbooked flight back to SF; to distract myself from my anxieties, I did as Stuart would, and observed my neighbors, and wrote this.
They ask if the seats near me – the bucket-shaped orange tweed
chair, the squashy black leather couch – are taken. I say “No,” and “No
problem,” knowing I sound like a slightly vulgar American whenever I say
that, and cringing internally at how my speech betrays me.
are a party of three, presumably a family, but an unusual one: three
Eurojetsetters. The daughter has long, lush, rich-girl brown hair, and a
lush pouting mouth, and lush olive skin, and wears a black miniskirt
and black tights that probably cost forty euros. The mother is very bon
chic bon genre: bottle blonde, grey cashmere sweater, navy blue knit
jacket with big gold buttons, skinny cropped beige pants, and Prada
wedge sneakers. The father has wavy gray hair that all must call
“distinguished,” and a fine light-blue shirt that’s unbuttoned slightly
too much, and designer jeans, and black loafers.
They have Longchamp bags and snakeskin bags and pebbled-leather bags.
They all have untraceable accents.
The man takes the chair; the women sink into the squashy couch.
I think of being friendly and offering them my free chocolate. The
coffee shop gave me three free morsels of gianduja because my voucher
was for five pounds’ worth of food and by golly, they were going to give
me my money’s worth.
I am held back from the fear that my
gianduja is of insufficient quality for such sophisticates. They seem
like people who have strong opinions on gianduja.
daughter hold their phones two-handed in front of their faces, click
through Instagram photos, chatter softly in their untraceable murmuring
voices, compare notes on what they see.
“That’s what childhood should be like. Free,” says the woman. “It makes my heart hurt.”
She strokes her daughter’s long, lush, rich-girl hair.
The father reads Den of Thieves, pen in hand. He furrows his brow and
pushes back his distinguished hair from his forehead, a studied
“They take the nicest photos, don’t they? This is a
beautiful picture of the chateau. I want to go there; I want to be a
child there. If that school was an English school in the country, a
boarding school, would you go there?”
They offer their phones to
Daddy so he can look at the photos. He strokes his chin with his left
hand, and I notice he doesn’t wear a wedding ring, but the woman does. I
try to puzzle out whether or not they’re married.
“Looks lovely, ja? The French way of life. I would like to go.”
The woman strokes the girl’s hair again. One primate grooming another.
They would like to groom her for a good marriage, in the Milan cathedral
I think, and a honeymoon in Tahiti.
“Stef, have you canceled with your brother? Because I think they think that we’re coming over on Monday.”
He furrows his brow and strokes his upper lip with his thumb as he
texts his brother. They don’t have a good relationship. There is
resentment and ill-feeling on both sides: my distinguished friend here
thinks that his brother, who lives an average middle-class life in some
suburb, is boring and basic; the brother regards this Eurojetsetter with
a mix of schadenfreude and envy. He’s probably glad to know that their
flight has been delayed and none of their money or style or
sophisticated unplaceable accents can help them now.
“Next weekend, what do we do?”
The mother continues to groom the daughter’s hair, the family’s pride
and joy. Oh, all the Prada sneakers in the world cannot compare with the
glory of that hair, which cannot be bought or sold, which grows
The father still strokes his lip, finishes the
onerous duty of texting his brother, then returns to his book with a
still more furrowed brow.
Mother is trying to get set up on
Instagram; she peppers the girl with soft, barely audible questions and
opinions. “I’m just going to post interior pictures. Just let me post
interior pictures, gardens, sunsets, pretty ones. Who am I now
following? Three people. Nobody’s following me back; oh that’s
marvelous. Will you follow me back, so I have one follower?”
“Stop asking me these questions,” says the girl. Even when she is
irritated with her mother, she talks in a voice that I have to strain my
ears to hear. The clicking of my computer keys almost drowns out the
“Shall we go and eat something?”
“What time is it?”
“We go now. By the time we’re there… By the time we’re served…”
They do not move.
“Oh, that’s beautiful,” says the mother, still on Instagram.
The women scroll on their phones, the man strokes his forehead as though he were performing an auto-phrenological examination.
“Look, look! She was invited to the palace! Their Royal Highnesses
request the pleasure of Madame M— at the reception for the launch of
Pledge on Thursday. I don’t know what that is,” says the mother, still
“Oh, there you are. We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars,” she says, dreamily, still on Instagram.
“I’m a very bad dresser,” she says, two minutes later. I don’t know how
much irony is intended by that statement but I do think that wedge
sneakers are an abomination.
Another two minutes go by. “You know
the girl who I’m staying with, the guy has the coolest house in Notting
Hill. Blenheim Crescent, so cool.”
“How d’you know it’s cool?”
“Because it was up on the Internet, the house and garden.”
The girl lightly taps the man on the knee with her phone.
“Yeah. Don’t forget your charger.”
“Let’s go to Carluccio’s.”
“Thank you,” they say to me, gathering their pebbled-leather bags.
“No problem,” I say again, and hope that my eyes do not betray me as a
spy, a gawker, an envious observer even more to be feared and hated than
that bothersome brother, because the ties of familial love do not bind
me to these people, and I have a laptop computer and two hours to kill
in the airport.