The captain comes on the speaker and says we will have to make an emergency landing in Chicago. The plane lands quickly. My dad, who once drove a fighter jet, squeezes the armrests and shuts his eyes tight. I know what all can go wrong here, he says. Once we are grounded the stewardesses—including the male stewardesses—bring forth many rounds of free alcohol to appease the grumbling adults. The cart laps the plane again and again, bestowing me with so much ginger ale I can’t tell a sip from a burp. Then we are herded out into an airplane terminal where, out the glass wall, a small black spiral grows bigger in the purple-green sky. It looks like someone scribbled it on a page and is holding it up with shaky hands. The scribble seems to be moving up and down as much as forward. Tornado! Tornado! The adults exclaim, but jubilantly. The alcohol has given the terminal—with its giant panes of glass that might at any minute shatter in and impale us with shards—a festive air. No one seems to question the safety of our window-front view.
Look, my sister says, pointing. A man stands to the side wearing white pants, and underneath them his boxer shorts are blasting polka dots. The dots seem as big and red as the ones on a Twister sheet. I watch the man worrying out the window, while the people around him laugh and chat lightly. He shows no signs of being a person who would start his day by stepping into polka dots. But even I know whatever you wear under white pants or shirts will show through, so he must have done it on purpose. Is it a coded signal to strangers, or to someone he knows? I decide If he just did it as a style statement then I like him. A lot. If he were to laugh I might even love him. Around me the murmurs and exclamations have grown louder, but the polka dots are hypnotic. I can’t look away. I can’t decide who he is. And just like this I miss my one chance to see a tornado up close.
Someone said the tail of it flipped and flopped like an animal’s when it blasted by.
We are standing in a long lineup to board a plane in LAX. I’m eight years old and in no hurry to leave California, where the people talk so much more than Ohio. They go on about their feelings and they ask questions that aren’t polite and they bounce around dramatically, which I can only figure is because they aren’t tied to pastures by their roots. I am taking back sand in my socks from the beach that morning. Just ahead of us stands a guy with dark hair, dark glasses and black leather everything: boots, pants, and jacket. Around his neck is both a silver cross and a collar of sharp silver spikes. He’s a black shadow, the opposite of beachy, and to better stay inside my sunny holiday I don’t look at him. But just before he steps up to hand the agent his ticket, a tall woman with long silky blonde hair runs up from the side, full speed. She’s fast, even in high heels. When she gets to him she falls to one knee on the carpet and presses her face to his butt. She kisses the black leather there for so long you can blink and shake your head and look away but it will still be happening.
When she pulls her face away I exhale, Whew. But then she opens her mouth and leans forward again, clamping down her teeth. She takes a big bite of the leather, his butt under it. And the man isn’t yelping or screaming at her to stop. He’s laughing. When she pulls away I expect her to have a torn piece of black leather between her teeth. But no, she’s laughing too. And then she rises to her feet and runs away, just as fast as she appeared. It all happens in about ten seconds. I can’t say I’m traumatized by it, but I will say it feels like I’ve been hit by a crow bar. Is it so disturbing because I’m eight? Or is it because I’m from Ohio? I realize this too must be part of California–a part I might never be ready for. I’m not even ready to look at his butt again, though I really want to see if there are any little holes in the leather.
When the seatbelt light dings off at altitude, my oldest sister says she’s going to go get his autograph. I ask who. She gestures about seven seats up, to the edge of first class, where his black leather is darkening an aisle seat. He looks to be sitting comfortably on his bite. My sister tells me he’s in a famous heavy metal band, and he once bit the head off a bat during a concert. A bat, I repeat. Biting through the neck of a bat makes a human butt seem like nothing, just a marshmallow. I imagine my sister returning with a mangled earlobe, holding a pen studded with frothy toothmarks. But when she sits down again she says he was nice. Nice, I repeat. She shows me the autograph she got for a boy at school. What does it even say, I mutter. She answers: Ozzy Osbourne. I have to admit his cursive looks cool. Like you could sculpt the two names out of wire, mount them on bases, and people would buy them, just for their perfect shapes. I’m almost tempted to spy on him. But instead I turn to the oval porthole, which is filled with sky so pure and blue it must still be California sky.