Model Behavior

Travel Stories: Karl Taro Greenfeld didn't even want to sit next to the supermodel on the flight. But to his fellow passengers, he was the pervert.

12.17.09 | 12:10 PM ET


A few years ago, because of frequent travel related to my former job, I began to win upgrades to business class on a semi-regular basis. (Always pity those who have achieved various top tier awards program memberships for the vast amounts of time they spend commuting to and from airports and sitting in departure lounges.) Still, the best kind of upgrade is to be pleasantly surprised by it upon checking in, rather than in a notifying e-mail the night before. When my wife and I were told, upon arriving for a recent flight from New York to Turks & Caicos, that we had been moved into first class, we were both pleased at this small stroke of good luck. It seemed an auspicious start to a much needed, mid-winter four days in the tropics. We weren’t seated together but the airline representative explained, as we already knew, that we could probably arrange some sort of swap once on the plane.

After we were on board and had located our seats in the small first class compartment, I asked the flight attendant if he could help us find seating together. He explained he couldn’t move anyone but that I should ask passengers as they boarded. For the time being, while we were waiting for our fellow passengers, I took my assigned place. When the gentleman with the seat next to my wife boarded, I asked him if he wanted to switch but he explained he wanted to stay where he was, apologizing that he always sat in 3B.

“Is there any reason for that?” I asked. “Some significance?”

He treated my question like it was an intrusion. “Maybe.”

“Is it, like, a superstition?” I persisted.

“None of your business,” he said, and opened a copy of one of those paperbacks with a cover illustration of a tough-looking guy with an automatic weapon and a title like “The Slaughterer: #42.”

I sat back down and waited for more passengers. A beautiful, slender woman with brown hair, gold highlights and aviator-style sunglasses came aboard, taking long-legged strides down the aisle, carrying a white, calf-skin valise. She was followed by an attractive, but not quite as lovely, associate who carried a noticeably heavier bag while also pulling a black roller bag.

My wife, seated in the row in front of me, turned around and whispered. “That’s———!”

“Who?” I asked.

“The supermodel!” My wife explained. She then flipped through the copy of Elle she was reading until she came to a page, folded it to mark the place, and then handed the whole magazine over to me. “Her.”

I heard a conversation ensue behind me in a foreign language. The model and her associate had also not been seated together, and the model was, I guessed, loudly complaining about the fact to her associate, who, I now surmised, was more like an assistant or maid-servant.

Well, I thought, if they have the same problem we do, then perhaps some reshuffling of the seats would allow all of us to sit with our respective partners, me with my wife and the model with her Girl Friday. I calculated various moves and seating permutations that would allow for this reconfiguration. It was like playing one of those plastic kids games where you slide square letters up and down and sideways to spell a certain word. I solved it and stood up.

“Perhaps if you would move two rows back ...” I said to the woman next to me, a middle-aged brunette in jeans and a sweater, with a gold necklace hanging over the black wool “... to the window seat there, then those two could sit together here, and my wife and I, if you ...” I pointed to another window seat passenger “... would switch with that gentleman there ...” and I indicated yet another passenger “... then everyone would have seats of equal value and we ...” I made a flapping gesture with my hand that indicated I meant the model’s party and my party “... would all be seated together.”

The model looked at me. She was severely beautiful, but in an almost reptilian rather than human way, like a sexy little lizard coated with perfect, tanned, human flesh.

“I don’t want to sit next to you,” she said loudly, in a sneering tone that indicated her complete and utter disgust at her mistaken idea that I was scheming for us to be together.

What? I thought. “No, no, that’s not what I’m—“

“———does NOT sit next to strange men,” her caddie added.

Now the whole cabin was looking at me, the pervert stalker who was attempting to reseat the entire first class cabin so that he could sit next to a supermodel. “No, NO,” I said. “I’m trying to sit next to her.” I pointed to my wife.

“Sir,” the male flight attendant was behind me, “please be seated for take-off.”

I stood aside and he walked past me, shaking his head as he did so. Beyond him, in the first rows of economy I could see passengers staring at me and also shaking their heads. The nerve of this guy, trying to move everyone around so that he can sit next to a supermodel. How pathetic is that?

“I’m married,” I suddenly blurted out. That only elicited an even greater round of disapproval.

“That’s disgusting,” the model said, now having been reseated by the flight attendant so that she was beside her assistant. She pronounced it deesgosteeng.

My wife, I realized as I sat back down, had missed the whole exchange.

Once we disembarked in Turks & Caicos, we gathered our bags and found our resort van. We took the second row bench and, about a minute later, here came the model and her assistant, both now in sunglasses, taking the bench behind us.

We spent most of our four days in our private little beach-front bungalow, only emerging to take walks along the beach, snorkel or dine in the wonderful restaurant where there was no menu but the chef would cook whatever you wished. Occasionally, I saw the supermodel. Upon catching a glimpse of me, she would emphatically stop in her tracks and stomp off in the opposite direction.

“What on earth did you do to her?” my wife would ask me.

Karl Taro Greenfeld is the author of four books, including Speed Tribes and Boy Alone: A Brother's Memoir, about his autistic brother Noah. His World Hum story Hope and Squalor at Chungking Mansion appeared in "The Best American Travel Writing 2008" anthology.

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