The Journey of a Thousand Fights Begins With a Single Desire to Punch Your Beloved in the Face.

For over three months we’ve had these nine novels by J. Fenimore Cooper (American novelist, 1781 – 1851) in the  used book store that I co-manage for the local library here on the north shore of Long Island. Nobody ever looked at them because they are by J. Fenimore Cooper (who is neither an especially beloved nor notorious author). I thought we’d be stuck with them forever.

Then I went to Wigtown (Scotland’s national Book Town; see last week’s blog post) and I saw that one of the booksellers there had tied up a stack of red books (matching bindings) with a bit of twine and it looked very handsome. So, naturally, as soon as I got home I stacked our nine novels by J. Fenimore Cooper and tied them up with a purple ribbon (I didn’t have access to twine):

Within an hour, they had sold. $10.00.

I also stole other equally excellent merchandising ideas from Wigtown, and I will show them to you at a later date.

Because this week I have so much to tell you about our worst trip to Scotland that I want to dive right in.

As we packed for our Saturday departure, we checked the weather forecast for Scotland. It was going to be cold and rainy so at the last minute, I shoved a pair of black corduroy pants into the suitcase.

Turned out that I wore those damn corduroy pants every day that I was in Scotland. So, YAY for last minute inspirations.

An hour before our Uber was to pick us up to go to JFK Airport, I found the first Blue Jay feather of the year so I yelled to Top Cat: It’s an omen!! Everything is going to go right on this trip!!

And the universe laughed.

Well, we got to JFK two hours early and immediately checked in yada yada yada, and then we headed to the latest fab attraction in New York City. We had to hang out at the newly refurbished TWA Terminal!!

This rehab of a gorgeous mid-century modern building at JFK has been in the news so here’s the press release::

After years of back-and-forth about construction, permissions and rights, the long-awaited TWA Hotel opens its doors  at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Trans World Airlines (better known as TWA) commissioned groundbreaking Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen to design its JFK terminal in 1962. Following the airline’s closure in 2001, many questions remained about what would happen to the swooping white building.
Now, it has a new and exciting second life as JFK’s only on-site airport hotel, with 512 rooms and some 50,000 feet of meeting and event space.

You get access to the TWA building by an elevator at the Jet Blue concourse in Terminal 4.

Heart. Be. Still. Everything about the place and the excellent re-hab evokes the glory days of air travel, and the mid-century optimism that the future was going to be awesome.

I remember this place from my last visit, in the early 1990s, and it was a bit run down back then but still beautiful. The re-hab makes the place sparkling and exciting.

The cocktail lounge inside the terminal is very cool. You know, of course, that the building is in the shape of a soaring bird of prey, and all the inside lines swoop and glide.

It’s a thrill.

And then you get to go outside to the Lockheed Constellation (in service from 1943 – 1958) . . .

. . . that has been converted into a bar that serves retro cocktails!

See the guy on the left,  (below)?

He reminds me of an observation that David Seders made about American air travelers. David lives in England these days, so when he does a book tour in the land of his birth, he is struck anew by the way Americans comport themselves when it comes to air travel:

“I should be used to the way Americans dress when traveling, yet it still manages to amaze me. It’s as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig, then suddenly threw down his sponge saying, “Fuck this. I’m going to Los Angeles!”

The bar, and the TWA Hotel, had been open for 10 days when we stopped by, and were still having opening-day jitters. Meaning that the service was slow and uncertain; I mean the servers were uncertain and slow. It seemed to me that most of the servers had never worked in a bar before, or been to a bar before, and had not come to grips with the concept of taking an order, putting the requisite liquids in a glass, and lastly handing over said liquid refreshment to the person who had ordered it, and not some random person who might look thirsty. Despite all their rushing to and fro, the servers took a long time to get a drink (the one you ordered) and longer to find the person who had requested the drink, and nobody was picking up the used glasses and tid bit plates and napkins throughout the cabin.

Also, I thought the cocktail dress uniforms were ugly . . .

. . . but now I know that they are based upon a vintage flight attendant uniform from the 1970s:

I know an ex-TWA stewardess who flew with the airline in the late 60s and early 70s, and she still goes to reunions with other stews. Once a TWA stew, always a TWA stew.

There is such a vibrant community of former stewardesses that when the TWA Hotel put out a call for vintage uniforms, they got so many women eager to be part of the rebirth of TWA that the hotel had enough material to mount a museum of stewardess fashions and other memorabilia from the 1940s to the 1990s. (Curated by the New-York Historical Society. Serious and fancy!)

Stewardesses were never allowed to gain weight. If you got lax and put on a few pounds, you were grounded until you could fit back into the teeny little uniforms. When these adorable ladies came through the cabin, I sussed that the average stew back then was a size 2:

That’s Top Cat’s $16.00 martini (above). I had a $15 glass of white wine.

Here’s more info about the Balmain uniform seen above:

There is a lot of love for the TWA brand, and a lot of nostalgia for those Jet Set days when air travel was glamorous. If you have the chance to go for a drink or a walk around the TWA Hotel, GO.

I loved our hour in “the Connie”, which put me in a fine mood for jetting off to my favorite foreign land.

And then we boarded our Aer Lingus aircraft.

I am 5’6″ and a size 4, so I usually fit very comfortably  in tourist-class seats. This Aer Lingus tin can had thin, flimsy seats set so close together that I was playing nik nak paddy whack with my shins on the back of the guy in front of me. For 6 hours.

I usually like airline food (It’s so cute! A miniature TV dinner!) but the only non-meat option on the menu was “macaroni and cheese”, which the Irish interpret as a slab of semi-melted dairy product adjacent to a very large noodle.

Hungry and bruised, we landed in Edinburgh and, once again, foreign travel was magical.

If you have my book Gardens of Awe and Folly, you know what this is.

A Paul Weller sighting! Another good omen! My husband in my other life (the one where I lit out for the UK in the 1980s and married a rock star) will be doing a show at Edinburgh Castle on July 11 so I wished him luck:

After walking for hours on a cloudy and chilly afternoon and there is nothing better than warming up at a pub:

Then night came, and we had a heavenly sleep, and then to City Cafe for Eggs Royale (softly poached eggs with smoked salmon in hollandaise space o a toasted muffin) that Top Cat said was the single best breakfast he’s had in his life.

I lingered at a vintage costume Scottish jewelry stand in the Tron Square to buy a brooch. Then it was much too late to be lingering around Edinburgh so Top Cat and I hurried to the hotel to fetch our bags and we began to trot to Waverly Station to catch a bus back to the airport so we could fly to Orkney.

“Trot” is the word I use to denote the average speed between Top Cat, who was (deliberately, it seemed to me) casually strolling down South Bridge Street to Cockburn Street to Market Street, and I (in full panic mode), running ahead of him, my heart and lungs bursting with fear of one mistake in timing over the purchase of a vintage brooch leading to another leading to a missed flight.

I arrive at Waverly Station and oh, joy! The airport bus is there, idling. I turn to find Top Cat, but I can’t see him yet. I get on the bus and pant, to the driver, “My husband is coming!”

The driver says, “Step off the bus, miss. We’re leaving.”

I am almost in tears. “Wait! Please, wait!” And I lean out of the bus and I see Top Cat in the distance.

“Hurry!” I call to him. “HURRY!”

Top Cat, to prove a point, does not break stride.

“HURRY!” I shout. Top Cat does not like to be shouted at, least of all in public. He does will not hurry.

“Step off, miss” the driver says to me; “I’m closing the doors.”

“Oh, please, my husband’s coming!” I plead, but I have to step off. Top Cat is within striking distance, but the driver shuts the door in my face just as T.C. ambles alongside me (proving a point), and the bus pulls out.

The next airport bus is in 20 minutes. These are 20 minutes that we can’t spare. These are 20 minutes that we could have been closing in on the LoganAir desk at Edinburgh airport, 20 minutes that could mean the difference between getting to the airport with a merely uncomfortable allowance of time to get through a rigorous security, and a (now, thanks to Top Cat) impossible one.

For the next 20 minutes, I can not stand the sight of Top Cat. We get on the next bus, and my heart is still pounding and I feel as if my brain is on fire. Were I the kind of girl who cries when vexed, I would be sobbing. Top Cat and I exchange words, tersely at first and then with mounting vehemence.

I won’t give you the back and forth; suffice to say that for the next 12 hours or so, Top Cat and I will have very different, and monstrously strong, and at times loud, ideas about who was being the shithead in taking his sweet old time to prove a point about when it is, and when it isn’t necessary to HURRY, while the other one was trying her best AND WOULD HAVE SUCCEEDED in getting us out of a tight spot. We also have extremely opposed opinions about how much we are entitled to sulk like a two year old if one of us thinks the other one is “yelling” at him.

Edinburgh airport security is no joke. It’s not that there’s a thousand people herded into a space that would be quite jolly as a tea for two parlor; it’s that the officers are as suspicious of everyone as if this was Tel Aviv and all our hand luggage is branded TerroristsRUs.

I inch my way though all the hurdles, but Top Cat has brought two bottles of Duty Free vodka in his carry on (don’t ask) and Security is sure it’s nitroglycerin. He’s searched again, and again. And then again.

I am having a heart attack: it’s 5 minutes until LoganAir flight 19 to Kirkwall, Orkney closes its doors. I yell at Top Cat that I will meet him at the gate and I tear through an absurdly lengthy shopping area to get to Gate 25. I will lay my body down in front of the jet if it tries to leave without Top Cat.

Naturally, it’s the last gate in the terminal. The one furthest away from ANYWHERE.

Yes, we eventually get on the plane. But at this point, neither of us has any desire to go to fucking Orkney. Or to speak to each other. Or to be married.

Jet lag, too many glasses of hooch the night before, anxiety about the itinerary. . . there are a lot of contributing factors to why people are more touchy than usual when in foreign lands.

And that is all for this week’s installment of Fight Club Goes to Scotland. Thank you for letting me use this space to process my vacation. As I write about it, even now, I feel my blood pressure rocket. I will do some deep breathing and try to stop my heart from pounding in my eyeball sockets.

I am sorry that this post is late, because the internet hates me. I have to call my blog host about this “Bad Gateway” situation again. We’ll probably have to chat about caches, and ADSLs, and codecs and jjlodaasl;dfj. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to do it sober.

I’m sorry if the TWA Hotel was boring — next time, I’ll stick to the travelog and all the scintillating ways your spouse can drive you crazy.

Here’s Taffy:

14 Comments, RSS

  1. Patricia

    Decades ago near the end of five weeks of travel in Australia and New Zealand my husband and I got into mutual hissy fits about giving navigational directions. We did not SPEAK to each other for four days except when strictly necessary. We learned (once we started speaking again) never to go through that again. Being “right” is not more important than our relationship with each other.

    Thirty-four years of marriage and approximately 100 countries later, that’s the single best piece of advice I can give to fellow travelers who wish to stay married.

    • Vivian

      Dear Patricia — Five weeks!! Wow. You survived FIVE WEEKS on the road with your Significant Other?? You two must have a very deep bond and a profound maturity. And 100 countries is an amazing track record. Do you have 100 photo albums?

      Well, about being “right”…I don’t think our fight was about being “right”. The stakes, for me, were higher than that. For me, it was about the two of us handling a tense situation (the time crunch) as a TEAM, and about my spouse having the compassion to support me in a time when I was very stressed — particularly since it required so very little effort from him. All he had to do, to make me feel so much less anxious and fearful, was to move his damn ass. But no, he had to make it about HIM. In Top Cat World, checking in at Edinburgh Airport is a breeze and buses wait for people who are just 10 seconds too slow, and he was going to prove it by making sure we got to the airport at the very last minute.

      You see, I’m the kind of person who likes to arrive for appointments 15 minutes early, and he likes to get there 5 minutes late. I’m the kind of person whose anxiety sky-rockets when I am running “late” and that’s just the way I am. So, if we have to go somewhere together, all he has to do to make my life bearable is to adjust his entitlement, have some empathy for me, and give me the measly 15 minutes that I need. Is that too much to ask? I’m seriously asking.

      I don’t think it’s too much to ask from someone I am married to. But maybe other people think it is a lot to ask for. You seem to have figured a lot of these push/pull situations out, 100 countries and counting. Please advise.

  2. Kirra

    Dear Vivian, I am glad I checked your website again today (Monday) to read this latest blog post. The internet hates us all at times, good luck calling the people to get it sorted – it sounds seriously not fun.

    I loved the part about the vintage airline renovated hotel and bar! Thanks for sharing, if I’m ever in New York airport again I will go there (even if the wine is $15 a glass). I like all the old air stewardess fashions, even if they are pretty horrible about the sizing.

    The first part of your Scotland trip is pretty epic, I don’t know how long it would take for me to move on from such an annoying situation, of missing the bus and all the stress involved after. Chill out with a cup or tea or gin and save your energy for next week. I do think it’s unfair when you start a holiday with a fun time at the airport your leaving from and then it get’s worse when you’re on the actual holiday!

    • Vivian

      Dear Kirra — if you are ever passing through JFK or NYC, I will meet you and Neal to the TWA Hotel and stand you for a round. That airport is a nightmare, like something from the third world, and the TWA reno is the only thing worth bragging about.

      I hope I remember, the next time Top Cat and I go on an adventure, that it takes a day or two to get into the swing of “vacation”, especially if it involves an over-night flight. It’s weird to be in each other’s company 24/7; such close contact takes getting used to. And I forgot that traveling with another person involves a lot of negotiating.

      For instance, you have to discuss (negotiate) each and every meal — the timing, the menu, appetites. Without the routine we have established at home, we have to gauge our levels of hunger, agree when those levels match, decide what we are in the mood for, find out how close we are to venues. What a drag.

      Then we have to find a restaurant that has non-meat options, or go for sea food in a place that offers something for me (I loathe sea food).

      Yeah. Next time I will remember that travel takes a lot more talking about stupid stuff, like lunch, than I am used to.

  3. Oh my.

    Well, first of all, bravo for getting the J. Fenimore Cooper novels sold! At least your trip to Scotland produced ONE positive effect.

    And actually two, because your adventures in the old TWA terminal sound terrific! I read about the refurbishment in the NYT and I’ve been really wanting to go there myself. Sounds like I should wait until the kinks get ironed out, though. I had no idea they’d turned a vintage plane into a bar! That is HOT.

    I hate worrying about missing a plane. It’s the worst feeling. I suppose the worst that could happen is you’d have to buy another ticket, which isn’t exactly a MINOR thing, but from Edinburgh to Orkney it’s surely doable. It’s hard to remind oneself of that when in panic mode, though.

    • Vivian

      The TWA Hotel and lounge is definitely worth a visit. When we were there, everyone was excited about being there (although you can’t tell that from the photos). So in our cocktail area at the front of the plane everyone talked to everybody, about their connection to TWA and their travel plans. Everybody who was there was on a lay-over or there for a pre-trip bevvie so the conversation was better than what you usually get in a bar, or at home. ha ha.

      The planes to Orkney are small and they actually fill up fast. I was not certain that, at the last minute (in the event that we missed our plane) we would be able to get a flight, and lordy, getting to Orkney by land and sea takes a loooooooong time — all day to get half-way there. But mostly I was mad that Top Cat did not pitch in to solve the imminent problem and move his ass, and mad that he chose to make this into a power trip (so it seemed to me. TC says I have it wrong). I love TC to bits, but he can be a real pissant when he wants to.

  4. I felt my stress level rise just reading this post. So familiar around my house at times. Whew!
    Loved hearing about the TWA hotel. Fun to see the costumes.
    Great idea on the books; so glad they sold.

    • Vivian

      Hi Marilyn — Thank you for feeling my pain. Of course, I can almost laugh about it now, ALMOST, but it’s always the little things that drive you crazy. Couples can be from different religions or races or economic backgrounds, and make a marriage work; but if one likes to sleep with the windows open and the other likes to sleep with them closed the relationship is doomed.

      (I know that I plagiarized Paul Simon about the windows, but he got it so right that I can’t improve upon it.)

  5. Wow. I would have ditched the husband and gone on alone. But then, as a young child I experienced a punctuality-related incident of such humiliating severity that it gave me a life-long horror of *ever* being late. And I am *never* late. Am awaiting the sequel with nervous anticipation.

    At least you enjoyed the TWA hotel!

  6. LAURA

    My husband actually pauses, and SLOWS DOWN, when I gesture or in any way indicate that he should hurry. He drives me batshitcrazy. I am heartened that I am not the only one, and I feel your pain. Deeply.

  7. This brings back a few creepy crawly memories of Rick and I in Japan, our first long-travel adventure. And coming home from England a few times… And why is it you always have to get to the far end of the terminal when you have the least time?

    I’m pretty paranoid about being at the airport in a timely fashion. He’s a tad more cavalier. My theory is we paid this much to come, why miss the flight (or the show or whatever).

    Well, I hope by now you are as cozy as two felines snuggling on a sofa. And yes, packaging sells. As every good used bookstore manager knows! Oh, and I loved the TWA parts. Great photos and it looks like a fabulous spot!

  8. You beat the Washington Post with your description of the new JFK terminal. Their article:

    My husband confirms that I used to cut it close when we flew, but I’ve adapted to his view and adopted the habit of being very early. Sometimes earlier than he even wants. Heaven knows there’s plenty of tension involved in flying, it’s terrible to make it worse. I hope you resolve this before the next trip (if any).

    best… mae at

  9. Megan

    Oh Vivian so sorry that you encountered such stress on a holiday. Normally it’s stressful in the planning stage but once you embark on the holiday it should be less stress more fun. I feel for you. So fabulous that your clever marketing or bundling of books got them sold. Congratulations. Love the TWA bar, I will never see it but I am so happy it exist, a bit of whimsy in a not very whimsical world. Love the uniforms… a work colleague had a sister who was a flight attendant and she had her uniform illegally modified so the blouse fastened in the crotch to avoid bare midriff while stowing baggage int he top lockers. It was apparently outlawed, weird it actually made her look smarter and better presented. As for travellers, there is such a thing as smart casual, drives me crazy when people wear thongs (footwear not underwear) anywhere but the beach and ugg boots with shorts, seriously it’s totally weird. Maybe it is me? Not that hard to wear smart casual, sorry my needle is stuck in the groove.

  10. Mary

    Enjoyed reading every minute. Didn’t know about the TWA spot until your story. Now I can read about it in full. Thanks.
    Next trip, make sure departures are set far apart, so first day of “relaxing” vaca for Top Cat is not a rush.
    Maybe that was the reason. Manhattan rush 50 wks a year, first day “off” might be enjoyed at a slow pace.
    You think?
    Worth a try, next time he wants a foreign adventure. You did a GOOD JOB of making an adventure vacation an adventure vacation!
    mary in Fla.

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