Friday, July 1, 2011

Blue Angel--a short story from Ghost Plane and Other Disturbing Tales

I just brought out a new collection of short stories, Ghost Plane and Other Disturbing Tales. Several of the stories were inspired by my job at an airline. And Blue Angel was inspired by a particularly bad boss. The stories range from Flash Fiction to Gothic. And, of course, all of them were inspired by my own insanity.

Blue Angel

            There are a lot of ways to die at the airport.
            I don’t mean in a crash or at the hands of terrorists. Other ways.
            I work at this small airport in the Rocky Mountains. Been working here for years. I liked my job just fine, till the new boss showed up.
            She’s got her favorites. Not me—newbies who do her bidding without question, even when it’s all screwed up or against airline policy—eighteen-year-olds who’ve never worked a job before and have no clue what’s what. She makes them supervisors, gives them weekends off, never writes them up for sleeping through a shift or pretending to be sick.
            Meanwhile, she writes me up for nothing.
            Maybe I didn’t smile right. Maybe I have an opinion. She tells me she wants, “cookie-cutter-agents.” That could only work for me, if I were the prototype.
            I try to keep my mouth shut, but she’s always on me.
            “Just because you’ve been here ten years doesn’t mean you know anything,” she announces in front of everyone at our station meeting. “You have no more authority than someone who’s been working here two weeks.”
            So people who got the job yesterday don’t listen to a word I say.
            I see them loading suitcases wheels-down, so the bags are rolling off the cart, sliding around the cargo pit. I tell them to stack the big bags on the bottom, on their sides, handles facing out, then lay the smaller bags on top. But they don’t listen. When bags are jumbled in the pit, when the count is off and the Load Sheet doesn’t add up—when we get a hit with a delay—the boss yells at me. Suddenly, I’m a senior agent: responsible. 
            “I don’t like your attitude,” she says.
            “What attitude?”
            “Your tone of voice.”
            I shut my mouth, don’t say a word.
            But I’m always thinking. 
            They fly turbo-props into this airport, Dash-8s. Prop planes do well at this altitude, better than jets. Those propellers are powerful. They spin so fast that you can’t see them. It’s easy to forget they’re there.
            Say you’re tired—which you always are, getting up at 3am and working a sixteen hour split-shift. Say the flight is running late and the pressure’s on. You’ve got to do a quick turn, get those passengers back to Denver in time for their connections. You’re in a rush. The captain hands you the release—the paperwork the FAA audits—the flight attendant closes the door, the engines rev, and the propellers start to spin, move so fast you see right through them. They kick out a lot of wind, rip the release out of your hand. You need those papers. So, without thinking, you chase them down and run right into the props.
            Body parts and blood all over the ramp. 
            It happens.
            I’ve almost done it once or twice.
            Maybe you’ve never noticed me, working out on the ramp loading bags. We all wear uniforms and these florescent orange vests, so everybody looks the same. Sometimes, when I’m out here humping bags, breaking my back for less than I could make at McDonald’s, I get these thoughts.
            About my boss.
            When we’re short-handed and just the two of us are working—like tonight, for example—how hard would it be to push her into the propellers?
            Accidents happen.
            This guy I know fell out of the bucket when he was deicing. That glycol we spray the plane with is slick. And you’re spraying it in bad conditions, wind and snow blasting your face, trying to beat the clock and get the plane out before the holdover time expires. So there he was in a blizzard, way up in the bucket, spraying. No harness. Who has time to put on that straight-jacket? When you’re deicing, the person in the bucket is dependent on the driver of the truck. Ideally, the person in the bucket radios the driver, tells the driver where to go: along the fuselage, above the wing, around the tail. But things go wrong. Say the radio is broken. Say it’s snowing so hard the driver can barely see. Say the bucket slams into the wing. Maybe the driver hits the brakes too hard, and the bucket sways, tilts crazily. The person in the bucket slips in the glycol, can’t get a grip, slides out. If you’re wearing a harness you’ll hang there, dangling in the air. No harness, and you’re falling twenty feet or more onto the tarmac. This guy bashed his head. Never been the same.
            Maybe he’s lucky. He got out before the new boss arrived.
            She’s a piece of work. Mandoed me on my day off, even though she knew I had plans tonight. We’re short-staffed, and no wonder. Who in their right mind would work here? Tonight, it’s just the two of us.
             There’s always electrocution.
            The Ground Power Unit supplies power to the aircraft. We hook it up whenever a plane pulls into the gate. At night we leave the GPU running, so we have light for cleaning the cabin. One ramper brings in the plane, signaling with lighted wands, while the other ramper drives the tug attached to the GPU—this big silver generator. The driver hops out of the tug, unwinds the GPU’s electrical cord, unclips the panel in the aircraft and plugs the GPU into the prongs. Meanwhile, the other ramper waits until the plug is secure before switching on the power. Switch the power on too soon, and the jolt could kill the person plugging in the cord. Especially if the connection is faulty.
            I’m here in ops, sitting by the radio, waiting for the captain to call in range. The weather’s going down tonight, a slow-moving storm. My boss is in her office, pretending to push papers, but I know she’s on Facebook monitoring her friends. She sent me a friend request, but I ignored it. That pissed her off.
            But everything I do annoys her.
            She needs to chill.
            I imagine her floating, face-down in a vat of blue juice.
            Peaceful. Finally at rest.
            Blue juice is what we call the lavatory fluid. It’s bright blue, more turquoise than the Caribbean. Chances are you haven’t given much thought to the toilets on a plane. Most people don’t. Maybe you think all that crap just gets magically flushed into some other universe. Well, someone has to dump it, and that someone is me. Every night I drag this cart up to the plane, unclip a panel, unscrew a cap, and attach the hose. Sounds easy, but it’s tricky. If the hose isn’t snug, or if some bozo up in Denver didn’t latch the cap right, the contents of the lav dumps all over the ramp, all over you: blue juice, clumps of toilet paper, all kinds of nastiness.
            Happened to me twice one night. Instead of hooking up the hose, I got soaked in a shit-shower. Hazmat all over the tarmac, all over me.
            I took it as a message from the universe.
            My boss thinks it’s hilarious, started calling me The Blue Angel.
            That got me thinking.
            It doesn’t take much liquid to drown a person. People drown in bathtubs. They even drown in their own vomit.
            She says I have an attitude, but I don’t think it’s bad. I think my attitude is great.
            Gotta go. The plane is calling in.
            You know what?
            Tonight I really like this job.

Durango Airport at Night



Ruth Harris said...

Loved this, Suzanne. Asshole bosses, shit showers & murder: what's not to like?

Millions will feel your pain. Millions trudging into their vile jobs will be inspired!

You go, girl!

Suzanne Tyrpak said...

Thanks so much for reading my story, Ruth! Your opinion means a lot.

Yes, at least my former boss inspired me to write. And now, I'm happy to say, I work for a different airline (Frontier) in a much better atmosphere. My current boss, Leah Morgan, Rocks! (She's one of my beta-readers.)

Suzanne Tyrpak said...

@Ruth...had to laugh, when I just reread your comment: Millions...will be inspired! LOL

Ruth Harris said...

Suzanne, just tweeted you:

Asshole bosses, shit showers & murder: what's not to like? Ghost Plane + Other Disturbing Tales By Suzanne Tyrpak 99c

People are going to love this story! You'll sell lots.

Suzanne Tyrpak said...

Thanks, Ruth. You're great. :)

antares said...

Good writing. I am favorably impressed.

Suzanne Tyrpak said...

Thank you for reading, Antares!

Suzanne Tyrpak said...

@Antares. How interesting that you live in South Korea. Knowing you have read my story has made my day!