April 17 2016
Across the aisle and one seat ahead, a woman, dressed in a ridiculously frilly yet provocatively sexy outfit, is reading a romance. She hasn’t hidden it between the pages of The New Yorker or some sophisticated tome. No, she’s quite open about her tastes. She even resembles, in some way, the heroine of such a book: fashionably cut, bright blond hair, full make-up, pulpy red lips, and matching red nail varnish. She is also romantically thin. Only her ugly eyeglasses would be airbrushed out, her uneven, protruding teeth
On the cover of her book, a woman looks out at some distant horizon, oblivious to the handsome rancher/cowboy gazing at her with a mixture of gentleness, desire and pure love. Quite a change from the covers of old: once it was the male who longed for far horizons, while the female stared adoringly.
Not that mores have changed, of course, but the fantasy must continue, conform to the moment’s political correctness. And even if a hero — always described as breathtakingly handsome with a six pack just under his straining shirt, a more than satisfactory bulge in his tight designer jeans — does possess a limousine with chauffeur, a luxurious penthouse, a house on the French Riviera, a mega-yacht, private jet, seven trillion dollars in the bank, and the right sexual know-how — he’ll still have a hard battle in front of him if he wants to conquer the modern heroine who (despite Jimmy Choo shoes) just doesn’t care about all that because… well… she wants something meaningful in life.
“You’re dressed rather lightly,” I say to the romantic woman when the bus stops for a twenty-minute break. We are, after all, heading north and the weather is no longer balmy. In fact, it’s downright cold: winter is approaching at sixty miles an hour.
She rubs her bare arms, smiles. “It’s okay. My friend is meeting me at the station in Cleveland. He’ll have a car and warm clothes. I didn’t want to drag baggage around with me.”
She’s on her way back from Florida. She went there for two days.
“Two days travel to get there; two days back. That’s all the free time I had. My boss told me if I wasn’t back by Tuesday, I’d be fired.”
“Why didn’t you go during one of your longer holidays?”
“This is my longest holiday. I don’t get other holidays.”
“You have the right to holidays,” I tell her. “Everyone does. You should find out about it.”
She is surprised. “Are you sure?”
I’m not, of course. I don’t live in the United States but in Europe where, each year, a minimum of four weeks paid holiday is a right. I should have kept my mouth shut.
“I’m a cleaning lady,” she says. “I clean for one woman in the day; I’m an office cleaner at night. You don’t get time off when you do this kind of work. It’s only because one of my bosses was going away for a few days that I could come at all.” She’s not resentful, not angry: she accepts that this country of supposed plenty isn’t one of fairness.
I wish this amiable and chatty woman — since holidays are unattainable — many romantic storybooks with foreign destinations, passion under the palms, and dark mysterious heroes who will worship the ground she walks on.