When I was a kid, I used to sneak into my parents’ room and steal whatever book was on the nightstand on my mom’s side of the bed. I tried Anaïs Nin, I tried The Bell Jar, I even tried The Happy Hooker and, alas, none of them could hold my attention. And then one day I found Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. And I couldn’t stop reading. The book felt magical in its ability to transport me into the mind of a grown woman. It was the ideal reading experience, one that launched me into a lifetime of reading and, eventually, writing. Since that time, Erica Jong has written volumes of poetry, a memoir, two nonfiction books, and seven other novels, includingFanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones; Shylock’s Daughter (formerly titled Serenissima); and Inventing Memory. Recently she edited a very spirited and diverse collection of essays titled, Sugar In My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex.

My first time on an airplane was in 1987. It was a DuShane family trip from San Francisco to New York City.

My family didn’t have a lot of ideas when it came to vacations. Most were spent in my grandpa’s cabin in South Lake Tahoe, walking through smoky casinos to cash in our coupons for the prime rib buffet. Dad would plop money down on big ticket dinners if they included a cultural event, like seeing a Sha Na Na or Helen Reddy performance. During the day we sat near the Tahoe shore. I was bored out of my mind.

The New York City vacation was a complete fluke. Some friends had to cancel their trip because of an emergency and gave my parents three tickets to New York. Since I was the family after thought, I had to purchase my own ticket from my hard earned money working under the table as a janitor at an office building in San Mateo.

Of course, my family even made New York City utterly pathetic. Drop the DuShanes in a city during a time of artistic amazingness, and we’ll squeeze the lifeblood out of it. We’d look for a cheap prime rib buffet or if we were lucky, stop into the Hard Rock Café to buy t-shirts that said, “Hard Rock Café New York” on them. Something that could show our sophistication when back in San Francisco.

After our invasion of New York City, mom, dad, my sister and I left from Newark Airport. The Five Buroughs stopped holding their breath at the stench of our pathetic tourism and went back to whatever happened when we weren’t around.

Flying from Newark to our stopover in St. Louis was my third time on an airplane during those few days. We buckled in, the smokers stubbed out their cigarettes and even Newark, New Jersey breathed a sigh of relief at our departure.

On the plane we couldn’t sit together as a family, so I was stuck with my sister. My parents were a few rows behind us. In 2009 she’d be diagnosed with a severe personality disorder, but in 1987 she was just a screeching pain in the ass. I careened my neck so I could enjoy the exquisite cinematic art of a film called “Outrageous Fortune”, starring Bette Midler.

As the smokers smoked and my sister infringed on more territory of my armrest, I drank as much coffee as I could since it was free. Then, I turned around and saw flight attendants around my parents. Dad had more white in his eyes than I had ever seen before. He looked like he was having a heart attack. Mom assured the stewardesses that everything was fine, but they weren’t taking her bullshit. It was dad’s first time flying that week as well and his brain flipped a switch…the one that says, we should not be this far up above ground, we’re all going to die.

My sister started asking what was wrong with dad, which turned into screaming at me for no reason, and completely losing her shit. Of course, no stewardess came to my rescue since dad was now the flight risk that may have to rent a car to get from St. Louis to San Francisco.

These days, all it takes is a reeky burp to get you thrown off a plane, but in 1987, you pretty much had to sexually assault four people, go to the bathroom on your fellow passenger and steal the captain’s hat while running up and down the aisles screaming, we ran out of gas, get ready to die.

The look on dad’s face said, I’ve got nothing to lose. His fists were clenched and he was upgraded to a passenger safety issue.

My sympathy turned to absolute fear and then turned into hatred for my family. My sister was still acting out, my dad was about to bring a plane to an emergency landing and nobody served me free coffee since all the flight waitresses were trying to figure out what to do with dad.

We landed as scheduled in St. Louis. I never really asserted my independence and would have stayed with the rest of the DuShanes while in an unknown city, waiting three hours for our connecting flight, but I had finally had it. I was done with this DuShane family shit. I whispered to my mom, “I’ll see you at the gate for the next flight,” and left my family to deal with their own psychosis.

If they didn’t make the flight, I didn’t care. In fact, I just didn’t care about anything. I was frazzled and walked around St. Louis airport, wondering if I could see the famous arch from the parking lot.

Walking to the food area I saw a crowd of people on the second floor and there were lights and cameras. I made my way up the escalator, hoping there was a football team or something newsworthy happening.

I walked right in the middle of a bunch of equipment and cameras and people were buzzing around me. I felt a rush of adrenaline while trying to figure out what was going on. Then I caught the eye of Steve Martin.

Steve.

He was a few yards away so I walked right up to him. He had dirt all over his face and his clothes were ripped.

Steve, remember me, I said in my brain. I couldn’t form words. I completely forgot that when you’re watching a film on TV, the actors couldn’t see you watching them. It was a one-way communication.

Steve looked down at me with a questioned look. I was less than one foot away from him and my brain was screaming, Come on, remember when I watched you at the gas station and you were saving all the oilcans? Remember when you had that arrow in your head and told me you were a wild and crazy guy?

He talked to someone behind me and I finally figured out that he wouldn’t know me. So I just stood there, between Steve and whoever he was talking to. After the conversation, Steve looked down at me again. He didn’t smile. He just looked confused. He turned around and walked away and I was THAT close to Steve Martin.

“Extras, come this way,” a short man said.

Extras. I knew what that meant. Background people for a movie.

I followed the man with my game face, like I had been an extra for years, like this was all old hat to me, like Steve and I went way back and he actually called his agent earlier that morning to make sure I was an extra.

I stood outside with about 80 people. It was a warm day in St. Louis, but fake snow was all over the place because they were filming winter scenes. I had my trench coat on since we had just come from New York City.

I stood tall and proud. I’m one of you, I thought to the crowd of people who just looked bored.

So, I hunched over a bit and tried to look bored. Yeah, this shit sucks. Where’s the caterer when you need her, huh?

The short man came back and pointed into the crowd.

“I need you, you, you and you.”

I was one of the yous.

We were brought down to the food court that was now completely flagged off from the public. He placed me in the middle and said, “I need you to walk into the bookshop, hold for 10 seconds, then walk towards that column and off the set.”

I took my blocking like a professional.

Yep, this happens to me every day. I’ll just stand here and wait until you call action and I’ll do my scene. If you need me to stand next to Steve, just let me know. He’ll remember me.

A crowd gathered to watch what was happening in the filming area. They were the public. Joe and Jane publics. I was behind the velvet rope to stardom. There was about 30 minutes until our connecting flight to San Francisco. No problem, it was the film business. These things happen fast and I’d have time for a cup of coffee before leaving St. Louis.

It was 20 minutes before our flight. My parents and sister shimmied their way to the front of the crowd and saw that I was in the middle of the action. I couldn’t hear them, but they had big smiles on their faces. I held my blocking instruction and didn’t move. My dad pointed to his watch. I nodded.

The stewardess gave him something to calm his nerves. A hefty vodka and tonic can go a long way.

15 minutes.

I looked around and my director wasn’t in the area so I took a moment to go to where the fans were and talk to my parents.

“I’m about to be in a film,” I said.

“The flight leaves in 15 minutes. Did you want to take a later flight?” Dad asked.

I was shocked at how cool he was. Dad on vodka was pretty good.

“I don’t know, this might be done by then.”

I walked back to my mark. Right on top of my mark. Ready to go. Walk, 10 seconds, walk. And; scene.

The clock ticked. Nothing was happening. All I wanted was to be a movie star, but I really wanted to just get back to San Francisco and pretend the trip to New York never happened. I wanted to listen to Steve while he played the banjo to me later, but I was also concerned about dad flipping out again.

“10 minutes, we have to go,” dad yelled.

It was that moment in life. Do you choose to live the adventure of life, throw caution to the wind, say fuck it all and become what you’re supposed to be? Or do you take the easy way out. The decision that puts you right back where you were yesterday.

We ran as a family across the airport, the DuShane family, full speed ahead to the gate. We made the flight just as they were about to shut the doors. The flight home was uneventful. I drank more free coffee and ate peanuts.

I was THAT close to making the big time. Thus ended the DuShane family vacation and my brush with fame.

When the film, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” was finally released. I recognized Steve and the dirt on his face. I saw my scene. It was the scene where Steve finally snaps, and F-Bombs the clerk at the counter. It was funny. It was a close up of Steve to a close of up the actress who also played a role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that year. The extras weren’t only out of focus; they were completely blocked by Steve’s close up. They were blurred movements. But, I was there.

The best part of my vacation to New York City was St. Louis.

Lately I’ve been dreaming about being a spy.  It’s a nice change from the usual “somebody is chasing me” nightmare.  These days the tables are turned and rather than running through molasses from some unknown terror, I’m the one holding the machine gun.  Go me!  I’d like to think that the dream analysis is true and this represents my drive and ambition.  Sadly, I think it has a lot more to do with my recent Alias obsession.  Apparently my subconscious wants to be Sydney Bristow.

There are worse people to want to be, let’s be honest.  She’s hot, smart, funny, in touch with her emotional side, she speaks eight languages and most importantly, she TOTALLY kicks ass!  Yeah, everybody around her dies, but hey, that’s the price you pay for being an international woman of mystery.  She’s managed to have a meaningful relationship, connect with her super-spy parents, maintain long-term friendships – even if they do involve witness protection – and have a baby.  She travels all over the world and her paycheck is seriously phat.  Have you seen her apartment?  Sweet!  So she risks her life a lot; there are down sides to every job.  But her wardrobe is insane and her wig collection is to die for.  I’ve long had a blue hair fantasy.  Sydney can be blue today and blond tomorrow.  That’s got to count for something.

I’ve never been too sure about the whole “health of television on the developing mind” thing.  As a child I was allowed one hour of television a day, sometimes more if it was educational.  I spent a great deal of my time counting with Bert and Ernie and humming the tune to National Geographic.  I still get tingles when Nova comes on but, like sugared cereal, I started watching the TV equivalent as soon as I left home and finally started getting all those popular references that evaded me during my formative years.  No, I was not popular.

At this point I think I can safely say that television affects a persons thinking or, at the very least, mine.  Not only have I become a nightly vigilante but after weeks of watching Lost, flying has once again become a problem.  Of course not helped by the four or five Airbuses that have recently either crashed or made emergency landings, but it was a fear I had under control for a while.  No longer.  Living through 9/11 provided me with this particular phobia.  Having largely gotten past it, (I recommend flying to Asia as a cure.  24 hours on a plane and you don’t care how you get off.), I never would have guessed that a popular television show could bring it back.  But the show plays the crash sequence over and over and over.  During the days after the attacks the news agencies, in an unprecedented concern for public well-being, finally pulled the footage of the planes crashing into the towers after realizing it was contributing to the country’s post-traumatic stress.  Lost has essentially brought it all back to the surface and while I love the back-stories and all the characters, John Locke? – I ask you! – I’ve had to take a break.  There was recently a weekend trip to London during which I cried through take off both going and coming.  It seems The Dharma Initiative has wrecked its evil influence off screen as well as on and I’d like to take this moment to apologize to the people seated next to me on those flights.  I owe you both a drink, although it might have been better if we’d been able to have it then!

In maybe not such a smart move, I have started making my way through Dexter.  I don’t wish to frighten friends or family but as most of you aren’t anywhere near by and my fear of flying is still in effect, I think you’re safe for the time being.  It’s not my fault!  If they would be quicker about releasing the DVD’s over here I could be watching Heros instead.  I would be dreaming about flying or reading minds rather than cutting them open.  I’ll try to get through this series quickly, promise.  The nightly butchery isn’t as fun as it sounds.

Going forward I guess I have to take into consideration that maybe my parents were right.  One hour a day should really be enough and if you’re learning something from it, other than awesome kickboxing moves that is, then it doesn’t need to have the negative impact it seems to have for me.  Or maybe instead I just need to be more careful about my choices.  After all, would anybody mind if I became Martha Stewart?  Receiving perfectly wrapped gifts hermetically sealed with just the right amount of tape and given under my color coordinated Christmas tree would be something my family might enjoy.  Nah.  I like being a spy.  Hey J.J., if your next series requires a young looking, thirty-something, not-so-in-shape former opera singer turned everyday savior well, you know who to call. Cause thanks to Syd, I’ve got the moves, baby!