Mother on the Orient Express: Part Seven (The Train)
(I broke the train into two parts. The first part of the train (part six of the story) is here.)
We take the long walk toward dinner. Now we’re a little less sure on our feet. Mom’s getting tired, and I’m a little tired, and it’s darker. We make it to the bar car, which we have to go through to get to our dinner car.
We open the door. It’s different in the dark, more mysterious, more like a lounge, like you’d imagine. The piano abruptly stops and — “Sentimental Journey” begins playing. And Mom’s crying again, but this time she can’t sit because we’re on our way to dinner, so she kind of sits at this stool near the head of the piano, perched like she’s about to launch into song. But she’s crying and smiling and nodding, and I’m rubbing her back and it really must have looked like she was here on a Make A Wish.
Dinner. I don’t remember what we ate, but I know my mother has the menu, because at the end of the meal Chef Christian Bodiguel walked over and stated over our heads, “I sign your menu now.”
And then he did. It was all very French.
I’d requested a birthday cake for Mom after the meal, but I didn’t know that there would also be dessert. So these chocolate ball things arrive that open up when you pour hot chocolate over them and Mom’s eating that and I don’t want to be like, “STOP! SURPRISE CAKE IS COMING!”
This is when I tell my mom the good news I’d been holding onto, that ABC Family had bought the rights to Why Moms Are Weird, and that they were going to have me write the pilot script (This was one year ago yesterday). Once again perhaps our lives were about to be turned into a sitcom. I saw Mom try to look happy about this. I thanked her for all her support and love over the years, and said we couldn’t be here at this moment without everything she’d done for me. And cue the surprise birthday cake.
We are too full for the beautiful strawberry cake. Mom asks if it’s possible that we have it sent to the bar car, for everybody to have a piece of birthday cake. “But of course,” they say, whisking the cake away.
Once back in the bar car, I find a place for Mom to sit and I go up to order her a Pink Squirrel. The bartender does not know what this is. “Okay. I have the recipe.” I don’t know why or how I forgot to bring it with me on this dinner part of the night, but it is all the way back in the cabin. I start the wobbly journey all the way back, interrupt the steward, who is in the middle of his magical-night work. When you return to your cabin the couches have turned into beds and there’s a robe out for you and slippers and it’s– you guys, you gotta get on this train.
Anyway, I long-wobble back to the bar car and get the drink ordered. “We don’t have all of that, but we will give it a try.”
I sit down with Mom and find that everybody’s eating cake and coming up to my mother to wish her a happy birthday in their various languages. It’s very sweet, and she’s thanking them and nodding. They all do a sort of happy birthday toast to my mother as her Pink Squirrel arrives. “Sentimental Journey” plays again. FINALLY. It has happened. It has happened! My mother has sat on the bar car of the Orient Express while sipping a pink squirrel and listening to “Sentimental Journey!” It has happened! I can relax!
“This isn’t really a pink squirrel,” Mom says. I am sure I gave her immediate “shut it” eyes.
Listen. The rest of the night is going to get a little wonky.
It is maybe eleven p.m. as everybody in this car is simultaneously like, “YAWN.” Mom tells me she must go to sleep. The couples are all like, “Well. Time to go have sex on the Orient Express! See ya!”
But I didn’t want to go to sleep yet. I wanted a little more of all of this. I also wanted to thank the bartender and the piano player for making all of this happen for my mom. So I sat at the bar and I asked, “Can I buy you a drink to thank you?”
He said, “Not until we are off. Do you mind waiting a little while?”
He poured me another scotch and we got to talking. We talked about the scotch (“I knew you were American because you asked about the scotch”), we talked about the train, how he got that job, my family’s background in hotel management, how the train works, things like that.
At one point I learned how people are constantly doing dishes, as space is limited. “Your cake that you brought into the bar car, that was actually a bit of work to make sure we had enough plates and forks in time to serve it.” You’d never know from the way things just appear and disappear on this train. It always seemed: as soon as you thought of it, there it was.
As soon as the last guest who wasn’t me leaves the bar car the piano player abruptly stops, tips his head to me to thank me for the tip, gathers his things and disappears.
At one point a steward joined us, and the train stopped because maybe we were in Germany? I don’t know. A woman got on and sat next to me. Her job was to check on the train for something, I don’t know, I was drunk. She had a coffee and asked if she could practice her English with me as I practiced my French with her. It was a mess. She leaves.
“I should go to bed,” I say.
“No!” the men say. “Your bed is in America! Your couch is in Los Angeles! But you are here! You only have one night on the Orient Express!”
That’s right! That’s why I was still there! That’s right, this is my night! This is one night! These guys are the best. We’re gonna be friends for the rest of our lives.
It is after four in the morning and there are cigarettes and I know my mom is going to be so jealous that I am having a cigarette on the Orient Express, but even though it is a straight shot all the way to our cabin, there’s no way I could find it in my condition. I am getting a little blurry, and I notice that most of that bottle of scotch is gone. Did I do that? How and when?
Chef Christian Bodiguel walks by, drops his puffy, white chef hat on top of my head, and without a word, stiffly walks off to bed.
“Hooray!” the rest of them shout.
“When do you sleep?” I asked the bartender. “Don’t you need to go to sleep?”
“Let me ask you something,” the bartender says. “You are young to be here. You take your mom on this trip. How do you afford this?”
“I saved for a while,” I said.
“But what is your job? You write, what do you write?”
“Oh, I write for TV sometimes. That’s where I saved this money.”
“You write, what do you write? Drama? Sitcom?”
“Sitcoms, mostly, yes.”
His face turned to one of pure joy. “I love American sitcom!” he says. “I LOVE American sitcom!” His shoulders started bouncing as he pinched together his fingers on both hands. “That is what she said,” he says, making this face, doing an impression. “That is what she said!”
And I realize he is doing a Michael Scott impression and everybody is laughing and I said, “This is my favorite thing that has ever happened. You just did The Office. Not Seinfeld, not Friends. I’m on the Orient Express and you just quoted Michael Scott.”
“Yes, I love The Office!” he says. “You write for The Office?”
“No. I wrote for this show that’s not on anymore. Samantha Who?“
He turned to the steward who spoke only in French and launched into a rapid explanation of the show, complete with miming so that I could understand that she was a salope who hit her head and had amnesia so now she’s bon.
I told Don Todd this story. “Why does this stuff happen to you? When I tell people I created Samantha Who? people go, ‘Oh, I don’t really watch that much television.’”
So there’s more drinking and celebrating and discussions of television and stories and at some point I remember shouting, “I HAVE TO GO TO BED.”
I feel like I left them while they were still talking to me. I am not sure. I just know that I somehow stumbled all the way back to my cabin, but not before realizing that I was stumbling on a moving train in the dark with a stomach filled with heavy foods and so many desserts and cigarettes I don’t normally smoke and apparently an entire bottle of Japanese single-malt scotch and I make it almost pretty much to the very last door on our car, which is the toilet.
I do not have sex on the Orient Express. I am sure that is a life-long dream some people get to fulfill. No, I didn’t leave with that memory. I didn’t have that experience.
But I am positive I am one of the privileged few to have vomited on the Orient Express. It is a very fancy toilet.
Next time: Hungover in Paris.