Often, the best way to improve skills in a language different from your own is to utilize them under adverse circumstances. As proven by The Nanny, New York’s true mother tongue is Yiddish, and my 24-hour ordeal to fly from The City to Jacksonville on a buddy pass provided ample opportunity to strengthen my flimsy, yet precise grasp on the language. Observe these vocabulary exercises:
- Shlimazel (n., receiver of bad luck) – I became a shlimazel the moment I tried to fly from LaGuardia during the summer, with one runway out of commission at neighboring Kennedy Airport, all flights oversold by nine or ten people, and five thousand airline employees/family/friends trying to leave town from whatever event they’d attended in New York that weekend (TBEX, Gay Pride, the New York Junior Chess Championship).
- Shmuck (n., someone who’s intentionally nasty or uses their power for ill) – All the gate agents who seemed hell-bent on making sure I knew how much they held me in contempt for daring to fly on a buddy pass (a job perk that those same gate agents even have) are shmucking shmucks: “You’re on a buddy pass? Pssshhht! You’re not making this flight.” ~or~ “Your ‘buddy’ should have warned you of the realities of buddy pass travel.”
- Shlemiel (n., a clumsy, inept, pathetic oaf) – I stood there like a shlemiel as I got the shpiel* about buddy pass passengers being the lowest of the low, only cleared from standby AFTER all employees, their spouses/domestic partners, their family members, their former roommates, their cable guy, and their masseuse make the flight, with THAT list then being sorted by employee hire date.
- *Shpiel (n., a story, sales pitch, speech).
- Putz (n. a nasty, unlikeable man who has no real power, except to make your life miserable or at least unpleasant) – I couldn’t tell if the agent was calling me a putz or insinuating that I shouldn’t become one by informing me of the airline’s “act up” policy in which the friend who gave me the buddy pass would lose her privileges if a customer “acted up” in the airport, such as “demanding a seat.” The ambiguity lies in the fact that I never technically “demanded a seat,” but either way, they tried their damnedest to make me feel like a putz.
- Punim (n. face) – All I could do was give ol’ girl the gas punim and get back on the “Help Line” to change my routing yet again. She looked trigger-happy enough to invoke the “act up” policy just to send one of her own kind to jail, the shmuck (and yes, if the “act up” policy had been invoked, there would have been some furniture moving around that terminal).
- Shlep (v., haul, carry, drag either something or oneself) – After not making the 8:05 departure Monday night, I shlepped over to the Upper West Side on the M60 bus because my friend in Queens wasn’t getting home until 2am. Then, my buddy told me I was booked on the 6:10 morning flight to Detroit, meaning I had to shlep back over to LaGuardia on the M60 at 4am. Once it was certain the 6:10, 6:45 to Memphis, 8:42 nonstop to Jacksonville, and 10:29 to Cincinnati had no room for me, I shlepped back down to Long Island City where I had to shlep my bag off the bus, up the stairs to the elevated, over the turn-style, then back over the turn-style, down the stairs, and fifteen minutes up the road to my friends place in New York summer heat.
- Shlump (v., sag; hang around in an unkept manner) – I shlumped around the airport in the limp polo and khakis I had worn for two days in the New York summer heat, and under imminent threat of deodorant failure.
Finally, one of the agents who’d seen me attempt to escape New York the night before had pity on my soul and got me on the very last seat on the very last row of the very last flight to Jacksonville. I was whisked onto the plane, my carry-on left in the jet bridge to be stowed, as the overhead bins were full.
Needless to say, it did not arrive with me in Florida, despite the 30-minute delay in pulling back from the gate.
“Oh, you unfortunate shlimazel,” I heard the baggage agent say in my mind before I realized I was back down South. “Well, baby, you were flyin’ on a buddy pass,” she said as she logged my missing bag into the system.