My wife surprised me last year by taking me to Marrakech for my birthday. It wasn’t her fault that Marrakech was infernally hot, or that the air was full of dust and pollution, or that the toilet in our riyad (inn, sort of) wouldn’t flush if you put used toilet paper in it. We’ve been to a lot of places together, but I’ve never longed for going-home day as I did there. I dreamed of the air-conditioned airport.
Once having been taken back there, though, we discovered that our flight back to London had been delayed by a couple of hours, apparently because some sort of strike in France. We went upstairs to the departure area to wait. I’ve always found remarkable how quickly one comes to take for granted the air conditioning for which he’s so fervently longed. Within just a few minutes, I’d ceased reveling in the fact that I no longer felt as though in an oven, and become bored, restless, and francophobic.
Then Robert Plant and a small, long-haired woman I didn’t recognize seated themselves at another of the little round tables in our area, and the whole experience became a lot more interesting.
I took some small comfort in the years having been even crueler to Robert’s pretty face than to my own, and in his having a fairly substantial gut, and wearing some majorly ugly cowboy boots. With what he was saving not traveling by private jet, couldn’t he afford a stylist?
In the summer of 1969, Percy, as the English enjoy calling Plant because he’s said to have a very large penis, had announced between songs at a Led Zeppelin performance at the Anaheim Convention Center that he and his colleagues were going to find me and make my ears resemble cauliflower. They were apparently much displeased by my famous slightly-less-warm-than-tepid review of their debut album in Rolling Stone, and by my having later ridiculed them in the Los Angeles Times for being screechy, ham-fisted, and exhibitionistic.
Part of me — the puckish, devil-may-care part — thought of going over to him, reminding him of the malediction of all those years before, and saying, “Well, here I am, big boy. Let’s see what you’ve got.” But I’ve always been much more a lover than a fighter (“And not much of a lover,” think multiple former girlfriends). Besides, when my friend Bev Bevan had introduced us after a Wolverhampton Wanderers (English football, you see) game in 1969, my name apparently hadn’t rung a bell for Robert. What good could come of my waking the sleeping dogs that the proverb urges to let lie?
I had another idea. I would go over and tell Robert how much I’d enjoyed his work with Alison Krause, or whatever that woman’s name is, and reveal my identity — and remind him of the cauliflower thing — only when boarding for either his flight or my own was announced. The problem was that I hadn’t actually heard his work with Alison Krause, though I knew it had won some sort of award, nor anything else since his pleasant remake of the Phil Phillips-popularized “Sea of Love” 30 years before. It was nice that he’d put a lid on the bloodcurdling screeching he’d done on the first Zeppelin albums, but his stuff never really, you know, spoke to me. Moreover, a couple of Europeans had come over to schmooze him, and to pose for photos with him. He seemed gracious.
In the end, it was announced before I could decide on a course of action that his and his petite companion’s flight to Birmingham (you can take the Midlands out of the boy, but not the boy out of the Midlands) was boarding at such and such a gate. He’d left behind the cup out of which he’d drunk coffee, but I thought it prove a tough sell on eBay. For all the prospective buyer would have known, it was just another paper cup.