I'm in Italy on vacation. Hopefully I'm in better shape than I was when I wrote this column six years ago — the last time I was in Italy.
I should have been suspicious from the start.
My wife, the beautiful Judy Licht, had spent eight days in Italy covering Full Frontal Fashion in Milan with all those handsome, superficial men and all those thin, beautiful, superficial women who worship clothes.
I would call her almost every day complaining about my asthma.
"Judy, the air is so thick in New York I'm having trouble breathing," I would whine.
"That's too bad," she would say and change the subject.
"Judy, I can't walk 50 feet without getting out of breath."
"Oh," she would say and change the subject.
Then, out of nowhere, practically without any notice, she called and said, "I'm sending you a ticket to meet me in Sicily for the weekend. It's my surprise birthday present to you."
Now, if the plot had succeeded, someday on "Dateline NBC" that annoying putz reporter with the terrible unctuous voice would have told the story this way:
"Judy Licht, in her plot to kill her husband, took advantage of the fact that Jerry was so feeble and stupid, he didn't realize that the surprise birthday present was coming almost three months after his birthday."
"Judy, I don't think I can fly for 12 hours to Sicily on a plane. I am having trouble breathing."
"Sure you can. I will be waiting for you at Catania Airport on Saturday."
On Friday afternoon, thanks to my wonderful allergist Dr. Rosalinda Rubinstein and her heroic efforts to get me ready for my trip, armed with a portable nebulizer and five Xopenex inhalers and enough steroids to give Alex Rodriguez a whole new career, I stumbled on board my Delta flight to Rome, where I would connect to an Alitalia flight to Catania.
I had only one thought on my mind: Would I live through the flight?
Delta is perhaps the only airline in the world where a chubby 65-year-old woman with an anger management problem can be employed as a flight attendant. The food on the flight was the same food I imagine they serve on Rikers Island.
Thanks to the miracle of vodka and Ambien I managed to fall asleep for about four hours of the flight. The man sitting next to me didn't sleep because from the minute I took out my nebulizer and started sucking on the mist it was spewing he was convinced I was a terrorist planning to bring down the whole plane.
Do you have any idea how wretched it is to wake up on a plane and realize you have three more hours of flying time and you are gasping for breath?
When the plane landed I barely made it to the baggage area, which is situated a mile from the terminal. My luggage was the last to come down.
Then, naturally, the Alitalia plane to Catania, Sicily was in another terminal, which was another mile away. Now pushing luggage, gasping for breath, I realized that my cell phone was running low and I had left my itinerary on the Delta plane. Of course I had forgotten the name of the town in Sicily where we were going.
"It starts with a 't.' It's 'tiramisu'," I thought. "No, that an icky sweet Italian dessert. The name is 'Tasmania.' No." Then it became clear that with a dead cell phone and no idea where I was going, I would spend the weekend at some Sicilian airport gasping for breath.
I arrived at the Alitalia terminal with just a few minutes to spare. The good news was my cell phone was dead but I was still alive – barely. So now I was sick, confused and had no way to contact Judy. The only consolation was that Alitalia has better-looking flight attendants than Delta.
The Alitalia flight was a disaster because all Alitalia planes are built for Italians who are 5-foot-2 or shorter. Every time I stood up I would crack the top of my skull on the overhead compartment, which is just 5-foot-2 inches from the floor. There is no way you can avoid it – you stand up from your seat and, crack!, the next thing you're holding is your head. I was the only American on the plane and I would mutter "son-of-a-bitch" every time I hit my head.
It wasn't just me. Every time anyone got up you would hear the sound of a skull being hit, followed by the Italian word "Fongol!" It was like watching a Three Stooges comedy, where every head gets whacked.
When I stood up to get my luggage from the compartment it was a double header. First I hit the top of my head, and then I smashed my forehead on the protruding compartment.
I got to the airport lobby and there was Judy, smiling. I stumbled into the car that was waiting for us and fell sound asleep until we got to our hotel in the town of Taormina.
The hotel reminded me of the hotel in "The Shining." Redrum. Redrum.
Now here is when I began to figure out that Judy was trying to kill me.
There isn't a square inch of Sicily that is level. All of Sicily is uphill. If you have asthma, Sicily is a death sentence.
Now my paranoia set in. I was sure Judy met and fell in love with a guy in Milan named Fabio – they're all called Fabio in Milan. I'll bet he has a full head of hair. I'll bet he hatched this sinister plot.
Sure enough, Judy insisted that first day that we walk to the ruins of a Greek theater, which was a mile from the hotel. It was like the Bataan death march for me. At one point Judy looked at me and said, "You look a little pale." "Cannn't caaatch myyy breeathhh," I gasped.
There were high points. Like the restaurant where Judy wanted to know what was the filling in the raviolis and the waitress said colt. "Colt?" asked Judy. "Yes," said the woman. "Cavalla?" I asked. "Cavalla," said the woman. "Sea horse?" Judy asked desperately. "No, horse, horse," said the woman, and then she made a whinnying sound.
So if you are wondering what happens to the horses that lost in the Hamptons Classic, I can report they are happily living in raviolis in Taormina, Sicily.
Another high point was Judy, who speaks fluent Italian, talking to the people at another table in a small restaurant outside of Mount Etna.
The people just shrugged their shoulders to indicate they didn't understand a word she was saying. Then they talked to each other.
"My mistake," Judy whispered to me. "They are Israelis."
Little by little I recovered and walked on the rim of the volcano on Mount Etna, but I made sure Judy wasn't behind me.
Then, on the last day we were in Sicily, Judy got sick. She actually turned green and couldn't stop throwing up. Then came what I would like to think was her near-deathbed confession. "Oh, I feel so so sick. It was a mistake to have you come all this way with asthma. I'm sorry I dragged you here."
I couldn't resist.
"In that case, I'm sorry I just poisoned you," I said.
She started to laugh but wound up rushing to the bathroom to throw up again.
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