Fly To The Top Of The World

March 01, 2010

And there never was an apple, in Adam’s opinion,
that wasn’t worth the trouble you got into from eating it.
-Neil Gaiman

I’m working in Philadelphia these days and it seems that there is always a reason for the snow to fall here. One week twenty inches of it piled up on the streets and I gingerly walked on it with my feet making dull slushy sound, careful not to trip. But that’s for later. I don’t really hate snow, not really, and hate is a particularly strong word to start with, so why use it? I just strongly dislike snow. And Philly is just another city, one more with tall buildings and narrow streets.

I instead want to talk about my latest travel to Philadelphia, the one that saw me ride in a cab whose driver talked on an iPhone to someone named Tandia, veering off and turning sharply, holding the wheel with only one hand. On most of the cab rides I’ve taken in the last several months, the cab driver has unmistakably talked to someone on the phone. It can be argued that that’s their source of entertainment while they transport people who move in and out of their cab in a jiffy, but all niceties aside one thing that I am hugely concerned with on these rides is my goddamn fucking life. An expensive life it is and I don’t want some Tandia to take it, that too by making an undramatic phone call from god-knows-where. Talking about god, experiences such as this inspire me to start believing in Him. Sitting on the edge of the seat, hands clasped, eyes pinched, face pale, hoping that god whom I had so conveniently denied existence until then might save me this last time from Tandia’s wrath.

Before the cab ride I was squeezed into a window seat a few thousand feet above the ground on a Delta flight. Flights emphasize the fine line between life and death. I’ve so often lend my thoughts to the fragility of human life, how a 40-mph car crash, a fall from a third floor window (I live on the third floor in Atlanta), or too many hours spend at work doing mindless shit, or too much drinking followed by loud singing in a shower, which leads to your slipping on a bar of soap and hitting your head on the edge of the tub and bleeding to death, can end your life without even giving you a chance to say final goodbyes to three or four people you know as friends –lonely you. It’s just this feeling of helplessness that makes flights exciting to me. I feel like Alice in Wonderland where at every step there is a revelation.

Every time I take a flight I’m reminded of my body’s weakness, its dependence on technology to work flawlessly or all will be over all too fast. I’m also reminded of how infrequently, and yet uncannily, things go wrong. Every day we are on roads where a slight misjudgment can short-circuit the circuit of your life, but we don’t really think about it while we are going out to the same pool joint to drink beer and shoot some pool or going to the nearby fast-food joint to get another of those sandwiches that taste like someone used them as a seat cushion on her car. We just live and many times to see our eightieth birthday. It’s amazing.

A particularly definitive moment on flights is when the plane makes its initial ascent and the ground pulls away and the plane bucks to one side turning and climbing up as I feel heady from increased gravity. It’s just majestic. Too many things happen at the same time and the world I know is quickly reduced to dots and soft fluffy clouds. At these times I admire the vast landscape below me, the dimensions of the earth suddenly observable from those heights, and partake in my hobby of looking into the distance. A wise man once said, All religions will pass, but this will remain: simply sitting in a chair and looking in the distance. I firmly believe in his words and have taken to sitting by the window in my room for hours and looking into the distance, at nature and at people whose unknown lives never fail to make my throat dry.

There are other regular features of flying that work to appease both my body and soul, which include the drumming sound of the engines and the occasional jitters that induce moments of lulling sleep.

This last trip, though, had something else to catch my attention. Soon after I took my window seat a man, a man with a severely creased face, hair white and short, came limping to take the middle seat. No reason for me to me annoyed. Then a flight attendant followed him to hand over a plastic bag full of ice to him. I peeked over Christopher Moore’s novel The Stupidest Angel—my first by him—I had so excitedly started reading. After placing the ice-pack on his right foot, the man started scuffling with his seat trying to backpush it into submission but the seat didn’t budge a goddamn centimeter. I giggled, hidden behind the pages. Around the same time, the guy had his right index finger searching for a treasure inside his nose. I mean, not to sound judgmental here, every man and woman at some time during the day gets troubled with boogers obstructing the air passage in the nose and tries to pry them out – and I do it too but always in the privacy of a bathroom. But when this man didn’t take his finger out for a few minutes straight, I had doubts taking root in my mind: either his boogers were made of steel or he had a raccoon wriggle up his nose that he was unsuccessfully trying to pull out. But that wasn’t annoying either. Nor was his attempt every few minutes to first reach for his neck, scratch it for a while and then furtively move onto his nose, once again at it, trying to take out the Rock of Gibraltar he had by mistake snuffed with his coke in the morning. It was all right. It was all right that the old man worked at his nose as if he were working on his PhD. If someone wants to pick his nose, who the fuck am I to deny him his choice?

The only annoying thing was the volume of his headphones, which had drowned out the coveted white noise of the engines. I didn’t know such a volume was even possible but the man was up to the task. I every so often stole glances at him trying to tell him through my eyes that the volume of his headphones was monumentally loud. But it just didn’t work. So much for my subtle ways.

Later on when the flight attendants doled out free snacks and I asked for some peanuts, the booger man volunteered to take the packet from the flight attendant since I was slightly beyond his reach and hand it over to me, losing his grip on the solitary napkin underneath the peanuts. To make up for the loss, he chose to give his napkin to me. I for the life of Jesus didn’t touch those peanuts or the napkin, fearful of catching his raccoon disease. The old man proceeded to purchasing two big bags of peanut M&Ms which he devoured with his bare hands in a devilish frenzy.

The rest of the flight was a bummer except for the landing, which always makes me wonder how a plane as big as I was on can land on its tires without losing balance. It just amazes me, the sheer speed with which the plane touches the ground and how the plane is decelerated to a comfortable taxing speed. The first impact of a touchdown is what I wait for on my flights.

So I am back in Philadelphia. I hardly have words to say about the city. Well, Philly is, it’s just cold; the city and the snow that covers it are the same to me: quietly foreign, cold, and mysterious.

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Fly To The Top Of The World


Author: DM


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