Early Flight

The first events of the day were a vague beeping and a dream of boiling clouds. The clouds scattered, the beeping grew more present, and like a tribal signal I began to understand with horror what sacrifice it demanded of me. Shortly thereafter I found myself wandering around the room, vaguely disembodied, halting, like an outdated packing robot. I was leaning over to put on my socks when a man in charge of a fleet of black four-door sedans took pity on me. I could hear soft sympathy in his dispatching tone, though I was late for my pickup. “How are you feeling this morning, Sir?” I tried to sound brave, nonchalant, optimistic. Why did I not want him to lose confidence in me as a customer? Never mind my three hours’ sleep, I was thrilled to hit the airport, and I would be dashing out the door of my building with my bags any second, all smiles, giggles, and existential bliss. A small list of things-to-do-before-I-leave bubbled through my brain and threatened to leak out all over the floor, and I kept cramming them back in, like items in a suitcase, through mantric repetition, which made me feel kind of desperate or insane, like the insomniacs in One Hundred Years of Solitude who label everything around them as lack of sleep erodes their sense of language. For some reason in the midst of the madness I picked up “Awakenings” (by Oliver Sacks) and read a paragraph about a woman who dreamed she was imprisoned in a castle, which was herself.

And now the glow over the industrial, rusty wastes of Queens is really quite beautiful, especially from the comfort of a backseat. If I were out there in the cold hard world, lugging luggage from train to bus to train, I may not have had quite the impulse or occasion to savor this super-orange curtain rising from a side of the sky. After the first five minutes in the cab or car, five minutes of residual panic where you go over all the possible things you have forgotten (music–always music first!–wallet, keys, credit card, driver’s license, joie de vivre, itinerary, etc.), then there is a delicious surrender. The vehicle, motion itself, takes you; it is generally sad but pleasant; there is either traffic which is its own pattern of starts and stops, or there is the empty sleepy city, with all the faintly glowing apartments of peaceful and warlike people with their distant unknowable lives; and you float or inch alone in your bubble towards another bubble which will carry you across continents or oceans … as I said, it is generally sad, a time for musing, for seeing what’s past and done, for remembering all the previous trips, all the old, dilapidated Triboro bridges of your life to date, the motivations (loves, desires, needs) which carried you all these places, many forgotten; I look out the window and wallow in this slightly ridiculous mood, such that I am always surprised by the practicality of dealing with the driver at the destination. The cold, present airport curb, where accumulated, hoarded memory makes way for anonymous transit.

And now, through security: the strange light of the coffee kiosk. A line of fifteen people or more awaits, and I glare from afar at the barista. Even if he were some outrageous, wonderful monster of coffee-serving efficiency, some super-human grinder/brewer who wasted not one millimeter of motion or iota of thought in preparing our beverages, it would still not be enough; coffee means to resent the postponement of coffee. A woman, perversely, decides to try to find exact coins for her purchase; she ransacks her change purse; pennies are long sought, dropped, re-found; I have never seen such an outrage; I seethe. Woman, can you not see the inhumanity of what you are doing?

Calm down, gentle soul. Soon you will be on the plane and off to the West Coast; visions of dim sum, spas, espresso, blue waters… of people who have prioritized the pure pleasure of life, and not distilled action. I will stare lovingly at their pierced lips, torn jeans, and half-hidden tattoos, and envy an imaginary, unwanted freedom. As I gave my boarding pass to the lady at the gate, I thought I asked her if I was boarding at the right time. Did she hear me? I think she did, but she probed deeper and saw behind my eyes an early morning mania, that slightly more dangerous question posed by the three-hour sleeper with last night’s ginger chicken undigested in the premature morning. And she chose to address that deeper question instead: “Everything’s okay so far,” she said–a broader, diagnostic answer–oddly echoing the dispatcher’s earlier solicitude. I did find myself enjoying her smile as I went down the jetbridge, taking disproportionate comfort … I was happier and more grounded now that she had welcomed me onto the plane; but what did she mean by “so far”? That, I suppose, was all she could promise.

It was contingent, but from the car service which was a bubble of the past, mulled over in orange, I find myself transported to a room with sunny windows, and a view of the blue water I had hoped for, and expensive bottled water (clear, blue, light); a room which feels like the present, which opens onto a promising outdoors; only unpacking now needs to be done; no going, only being; for which I need no saintly dispatcher or ticket-taker, no reassurance.

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One Comment

  1. Anonymous
    Posted February 8, 2006 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    I guess you landed safely by now.At least you’re on a sunny breathable climate far from the dungy cold dark NY.But w/ your coming engagements,I could tell you are in good hands and it will be colorful and gay.It’s not the distance but the journey you are about to partake.

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