I have been spending the past several months traveling for variety of mundane reasons. Airport. Flying. Hotel. Go to bed early for whatever that’s planned on the next day. Go through the next day. Back to the hotel. Work out. Go to bed early for the next day. Fly back. And then again, and again.
During long flights everything hurts. Calf, muscles, and a toe that refuses to warm up. The day of the flight becomes a day when the most creative thing you can do is to come up with an essay that’s an unoriginal form of pensive confusion.
A couple of days ago, I met with a friend who asked how I cope with the intensity and boredom of long flights. I thought I’d share a few points on how I make the mundane experience bearable. So here it goes:
(1) Take a Window Seat
Fuck more legroom and the ease of moving around. Take a window seat. Work your curiosity and imagination by looking out the window. Take control of the window shade and look how the plane bullets through the flirting clouds. Be that stern-looking asshole that keeps the shade open while other people watch those gummy in-flight chick flicks.
Listen to a few podcasts as appose to getting frustrated by listening to the guy who looks like colonel Sanders sitting next to you. He just returned from a successful sales pitch. He keeps downing Jacks and collapsing back onto your shoulders.
(3) Have a heart-wrenching topic to ponder on
For instance, during one of the flights from NY, I started thinking about my friend Nedi as soon as the flight took off. I met Nedi a few years ago. Young, tall, handsome and in his twenties. Full of energy. The life of his parents’ lifelike party. He had a life story that asks a lot questions.
As soon as the flight reaches 10K altitude, I usually experience turbulence as the plane goes through the rough air. The flight attendant asks me for my drink of choice with a gum-chewing dismissal. Colonel Sanders is on his third whiskey.
I look out the window and remember an article I had read long ago -that argues the cruelty of capital punishment in Japan. The possibility that an innocent person may have spent more than decades in prison is not the only reason why the issue attracted attention. In Japan, death row prisoners are locked away in solitary confinement, banned from talking to other inmates and permitted just two or three exercise periods a week.
All of those rules are pretty common but the article argues that the worst is the uncertainty. Condemned men learn of the timing of their death only hours before they are led away to the gallows. Their families are informed only after the fact. “Each day could be their last, and the arrival of a prison officer with a death warrant would signal their execution within hours,” the report says. The article asserts that the mental anguish of not knowing whether each day is to be your last is the cruel punishment.
I read the article many times. But I could never quite grasp what the fuss was about on the point of cruelty. I thought to myself: Japanese death row inmates are just like me. Each day could be my last day, too. Each day could be anyone’s last day. If that’s cruel, then the Japanese death row inmates, and us, are all in the same boat with one key difference: the inmates expect to die every day. We don’t. Which one is crueler?
Nedi passed away a few days ago at age 25. He knew where his ordeal of a life was headed as soon as his illness surfaced three years ago. Nedi’s diagnosis-paper handed over by his doctor was like the death warrant handed over by the prison officer. Though, Nedi’s case continues to be heart wrenching and confusing.
You witness these things as you grow older and you want to make sense of it. You play with notions like the one that suggests it was an unlucky gene. But luck, as they say, is the residue of design. Okay, luck may be the residue of design, but life and nature dictate unexpected scenarios, which overkill skill, practice, science, considered judgment, and normal response. If there is a lesson in Nedi’s life scenario, I fail to find it. I sheepishly take refuge in realizing that aging only presents us with additional choices to which there are no answers.
At this point of my thought cycle the plane has reached the cruising altitude. The flight attendant’s attitude towards colonel Sanders comes around like “You’re drunk and fully fed, so shut up and enjoy the rest of the flight”. At 35K altitude, one might feel a bit closer to god.
The Jewish sages discussed whether to be born or not. They agreed it would be better not to be born. But now that you are born, you should enjoy it. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Then, there are the Greeks. The Greeks tried to make sense of death by conveying that the Greek Gods are a band of perpetual adolescents, who may enjoy life perpetually at ease. Those gods can afford to be immature because they live forever and have time to mend broken relationships, or correct mistakes. Humans have no such luxury according to the ancient Greeks. Our time is borrowed. If we are cruel to others the effect could be permanent. Hence, death comes at the time of mature relationships and the absolute absence of meanness and cruelty. I’m thinking that’s a cute idea because it feels good. Fucking Greeks! They have managed to find an answer for every tough question.
The flight slowly descends to northern California. I can now see a few big buildings with large signs at the top. It’s the northeastern stretch of Silicon Valley between San Francisco and Sacramento. No clouds.
I immediately fall into that one dimension that the current generation of people in their sixties and seventies may be the last cohort of humans for whom death is absolutely unavoidable. While such thoughts are fantastical to many, leading scientists are convinced that we are on the threshold of stopping the aging process and curing terminal diseases. And, some of them speak as if aging is a disease. According to them, mortality as a great leveler and equalizer may be coming to the end of its insurmountable rule.
These weird thought go through my head over and over during the long flight that’s almost over as we reach the 10K ft. Colonel Sanders has stopped snoring.
4. Eat no vegetables
Eat no vegetables during long flights. Too gassy.