Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Three Hours

I hate being in an airplane. Despite the soundness of the underlying physics of jet propulsion and space-age engineering, my inner caveman is in disbelief: how can tons of metal, plus 722 passengers, plus their suitcases of ugly vacation outfits, be held aloft 50,000 feet in midair? Either most people are in denial or they really believe that Britney’s boobs are real.

Think about it: the odds of getting killed in a plane crash is 1 in 300,000; the odds of winning the lottery is like, 1 in 14 million. Yet people buy lottery tickets. I am not a superstitious person, but if you believe that you can win the lottery, then you have to believe that a plane can crash. I ain’t never buyin’ a lottery ticket. Despite this, the idea haunts me the millisecond I walk through the threshold and smell the sharp, stale, disinfected cabin air up until the final moments of landing when you feel the hard bounce of the wheels against the sweet, sweet ground.

On an airplane, my normal stoicism gives way to a jumble of emotions. I am giddy, tearful, horny, all at once. My feelings are heightened, anything, everything can summon fears or tears. Right is wrong, up is down, Glitter should have won an Oscar. I’m serious. I laughed and/or cried so hard watching that movie in a flight home from Amsterdam. It was intense, like God. I hope the next time I fly they show Gigli.

And flight attendants creep me out. This job is like the equivalent of people buying $500 worth of lottery tickets every week. How can they stand there and greet me cheerily and offer me peanuts when in a few minutes we will be willfully going against the laws of gravity? The only explanation is that these are just the husks of people who have been taken over by aliens. That’s why in long transatlantic flights, the flight attendants will curtain off a section of the airplane, turn down the cabin lights and start the in-flight movie. Inside the curtained area, they slither out of their husks and rejuvenate, feasting on the human waste processed in blue toilet water they siphon from the lavatories.

Then, there’s the weather, that bastion of predictability, throwing its little monkey wrench. You are greedily sipping your complimentary soda and then you choke abruptly as the plane get thrown around. Once, on a trip to Houston, we encountered exceptional turbulence. My knuckles were white from holding on to the next guy. Then he zipped up his penis and I wiped my knuckles off with a tissue.

That trip to Houston was about three hours. Three hours to think about being embroiled in a freak storm, hit by lightning, an engine catching fire, smoke in your lungs, and the nearest exit into thin air.

Three hours. That’s about how long the drive is from my house to work in Naperville and back. The odds of dying in a car crash is 1 in 19,000 per year, 1 in 247 per lifetime. Everyday, those three hours are like lottery tickets bought. In the car, in unguarded moments, thoughts of those odds lodge itself like a bullet in my brain.