I Can’t Believe It’s Not Oxygen


Our story begins at 30,000 feet aboard an EMB-145 commuter jet piercing heavy fog and moving north in a hurry. No lights are visible from below. We might as well be flying through a bowl of chowder. The aircraft shudders gently as it climbs, and I’m counting the seconds in my head. The first seven minutes and the last five are the worst. Prime time. That’s when something, if anything, is most likely to happen.Why am I doing this? Who am I talking to? What is the intended result? Write until the hands cramp, until the eyes begin to cross in exhaustion. Half asleep, the tip of my black felt pen jumps and slides like a water witches wand in search of a well as I stalk the nonsense from the earth: He who holds the spill collides. Who induces it? Who is eating it? What’s the best dog for cleanup? What’s the next step? Will it attest the coastline? What does the public need to crow? How can they stay intoned? Vibrating radio crystal intervals at 105 on the list, cheap shit space operas, cardboard suits, a flash in the darkness now and again, the steel ring of a lighter — LOSS OF SIGNALOpen your eyes. Choose a name. Get into character. We’re going live in five, four, three (get into character..)

Music kicks in, and my head snaps up. I’m aware of a decade-long ache that begins in my temples, cascading onto my shoulders and extending down my spine like a vestigial pain tail. That’s the result of never letting go. That’s the feeling of staying awake for days on end and never letting anyone get close to you. That’s what you get for living your life via text messages. That’s the result of having your personal GNP plummet to the earth like a sack of wet concrete. Gotta be strong a moment longer, hold the breath a little harder. All too often, you picture yourself sitting crowd-center swaddled in Level A, slowly sipping O2, deliberately distanced from your surroundings by the safety of tear-resistant plastic and the slow hiss of your breathing.

The Sky Ninjas are making their rounds now, steel cables where their spines ought to be, serving hot tea in heavy turbulence. Long red hair smoothed back into a crisp pony tail, her freckled face glowing clean like she’s fresh from a spa day in a car wash. Bright blue eyes fixed on me. “Something to drink?” I want to drown in her eyes. I want to make her laugh. I want to woo her, win her over. I want to tell her something she doesn’t already know. I want to impress her. I want to show her it’s gonna be okay, and show her she can trust me. Instead, I ask her for coffee.

This is the extent of my relationships as of late.

A week’s worth of lectures, condensed: Assume away the mechanics. We must return to a previous state of multi-polarity in order to create a sustained and substantial dialog. I don’t presume to know what interests you: boutique staff, lots of heat and light, maybe somebody else’s ox being gored. The signal demands your center of gravity. What else would reasonable people appropriately expect a reasonable organization to do in this situation? At the end of the day, there is only the tyranny of definition, the weight of swivel chair interface, and a victory parade marching between these ghetto thin walls. I don’t care for your universal management badge. You continually cease to amaze me. I briefed this to truth, but he was not shot in the ass with joy over the idea. These are solid beings. They need to put their hands in the wound, write some night letters, and get involved in the knife fight. You need to take him to coffee, engage in the dialog of the deaf, and reduce the scope of his actions. I am speaking now of a secret technique whereby the operative presents information in packaged terms, a pre-limiting format; arriving at the conclusion where X is already Y, describe your actions to me in a way that guarantees that I will be accepting of your terms. Right now is too late, because as it turns out people don’t like surprises.

I’m so sorry I haven’t written in ages. I’m entirely too fucking busy, and possessed of institutional memory. But let’s not let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good enough’. This is all about finding the answer, but finding that there ain’t no answer to find. Consider the industrial hygienist; here stands a man who knows that time is short. Let him who hath understanding reckon that terrorism is big business. The tautological onslaught of the guest speakers, smug party line grok lockstep, no new news, and non-stop nodding. Weekend warriors and miniature model enthusiasts, one hand braced high, damp foreheads, rolling around on the floor in desperation whining for attention. “Please! Just one more wildly esoteric, self-absorbed show-off question! I need my reliance validated!” Black birds with shining eyes dancing on the power lines, the sharp crack of pre-storm ozone and a puff of smoke in the flap of the wings. The American public are always an audience — just not a high value one.

Visited the White House yesterday, and I’m planing to tour the state department tomorrow with a trip to the Pentagon Friday. Step one: convince an opposing panel to use quadcopters as video platforms during hazardous response situations: oil spills, rail car explosions, Juggalo Gatherings, hurricanes, earthquakes, interspecies methadone conferences, and silent raves. Not only must I sell it, but I’ve got to justify the shit out of it. Step two: craft a three-prong public affairs engagement plan for a thirty-six hour, multi-media campaign to address and support the U.S. in their deterrence of China’s plans to invade a strategic rock in the South China Sea where Japan’s interests are closely aligned. Plan for photo, video, media embeds, campaign slogans, social media, a week of peyote, and a partnership reaffirmation plan for our coalition allies. Account for opposing anti-U.S. propaganda. The whole fucking thing is as about as useful as Anne Frank’s drum set.

Emotions are not facts. Emotions are like nailing a fried egg to a tree with a water balloon. Emotions are fireflies to be caught with a fishing net. Emotions are a spiderweb to be untied and re-knotted in the space of seven breaths. (Relax, turn around, take my hand…)

Per our conversation last night: it occurs to me that I was on the cusp of something in NYC, so close to being able to touch the Future. I described it as a great ship hovering at JFK’s outer marker awaiting clearance to land, a near-tangible phenomena present in every once-shiny convenience store, the future tense cornucopia once promised and now available for discount purchase in plastic bins in hang dog bodegas nationwide; phone cards for Filipino workers living 12 to a one-room flat, burner cell phones, Rwandan refugee boy bands hawking demo CDs in the backgrounds of local emergencies and hiding them in Happy Meals.

I used to say, “The Future will be here in five minutes.” I’ve stopped saying that. It’s here. I was walking down the street in D.C. last night when I passed a hookah bar. Outside, Iranian teenagers and corn-fed Midwest white girls were soaking up the free wi-fi and texting each other from three feet away, sending their hormone-infused love notes into space. That’s the future. That conversation we had about people fidgeting over the nth degree of control they exert over their car’s A/C or heat, living life by the tweak of a dial? That’s the future. All the info, and none of the knowledge. A generation raised in their bedrooms. A four-minute news cycle. Oxygen bars. Virtual private networks. Pistol adverts. 3-D printers printing 3-D printers in space. Crypto orchids. Pop culture rifles. Military-grade denim. Sentient alcohol. Realism marketing. Buckminsterfullerene shanty towns. Drone cartels. Industrial grade sunglasses. Pre-teen cyber-savants. Monofilament street gangs. 8-bit voodoo grenades. Cardboard otaku. Neural assault film campaigns. Arctic seed warehouses. Courier gangs. Refrigerated tattoos. 8-bit augmented reality drugs. DIY assassins. Artisanal bomb marketing. That’s the future I hope I live to touch.

My head hurts. I trust all is well.


Now departing ORF, settling in for another long flight; headphones in, listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The music mingles with the safety brief; two currents of information align, creating another layer of story and adding to the already complex sound. The moment strikes like a tuning fork. It makes sense, like a scene from a movie:

Act One: The Captain has turned on the Fasten Seat Belt sign

Exactly 11:11 into ‘Terrible Canyons of Static’ as we’re accelerating down the runway, the right wing slams into and completely decimates a Bird of Sorrow, an ethereal and completely fictional creature that I just made up in order to blame my mood swing on.

If it existed, a Bird of Sorrow would probably be a majestic creature, weighing approximately 175 pounds fully grown with a graceful swanlike neck and deep blue plumage arrayed like a peacock’s, and it’d probably make a horrific mermaid shriek when it slammed face first into Fate on the leading edge of that wing. At our present speed, Sorrow’s blood would splash out across the runway like a barrel of liquified Smurfs, and I’d barely feel a jolt. Had this event actually taken place, the pilot would report it to the tower as a severe bird strike and run a systems check to see if the flight should continue, or maybe he’d just turn around for the sake of safety. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll reinforce this as a mood swing.

Time creeps to a near halt upon impact and momentum drops; everything gets exponentially heavier. This brief instant becomes a baleful eternity and it resonates in my chest like a slow gong. An explosion of futility and loneliness ripples down along the wing like a shockwave and gets sucked into the engines as the pilot throttles full ahead, wholly unaware of the events taking place in my imagination. Dense blue goo coats the inner workings of the engine, described by a complicated fluid formula that encompasses both the intake speed and the square area of the combustion chamber, minus the emotion burned up in thrust and not counting the percentage that bled in through the skin of the aircraft in a fine mist —  it pretty much permeated and penetrated one entire side of this commercial aircraft.

That a 175-pound fictional creature could collide with the leading edge of the right wing of an aircraft during take off, and not only have enough of its life essence make it all the way down the wing toward me but also wrap around the cowling and permeate the engines at speed violates the laws of physics, I’ll give you that. But let me just say that there’s Sorrow stuck to all the wiring. And it’s probably in the fuel tanks.

The sadness is all around us now. Blue mist filters the light coming through scratched windows. (It’s probably in the coffee.) I see it flinging back wet fractals from each and every rivet along the wing, and I suspect the other passengers may begin to feel the effects of the strike shortly. It’s even penetrated the inner wall to my right, and splashed across the bare legs of the late 20-something Lolita in the seat to my immediate left.

We have yet to speak. I seldom speak to anyone on flights. I smiled politely and made room for her things when she took her seat, but how do I tell her with a straight face that my palpable sorrow has coated her limbs, painting her earnest expression a distinct shade of despondency as she sits engrossed in a page of the paperback tome she’s reading, her bottom beesting twitching along as she reads to herself! I note the obvious fortune spent on her teeth, her cheeks flush with color, and her raven hair tumbling down her shoulders like a waterfall before I turn my attention to the window, and to the shrinking landscape below. Even now, the last of the Sorrow is being peeled back from the skin of the plane in ever-decreasing rivulets by the force of forward thrust as the clouds cast 3-D shadows on the cheerful backyards below, plunging each suburban postcard into a momentary midnight as the moment passes.

Sometimes when I’m up here, I build things in my head. I’m not an inflight movie guy. I read, I write, or I stare out at the cloud farms passing beneath the belly of the beast. Presently I’m constructing a special suit for an all-out run through the mountains.

I envision a bodysuit that features a ultra-slim carbon fiber O2 tank which would feed a misted nutrient mix into the runner’s mouth through a rubber mouthguard and pump adrenaline and painkillers into the chest and thighs as needed. It’s supercooled, completely breathable, and ultra-lightweight. Fuck it, let’s put springs on the shoes. Wearing this suit would probably be dangerous, a goddamn designer death sentence. You’d most likely get an exploded heart for your troubles, but it would be fun while it lasted. I’ve added a button in the palm of each glove for ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to simple questions, so the runner wouldn’t have to waste breath answering. Why the hell you’d need a suit for such a specific task is beyond me. I just take these little gifts from my brain and file them away, like a cat owner accepting the gift of a dead bird or fish.

Sometimes I look out the window as the plane is ascending and I stare at the roads, imagining I’m driving along just as fast as my eyes can drag the car, and I realize that it would take superhuman reactions to avoid other cars or oblivious pedestrians at this speed. How the fuck did Street Hawk’s Jesse Mach manage this feat? How did he account for drunken idiots and assholes stumbling into his path at the last second?

“Dear Mrs. Smith, we are sorry to inform you that your husband’s heavily intoxicated body was dragged across the concrete for five long city blocks as Jesse Mach, a hotshot ex-motorcycle cop injured in the line of duty and hellbent on fulfilling a personal vendetta against local crime lords with the help of a high-speed top secret death machine and accompanied by the sweet electronic sounds of Tangerine Dream, was traveling in excess of 200 mph. We don’t anticipate being able to recover enough of your husband’s remains to fill a tuna can, but we’re really sorry. Sincerely, _______ ”

Now boarding SBD to PHX. I wake up most every morning in a different hotel room, in a different layout, under different sheets. I just spent a week in Santa Barbara doing my job, honing my talents. I’ve gotten really good at “jumping on hand grenades” as the skill is known; a shorthand expression for absorbing the blast of a stranger’s anger and dispersing it like dust into the whipping Western wind. The secret lies in making yourself into nothing. Talking people out of being angry means actively listening to what’s making them angry. Can I fix their problems? Not always. Can I make them more receptive to someone else who can? A-ha!

Growing up, I’d always wanted to be a Vulcan. They learned to put logic and reason ahead of emotion and anger. They weren’t easily distracted. Their race, and therefore their minds ventured out into the stars, learning, growing, expanding, experiencing, and devouring knowledge. There was no fear, only fact. There was no pride, only professionalism. I was heartbroken when Leonard Nimoy died. “That man was my hero. Now that word has been taken from us.”

“At this time, we request that all mobile phones be turned off for the full duration of the flight as these items might interfere with the navigational and communication equipment on this aircraft. We request that you look inward for answers, as there is no such thing as Truth. We request that you tune in, turn on and drop out because hey, you could do worse. We request that you allow your old wounds to heal, because the pain’s not helping you any. We request that you Be Here Now.”


The Now now.

10MAY2015 – 0300. Standing outside my converted warehouse apartment at the edge of the river, waiting for a cab to take me to the airport. When it arrives, the ass end of the van is caked with carbon. Every surface is grimy to the touch. The brown leather seats are worn patchwork black from a million and five sliding asses. The handle is busted, and the windows are filthy. The driver confesses he’s never been on a plane before, but wants to visit Paris one day and is turn-around-in-his-seat mystified to learn that airports in other cities and in other countries are much larger than the one we’re driving to. He is amazed that the air near the beach could smell different than the air in the city.

Staring up at the pulse of the passing streetlights, I catch glimpses of a great glass leviathan from my imagination. It moves through the city at night spilling fog across the tops of buildings like dry ice, dream smoke invading the lungs of the sleepers. I can see one or two stars in the sky. The sight of them always makes me happy. Riding along in a grimy van one morning in 2015 with a dashboard GPS display and the promise of travel makes me feel like a character in a William Gibson novel. That’s kind of a life goal for me.

Not to sound like a hipster, but I’ve been into space since at least the second grade. My favorite toys were always spaceships and robots from any story, any genre. Not just Star Wars or Star Trek, but Space 1999, The Black Hole, Battle of the Planets, and Star Blazers. I never wanted to be into sports. Not even a little. Not even to be social. I understand why people like me are into science fiction. It’s more than escapism. It’s the promise of freedom and equality, and the chance to become a hero in a place where bills and work and relationships don’t mean the same thing as they do here.

When nerds like me close our eyes and dream of adventure and great ships, when we spend weeks bingeing on a series where the plot twist involves at least one character saying, “I had no choice!” or, “We’re caught in a wormhole!” or “The stress will tear this ship apart!” or, “We must have gone backwards in time!” then we’re no longer the quiet weirdos at the end of the bar wishing we had something clever to say to you. At that moment, we are no longer slaves to analysis paralysis: I think, therefore I am (sad.) We are no longer trapped by the cause and effect of this world — at least not until the delivery guy from the corner Greek place shows up. We’re out there on the edge, living by our wits, smug in our science, inhaling the inexplicable, and flying just as far and as fast as we can, before the fuel and the food run out, before the credits roll. Knew this was one way ticket, but you know I had to come.

Another anonymous hotel room near another airport, many hours later, reviewing notes for the job. My mind is unraveling, unclenching. Picture my brain with toes making fists in the carpet, McClane style. I have a large cold caffeinated drink beside me, and headphones plunged deep in my ears. This is my happy place. I’m half-listening to (and therefore misinterpreting) a Los Angeles police scanner as it creates half-formed worlds inside my head:

“Hi, Tony One. We need you to hang up the phone now. Bakkan 16 is shoreline 82, no warrants, some strange awareness. *squak* Depression and suicidal. (“Roger.” The dispatcher laughs like August wind fondling dry stalks of corn.) Unknown shovel volts. Anime nine, subject has synaesthesia, male, 39 years, code three incident. Phonetically spelled jet fuel, George Boy, yellow reports of people walking on a roof…” I force my mind to make sense of it all. This is the True Reality. This is where I want to live.

The world is moving faster now, and more brutally than ever before. So quick I can’t hold the pieces in my hands anymore. None of it means anything, just fragments of notes like the morning after an acid trip. Paralyzed jabbering, earthquake documentation, places where the pen was insufficient. 

A recent dream: I was exploring a structure with many levels, endless patios, gardens and circular stairwells that led to decks, shaded courtyards, and open-air apartments. There was no one else there. I climbed a set of steps, turned left and found what looked like a walled-off room with a metal grid embedded in the wall at eye level. I peered through the grate. The interior was a dark cage and the air was choked with dust but something was moving in there and for a moment it terrified me.

“Hello?” I remember daring whatever it was to show itself. Dry plaster fell away in great chunks and clouds as I grabbed the grate and began to yank it from the wall. Everything deteriorated. Presently, I was able to peel one corner back and crawl in. There was a bench along the right wall, and I could see a figure sitting there with its knees drawn up. I crept closer, my heart in my throat, and one hand out before me, scared. When it suddenly glared up at me, I had the impression of long hair and rags, and a scissor-lined mouth too dangerous to be real. It rushed me, stopping short of my face with inches to spare.

Time passed in the dream, the figure gradually appearing more human; a woman with brown eyes and brown hair styled in bangs and pigtails. A normal face, less pointy teeth. Quite a nice smile, actually.

Eventually I knew her name was name was Bariahke (rhymes with Mariah Key.) I tore down the grate completely. I swept and scrubbed the floor, threw away the rotted bench, painted the walls and hung pictures. I brought in chairs and a table and a bed. I brought her clothes and a brush for her hair. Not once did I think to myself, “This is crazy, you’re making friends with a ghost.” I only saw someone who had been forgotten, who felt locked away, and I wanted to give her some semblance of a life. I never asked how she died. I figured that was her business. Eventually I could see color in her cheeks and in her eyes when she brushed her hair. Before the dream changed channels, she turned to me and spoke. “Where were you all my life?”

This is the extent of my relationships as of late.

Days later, a departure lounge in MDW, silently cheering the parade of passing expressions. I can’t capture it all. Words fail me. In the end, they’re just no good. In the end, they’ll say I never even came close. I have options now. I can smell baked goods, I can watch the rain claw at the glass, or I can watch a woman with stone desert eyes and soft copper coils piled high atop her head move left on the walkway as six men in identical haircuts and matching black polo shirts move to the right. There’s no point in describing the variety here; it happens at every hour and on every day since before The Now, and it will stretch on into the Many Years after. Observations are conscious fingers trailing in the stream.

South Africans have an expression for things that are about to happen. They call it ‘now now’, meaning almost, but not yet.


The Great Clean, a fictional undertaking to suspend all life on Earth in a deep and dreamless sleep while billions upon billions of “all-purpose” nanobots and maintenance drones scoured the planet satisfying my burgeoning OCD and desire for control, was born one hot week in the mid-80s. I was 19.

I spent eight years on an orbiting penal colony. Obviously, I did something wrong to deserve my punishment, but my crimes are not important here. What really matters is that during this era, I was typically sentenced to one of four kinds of manual labor; whitewashing fences, scrubbing walls, shoveling cowshit, or mowing lawns. I didn’t see any of these as punishment. Not really. But mowing lawns was my favorite, my Bre’r Rabbit, as it meant spending immense spans of time by myself. I was good at that. I didn’t say much. Always had my nose in a book.

When it came to mowing lawns, I had it down to a science. First, I’d first select the best of the three available mowers. Typically, they were put away clogged with dried grass and traces of spilled oil, so I’d hose them down and wipe them off. (A clean machine is a happy machine.) Then I’d fill a spare gas tank, a gallon jug of water, and gather a small pile of tapes and fresh AA batteries. With the containers balanced on or haphazardly lashed to the lawn mower, I’d set out for the farthest point on the horizon, as directed, as though bound for some grand adventure — which inexplicably, required a sharp, spinning blade.

Mowing a massive field in the height of summer can be a meditative experience. There’s a sense of separation and isolation, something that’s as much a part of me as is my blood type. There’s the droning of the engine, rising and falling in direct proportion to the Doppler shift around those hard-to-reach areas — pull the mower toward me, push it away, pull, push.

Sometimes I’d hum until the frequencies matched, taking delight in the splash of the intermingling waves of sound. (*I still do this with a vacuum cleaner. I don’t give a fuck if you think I’m crazy.) There’s the pleasantly affirming order of the songs on the album, as dictated by studio technicians far, far away. There’s the future-clean scent of gasoline, and the dense organic huff of freshly murdered grass, all of which combined as a kind of incense to enhance my already laser-like focus. All was nothing and nothing was all that mattered, except keeping that front left or right wheel perfectly aligned with the previous dark green mark.

The best grass is dense from a recent rain, when all things are obvious and revealed. I resented mowing over dead grass or scrub for fear that I’d lose sight of the lines, spoiling the end result. It may have been a punishment, but I took pride in my work.

A freshly mowed lawn is a beautiful thing. Covering rolling hills in a perfect progression of lines approximately 24” wide is akin to conjuring Zen from a sand box. You trudge on and on, bent slightly at the waist, legs steadily pumping, slogging toward the endless horizon like Conan on the Wheel of Pain as your shoes turn irrevocably green from wading through fresh chlorophyll, as your bare legs are covered in shredded plant life, as your socks clog with grass, as your hands become numb and itchy from constant vibration, as your neck becomes red and painful despite the gallons of sunblock you’ve slathered on. All the while, the sun beats down, boiling the very air around you. Under such rich sensory conditions, the mind begins to drift.

I’ve built time machines in this state. I once built a pump-action shotgun that fired an activated cloud of electrolytes, but I couldn’t devise a way to make the cloud stay on target. Another time, I wrote the rules of combat for a parallel world in which plant life was self-aware and therefore hostile. Growth cycles skyrocketed. Seeds that normally took weeks to bud were fully sprouting within hours. The population, fresh out of chemicals was forced to do combat with weed eaters, machetes and pruning sheers in order to hang on to their ever-decreasing patches of real estate. Vegetarians were seen as spies and cast outside the city walls. Fields of green grass would rise to a height of five feet in less than thirty minutes, completely engulfing the terrified livestock. They feared trees, and doubted oxygen.

I’ve always had a tendency for order. I wallow in it. It cakes my skin, mats my hair, and permeates my life. When I stand in one spot long enough, I will adjust objects in my immediate vicinity to suit. Waiting for coffee. Waiting to buy groceries. Preparing to leave my desk for a week. Preparing to leave my apartment for a week. Adjusting objects to create an aura of harmony is just something I do. My car is always immaculate. I am careful to mention this tendency around new acquaintances; people assume that I plan to visit their homes and judge them for their squalor. This is not the case.

Marching now beneath the sun, my imagination flowing freely between concepts, there came the feeling like the first peak of an acid trip, the first hill of a roller coaster, like being on a beach at the front end of a tidal wave and knowing that something large was about to happen. The pieces fell together and suddenly I realized an impossibly far-fetched plan to “repair” the entire world.

But it would mean the temporary suspension of free will.

First, I’d need everyone out of the way. For his or her own safety, every living being would enter a state of profound hibernation. But not all at once. Obviously I didn’t want pilots crashing planes, or people driving cars into trees, or birds falling from the sky. When each succumbed to exhaustion, they would simply curl up and sleep as they would naturally. Only for much, much longer. And while they slumbered, everything would be made new. Shuffled, re-categorized, maintained, repaired, removed, or renovated to the nth degree.

Example: the trillions upon trillions of ‘bots I’d set loose upon the Earth would replace every screw on the outer marker light of a decades-old airfield in the middle of the desert, ensuring the new screw pattern was uniform, that the gasket was brand new and perfectly free of blemish, and the application of the reflective tape was exact. The bulb would be changed, the manufacturers name aligning with the pattern of the screws, further based upon the placement of the heavens above. This level of absurdist detail would be repeated into infinity, rippling around the Earth in tiny waves until they collided on the far side, mirroring absolutely everywhere. The size and complexity, the sheer possibility of the idea began to settle in.

On and on I marched to the drone of the engine; to the dull roar of face-melting rock music in my ears, to the scent of gas and the weight of the sustained nuclear reaction many millions of miles distant. A dumb, horny teenager who liked books about spaceships and loud rock music, plotting to change the world.

Absolutely nothing would escape my reach.

All roads, every road, would be need to be replaced with smart surfaces capable of withstanding the expansion and contraction of extreme weather conditions despite their geographic location. Dirt roads would be leveled and filled in; every pothole, everywhere, would be filled. The grass along the edges would be edged and reseeded. Every crack, every symbol of entropy and decay, would be filled or seamlessly repaired. Every fading line, everywhere, would be freshly repainted. The world would be made showroom new. Every window made spotless. Every surface dusted. Every walls washed or freshly painted. All worn carpet replaced. All the plants watered. All defective appliances repaired. Empty refrigerators filled. Every hot water tank flushed and refilled. Every fast food kitchen gutted and remodeled for efficiency. Every crooked object straightened.

The scope began to spiral upward, outward.

I’d turn the rusting hulks of old Chevys squatting on the back forty of a North Carolina tobacco field back into iron oxide, back into dust, and back into the earth. I’d completely level the dilapidated buildings and ruined tenements that sat empty, turning over the soil after they’d disappeared to further usher them back into nothingness.

(Wait, what if there was something in the building that might be important?) Okay, after first searching these buildings for unusual objects such as bones —which would then be documented, and their remains identified — the buildings would disappear.

(Wait, what about creating new housing for the homeless?) There would be no more slums. I would replace the world’s shantytowns with durable, weatherproof, plastic shells that came complete with solar panels.

What should I do with the reclaimed land? I would erect immense hydroponic farms, more than capable of producing enough food to feed the world’s population many times over, spacing them out in what I immediately labeled ‘concentric care circles’ so that no one was more than a few miles from a farm or an immense garden. I would remove the immense accumulation of methane around chicken or cattle farms. I removed junk food. I obliterated cigarette factories. I leveled coal plants, erasing them as though they never existed.

(What if there were graves on the land I’d reclaimed?) Every faded and forgotten stone would be lovingly restored, just one more time, complete with fresh flowers. The whole world would take on the appearance of an immense estate, as though tended by an immense army of master landscape architects.

Not a single piece of trash would remain anywhere on the Earth. Not a single speck of chewing gum. Not one goddamned wrapper. Not a single fucking balding tire by the side of the road, anywhere. I would eradicate Styrofoam. I would scrub the sidewalks, the trash cans, the alleys, the loading docks. I would empty every landfill by devising a series of enormous incinerators capable of destroying anything and everything, burning so completely white hot that even drums of the worst toxic sludge would leave behind only a thin carbon powder, suitable for sprinkling over crops.

I would plant millions upon millions of new trees. (I decided I would get carried away planting trees.) I would reseed the barren fields, revitalize the soil, and rotate the crops. All of them.

The more problems I decided to tackle, the more solutions I had to devise.

I would comb every square meter of the jungles and deserts of distant lands, locate the remains of those who had fallen there, and bring them home. I would do what paperwork, puppets and fat cat politicians could — or would not.

I would decode the lost language of the pyramids. I would raise shipwrecks from the ocean floor.

I would dredge every ocean, river, stream, creek and waterway on every land mass around the globe, plumbing the depths and searching every meter for artifacts, bringing them to the surface for other swarms to restore, depositing the finished product crated and documented on the front steps of museums around the world. (The nails spaced evenly, the shipping label flawless.)

I would remove everything unwanted from the seas. Absolutely everything: salvageable remains, decomposed drums of hazardous chemicals, discarded murder weapons. All plastic. All by-products. Everything, everywhere.

I would fix the ozone layer.

The engine ran out of gas, so I took a break. Pounded some water, spat some out. Changed tapes. Filled the mower, resumed.

I tried to envision what the world might look while this was going on, the enormous scale of activity; the sunken ships boiling to the surface, the Earth’s soil being tilled and turned to depths of 15 and 20 feet; forgotten ordinance exploded; old buildings converted to dust, sliding into their grave with but a whisper, the skies black with oxygen scrubbers. A fantastic roar of rebirth and rejuvenation.

I would restore, document, and archive every historical record, organizing every box of photos in every attic in every land, indexing them by a simplified universal code no matter their originating language or culture in order to make them searchable.

Everything, everywhere.

I would send every last chemical weapon into the heart of the sun. I would place all the nuclear warheads into reactors. I would shore the abandoned mines. I would replace combustion engines with hybrid versions. I would devise a viable, clean-burning solution for commercial aircraft.

Perfectly. Exactly. I would tear down all the billboards, all the ads.

Then I began to spiral out of control.

I dissolved munitions factories. Playing judge, jury and executioner, I decided to empty the prisons, perishing the admitted murderers and those beyond rehabilitation, wiping the memories of lesser offenders and sending them back onto the streets with no memory of their sentence. I would murder the warlords, the corrupt politicians, the abductors, the molesters and the evil, removing all trace of their existence from any record.

(I stopped short before deciding to look into the hearts of man and thin the population by two-thirds in order to “maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature,” according to the recently erected *Georgia Guidestones.)

And when it was all said and done, when everything was as complete as I could get it, I’d write the following words in hundred-foot letters on the White Cliffs of Dover, across the deserts of the American Southwest, across the great golden beaches of the East Coast, across the frozen Tundra, scratched across the across the chalkboards of every classroom and the main streets of every city and every town around the globe:


And then I’d wake the world, and try to look as surprised as anyone else.

Eventually the field was completely mowed. Eventually the mower ran out of gas. Eventually the sun went down. Eventually the focus passed. Eventually the songs ended. Eventually the batteries died.

I was hungry and tired. I thought about food. I tried not to think about girls, but I’d been shoving a gas-powered vibrator around all fucking day, pushing it with my hips when my arms got tired. Instead, I began to wonder how the world would interpret my actions. How long would it take for the scope of the thing to settle in? Imagine the horror, the resulting implications. How long would it take before they noticed the details? Would I inadvertently terrify the population? Would suicides skyrocket? Would they say that God obviously had “strong opinions on certain subjects,” such as the eradication of cigarettes and junk food? Would this cause a rise or fall in religious belief? Would they maintain the order I’d set forth? How would they interpret my warning?  Would they rebuild the chemical stockpiles?

Eventually I escaped from that penal colony, never to mow another mile in my life. (Eventually the grass grew back. Eventually someone else had to mow it.)

But eventually, even the idea went away. It still comes back in the Spring when I hear the mowers, when I smell cut grass, and when the sun returns on those first feeble days when you can almost get warm just by standing still.

I still arrange objects to my liking, though.


(*Jesus fucking Christ, no wonder I’m single…)

Like tears in rain

What happens here no longer belongs to me.

What happens here no longer belongs to me.

This house in Columbus, Ohio, was the first place I ever heard Frank Zappa. It was 1984. The kids in school wore Gazelle glasses and suede Pumas. Here began ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’, ‘The Terminator’, ‘Amadeus’ and ‘Dune’. Pac-Man was four, the Walkman was six, and MTV was our new god.

It happened like this: one rainy Saturday morning in November, I was sitting on that porch waiting for my friend Kelly Savage when he opened the front door brandishing the monster fucking boom box his parents his bought him with a “Q-FM 96.6 ROCKS” BMX bike pad wrapped around the handle. He set the radio on the rail and pressed play. The album was Joe’s Garage, and at the time it felt rebellious. I was young. I didn’t know anything much beyond library books and bike rides, or maybe catching the odd glimpse of a breast during ‘Clash of The Titans’. This was the world pre-Internet, before texting dick pics became the sport of kings and 6th graders. We got our sex-ed the old-fashioned way; bullshit stories about the girls we claimed we’d already fingered, a stash of Penthouse magazines under your bed, and, if you played your cards right, a game of Truth or Dare on New Year’s Eve. Everything was young and we were still dumb.

I played my first game of Spin The Bottle on that porch, that upstairs bedroom was the first place I ever heard Cheech & Chong, and that patch of grass to the right of the sidewalk was the first place I ever lost a fight. (There would be many more.) The strange thing about the past is that sometimes I get the idea that I’m going back there again someday, but not in a way I even remotely understand, and certainly not one that doesn’t make me sound like I’m batshit crazy.

Years pass.

“Elf Girl and the Battle of Evermore” happened one night in the summer of 1991. I’d recently escaped from an orbiting penal colony and crash-landed in Central Ohio. Riding around with new friends, the driver pulled up to a side street residence. The back door on my side opened, and a tall girl wearing a Baja pullover, holy jeans, gold-rimmed glasses and a pair of brown moccasin boots climbed in, bringing with her the scent of patchouli. Like theme music, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Battle of Evermore’ began the moment she entered, and hurriedly straddled me. Everything stopped.

The stereo was good and loud, and the sound filled the car. The door slammed shut and we were away, the acceleration shoving her hard against me. It all happened so fast, but I remember the weight of her body, the clean scent of her hair, and the length of her limbs. She was soft and warm like the surf on a distant beach and I fought the urge to wrap my arms around her and bury my face in her stars.

She looked down at me as the streetlights flashed by and smiled her hello and I said hello back, silently begging my brain for something meaningful to say, something that would start a real conversation, but I could think of nothing and so we rode in silence. Her arrival coalesced with everything suddenly important in my life at that moment: D&D, which I’d just started playing; better music, which I’d just started enjoying, and the concept of sex, which I knew nothing of. Her eyes were big and brown, and she tucked her hair behind her ears with strong fingers. I was trying not to stare at her and take the whole thing in stride, as if this sort of thing happened to me all the time, but I couldn’t help it. I felt the pull of magnets.

“Hey, I’m good here, thanks!” Reverie aborted. The car rolled to a stop and I fumbled with the door handle as she clambered off my lap and sauntered into the night and out of my life, her departure perfectly timed with the end of the song. I never even knew her name. I wanted to scramble out after her.

“Wait, who are you? Where are you going? What are you doing?” But I was too shy. I had no money, no car, and I spent the majority of my time toiling away at a moderately shitty job for laughable pay. What could I offer her? What was I gonna do, catch the bus to her house and hope to talk her shirt off? What would we talk about? I’d never know. As the car pulled away I asked the driver who she was, but he only shrugged. Maybe she’d awed him as well. Maybe we were just four nerds riding around in the Midwest night talking shit, wishing we could open our mouths and minds beyond Highlander quotes and plans for pizza. You only know what you know when you know it.

The shotgun said something I don’t recall; maybe he made a comment about her, maybe he blurted out a line from a movie. Only time remembers. But the crux was lost and I was too embarrassed to inquire any further into the matter, and definitely too cool in my head to risk someone else knowing I’d fallen for a total stranger in only five minutes and thirty-seven seconds.

Decades pass.

Waiting for the conclusion of the boarding ceremony aboard a flight from SFO to ORF via ATL. Passengers deposit coins, crushed flowers and offerings of oranges upon the altar just outside the cockpit door where fresh incense burns. Sky Ninjas rehearse their fighting style in slow kata: ‘Two Exits Fore and Aft’ style beats ‘Emergency Aisle Lighting’ style beats ‘Butter Bowl Over Your Face In Moments Of Duress’ style beats ‘Follow Along In Passenger Safety Information Card’ style.

I’m wearing a faded band t-shirt, clean jeans, a pressed blazer, and hiking shoes. Today is a good hair day. Presently the engines engage and we break the bonds of gravity.

The pilot’s got all the spells memorized; he knows how to manipulate the artifacts and keep the math happening, recite the incantations for gravity, lift, drag, and thrust…

I never even got her name. She was traveling with friends. She said she worked in tech. She was tall and nervous. Maybe her parents were part deer, and part desert flower. Maybe she was born in a summer rain. Maybe her blood type was Commodore 64. She appeared to be all of these things, but I’ll never know. We exchanged small talk as we lined up on the causeway, waiting our turn to place items on the altar, waiting for the ballet of common courtesy to hurry along. She smiled at me again before she took her seat several rows behind me, and I never saw her again.

This is the extent of my relationships as of late.

We hang on to the past when we cannot touch the present or hear the future. The void could be comfortable, but it’s not. Solitude should be peaceful, but it’s not. It feels like a posh coffin.

Pack a large van with a team of experts and a small mountain of Pelican cases. Drive south to a small town in North Carolina. Take over a hotel, and fake a plane crash. Make believe that a Boeing 747 made an emergency landing in a nearby river. Maybe you got lucky, maybe none of the imaginary passengers died. Maybe the only thing spilled was jet fuel. Deal with the repercussions. Explain to the reporters in the next room that aviation fuel is extremely lightweight and will evaporate quickly. Educate strangers with hand grenades of information. Exercise your growing understanding of high-risk, low-trust situation models. Communicate the following concept without actually saying it: You want your packages delivered overnight, right? Well, someone’s gonna have to fly them. Fuel will be burned. Sometimes planes fail. You take the good, you take the bad, you something-something, and there you have the Facts of Life. Now drink your fucking latte.

Return home. Tell no one about this.

Bury everything you know and dig as deep as you can. Remember that the good stuff sinks into the earth. Surface truth washes away like grass seed in a warm summer rain, and nothing shallow lasts. Consider the thin veneer of civility inherent in the Machine Culture. Realize that your final days will feel like falling through a long tunnel of locks as you attempt to solve them with split-second decisions, or sometimes by slamming your face against them.

Every mile hurts. Don’t expect Band-Aids. Write about going back with all the chips in your favor; put your present self in your 4th grade body and watch the hilarity ensue. Listen to Mudhoney on loop. Read some Marshall McCluhan. Plan a long drive to Asheville with the windows down.

“Remember to come on a Friday,” she said. “You won’t want to miss the drum circle.”

Something-something armored pollen,

Xina and The Fox – the TV Guide listings

Xina Giatas, covert Russian spy, time traveler and friend of pizza.

Xina Giatas – covert Russian spy, crime-fighting style maven, time-traveler, vinyl enthusiast, and pizza aficionado.

So, I’ve never actually met Xina Giatas. Not in person, anyway. We once shared the same Williamsburg, Brooklyn, neighborhood but only really began conversing on Twitter after I’d moved south to a Prospect Park brownstone with my then-girlfriend. We’ve spoken on the phone just three times in as many years. I can’t even be sure she’s real. Judging by the photos I’ve seen of her, Xina Giatas is a time-traveler brought here from the 1950s by a prestigious NYC ad firm to be the spokesperson for incredible hair and creamy skin. I wrote and texted her the following TV Guide summaries for her very own action adventure series during the course of our friendship after she mentioned her love of foxes, vinyl, vodka, and pizza with truffle oil and mushrooms. 

Fox – a creature full of secrets. Where does his telekinetic ability come from? What about his secret history in the Army? And what the *fuck does he plan on doing with all those motorcycle helmets?

TONIGHT: (Pilot) ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina re-organizes her vinyl collection by color. Fox brushes his teeth. (Gene Simmons guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ When Manhattan is threatened by a cyber-enhanced monkey army, Xina decides that now would be a good time to visit Rhode Island. Fox encounters his latent telekinetic ability. (David Bowie guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina opens a detective agency to solve neighborhood mysteries. Fox makes a car payment. (Willie Nelson guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Tempers flare when Fox refuses to cap the toothpaste after he’s used it. Xina tries out for an all-girl hockey team. (Jello Biafra guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina goes on a date with a pizza. Fox wins big in the Cash Cab and takes everyone out for drinks. (Edward Furlong guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina goes undercover as a nun at a remote mountain monastery where the monks are smuggling stolen diamonds. Fox launches a daring hot air balloon rescue when her cover is blown. (Al Jorgensen guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina gets engaged to a pizza. Fox is forced to go undercover as a cab driver to thwart a prostitution ring. (Lemmy Kilmister guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina’s latent pyrokinetic ability surfaces, burning her pizza fiancé to a crisp. Fox loses an eyebrow. (PJ Harvey, musical guest star)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina halts a counterfeit penguin ring preying on cruise ship passengers along Alaska’s Inside Passage. Fox burns the Thanksgiving turkey and orders take out Chinese. (Iggy Pop, musical guest star)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina bumps her head on the medicine cabinet door and unlocks her long dormant alter-ego, a Russian super-spy named Mia. Fox orders out for pizza. (Lemmy Kilmeister guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina does her hair while Fox types away at his first novel; a dystopian tale of a world where hip-hop never existed. (Lars Ulrich guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina takes bathroom selfies on a train ride. Fox wins a spot on a game show but his winning streak is cruelly cut short when it’s revealed that he’s actually a common fox with no grasp of human speech, or trivia. (Stephen Fry guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Fox, still reeling from his humiliating mistreatment by a bullying game show host, builds a rocket ship, fills it with potato chips and comic books, and prepares for a one-way trip to Mars. Xina offers friendly advice and shares her pizza. (Lenny Kravitz, musical guest star)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Fox departs in his comic-stocked rocket ship on a quest to find his people. Xina calls in a favor and throws him a farewell party. (Henry Rollins guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina goes for a ride around Manhattan in a glass-bottomed helicopter sipping mint juleps. Fox deals with technical difficulties aboard his rocket, now hurtling through deep space. (Leelee Sobieski guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina goes under cover to the set of a cooking show in order to foil counterfeit truffle smugglers. A cosmic freak of nature lands Fox on Mars weeks ahead of schedule. (Ewan McGregor guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina fights to save an orphanage by using her spy skills in the UFC ring. Fox makes a new friend on Mars and sends Xina a postcard. (Edward Norton guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Fox meets the King of Mars and finds some common ground. Xina gets involved with a handsome MI6 agent and has to decide between him or pizza. (Daniel Craig guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina treats herself to a relaxing day of acupuncture and sushi. Fox enjoys a splendid picnic of cucumber sandwiches, potato salad and dandelion wine at the base of Olympic Mons. (Samuel L. Jackson guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina roams the city streets in search of meaning and pizza. Fox readies his rocket ship for the return to Earth, but is the Earth ready for Fox? (Social Distortion, musical guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ It’s a very different Fox that opens the hatch when his rocket ship touches down in Prospect Park. Xina throws him a welcome home party and does her best to ignore the glowing eyes. (Trent Reznor guest stars)

TONIGHT: On the season finale of ‘Xina and The Fox,’ Fox, recently home from Mars, pays a friendly visit to his arch-nemesis the game show host and forgives his earlier transgressions with mind bullets. Xina decides she’s basically gonna walk the Earth. “You know, like Cain in Kung Fu; walk from place to place, meet people, get in adventures.” (Stephen Fry guest stars)

TONIGHT: On the season premiere of ‘Xina and The Fox,’ Xina returns from her brief stint as an Indy car driver and finds Fox working part time in an occult store, struggling to come to terms with his new Martian identity. (David Duchovny guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina is on the run when the Agency wants to confine her to a secret underground compound for wayward agents. Fox acquires a smack habit. (Lou Reed guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina is reluctantly paired with a double-crossing convict who claims he can permanently clear her debt with the Agency. Fox: thongs, bongs, and a missing $800. (Courtney Love guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina takes the night off to do her nails. Fox hosts an old Army buddy who is not what he seems. (Bruce Willis guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina takes a modeling gig to persuade a former KGB agent to delete her Russian handler, once and for all. Fox sets out to foil a nuclear threat at the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas and winds up on a whiskey bender, loosening his grip on his latent telekinetic abilities. (Ozzy Osbourne guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Shit gets real when Xina survives a car bomb planted by her Russian handler who wants her super-spy alter ego “Mia” back on the payroll — or in the ground. Fox buys a motorcycle helmet. (Tricky guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina gets the goods on her Russian handler and exposes him to the Agency, who promise to leave “Mia” alone for now. Fox buys another motorcycle helmet. (Rick Rubin guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Mia’s estranged Russian handler comes in for the kill while Xina is enjoying the sights from atop the Empire State Building. Fox buys another motorcycle helmet. (William Shatner guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Rid of her handler at last, Xina goes out for victory pizza only to have her latent pyrotechnic ability surface yet again. Fox experiences a moment of clarity. (The Strokes, musical guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Fox explores trancendental meditation and sensory deprivation tanks in an effort to rid himself of the ghost of Mars and get his life back on track. Xina eats a delicious sandwich on a relaxing train ride and takes some selfies in the bathroom. (Liz Phair guest stars)IMG_9731-4

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Free at last of his Martian ghost, Fox is swindled by a cab driver who refuses to take him to Brooklyn, fully unleashing Fox’s telekinetic abilities and causing tremendous damage to the cab. Xina scores big at the thrift store. (Ozzy Osbourne guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ The police launch a citywide manhunt in search of a dangerous and telekinetic Fox. Xina orders in Cuban for a change. (Ray Liotta guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Fox finds sanctuary with a group of Minutemen in the Northern Adirondacks, but clashes with their leader. Xina’s plans for a weeklong getaway to Iceland are hampered when the Agency calls in a favor. (Bjork guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ Xina agrees to one last mission as “Mia” in exchange for a full pardon for Fox, who in turn agrees to a deadly game of mumbletypeg with the psychotic leader of the Minutemen. (Milla Jovovich guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ “Mia” thwarts a plot to assassinate the President and makes a new friend. Awkward tension mounts in the Minutemens’ secret camp when Fox phones in an order for halal. (Moby guest stars)

TONIGHT: ‘Xina and The Fox.’ “Mia” steals a helicopter and stages a daring rescue raid on the Minutemen camp, but Fox has a few loose ends to tie off first. (Bruce Dickinson guest stars)

TONIGHT: On the season finale of ‘Xina and The Fox,’ Xina, free of the Agency’s grip, makes it back to the city in time for happy hour and dance class. Fox, fully pardoned for his telekinetic crimes, buys a fake mustache and gets a job at a record store, happy to have his life back. But will it last? (El-P guest stars)

You can follow Xina’s real life exploits here:

Work site – xinagiatas.com
Tumblr – xinagiatas.tumblr.com/
IG – instagram.com/blonderexic
Twitter – https://twitter.com/blonderexic
Podcast – http://www.rawmeetradio.com/

Each to Each / Saturnalia

A loud monolog in a Los Angeles hotspot, already in progress: “…I mean really! Why should we care if a movie pissed off an entire country? The publicity generated will bring us eleventy-nine wheelbarrows of cold hard revenue carted in by a conga line of Spanish hookers (gestures around him) and definitely the best seats in the house for Sunday brunch, am I right? Hey, garçon! Yeah, I said it; don’t roll that glass eye at me! Do you have any idea who else I’ve pissed off this week? Does the name KOREA mean anything to you? Well, then I’d suggest you step lively with the cocaine omelets and puffer fish waffles! And we’re gonna need more coffee! Haven’t you heard? We’re living (in) the dream!”

Gather round, kids. It’s a very special episode of Flying Time. This week, it’s ORF to ORD to HOTH. We’re presently on the tarmac in Chicago, awaiting permission from the Sky God. I have seen many things and been many places, but no matter where I go or what I do when I fly, I never once expected a foul-mouthed, wisecracking, no-nonsense New York cop with an itchy trigger finger, an aversion to Eurotrash terrorists and a never-say-die spirit to board the flight and plop himself into the seat next to me.

I take one bud out of my ear and speak after a long pause, blinking in disbelief. “Oh, great. You’re that guy, aren’t you? The Nakatomi Plaza cowboy…”

John McClane, hard as nails but gifted with more depth and dimension than was expected of most ‘80s action heroes lets out a weary sigh and a slow nod. “Yeah, that’s me.”

“Uh, listen…” I look around. “Is there gonna be some… you know, some shit? On this flight?” I’m visually assessing the other passengers for their usefulness as allies, foes, or fodder, gauging the distance to the exits, and trying to remember the precise or at least the useful contents of my backpack.

There’s a long pause, and a sidelong glance of resignation. “I hope not. I’m just trying to go somewhere, same as you.”

“Okay. Okay, that’s good.”

“Yeah. That’s good.” I put my ear bud back in and lean back in my seat.

Moments after take-off, I experience a terrible pain; a sudden stabbing, tingling sensation bursts into existence just above my left eye, possibly the result of hallucinating John McClane into existence. It feels like I tripped and fell face-first into a bear trap lined with hypodermic needles and fishhooks; an unwelcome sensation experienced only one other time in 2014. I was on a return flight from AK coming through DFW, when I thought I was giving birth to the Devil through my forehead. I did not see Detective McClane at that time.

Three hours later, everything has gone pear-shaped. We were ten minutes from HOTH when the pilot decided the tail wind was too great to land. “Uh, sorry folks we’re gonna turn back to Chicago…” As he spoke those words, the stabbing pain returned. John McClane did not.

(Remain calm. This is nothing. You’ve been maced, gassed, and divorced. You can handle this…) Back at the customer service counter, there’s one representative per 25 harried passengers. No one in a 50-yard radius is even remotely happy. The next confirmed flight departs on 24DEC, 1030. My debit card isn’t working so I can’t get a coffee, I left my medkit at home (again! Lesson learned!) and the child to my immediate right won’t stop screaming.

“Atlas, I need you to behave, now, Atlas, come here, no Atlas, listen to mommy, Atlas, give me your hand, no, Atlas don’t climb on that…” The mother was harried, worn. Suddenly my night seems like cake in the face of what she’s dealing with. Atlas is doing everything except shrugging.

Thank fuck for the USO and free turkey sandwiches. It’s now 0300. I was stuck here during the blizzard of ’11. I remember pacing the corridor just beyond the door from where I’m sitting now as I talked to a girl on the phone for hours. She meant everything to me and it was a very hopeful conversation. I never wanted it to end. By the time we hung up, I’d forgotten about the snow, about the delays, about everything but her voice and her laugh, which always made me feel good. That was a million miles ago. Now she’s just another rose-colored shadow.

The weather report is calling for whiteout conditions in this area tomorrow. I’ve got a friend in the area who’s promised me her couch and a go at her whiskey. If only we’d left on time! But the pilot wanted to wait for extra fuel, which, as it turns out, we needed because we missed our window to land and had to fly back. I bet the Psychic Friends Network never saw that one coming.

I dozed off in a recliner directly beneath the roaring chill of an air conditioner without a blanket. I did not sleep long, but dreamed fitfully of a woman who can unhinge her lower jaw and cast it out like a spear, latching onto her victims with her perfect teeth as she flagellates them with her eyelashes, which writhe and whip like sea anemone. Eventually her prey ceases to struggle, calmed by tranquilizer darts fired from her cheek guns, which emerge with a whirring click and proceed to pump her quarry with enough narcotics to drop the lead horse in the final stretch of the Kentucky Derby. The feeding begins. It’s a strange old world we live in. CUE RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH

Post HOTH, I’m sitting through the preflight safety brief on the return leg to ORD. I’m comforted by the pilot’s voice, the calculated rundown of airspeed, travel times and temperatures reaching back to us from somewhere beyond the locked cockpit door, the demarcation line of responsibilities. As I soak in the numbers, I study the face of the flight attendant. Her name is Nikki, and she’s beautiful. She has generous dimples, auburn hair and awkward ears, all of which serve to highlight the clean lines of her jaw. She smiles with her eyes when she speaks, which causes them to glitter like wet gemstones. Would I drive Nikki to the hospital in the middle of the night if she needed me to? Would I hold her hand in public? Would I surprise her with lunch or tickets to a show? Could I make her laugh? Yes, I think I would, and could. Would she care equally for me? Hard to say, probably not, but it’s a moot point to begin with as we exchange little more than pleasantries when she brings me hot water for my tea.

This is the extent of my relationships as of late.

Dear 9-year-old me,

On January 5, 2015, at the age of 43, you will be sitting in a tavern in Norfolk, VA, with a good friend and co-worker. You’ll be eating macaroni and cheese with chicken dusted in truffles and drinking a glass of merlot you can barely afford. You and your friend will have spent most of the afternoon and evening walking around your neighborhood playing a virtual game on your smart phones; a combination telephone, video player, jukebox, notebook, calendar, bank, file cabinet, compass, and world map condensed into a device small enough to fit comfortably in the left front pocket. The game is called Ingress, and it’s a combination of Othello, Capture the Flag, and Assassin. You have all of your teeth, all of your hair, and you are still in good physical condition with the exception of the lens in your left eye, which is artificial. You have seven tattoos, and you drive a brand new Volkswagen Beetle that looks like a blob of mercury, or a small silver spaceship. You travel, shoot, write and laugh for a living.

That’s gonna have to do for now.