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.”