I’m waiting, half-awake, sitting with my notebook open, my headphones in, doing my best to hear the background hum; the random bits of conversation that trickle in from other worlds and are far easier to detect up here in the thinner air than they are amidst the endless distractions on the ground. They either come, or they don’t.
Sometimes at night I’ll be jolted awake by a noise that sounds like someone has been calling my name for the past ten minutes without success and has finally gotten angry enough to shout at me. “WHAT?” I’ll snap awake, responding with equal annoyance. There’s never a reply. Maybe they’re calling from a situation where they only had enough energy to call me once.
Maybe the Aborigines were onto something; maybe this crowded flight to Charlotte is the daydream and I’m actually standing in line at that bizarre little coffee shop on Berkley Place in Brooklyn where the barista has been holding out my order and calling my name and when I snap out of it, it’ll still be 2011. Yes, perhaps that would explain things…
Maybe I’ve been living in a fugue state for the past six years, and each left and right turn in this world has corresponded neatly to the others like mirrored strategies in 3-D chess (or, in perhaps yet a third layer, I’ve long since driven off a bridge or veered into oncoming traffic and I’m dreaming two final worlds at once in these dwindling moments immediately after life support has been disconnected; my unfettered brain free to roam, my empty body (of an indeterminate age?) surrounded by people from this third alternate reality. How deep does the stack really go?
No longer aboard this A321 headed for CLT, not yet 45 and not yet a stranger to my own reflection, I expect I’d accept my coffee with a stunned thanks and look absently around for a place to sit, moving mechanically, blinking off the dream even as I’m trying to recall everything I now knew about one possible timeline before the details disappear.
“There was something about standing in front of people teaching a system and I was flying everywhere and I just kept driving from one car to the next. There was that guy I met once in New England during the Titanic thing and that woman I worked for briefly in D.C., and there was someone else but I can’t remember where I know her from. I was in California for some reason and then I lived in a cave,” I’d scribble in my notebook, consciously aware that the mental effort required to form individual legible letters was coming from the opposite side of my brain as the dream, and soon the more logical side would be wide awake.
Looking around me, staring at the details, trying to seat myself in this moment if this moment is truly my reality. Something happened to the people I dreamt. Where are they now? How many times has this happened?
If I can recall any of this, I’ll have to relive those remembered events exactly if I’m to recreate them or give those people their alternate futures back. If I get even a single detail out of order from this moment forward, the whole thing will fade away and I’ll be the only one to remember this timeline.
The screen door slams. Mary’s dress waves.
Wearing long sleeves so no one can read my mind. A crisp black t-shirt, oversize hoodie, pressed jeans, hiking shoes, reading glasses. It’s a good hair day. Waiting for the conclusion of the boarding ceremony aboard a flight from CLT to ORF. Prayers to the Sky God are met with a curt nod. “Yes, very nice, thank you.” Fresh oranges in the beaten copper bowl, incense lit. Sky God knows when you’ve been naughty and he knows when you’ve been good. You’re still gonna get lubed into a narrow seat meant for a waif approximately half your size, bookended by two other giants suffering similar fates with the rest of the rats seated 35 deep in coach while the Sky Ninjas drone their eye-rolling thanks to the One World and Advantage travelers seated ahead of the curtain. The Ninjas begin their slow kata: Two Exits Fore and Aft, Emergency Lighting, Butter Bowl Over Your Face In Moments Of Extreme Duress, Passenger Safety Information Card. The pilot’s got all the spells memorized, he knows how to manipulate the artifacts and keep the math happening. Gravity, lift, drag, thrust. Fire up the engines and break the bonds of gravity.
Trying to remember what it was like to chase the future, catching glimpses in the scratched plexiglass windows of tattered Brooklyn bodegas selling worn cans of tuna fish and combs from the 1980s. The gutters of the subways full of spent phone cards and burner phones… swarms of MacBooks in coffee houses piloted by barefoot hipsters dressed fashionably poor while sporting thousands of dollars in tattoo flash like racing team coveralls.
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 to a warm summer rain and nothing shallow lasts. The thin veneer of civility is inherent in Machine Culture. Write about going back, placing your modern self in your 4th grade body and watching the hilarity ensue. Listen to Mudhoney on loop. Read more Marshall McLuhan. Plan a drive to D.C.
Get around to renewing your passport sooner rather than later.