Saturday, April 26, 2008

Deranged thoughts of an otherwise sane man on an airplane

What follows was scribbled with pencil in a notebook during my 13-hour flight from New York to Beijing. I reproduce it not as an exemplar of writing but as a glimpse into my state of mind. The bracketed, italicized parts are my present-day additions.

12:58 p.m. ET: 13 hr, 8 min flight - announcement

1:15 p.m.: Today is the best day, of spring dresses

[On Thursday, April 10, the first true day of spring, with a sun that was at last unafraid, I was running errands along Broadway in the area of Columbia University when I found myself utterly dazzled by the vast array of spring dresses on shapely young women, most of them, I assure you, of age to be ogled, and even desperate to seek that attention from eyes which wandered like hound dogs cut loose. Flowery dresses and varicolored dresses and plain white dresses with black crisscrosses and dresses with curved lines and jutting lines and patches and of all lengths, some to the ankle, others mid-calf, still others exposing the smooth richness to which we'd bow. That day I composed a few lines of poetry in my head, then promptly forgot about it until 1:15 p.m. on the airplane, when I realized I couldn't recapture that initial feeling, at least not with that toddler wailing like a banshee.]

You get to know yourself on a 13-hr flight. Not that you didn't know yourself before, but every thought, every piddling idea, every reflected glare in the seat-back's black screen, gets your attention -- undivided, at times. This is nothing new for me, a typically hyper-self-aware individual. But I can imagine the horror others may associate with this realization: that perhaps we don't control our thoughts after all, and, in turn, we control nothing.

2:27: The meal they served came on a flimsy plastic tray, but the contents were surprisingly good. My "steak" was juicy, the salad was fresh, and the roll went down easy. The portion was just right, too. Afterwards I stuffed a fortune cookie and chocolate brownie in my jacket's inner-pocket, feeling like the main protagonist in Alexander Solzychkin's [Solzhenitsyn] One Day in the Life of Ivan Deninsovich [Denisovich], who would tear pieces of bread from his breakfast ration and go through meticulous motions to save it for later in the day. Life in the gulags. Life on an airplane. The similarities are apparent.
(Now back to The Orchard Keeper)

3:26: Gonna try to sleep for a bit. Guy to my left is snoring.

6:10: Just ate the brownie. It was delicious.

6:25: Shuffled my iPod and the 2nd song to play (3rd - skipped Bach's Concerto) was Modest Mouse's Shit Luck, which begins with the singer screaming acapela [a cappella], "This plane is definitely going to crash!" [The plane is definitely crashing]

Between her tongue and his teeth they try to find music - or something like that, from Neutral Milk Honey

8:01: Served breaded chicken - Pierre Creations
amazing taste
watching The Great Debaters

11:10: -Fine-tuned supersonic speed machine

I have to relate lyrics from my iPod to keep my mind functioning. I napped an hour and a half on the plane and slept about a couple hours last night, which means I'm gonna have a hell of a time staying up through this day. My energy is fine, but my poor mind is not. They speculate sleep allows the brain to sort through the day's events and choose which to commit to long-term memory. I guess this means nothing I do today will have lasting consequences on my conscience, lest somehow I do a thing for which my punishment is delayed, or prolonged.

In other parts of the my quickly fading mind, I'm a little upset I missed (am missing) Spurs-Suns today. Maybe they'll rerun it on CTV. Actually, I'm betting they will. [They didn't.]

Was reading Lolita a little earlier - that narrator is one flawed dude.

[Next I tried composing a sonnet but, with horror, realized I forgot how the rhyme scheme goes. Turns out I had it right -- abab cdcd efef gg -- but I couldn't bring myself to polish the final two lines because I wasn't sure. Anyway, the poem is reproduced below, with a final couplet.]

Sex-as-pleasure did not itself sire;
The concept rose out of human genius,
Innovations like agriculture, fire;
Before that, language; later, the census
To track who has sex with whom and how soon
Hungry mouths emerge to devour our food,
Consume our time, eviscerate the boon
Times when our sex came and went with our moods.
What must our ancestors above have felt
Watching us roll in knolls like bonobos?
They sent us Catholicism, sin, guilt --
Dispossessing us, recasting our mold --
Giving us doubt, then dogma, then pretext,
Misdefining the very meaning of sex.

11:45: Writing a sonnet and forgetting the rhyme pattern. What was it?

I wonder if anyone is reading over my shoulder, this light alone casting me under a halo amid tilted heads in dimness.

Another poem to come.

[This one's a little underdeveloped and needs a bit of revising...]

As fairy tales go, it was a pretty good one,
absent of cynicism while bustling
with good intentions and an earnest, fresh-eyed innocence
that children possess, which makes us envy.
I'll try my best to recall, but I warn,
it's been a while.

There was a princess
who alone could make the prince love.
He was a narcissist who spent his days
raising his eyebrow in front of the palatial mirror,
eighteen feet tall by thirteen feet wide,
and occasionally pursing his lips
as if the mirror could reciprocate.

The princess was a striking beauty,
5'9'', golden-red locks of hair bouncing shoulder-length,
deep-set blue eyes under curvaceous lids, a nose
that defies description, lips
which enriched the air passing through.
She could sing, too, but that's another story.

They met - as they do in fairy tales -
at a joust, with him sitting on his future throne and she
atop a mighty white horse galloping at murderous speed
towards her overmatched opponent.
"Who is that magnificent creature?" the prince asked.
And within three days they were wed in the court's chapel,
attended by all the regulars - you know them,
the talking frog, the fashion forward pelican,
mice that walk on twos, even the fox, the good one
who saves chicks (he is, needless to say,
an object of shame to other foxes).

She taught him to love.
I don't remember the details of how it happened,
and the ending's a bit fuzzy, but I do remember it ended
not with happily ever after but the mirror,
scorned, alone, withering before our eyes like those tricked into a witch's spell,
its poor old heart broken as it beseeched the cold, empty room,
"What, oh but what, did I do?"

12:10 p.m.: Last time I sat in an international flight I met and sat next to an absolute godsend of a beauty, a 30-year-old Ukrainian-American who I took for being 21 - and she insisting more than once in a flirty voice that she acts much younger than her age, promise. When she looked at me I felt the most gut-wrenching pressure to say something witty or world-shatteringly insightful. [I was also overcome with the most helpless feeling of knowing I wasn't good enough.] Those eyes - she felt they were too yellow, but I could only focus on their size, almost disproportionately big on her small face, as close to a cartoon drawing as you could get. "I might have some Genghis Khan blood in me," she said when I revealed to her that a quarter of all Asians probably descended from Khan [APOCRYPHAL!]

This flight I was not so fortunate. I did not stay awake for all 13 hours (close) and wish the flight would never end, that we could be told to keep a holding pattern so that this immense beauty, this succulent creature [I just shuddered reading this], might fall asleep on my shoulder. [Barf]

The Great Debaters was actually very good, for what it was. As a former 4-yr debater, my only problem w/ it was the truncated speeches. Oh well. 8/10

12:21: Just cracked open my fortune cookie: "You are given the chance to take part in an exciting adventure." Lucky numbers: 3, 4, 6, 8, 44, 45.

12:44: Breakfast was very good.
Another poem:

When I was 12 or 13 I fell deeply in love
with a distant cousin of mine when we were
in China. She was 18, or 17, and when she left
(before I left) I must have been on the verge of tears.

As the years passed, I convinced myself she was waiting
for me to turn her age. At 16 it was not the car
I celebrated but the indisputable knowing

that I was that much closer. At 18
I felt I could represent ____

[I wanted the blank to express the breadth of the world, so big nothing could encompass it. Alas, I couldn't find the right words to pull it off. (Notice the time stamp).]

1:00: The excitement just set in. Soon I'll be filling out paperwork, then meeting my uncle at the airport and shuttling into the city, place of my birth.

1:28: Begin descent into Beijing

1:38: The plane's having a rough go of it. First (or second) turbulence of the flight, except it doesn't really feel like turbulence... the plane's simply dropping in altitude by literally dropping, horizontally. It's like a bad roller coaster ride. They might want to fucking stabilize this before someone pukes. [The guy behind me would eventually puke, or at least dry heave.]

1:54: Toddler WAILING
has to be a conscious decision on his part, his mis-developed brain having convinced itself crying will get him what he wants. I blame the parents.

Tiring of his own exertions. Going from hoary, high-pitched screeches to tired, painful, constipated sighs that are almost

Few seconds before 2: Landed. Roughly.

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