Sitting on the airplane next to a tall, thin young man with narrow wrists and a nose that hints at having been raised well and thoughtfully. His skin is poreless, this much I can see. He orders a burger from the United cart and eschews the bun, taking big gobbly bites that say that eating is something he wishes he didn’t have to do. He seems embarrassed to partake. I imagine that he wants to get back to his device, a device of a size that tells me I know nothing of the ocean of possibilities in technology. It sits before him on the tray. He keeps his hands in his lap and his body seems so straight and yet comfortable and still, and I think, this younger generation. There is so much they know that I don’t.
I have some drink coupons so I order Canadian Club, two please, and 7Up, and the young man watches the small brown bottles handed over him with a vague interest that he is too polite to make obvious. I flash to all the writers and actors whom I look up to. I imagine how they would charm the steward into giving them more than their due, but that’s not me, here, back in steerage.
The conversation is brusk. I speak steadily and directly when I order because I am not immune to the youth’s judgment. He knows more at his young age about nutrition and work ethic and probably spiritual growth than I knew then or may ever know, but I order cocktails like a boss.
I know that the path of enlightenment is one of contradiction, and this ego of mine has its heroes: Bukowski, Bacon. The color of the futility of living for the future burns deep in me. I can’t help but order the drinks.
For much of my life, I have made the decision to wake at 5AM, meditate, write, exercise, eat cleanly. It always comes tomorrow. Today, I have a four-hour flight and I’m frustrated that I have not been able to write for many days. A membrane has grown over my mind, a thick membrane made of blood and voices that tell me that nothing I could write or say will matter. The CC&7 will lubricate it, tease it into suppleness and it will break open like a flower.
I can hear that my use of this metaphor says the cocktail is working already.
All the shades are closed but I say fuck it. I douse the row of the aircraft with white light as I crack open heaven. I want to see clouds. The formations outside are so majestic I hear Ave Maria and my heart sings with the beauty of it. I will never get over flying. I will never get over the wonder of the layers of cloud banks and the way that the land is laid out in squares and hieroglyphics and how some genius figured out how to transport bodies through the air. Earlier, the clouds were arranged in a graph, dollops of white set out in perfect rows and with a mathematical arrangement so precise it was hallucinatory.
The clouds now are cappuccino foam. The formations are so deep and stunning I completely forget that they mean storms. I can look right down into a cocoon of white, and I think, please, let me one day fall through the bank into these secret heavenly blue hollows and let them catch me.
On my connecting flight I sit next to a young woman to whom I move to speak, and then stop. I remember all of those years when people who sat next to me always had to say something. I never minded, but maybe she just wants to be in her own head.
She is stunningly gorgeous. All of the young women I see these days are stunningly gorgeous: skin so clear and makeup just so. I guess that’s what comes when you have been filmed every second of your life. I converted a family film from Super 8 film to digital not long ago. It contains about 20 seconds of my 12-year-old self. The rest of my time as a teenager is in memory banks of those who where there. It continues to shock me to see this film, to see me happily pushing around a raft in the river, happily sitting at a picnic table putting peanut butter on bread. My memory is of a sad, overweight bookworm who must have been a misery to be around. Not this long-legged, laughing delight. Our memories never do justice to our Now.
I remember that once I flew from Europe to New York and I was 22 years old and completely out of bounds. I remember trading a foot rub with a man sitting next to me on the plane. I remember saying goodbye as we left and never seeing him again. When I think of that, it feels like it must have happened on a different planet. Surely the young woman sitting next to me would be horrified to know this about me. Then again, we all have our secret moments.
When she sat down, this girl in short shorts and a college jersey, her hair and makeup cleaner and more exacting than mine has been in any moment of my life, I thought, just leave her alone. Since I’ve aged out, I always forget that I’m the one who is supposed to say hello. The older person is always obligated to ask questions of the younger. At that age people were always asking me questions and I didn’t even consider learning the art of asking back for many years. I guess it’s still a struggle.
I am out of time. Somehow life used to be about meeting and talking and connecting and now it is about dreaming of cloud banks and wondering, how much is me and how much a cloud? What is different about our particles, me and the cloud, and what would it take for the cloud to become me? For me to become the cloud, I know that equation.
What does it matter anyway, at the end of the day, at the end of the flight? Why take these thoughts so seriously? I exhale and try to hold the bottom of the breath as long as possible, until the tinnitus gets louder and I become aware of the little jump on my skin that sings my heartbeat. I close my eyes and sit in stillness. It is easy to let go of my mind here. I become vapor.
The drink is almost gone and now I guess a movie or maybe just sit eyes closed, hands on the keys, memory and language gone.