The Intricacies of Flying Coach: Part II

5: Up in the Air (JFK–>LAX)

At 8:30PM (2 hours and 25 minutes after intended) the DL417 readies for take-off. The flight attendant, who just moments ago walked up the aisle chanting water (no fewer than a dozen audible times — water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water… (see, kind of annoying, right?)), collects cups and pretzel bags. I lift up the plastic window shade to my right; I like watching take-off. 

You can tell that the air is really moist because, as the jet takes off, the white mist of condensed water vapor trailing behind the jet’s wing is really dense and visible.

Finally, we’re up in the air.

From a birds-eye view, you can see all the regimented battalions of NYC’s lights, which remind me of the satellitic earth-at-night photos you see in a Global Studies classroom. NYC is like an effulgent ecosystem of incandescent organisms; it is itself an organism — bright, beautiful; or perhaps, in an Agent-Smithian sort of way, cancerous and parasitic. Each individual dot of light could account for, say, a dozen people — there’s a lot of lights; that’s a lot of people.

I speculate that the girl in 27E is afraid of flying.[20]

In the air, you can hear the perennial whooshing hum of the turbine-engine (a sound which your cochlea seems to tune out in the way that your olfactory tunes out odors after a while), and we are in the middle of a cloud when suddenly I see a flash of lighting in the distance. My initial thought is to stop leaning my head against the window as a precaution,[21] and/but then I realize how silly of an idea that is. And then there’s a lighting bolt which flashes no more than a football field away — maybe even as close as a first-down’s-distance — from the jet’s wing, and it is shocking (no pun intended) to the point where I reflexively say (out loud): “holy shit! did you see—” upon whence I realized that I’m pretty much the only one on the plane who has his window open.[22]

As cool as nature’s light show is, I feel relieved when we make it into the stratosphere. At this point, the view is such that the troposphere acts as the bottom half of the horizon rather than the top, and there’s a rainbow gradient of the sun-setting-sky in view with a deep beautiful bloody-orange glow hovering over the gray and white tufts of sheeplike clouds; the wing of the jet, with all it’s bolts and hinges and brown diarrhetic rust streaks, is now a black silhouette against the colorful sky, which almost seems to be like unreal, in a CGIed sort of way; and every now and then some city lights peak out from between the clouds.[23]  Call it cliché, but think the term heavenly is merited, here.

“We do appreciate your patience,” the captain says through the gargled PA system, “we’re all in the same boat here…” and he goes on to (over)explain the reasons for the delay,[24] which basically amount to we don’t take off when the weather’s too shitty, and he’s (overly) apologetic and nice about it all in a way that makes me suspect that this pilot has had to deal with one too many consumer-passengers who’ve held, and haven’t been afraid to exercise, the power of the Official Formal Written Complaint Concerning Travel Inconveniences With Delta’s Elite Airline — his voice sounds like his job is on the line.

I did some reading and writing before opting to take advantage of the in-flight entertainment. The back of each seat’s headrest has a small (maybe 7.5″) touch-screen embedded into it which allows you to “choose from up to 300 movies, HBO®, SHOWTIME®, 18 channels of live satellite TV on select flights, 2500+ songs, TV and games, including in-flight trivia. Now that’s entertainment.” (Before take-off, as like a default screensaver thingamajig, the LCD cycles through a few advertisements for itself — the most interesting one reads: “You don’t share a seat. Why share a screen?”[25] I scroll through the options and am deciding between Spike Jonze’s Her and Jason Bateman’s Bad Words. Like an idiot, I choose Bad Words.[26][27]

I slept the rest of the flight.

6: Exiting Delta’s Flying Metal Tube

When we land in LAX, virtually everyone (including your humble narrator) takes out their phone — you can hear a few tintinnabular chimes from people who’ve had several texts sent mid-air and are only now receiving them. The pilot tells us to wait until the fasten-seatbelt sign has been turned off and he apologizes a fifth time for the delay.

When the unfasten-seatbelt bing (which is akin to an elevator bing) [28] is heard, there’s a consequential cacophony of glock-cocking-esque cli-cli-clicks.

Ms. 27E has stored her bag above my row, and/but she is rather petite, so she has to wait for American Psycho Guy to help remove her bag from the overhead compartment, and so I’m left in my row standing hunched over, waiting for them to get their shit moving; meanwhile, the person waiting behind them in the aisle takes this forty-five-second opportunity to check her iPhone and/but now she’s distracted by her handheld device, so she doesn’t notice when the aisle is clear after 27E and American Psycho have finally head-’em-up-move-’em-outted, which is actually a good thing, because it gives me the opportunity to put on my bag and maneuver my way into the narrow corridor and start head-’em-up-move-’em-outting myself; and (as an insignificant detail) 27E’s burgundy rolling-bag is like exactly the width of the aisle, and so I can hear a rhythmic fsht-fsht-fsht swiping of the bag’s sides against the adjacent seats’ armchairs as she wheels it through the egress — and, you know, it’s all just such a banal process that it warrants my writerly deployment of a verbose, polysyndeton-filled, run-on sentence.

As I exit, the effete flight attendant thanks me for flying with Delta and proclaims to sincerely hope that I enjoy LA.

7: Boarding Delta Airline’s Giant Flying Metal Tube (Complete w/ TV, Beverages, a Half-Asian Jew, and a Seventy-Six Year Old Woman w/ a Penchant For Horseback Riding and a Desire to go Skydiving) From LAX–>SYD.

After disembarking, I get onto a very long line in the adjacent gate to board the DL417 to SYD. The visages on this line remind me of the security queue in JFK (cf. Part I, section 2) — flat-faced, dull — what’s the word I’m looking for? — Bovine, that’s the word! — everyone on line (myself probably included) looks absolutely fuckin’ bovine.

There’s a newsstand to my left, which occludes people from walking, and/but as soon as I get past it, the gate-traffic gets hellish, in like a Tokyo-intersection sort of way — the line I’m standing on spaces out as families approach perpendicularly and maneuver around us, like river water maneuvering around boulders.[29]

As I get closer to boarding, I see a woman in the gate’s waiting area who I instantly decide to hate. This woman is probably in her forties and is wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans, and is heavily accoutered with metallic bracelets; she has dyed butterscotch-blonde hair (you can tell it’s dyed because of her roots) and she has what I speculate to be no less than four types of tan (natural-sun tan, UV-tanning-bed tan, spray-tan tan, and maybe some sort of bronzing lotion); her lips have either had collagen injections or fat transplant augmentation (the fat perhaps coming from a liposuction surgery), and her eyebrows haven’t moved once since I started incessantly peering at her, which tells me that they are incapable of moving at all (botox, definitely botox), and there’s also just no way that those tits are real. (I hereby dub this woman Mrs. Mannequin.) Mrs. Mannequin is sitting with a short, dorky-looking man in khakis and a Hawaiian T-shirt (whom I take to be her husband) and two children. The husband is talking to the kids, and she’s just gazing in their direction with this blank expression on her face, which somehow manages to look really scornful, if not filicidal, in spite of her lack of eyebrow movement. Let me reiterate: I hate this woman. She strikes me as indubitably superficial. I imagine she is an unhappy, desperate, jappy, gold-digging LA housewife — the sort of neglectful parent who relentlessly and resentfully believes that her hopes and dreams have been crushed by her children — and the only thing she ever really had going for her was her looks, which now only exist in traces and which she is just gracelessly clawing onto via Doctor Nip/Tuck (consultations and expenditures paid for with dorky Sugar Daddy’s $$$).[30] When I get to the ticket-checker, I shift my attention away from Mrs. Mannequin and I suddenly feel my facial muscles relax, which informs that they had been tense in the first place (something that I hadn’t even realized (my eyebrows had been slightly scrunched and my jaw somewhat clenched); I had been unwittingly wearing my mind on my face).

When I get on the plane, I initially overshoot my seat (30J) and have to backtrack until I come to my row. Two people are already settled in the aisle and center chairs; the empty window chair is mine. After popping a squat, I strike up a conversation.[31] Introductions quickly ensue — the girl to my left (center seat) we’ll henceforth refer to as Ludia; the woman to Ludia’s left (aisle seat) we’ll call Sally Fields (as in the actress Sally Fields, because that’s who she reminds me of (although, coincidentally, her real name actually happens to be Sally — oops, I should probably edit that out (but, then again, she’ll probably never read this (plus she’s pretty old[32] and will be dead soon anyway) so fuck it (hm, yeah that’s definitely fucked up reasoning (sorry, Sally)))). Ludia is Australian and Sally is American.

“And do you two already know each other?” I ask. Ludia replies:

“Sally, hee-uh, is my wondahful mothah-in-law.”

“Really? I thought you two might’ve been sisters.” I try and say this in a way that is charming and funny, but not unctuous, and I think I pulled it off.

“Oh how fun,” Sally says.

“You jus’ mayde her dai.”

I ask Ludia how long the flight is and she tells me that she can’t remember if it’s sixteen hours or fourteen hours. It turns out that it’s fourteen hours.

“Wow. That is quite a long time.”[33]

“Yeah, it is. So we-yah gonna bay friends whethah you lyke it or naught.”

“Well you know what they say: forced friendships are the best kind…”

8: Ludia and Sally

[N.b. This section contains bios/character-descriptions of my two flight-mates (Ludia and Sally). So if you don’t really care or you’re short on time, feel free to just skip this section.]

Ludia is thirty-six years old, white, blonde, about 5′ 4″, thin (maybe 115lbs), and has a lower back tattoo (AKA tramp stamp).[34] She is an actress who can be seen as a copper (police officer) on the Australian hit TV show, Neighbors, and she is married to a quote “very talented and wondahful musician,” and is stepmother to two girls. She has high cheek bones and can play along with wry humor very smoothly and she lives in LA and came to America after falling in love with her now-husband. When I ask her for her quote “Tocqueville on Americans,” she doesn’t need me to explain what I mean, and she says that she thinks Americans are stereotypically loud/rude and when they (Americans) ask questions they do so very flatly — “lyke when Amerikens ask questchens, it seayms more lyke a staytment, d’ya know?”[35] And/but she also says that American’s are the friendliest people she’s ever met — “If I’m in lyke a supahmahrket or ehn elevatah paypple will jus’ chat me up. In Australia it’s naught at all lyke that.” And/but she also thinks that American healthcare is complete shit — “In Australia, my healthkeh was six-hundred dolluhs a yee-uh; in America, it’s six-hundred a month!” She also thinks Hobby Lobby is ridiculous. Ludia is a vegetarian, and so she gets all her inflight meals before Sally and I do, and she’s the type of person who you have to insist that she start eating without you. She also used to do ballet. She’s going to Australia for ten days (two in Sydney, eight in Queensland) for her mother’s birthday. Her husband (whom she asserts no less than six times that she really loves very much) is meeting her and Sally in Queensland. Ludia is also a bit of a coffee connoisseur; she once owned a cafe and her brother grows coffee beans. Most of our conversation, however, centers around her being an actress. I ask her “why acting?” and she tells me that she’s always loved acting since she was a little girl (~80% of actresses will say this) and it’s what she’s good at. She started off in theater but has been scouring for more film ops since they pay substantially better — “Cuhmmershuls ah the best pay’ng though” she tells me, “they’re lyke one dai shoots ehnd thay still pay you loads.” I ask if she adheres to any particular school of acting (Stanislavski, Meisner, Strasberg), and she says that she isn’t lyke stringently attached to any one method; rather she sort of meshes them all together in different ways. Anyway, she was just mad fuckin’ cool, you know. And smart. I enjoyed sitting next to her.

Sally is seventy-six, highly caucasian, probably around 5′ 3″, has drooping jowls, and is wearing a shade of lipstick that only an old lady would dare to wear — and whose pink I, for some reason, can only describe as gynecological — and this lipstick has, unbeknownst to her, managed to polka-dot some of her teeth. She is wearing a coffee-stain colored shirt repping California during the 1849 gold rush (the back depicts a mining cart and reads (in a wanted-poster-style font): gold! gold! gold!). She is now retired, but she used to work in the office of financial aid for a small college in Cali.[36] This is her first time coming to Australia. She’s fairly adventurous for an old lady — wants to go skydiving (bungee jumping would be cool were it not for the whiplash) and she also goes horseback riding a lot.[37] I keep wanting to ask about her spousal relations (i.e. if she has a husband), but I can’t figure out a way to do so without coming off as too interrogatively audacious and brusque.[38] She’s from Minnesota. She has a nice old-lady-laugh — the kind featuring a wide agape mouth, squinty eyes, a minor nod of the head, and which feels ever so slightly affected (in a nice way); I suppose the most distinguishable feature of the old-lady-laugh is this sort of pre-laugh (a laryngeal breath (kinda like a cough, but less raspy)) before the actual audible ha-ha’s. Sally wears old age well, so it’s hard to generate a mental picture of what she looked like when she was young. Anyway, she laughed at all my jokes, so it would be a tremendous challenge for me not to like her.

9: Up in the Air (LAX–>SYD)

Half of my trip is comprised of sleep. The rest is mostly filled with films — Dallas Buyers Club,[39] The September Issue,[40] and The Bitter Buddha.[41]

Food: (1) Chicken breast with mashed potatoes, (2) sandwich, banana, and milanos, (3) French toast. Airline food tends to have that microwaved quality coupled with the sense that what you’re eating isn’t really, say, chicken breast, but actually some sort of comestible petri-dish composite that’s had a lotta-lotta sauce and spices thrown on it — i.e. it seems less like you’re eating meat with flavoring and more like you’re eating flavoring with meat.

I have the window seat, which means that Ludia and Sally obstruct my path to the toilet. Thus, my bathroom excursions consisted of me stepping ninja-like from armrest to armrest (like in the way that kids step on white stripes in crosswalks ’cause the concrete is lava, you know — Ludia and Sally are the lava); I don’t want to wake them up. — Sleeping on airplanes is an art form. Ludia and Sally brought those horseshoe-shaped neck pillows, which are really helpful for sleeping upright.[42] When you’re in the window seat, you have the benefit of being able to rest your head between portholes. Reclining as far as possible in a coach seat will take you from a ninety-degree angle all the way to about a ninety-two-degree angle, so your best bet is to stretch your legs out as far as possible and scooch your booty to the edge of the seat in order to achieve some semblance of recumbence, whereupon you can hopefully catch a few winks of sleep. (Waking up often entails finding yourself in a vastly different position than the one you started in.) I got about six hours. Ludia and Sally got a bit more; they’d ordered some cheap plastic cupfuls of wine (for the sake of (to quote Ludia:) “putting may tha hell ta slaype, thank you very much”). — On my first trip to the bathroom, I notice Mrs. Mannequin. She is sleeping upright while her daughter’s head is lying on her lap, and Mrs. Mannequin’s somewhat-aged hand is resting gently atop the daughter’s head, her fingers affectionately entwined in youthful hair. In this moment — as I consider the numbness and ensuing pins-and-needles that her leg will have to re-coup from, when she awakes and her daughter lifts her head up — in this moment, she does not strike me as scornful, let alone filicidal, or superficial.[43] In this moment, she strikes me as caring and maternal; not someone worthy of my hate, but worthy of my admiration.

10: Seat Backs and Tray Tables in Their Upright and Locked Position

“Remember when planes would land and everyone would unanimously start clapping?” I ask Sally, who’s now switched seats with Ludia so that she can look out the window as we land. “What happened to that? It’s like people stopped being amazed and grateful for the fact that a person just brought a ten ton flying metal tube, going at a few hundred miles per hour, to a safe and peaceful halt on a concrete slab (that is: the tarmac).”

“Well, I think it depends on how smooth the landing is.”

“No, I can’t remember the last time anyone clapped for the pilot. I’ve experienced landings that were like, you know, as if like the plane were gliding on the ass of an angel — pardon my french. And, yeah, not so much as a peep from the passengers.”

“I suppose you’re right. I don’t fly as much as I used to. Why did people stop clapping?”

“Like imagine if everyone just stopped applauding at the end of concerts. That would be ridiculous.”

“Alright,” Sally says, “if you clap when we land, I’ll clap with you.” And she did. Only two other people joined.[44]

The plane lands.

Cue the cacophony of glock-cocking-esque cli-cli-clicks.

Maneuver your way into the aisle.

Stop when people in front of you have to take down their bags.

Go when they get ’em down.

11: SYD

We disembark and manage to beat most of the crowd to customs. Ludia, being an Australian citizen, gets through in virtually no time (the airport has an automated system for incoming citizens), so it’s just me and Sally on line.

“Tayk keh of her,” Ludia says.

“If anything Sally’s gonna take care of me. You’ll be my temporary body guard, right?”

“Oh of course — hahaha. Don’t worry, I’ll look after you.”

On line, there’s that stop-then-go-then-stop pace.

“Everyone looks like they’re in line for a genocide,” Sally says.

“Right? It’s definitely kinda Schindler’s Listy… Bovine is the word. Everyone looks totally bovine.”

Sally concurs and goes on to tell me about an autistic woman who redesigned cattle shelters or whatever — apparently a movie just came out about it recently, but for the life of her, she can’t put her finger on the movie’s title nor the woman’s name, and she is very frustrated by this and blames it on her old age.

When we get to the desks I let Sally go ahead of me, and she passes through in a jiffy; however, when I give the man my orange form, he tells me that I need to refill it out in black or blue ink (instead of red), and so he siphons me off and gives me a new orange form, which I fill out and hand back to him, and then he asks me to look at the camera and the camera takes my picture, and then he does some bureacratic stampy-signy stuff and hands me my passport and I move on my way.

After I get through, I walk to the luggage carousel. Ludia and Sally are waiting for me in order to say goodbye. They’ve already got their bags, so I give each of them a hug and I tell them that they were great flight-mates. Sally’s hug feels extra tight and for some reason I get the sense that she’s kind of a lonely person, and she says thank you and I don’t bother to ask what she’s thanking me for, and I say goodbye, and they turn around and walk away while I wait for my electric blue rolling bag. I doubt that I’ll ever see them again.

I was feeling adventurous after the fourteen hour flight from LA–>Sydney, so I decided not to take a taxi from the airport to Urbanest — the university student accommodation (142 Abercrombie Street), my new home — and instead opted to trying my hand at the local metro system. In Sydney (as compared to NYC), the subways hum rather than screech…

[20] During one of those turbulent half-second,-stomach-rising-drops, 27E actually shrieked; and, when I looked over at her, she had her hood tucked well over her head, like a kid hiding away from imagined monsters. BACK TO TEXT

[21] I could just picture myself in the newspaper: “Guy Has Face Fried Off When Lightning Bolt Strikes Commercial Jet.” BACK TO TEXT

[22] There was only one other person staring childlike with his face pressed against the window like I was: American Psycho T-Shirt Guy in row 30. BACK TO TEXT

[23] Seriously, how are me and American Psycho the only passengers looking at this right now? BACK TO TEXT

[24] For the record: this is the pilot’s fourth announcement WRT the delay. His second announcement was my favorite and went as follows: “good evening ladies and gentlemen, sorry again for the delay. This evening is uh not looking to be a uh good evening uh…” Yes, he actually prefaced his PA about how it’s not looking to be a good evening with the phrase good evening (cf. FN 4, Part I). BACK TO TEXT

[25] Consider for a moment the implications of such an ad. Now, generally, an ad’s purpose is to promote something (namely a product), so that you’ll chalk over your cash in pursuit of that something. But this ad’s purpose is not to get you to buy a product, because you’ve already bought it — you’re already sitting there on the plane in front of that LCD touch-screen. This ad’s goal is to make you feel good about your purchase — it’s pandering to you the notion that the choice you’ve made to buy some shit that you don’t need[*] was the right choice. And how does this ad go about doing that? Here’s how:

(1) The content plays on your preconceived, commonsensical notions of what you are and are not entitled to. To break this down further: Each one of us has an entitlement-schema (ES) — a mental model that contains within it certain things that we feel entitled to (e.g. freedom of speech, due process of law, a frothy leaf design in our cups of cappuccino, etcetera). What this ad attempts to do is incorporate the individualization of inflight entertainment (i.e. not sharing a screen) into your ES by equating it with something that’s already there (that pre-existing something being the individualization of seating (i.e. not sharing a chair)). You probably already feel entitled to your own seat on a plane — you wouldn’t even consider flying with an airline that forces you to sit on some fat-man’s lap (furthermore, you don’t need anyone to tell you to think/feel that way (it’s already in your ES) — the notion of sharing a seat is nonsense to us). Now, according to this ad, if you were to consider flying with an airline that forces you to share an LCD, such consideration would be just as nonsensical as thinking about flying with an airline that forces you to share a seat. Again, the ad attempts to incorporate an idea into your ES by equating it to something that’s already there.

[N.b. sorry if this is all a bit abstruse and/or boring. Feel free to take a bathroom break right around now if you want (unless you’re reading this on the shitter, in which case, feel free to take a wiping break or whatever).]

(2) The ad panders to your juvenile, selfish desires. I am sitting in my own seat. I should have my own screen. Me, me, me. Mine, mine, mine. (Cf. Edward Bernays (dude’s interesting AF).)

(3) This relates point (1), although in (1) I focused on content; here, I’ll be focusing on tone. The tone of the ad is the following: duh. Duh communicates, not simply that you made the right choice, but that such choice should be considered a no-brainer; any other choice would be silly. So, just in case you even thought for a second should I be sharing a screen, is this overindulgent and selfish, and maybe I should’ve saved a couple bucks with a different airline, the ad is right there to wrap its arm around your shoulder like a reassuring cozy friend and tell you, don’t be silly, of course you should have your own screen… duhBACK TO TEXT

*I think it should go without saying that you don’t need your own screen with up to 300 movies, HBO®, SHOWTIME®, etcetera. This is not to say that the luxury isn’t nice, it is — it really is. This is to say that the luxury is, well, a luxury (and thus, by definition, not a necessity). BACK TO FN 25

[26] Ironically, the reason why I choose to watch Bad Words over Her is because I really want to see Her. Allow me to explain: I possess the preconception that Her is a great film. People who know me have said that I will love it. Thus, I want to give Her a dedicated and attentive viewing — one that is distilling and allows me to appreciate Her in all her beauty and depth (the story, themes, acting, direction, cinematography, etcetera). Unfortunately, given that (1) Delta’s inflight screens are about 7.5″ and (2) I’m sort of mentally worn out from reading and writing, I don’t feel up to snuff to give Her the dedication that I desire to give, and which I feel she deserves, so instead I just go for the lesser film and tell myself that I’ll watch Her later. And so, ironically, it’s because I want to see Her that I don’t see Her. I’ve put Her on a pedestal. (And, no, this isn’t some sort of metaphor for my love life; yes, when I say Her, I’m talking about the film, I promise).  BACK TO TEXT

[27] A significantly mediocre film. For some reason, the cinematography is somewhat akin to the gritty, digital feel of a Fincher film (Se7en, Fight Club, Social Network), which would work if Bad Words was actually a gritty movie. It’s politically incorrect as hell* (which I like, because, well, you know, I’m an insensitive asshole, right?), but it ain’t gritty — it’s about a grown misanthropic man who crashes a spelling bee. The humor mostly relies upon clever zingers like the one in the asterisk footnote below; problem is, a lot of the zingers are too verbose to be zingy — I imagine that the script reads a lot better than it plays on screen. There were many moments where I thought to myself, oh that’s funny, but few moments where I actually laughed (which is probably a good thing seeing as I was on a flight surrounded by other people, many of whom were trying to sleep). Having said that, I did like the part where the little indian boy sees his first pair of titties;†  that was a fun scene. BACK TO TEXT

*One of my favorite lines is on a plane when the protagonist tells an annoying little Indian boy, “if you don’t point your curry hole that way and sit your fucking ass down in your fucking seat, I’m going to tell the captain that your bag’s ticking.” I know that’s terrible; but, come on, it’s also fuckin’ hilarious.

Why are breasts so awesome? Can someone explain that to me. ‘Cause I don’t get it. All I know is that they make me happy.

[28] Who was the dude who decided what elevator bings should sound like? Or like phone dialing beeps? Those sounds aren’t inherent, you know, some person decided to make our elevators/phones/etc. sound the way they do. (And is it a coincidence that you can make the B-A-G-A-B-B-B notes of Mary Had a Little Lamb by dialing 6-2-1-2-6-6-6 on your phone? I think not!) BACK TO TEXT

[29] There appears to be a tacit code of conduct WRT our movement in public spaces* — like, it just seems as though there must potentially be a pattern of human motion that’s scientifically discernible (like with bird-flight formations or aggregates of shoaling/schooling fish). I wonder: is there a latent equation out there that can delineate socio-ecological homosapien movements?† BACK TO TEXT

*Credit where credit is due: My father first prompted me to think about this with his observations of people in NYC subways.

Any science students reading this want to make what I’ve just discussed the topic of their thesis?

[30] I have no evidence to support this judgment. BACK TO TEXT

[31] For some reason, I can’t recall just what it is that I said. BACK TO TEXT

[32] You can more or less discern Sally’s age by counting the number of wrinkles in her lateral canthi (you know, like the area next to your eye), like in the way that you can determine the age of a tree using dendrochronology (counting tree-rings). Sally’s old,* is what I’m trying to say. She has that sweet grandmotherly aura, which almost makes you wish that you were in a situation where you could help her cross the street — not that she’d need help anyway; woman is strong as an ox for her age. BACK TO TEXT

*When I finally make a hope-you-don’t-mind-inquiry into her exact age, she tells me that she’s seventy-six.

[33] “Quite a long time” being a relative phrase,* because, well, three-hundred years ago, 7,500 miles (approximate distance from LA to SYD) in fourteen hours would be impossible. Three-hundred years ago, dudes would just be like, “bye mom, bye dad; I might not see you ever again, given that you’re nearing the ripe old age of forty-three. Hopefully I don’t get cholera and die before I even get to my destination. LOL. Much love. ;).” BACK TO TEXT

*I wonder if, in a hundred years, people are gonna be like, “so how long’s the teleportation from here to Sydney? Instantaneous?! Oh Ford, that’s quite a long long time.”

[34] Details unknown. I never got a good look, in spite of the fact she gave up trying to hide the tramp stamp (via pulling down her shirt)* after her second trip to the bathroom. BACK TO TEXT

*Ironically, it was this awkward shirt-pull-down attempt to hide the tramp stamp that alerted me to its presence in the first place.

[35] When she says that, I realize that this is how I’ve been asking her questions the entire time. Subsequently, (since I don’t want Ludia to think less of me), I notice myself trying to affect an upward inflection onto the end of my questions to compensate for my American tonal flatness. But then I quickly feel as though I’m being phony, and so, to compensate for my self-perceived disingenuousness, I go back in the opposite direction; I purposefully try to sound flat. But then I feel as though I’m being too flat (and I also realize that by doing this, I’m still being phony in a way: I’m trying to be DAVID rather than David), and so I just try to stop thinking about it. But then I realize that now I’m thinking about how I’m trying to stop thinking about it — meanwhile, she’s been talking and I’ve been missing out on information! So I make a mental note of this whole progression (which you’ve just read), so that I can write it down in a footnote, and then I shift my focus back to her. BACK TO TEXT

[36] She tells me that student debt and financial compensation is in a bad state these days. “There used to be better government grant programs which basically subsidized students’ educations,” she tells me. “Now, these grants get pushed aside and aren’t considered a priority because of other expenses like bank bailouts and war debt… Parents also used to be more honest. They used to go to the students’ aunts and uncles and grandparents, and everyone in the family would chip in — even just a few hundred bucks — to pay for a kid’s tuition. Nowadays, there’s much more incentive for parents to conceal household income information. Kids are applying for scholarships with surgeons for parents. And you’ll have kids coming in claiming their parents kicked them out at eighteen and are financially independent when they’re not. And everything’s just a lot more complicated now than it used to be. Not just financial aid. Politics. Everything.” While I was listening, I kept finding myself tempted to dismiss all this as some sort of geriatric nostalgia for an illusory past-when-things-were-simpler-and-better-and-not-like-the-way-they-are-now; but maybe she’s right, maybe things are just way more complicated these days. BACK TO TEXT

[37] In fact, she’s given me her contact info and invited me to go horseback riding with her in NorCal. Apparently she has fourteen acres of land and, since she’s retired, what she does with her spare time is play golf, ride horses, and paint.* BACK TO TEXT

*According to Ludia, Sally’s quite an exceptional painter. I asked Sally if she works in a specific style, and she says nothing in particular — mostly keeps it realist but she dabbles with impressionism and/or abstract art and she really likes to create quote mind-image art.**

**Wikipedia has yielded no results; your guess is as good as mine.

[38] For some reason, when I contemplate asking, the best phrasing I can come up with is, “hey, so do you have a husband, or has he keeled over and died already?” So I figured it’d be best for me to just steer clear of the topic (unless she brings it up, which she ultimately doesn’t). BACK TO TEXT

[39] Really a fantastic film. Nothing particularly flourishy or new about the writing/directing as far as I can tell — pretty straight forward realistic filmmaking — which is good, because there’s nothing to distract you from the story. The ending didn’t feel quite right, but now I’m just nit-picking. McConaughey and Leto deserved those Oscars! BACK TO TEXT

[40] A documentary about Vogue Editor-In-Chief, Anna Wintour.* According to some fashionista in the documentary, Anna is “the most powerful woman in America,” which has got to be like total bogus; but, nevertheless, it was an interesting enough watch. BACK TO TEXT

*I’d heard of Anna Wintour before, because Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada** is supposedly based on her.

**I’ll admit it: I’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada… multiple times… and enjoyed it. The first time I watched it was at a friend’s (Shmara Canshmelmo’s) house in eighth grade. After watching the film, she and our friend (Shmeva Shmineberg) attempted to peer pressure me into trying on her pair of skinny purple jeans to see if they would fit… and they did…

So what?… I’ll try on a girl’s skinny purple jeans… Screw you, I don’t care… And, you know what, I looked damn good in them jeans too, fuck you very much.

Anyway… I’ve seen Devil Wears Prada, that’s really what I’m tryna say here.

[41] Documentary about underground alt-comic, Eddie Pepitone. Interesting enough. You get to see this fat-balding-white-guy, who’s made a living off of angrily shouting into a microphone, try and be like a real fucking human being — attempting to find spirituality, seeking to get in touch with himself, wanting to make sense of things, trying and failing, laughing, crying, choosing; eat, sleep, shit, lather, rinse, repeat; it’s very like Sisyphean in a way. It’s good. It’s funny. He’s got good quotes:

“The only things stopping me today are: genetics, lack of will, income, brain chemistry and external events,” he says.

“When I do do the free porn thing, they give you so many fucking choices — no pun intended — haha — they give you so many fucking choices, and I’m never satisfied.”

“I’m trying to fight something and I’m not sure what it is. It’s hard for me to connect with anyone.” BACK TO TEXT

[42] Sleeping upright isn’t exactly much of a choice when you’re in the middle or aisle seat, unless you have a neighbor nice enough to let you rest your head on them. Your only other option, as far as I can tell, is to unlock your tray table and rest your head on that (with your arms either folded in a pretzel (High School Desk position) or with your cheek pressed to the tray and your arms draped by your sides (Poisoned Food position)). BACK TO TEXT

[43] I now realize that my initial judgment of Mrs. Mannequin as superficial was itself a superficial judgement. This isn’t to say that she doesn’t resemble a mannequin, ’cause she totally does. However, I can’t help but consider the possibility that really all the things that we cast off in other people as shallow and superficial are actually the manifestation of some infinitely deeper insecurity that they bear, and our quickness to write them off as shallow and thus not worthy of our empathetic-attention or affection is often itself kinda demonstrative of an ironic shallowness on our part, no? I guess what I’m saying is that maybe That Girl — you know, the overly-made-up, always-at-the-gym girl who only wears leggings, even in the freezing cold, with shin high boots and a winter headband and a way-too-thin, mint-colored, midriff-exposing shirt that seductively drapes over her breasts (so that her stomach is never actually in contact with anything other than air), and who talks with a lot of yeah-but-like‘s and this-is-so-cute‘s — that That Girl maybe suffers from many of the same issues as I do, and it’s just that her way of coping is to don this stereotypically barbie-bobble-headed persona, which really, deep down, isn’t all that different from the mask of cleverness or supposed superiority that I sometimes wear. Maybe Mrs. Mannequin suffers from a deep existential fear of growing old. Maybe she just wants to feel some sense of validation from those around her — even if that validation is merely skin-deep, the desire for validation in general is, in some shape or form, something that most people can understand, right? Or maybe These People (Mrs. Mannquin, That Girl, et al.) really are just totally vapid and superficial — I don’t know. BACK TO TEXT

[44] For some reason, it’s a bit of a challenge to sustain applause when no one else is following suit. When you’re the only one putting your hands together, each clap begs you to be the last. Group think. Blacksheepiphobia. BACK TO TEXT

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