Some People Do This For A Living
RJA is, by anyone’s standards, “Royal” in nature at least as far as economy class goes. Having decided to protect myself via a magical sign akin to the evil eye, I flew into the Middle East for the first time wearing my “Babylon Whores” (Swedish Goth Metal Band) t-shirt as a way to strike fear in anyone who might wish me ill, particularly given that not quite “all” my papers are yet in order, enough to get me in but one never knows how customs agents look upon people whose work visas are not completely finished seeking the “tourist visa for now.” That said, the worst customs agent I’ve ever encountered was a Canadian “Mountie” who, after not buying the truth about me driving up to an artist’s compound in Banff (art is always hard to explain, especially “conceptual art,” ironically enough), searched my car high and low with me standing inside a painted square at a designated “safe distance” and had a way of asking me questions as if it were possible to give a wrong answer to questions such as “do you have any alcohol in the car.” Well, I thought, Canadians do love their drink but—hey wait a minute fucker you’re searching the car anyway. And no, I don’t have a pet hedgehog in the trunk who’s going to jump out and maul you when you open it. Are hedgehogs violent? If I wasn’t so lazy I’d google it and see, not to mention the fact that the word hedgehog in this context doesn’t strike me as very charming/funny, which I always strive to be, almost to a fault. Okay, to a fault.
Yes, the most amazing seats I have ever been allowed to sit in as one of the groundlings of flying. Before the plane took off the flight attendant went down the aisle offering us “candy apple red” earbuds, which I made a point of saving. After it was clear that no one was going to be sitting in 19B (I was 19C), I glanced over at my companion, who seemed quite decrepit and had a cough I would imagine or call “painful,” but he seemed pretty resigned to it as part of his daily? breathing routine. I had up until this point avoided human eye-contact since leaving Angela in a state of abject tears at the Rathaus-Neukoln U-Bahn which, if I may be permitted some editorialization, was unbecoming enough that my respect for her plummeted quite a bit, say twenty points on a 100 point scale. I’m not sure as of yet whether this plummet is irreparable. Regardless, he was my “first” since that morning with Angela.
I’d been avoiding eye contact because my whiteness and location in Berlin made me a potential (if not likely) target for people wanting to ask me a question or even “shoot the shit,” and expecting—in a perfectly forgivable (given that I was in Berlin) ethnocentric assumption—me to do it in German. There are certain things one wants to say a limited number of times in one’s life, such as “No Sprachen Ze Deutsch” merely because one gets tired of that feedback loop—this particular site of lacking patience in me extends, if not everywhere, to unlikely phrases. I once studiously avoided—especially with friends who would correct her immediately—running into someone who had permanently learned my name wrong at a loud party, seeking out her presence via infrared sensors, Native American listening techniques, and the visual attention of an army sniper. Once this individual was detected before my friends had the slightest inkling of her imminent appearance, I would have to “drop a deuce,” “hit the library,” or just disappear Ninja style to avoid having to say, “It’s okay [even and especially though it was], you learned my name at a loud party.” Or, “Oh, no worries, I answer to anything [almost true, especially if I perceive myself as the thing being addressed].” All to avoid, not having to utter these phrases as such, but to muster the Shakespearian energy to pretended like I cared about someone feeling self-conscious about a faulty subroutine in her head. The thing was, I did care—or cared that she cared—but not enough to avoid taking the extreme precautions mentioned above in avoiding her. She struck me as a nice enough person, even perhaps interesting though it’s hard to tell at loud parties sometimes, and all in all I wished she wasn’t so uptight about getting my name wrong. In all fairness, I guess I was more uptight about it than her. We both could have benefitted greatly from being less uptight about the matter.
So, after avoiding eye-contact since having to deal with Angela’s alternating prostrations and threats to throw herself in front of the very U-Bahn I was hoping to hop for Tegel, I made eye contact with this dude on Royal Jordanian Airlines who not only had a fake eye, but a fake cheekbone as well—all a one-piece deal, the cheekbone part the color of the gums in dentures (I assume that particular color technology has pretty much flatlined since “denture-wearers” became an identity category thanks to American television). I helped him fasten his seatbelt because he was reaching for the center belt rather than the window-seat belt—his one eye sort of gave me the impression I could invade his space, and I was correct. Mission accomplished and I returned to my book.
Shortly after the flight began I glanced over once again, only to find my friend chewing the rubbery ends of the earbuds. He uttered the word “plastic,” warning me not to try and eat my pair. This was one of a very few recognizable words we exchanged, although he uttered some sentences to me that seemed like almost-English phrases throughout the flight, usually pointing to something as he did so. At one point he attempted to tell me a story about “a man” but we never got past the point of mutually contemplating, in an almost spiritualistic camaraderie, that “a man” was involved in the story.
Shortly after eating the plastic earbuds, One-Eyed Jack (OJ, pronounced as if it rhymes with hajj), was able to inform me that he was hungry, that he hadn’t eaten all day. He had tried to purchase some cheese but it cost “forty crowns.” At this point I realized that OJ probably would have had trouble purchasing anything in Berlin, given his penchant for using money dating back to British colonial days and before. So I hit the stewardess (in this case, she was female, okay) light and told her that he was hungry. In English (as far as I could tell, besides certain passengers on the plane, the only speaker of Arabic was the safety instruction tape-player), she asked him if he wanted “Fish, Chicken, or Beef.” When the attendant went to get his meal, OJ pointed to me and said “Fish?” I agreed with OJ that fish was the superior of the three meats, which seemed to please him. Before the meal came, he pulled out the life-preserver and oxygen mask instructions and gave them more than a cursory examination, and then he handed the plastic storyboard over to me so that I could do the same.
OJ went to the “toilet” several times over the course of the journey, and it was fortunate that we didn’t share enough language for me to suggest we change seats for convenience, because every time I got up to let him out, I was able to position myself to prevent him from walking down towards first class and remind him, every single time, that the toilet was “that way,” which I did by making sure he was looking at me as I stood in the middle of the aisle and pointed, either traffic-cop or Moses style I’m not sure which, and intoned for everyone who cared to hear, “toilet” [choose the spelling which corresponds to your particular GPS location]. OJ would nod his head to me in thanks and then proceed. This procedure worked pretty seamlessly except once when, because Apollo willed it, the cabin lights were dimmed. OJ made it to the toilet but, relying upon past experience too heavily, I didn’t notice when he passed me on his way back. It was dark enough that I only recognized him after he had passed our seat by several rows and I wasted precious time making sure my identification was positive. The darkness on the plane made his walk more beautiful, perhaps even more epic than I could have imagined. I had just listened to “Champagne Supernova” with my non-masticated earbuds, which I was drawn to given the plane’s limited selection and my penchant for the song, particularly its line “slowly walkin down the hall faster than a cannonball” which is exactly what OJ was doing, right then and there. I could have gotten up and brought him back to his seat, except it was too beautiful to watch that silhouette move down the aisle to glory. I’m pretty sure he made it all the way to the cockpit, as he was gone for quite a while. Since the flight was coming to a close, the by this time weary flight attendant asked me where my friend was and I said, “I think he decided to fly first class.” With an exasperated look on her face she turned to retrieve him and I said, “Oh look, he’s on his way back.” Over the course of the evening I had been reading a Lauterbach poem about clowns, and it was only then that the glory and melancholy of OJ really occurred to me—and really I don’t think I would have recognized the power of the poem without him, because he was the clown in her poem. Maybe she had run into OJ back in the 90s and then sat down to write:
Am I safe or for sale?
asked Clown from his crib.
Do I have a use? he inquired.
Will I fall will fly is there
a bridge or a still?
There’s a rose on my nose, said Clown.
The laws are erased/I cannot see from this echo
the locked port and grimy window/I think I saw
boughs with few inoculators/air was not part of
that scene/I am missing
part of my throat/my mouth jumps
Am I lost or stolen? Did I belong to a thing?
Did I live in a tent or a stream?
Are these eyes borrowed? (they seem to be used)
Did I once have a sex? Is it this?
I’m pretty sure that OJ was uttering some of these lines because he would mutter to himself from time to time in a sort of ur-Arabic, though translated into his language he confronted the same clown dilemmas but not in such an abject way. When he had the proper auditor, such as me or a flight attendant, he was pretty good at being insistent and demonstrative enough to get what he wanted, more or less. And if less, or different, as with the candy apple red earbuds, he’d find a new use. But I’m not sure how many people who don’t do it for a living are actually willing to help OJ out, including me. I’m not a charitable person by nature—the only thing I had going for me was a somewhat high tolerance for and even interest in deviant people, that and the fact that me and OJ were in this boat together by virtue of random seat selection, placed together by virtue of the fact that we were both flying sans family or friends, space oddities or oddities in space. In an open setting, though, most likely I would have avoided OJ either deliberately or through basic inattentiveness to surroundings. I’m going to make a very Burroughs-like observation here. If we want a situation where people who could use some help receive it, we either need to pay people to help them or create a more general situation where we view ourselves as much closer to one another (as in an airplane) than we think we are. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why rich people isolate themselves in their own asylums, also known as mansions and/or estates. In a capitalist economy you have to pay people to give folks a hand, but the capitalist economy (at this moment in history) is precisely what prevents those considered waste from having that apocryphal object of capitalist faith known as “the invisible hand” extended to them. Granted, I too will go on touting my alleged “freedoms” even if I’m not proud of it, that is until I’m slipping on some loosening snow or rock while mountain climbing. Then freedom is the last thing on my mind, for sure. Tie me up and drag me anywhere you’d like, just so long as you tie me up. Yes, some people do this hand extending thing for a living, but not many—just enough to keep the face of capitalism looking good with respect to its favorite objects of comparison, that would the Rivers Ganges of the earth.
OJ had a hell of a time conquering the cosmonaut-worthy wrapping on his fish dish, and I momentarily struggled between the Good Samaritan idea of reaching over to help him and the whole personal space thing, especially as it relates to food, as it relates to the notions of personal space for an Arabic man of the old school who had for some reason found himself at Tegel airport in Berlin attempting to buy cheese but lacking the “crowns” to do so—and of course all this would have to be weighed (oh really Alan—use British accent in previous admonishment if reading out loud or out loud in your head—you were weighing these things with the “Invisible Hand”TM moneychanger scales you’d packed?) against my estimations of the old school algorithms remaining in OJ’s (remember to pronounce Ahhjj’s) mind versus the clown algorithms which in themselves were even more non-Aristotelian than those of a non-clown raised in Arabic culture, resembling the categorically unsound either/or logics of Laughterbach’s clown who asks “Did I live in a tent or a stream?” The last 179 words you read was one sentence bitch! Deal. . .the fuck. . .with it! This is complex stuff.
As is often the case (see Hamlet) when you weight the options too long, life proceeds without you. It was only left for me to open the middle tray table to give OJ more room to knock empty coffee cups and other sundry items onto the floor since, in all fairness, he was negotiating the culinary equivalent of Hong Kong’s population density. When he finished with admirable dexterity, I helped him move the tray to the middle table, where it sat until later on I was asked “Beef, Chicken, or Fish” and not being hungry I chose OJ’s “go-to” meat even though I too have received the Apostle Paul’s dream (much in conflict with Dr. Oz, whose devotees—including himself—never seem to acknowledge the irony of his name from a literary and/or cinematic perspective) that all food is available to me. Sometimes, I even take the leap of interpreting “food” as “illegal drugs” although for the most part this is a past tense interpretation.
I immediately, all too immediately, passed my tray over to OJ’s now empty tray table, and the flight attendant (this time male) asked me what I was doing. I told him that I was giving my dinner to OJ [since I was not hungry as it was only 4:30 or so in the afternoon and suspected we’d be in Amman with plenty of time for me to grab a “Falafel Sub” which it turned out was far more popular with everyone than other more traditional falafel dishes. It was quite tasty even though I noted the strangeness of the combination. I decided right then and there that Jordanians (within Muslim codes of course) were much more experimental with food than Americans. Can you imagine an American airport offering Big Macs in a pita? I suppose it would have to be a pita with a hymen since the most notable visual aspect of the Big Mac is its completely unnecessary “middle bun” to separate two somewhat (by American standards) “crepe-like” beef “patties.” Yes, the Big Mac is in this sense the key to unlocking the United States’ own special version of a Kosher diet—absolute separation through brand recognition.]
Now let the TARDIS transport me back to the original moment, which completely scandalized the attendant. He saw the whole thing, and asked me what I was doing as if I was stealing the cosmonaut fish rather than giving it to OJ. You see, he was not privy to the bracketed information above as you, lucky reader, are. Perhaps, but not likely, the attendant was considering that malnourished mammals have shrunken stomachs and should not be overfed in one sitting. I learned this the hard way when transporting a malnourished dog (God rest her soul) I found while moving from Florida to Georgia. I had seen her trying to drink from a coke bottle in the street so I tried to give Nikolai some water but she only took small amounts. When it came to McDonalds cheeseburgers, I figured half a dozen (they too are small, and back in my power lifting days I would eat ten in a single sitting after a workout) would be a nice number to get her through the journey. Nikolai apparently thought so too. Thank the Almighty for the rubber floors in U-Hauls.
But I figured OJ would have more restraint than Nikolai, which proved to be largely true as I kept pointing to the tray and then to him and then to his backpack in order to indicate that it was for him. He couldn’t quite grasp this as I think OJ was a “one meal at a time” sort of fellow. But nevertheless, my “sacrificial” instincts proved to be true (as in musical pitch) since OJ, who had been asking for coffee for quite some time, refusing in his sovereign state of abjection to accept that flight attendants only do one thing at a time for everyone as this is a much more efficient method, used my coffee cup (his had disappeared in culinary Hong Kong faster than Edward Snowden in undisclosed-location Hong Kong, which is pretty much anywhere in Hong Kong given its population density and I’m quite confident Snowden spent his free time there bumping through people down the streets and taking I-Phone images to one day show his grandkids) to produce a coffee soup consisting of coffee, noodles, and butter—all ingredients provided by my tray thank you—a concoction OJ alternated absorbing via spoon and straight-up drinking.
Turns out my cardinal sin with respect to Royal Jordanian airlines was implying that they were not Royal enough to provide me with a meal and whatever OJ might desire in excess of his rations—but that’s the rub now, isn’t it. This new attendant, whose specialty apparently was food preparation, had not yet seen OJ in full effect and as he was trying to push carts down to allegedly hungry passengers I could not go into detail about how much more efficient it would be for me to just grab “my” tray—and let’s face it, there’s absolutely nothing Royal about economy class in US airlines—and hand it over to my friend. So the attendant first received my sincerest “I’m not hungry” explanation with a circumspect look. And, to be fair, while it was once fashionable to complain about airline food it is a truism that it is also, bar none, the most difficult food to refuse. Recently I’ve only seen airline meals “refused” by people who were either actually unconscious at the time or by hard-core yogi’s, the kind who can will their heartbeat down to twenty beats a minute, appearing unconscious even if their eyes are open. It’s not that flight attendants give you the hard sell (the case of me and OJ was exceptional in this nature), it’s just that, man, the inevitable march of that cart down the aisle, your complete inability to move whilst Cart-2-D2 owns the stage, it puts you in a state of utter compliance, particularly if you are in an aisle row as I was. A food addict fresh off a weight-loss resort would have a better chance of walking straight past a donut shop than almost anyone else would have trying to refuse food on an airplane. You see, that hypothetical food addict could hypothetically find it within themselves to flee, and I mean actually run regardless of their weight in a manner that would meet Edweard Muybridge’s standards of running which require both feet to be in the air at some moment in the stride. They would have a better chance of escaping The House of the Rising Dough than you would The Aisle of the Descending Tray.
The only way to escape the situation and allow the attendant to save face was to allow him to tell me, in the sort of way I would imagine P-Diddy is told in night clubs, that if there was anything, anything, I desired that I would not hesitate to ask him personally. I replied, “but of course,” but more importantly I replied with the sort of meaningful gaze and smirk that implied, “Yes, I will check out all of the female flight attendants, and if I so desire, not only will I request that you procure her for me and guard the secret flight attendant toilet but will demand that one of the lower-ranked flight attendants, preferably another female, stand watch for as long as is necessary to fulfill, let me assure you, pleasures that would make Larry Flynt turn beet-red. Not only do I believe you have the power to make this happen for me dude/sir, but I have it in me to ask you to do this and, should this desire arise within my wicked mind during the flight, not only will I not hesitate to procure you and achieve the desired (and most likely sadistic) sexual satisfaction but you, too, will achieve the satisfaction that is unique to the VIP procurer’s strangely, if I may say so, eunuch-like version of the power trip.”
That formality aside, it was time for OJ to go to the toilet again. And when it’s time, it matters not if there are food trays to be negotiated with half-eaten cups of coffee/butter/noodle soup on them. Although I have never waited tables, I must have missed a calling in life. I swept up those two trays, one in a state of Hong Kong density, the other a rubble-film version of such, Tokyo after Godzilla has trampled through. I swept those fuckers up and held them in the air in a way that I instinctively knew would make sure all surviving inhabitants (of the trays) were safe, but which caused a look of alarm to explode from several attendants’ faces. They began to reach for the trays and said be careful but I quickly responded, “No, they’re perfectly safe,” as if they were my hostages and the SWAT team hadn’t arrived yet. I definitely controlled the “balance” of power here. When OJ was finally on his way I swooped back in my seat and worked quickly, pulling my edition of the flotation device and oxygen mask storyboard, which I had noticed was encased in a plastic dossier. It was the perfect size and shape for me to insert the cosmonaut fish and a couple of other, lesser grade plastic cases of side dishes, with plenty of room for me to fold the plastic over for a nice, almost business like look. I slipped it inside the zipperless outside pocket of OJ’s backpack, which had taken up residence between us. Before we exited the plane, I saw OJ inspect the item as if it had appeared by magic and, to my relief, place it in the main pocket of his backpack, which was more secure. It was a red backpack and on several places had the word “SPORT” printed on it, as if designating its genre. The word fascinated me because it seemed designed by the unnamed manufacturer for a special type of consumer—the sporty backpack wearer with a serious enough case of dementia to forget what his backpack was designed for. Either that or it was merely a backpack designed to promote “sport” in the abstract the way others might use their clothing to promote a favorite band or brand.
That pretty much sums up my tenure with OJ, although it’s worth noting that after his long walk of glory, I switched to the window seat so he could more easily “prepare himself for landing.” This meant that, in the often-crowded Arabic world where when it comes to public transportation all sense of any value but self-preservation is dispensed with, OJ was the second to last person off the plane. I was the last. On my way into international space, I saw OJ sitting on a bench. I don’t think he was waiting for anything in particular though I suspect a relative of some kind was waiting at the departure gate to which OJ would eventually be escorted. I gave him a sort of nod as I passed him but wasn’t sure if he remembered or even noticed me. He seemed lost in recollections. I would have to study up on this but I think that in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or other states of dementia including minor psychoses, people still have memories. If they don’t have memories they have perceptions which must be fairly trippy given what must be their fairly cubist and Bergsonian nature. And they have built-in habits like eating, going to the toilet, and waiting. I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older I don’t mind waiting as much as I used to, and this is undoubtedly related to memory. Think about kids on long trips—they don’t have much to remember and thus need constant stimuli. A lot of people probably dwell upon fond memories, peak experiences and such. Others are haunted by trauma, and we should pray or chant for them, among other things. Me, I’m a memory whore. I don’t care about the importance of the memories just as long as they pop up rapid and random. But memories are based upon experience so, like others worry about retirement plans related to money, I constantly occasionally worry whether I’ve produced enough memories for a good mix as I do more and more involuntary waiting. So for now, I’m still thinking about producing experiences and you never know which ones may pop up as memories. Today I took a picture of an oil slick on the road that interested me, the shape of it rather than the content. Maybe I’ll never look at it again but the act of stopping and looking at it, stopping to take the photo, was an experience that just might pop up. You just can’t know these things for sure. It’s intuitional and for a memory whore the oil slick may be equivalent to a kiss on a mountaintop. It’s the play of them that serves the memory whore, just like a regular whore/Lothario/whathaveyou needs sex again and again. But because sex for whores, like memory for memory whores, is there and then it’s gone. It’s an in the moment type of trip, so while I need to store memories, it’s more important that they can summon themselves up in surprising and varied ways, just like whores (as opposed to prostitutes—I’m talking Babylon whores) like to have sex with lots of different partners. I seek Babylon memory which will inevitably degrade into Babel memory, but that’s true for the monument memory freaks as well except they haven’t been practicing like I have to experience “complete” memories as fragments in their own right, like the edge of a snapshot.
I have work forthcoming in Frank: An International Journal of Contemporary Writing and Art and have recently published work in NOO, Exquisite Corpse, Otoliths, Euphony, 3AM Magazine, The13th Warrior Review, Glossator, 88: A Journal of Contemporary American Poetry, Hunger Magazine, Pacific Review, Art: Mag, Portland Review, First Offense, Absinthe Literary Review, No Exit,66: A Journal of Sonnet Studies, and freefall. Lee Ballentine of Ocean View Books has published my long poem Skeleton Key to the Wilderness, and my collection of poetry Horatio Alger’s Keys was published by BlazeVOX in 2008. I have also published two books of fiction, Curtain Call: A Metaphorical Memoir, and Necropsy in E Minor, which was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize. Another book of fiction entitled The Autobiography of Buster Keaton has just been published by Oakland’s Montag Press.