Fear of Flying

Wednesday May 4th, 2011
Victor Juhasz

It's early in the season, but already I'm tired of flying.

I never get tired of being there, mind you. But these days it's getting there that's the problem. For a start, I have a bad relationship with electric appliances, so anything that involves computers (like e-tickets) has a high disaster potential.

My toaster's tried to kill me twice, my cellphone treats me like I've stolen it, and I've completely lost it with those GPS systems in some vehicles. I don't mind a machine that thinks it's smarter than me as long as it keeps its opinion to itself, but when one starts giving orders, I have to answer back.

"Make your next legal U-turn," it keeps telling me, and I'm not having it. I'll be happy when I've made one of the damn things carsick enough for it to want to get out of the vehicle by itself.

And all this electronic scanning stuff, beeping wands, and pinging portals -- I have a bad time with them, too. I could pay for stuff twice at a department store and tape both receipts to my forehead, but I still set off the alarm and get the full Winona from some bald guy in a suit and sunglasses.

It's even worse at the airport. It's like watching Goldmember trying to get through security. I've spent more time in the crucified position than one of Michelangelo's models, and there is one employee at DFW International Airport who could make a clay model of my buttocks with his eyes closed.

Maybe it's the unavoidable air of total dried-up-and-pissed-off-ness I exude when I travel that gives security personnel the impression I need to be detained and invaded. I've tried being cheerful and silly, but they see right through it, and it's Gropesville here I come.

Once, I was trying to get out of Jackson, Mississippi. Earlier, I had checked a couple of shotguns at the American Airlines counter, an interesting experience to say the least. It's harder to get a damned corkscrew on an airplane these days.

My shotguns were broken down and packed in a hard case, unloaded as per regulation, but it was with some surprise that I watched the nice lady fit one of those wee swabby things into her stick-whatsit, and start to rub it all over the barrels, bolts, receivers, etc.

I'd been missing sporting clays for two days, and hadn't had time to clean the equipment, so her cloth was picking up powder, grease, and uh, well, it seemed weird that she was doing it, that's all.

So I asked her. "Excuse me ma'am, but isn't that machine supposed to detect explosives?" She looked pityingly at me over the top of her glasses and said, "Uh-huh, honey, that's just exactly what it does," like she was explaining to Martha Burk why The Masters couldn't be moved to Royal St. George's.

OK, then, this ought to be interesting, I thought, waiting for the alarm and bracing myself for the inevitable rough rubber-gloving from a large man with a trapdoor in the seat of his confederate-flag underpants. She Who Must Be Obeyed's family is from Mississippi, so I know the story. These people think Deliverance is a love story. Into the Swabnosticator went the oily rag, and "Bing" went the frigging green light! What a bummer, I could have brought the C4 and the rocket launcher after all.

The loneliest place in the world might be the American Airlines departure gates in this place on a Sunday afternoon. I finish my book, and figure I'll be able to pick up another before I get on the plane to Dallas, but no dice. I have Norah Jones in my CD player, which croaks halfway through the first track. There's no way to get a couple of AA batteries, and adding insult is Christina Aguilera on the only television in the terminal. She's just one of the ghastly bottle-blond 20-something warblers I can't stand.

Evidently, the national anthem isn't about the nation anymore, but about how much of Miss Aguilera's backside she can reveal. To defend the flag this little trollop is wearing, and the freedom for which it stands, we send our young men and women into harm's way. Play it like this for an old Marine and he'd put his hand over his eyes, not his heart. And Norah Jones, who licks my ears with plain, sweet inflection against a velvet backdrop of her own divine accompaniment, while actually sitting still (what a concept), lies dead in my backpack. How can this get worse?

An hour later, I'm sitting on the plane, staring dully at the now obsolete telephone in the back of the seat in front of me, wondering why they can't replace them with a fuselage-safe gun that can only be released by a switch in the cockpit. That way, the next time some idiot stands up with a box cutter, a passenger could welcome him to America by shooting his stupid ass, with the help of the captain. Just a thought.

Meanwhile I'm trying not to listen to half of an obnoxiously loud cellphone conversation involving the orange tan-in-a-bottle cretin in the next seat. I make ugly eye contact, and he winks at me! This trip is turning into a living hell. His bulging man-breasts are quivering through some kind of shimmering, black Lycra shirt as he removes a patent leather Gucci loafer to pick something ghastly off his fungus-encrusted big toe. Lovely. As it turns out, he's leaving a message, and there is a communal nod of satisfaction around the cabin when he starts with, "Hey Lenny, this is Dick ... "

Gloria the flight attendant asks me if I want the gray meat or the orange pasta. I can't make up my mind, so I opt for the colorless Absolut instead. Then Gucci Dick interrupts his all-important message to point a chubby finger and thumb pretend-gun at Gloria, makes a double clicking sound with his chewing gum, winks again, and says he'll have my pasta along with his steak -- "Capisce, toots?" Toots shoots him a look that would stop a clock, but Dick is unfazed, and damnit, I feel like an extra in "The Sopranos."

Out of options for a diversion, I realize I'm going to have to delve between the sheets of the last literary option for the professional traveler, and the single clearest indicator of my abject surrender to crushing boredom: SkyMall. Through sheer force of habit, I start at the back. Oh good, it's an advertisement for a medical jet service that will, should Gucci Dick suffer a massive coronary in Venezuela, whisk him back to Miami to be miraculously resuscitated by a Venezuelan doctor.

A page forward, we have the "Earl of Houghton Elephant" wall mount, which weighs in at a suspiciously cheesy eight pounds. I can hardly contain myself when I find that for a mere $295, I can be the proud owner of "Glamdring," the sword of Gandalf. Even better, while I'm visiting Middle-earth, for less than half of that I can thrust my middle finger into "Galadriel's Ring" and in that time-honored Upper-earth tradition, indicate to the nearest Orc that his presence is not necessary. Splendid! This flight is fairly winging by now.

In the "Inspiring Artwork" section, for $139.99, I can get a wood-framed photo of a big-ass rock with a scrawny tree growing out of it, with the gooseflesh-raising statement printed underneath: "Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow."

Brilliant, although even if the English language is beyond what you have already mastered, you might get a job writing crappy copy for inspiring art.

The best photo in here is of Tony Little, pony-tailed and splay-legged in spandex with a dung-eating grin that I swear makes him look almost more punchable than Dr. Phil. Tony is on his Gazelle Freestyle, a total aerobic workout. Anyone who buys one of those things needs a good thrashing.

The pet section is for the spectacularly short of sense. One product that caught my attention was the weatherproof dog bed, which I might actually buy if I ever get a weatherproof dog. Like Willard the Wonder Mutt would ever sleep outside. Hah!

An attempt to deliver such an item to our house would be a bad idea, for if the neighborhood dog known as "Death to Squirrels" ever got wind of it, the mailman would be performing the task with 20 pounds of growling terrier dangling from either cheek.

The stupefying power of SkyMall is not to be underestimated. If not for our descent into Dallas, I might have been tempted into ordering a roll of talking toilet paper. Gucci Dick had nodded off a while ago, wearing the grim expression of a man who knew he was being written about but couldn't protest because it would be a damning admission that he was a peeping Tom. So he decided to be a sleeping Dick instead.

Time to turn off approved electronic devices. This trip was a bummer all right, and if you're on one, I hope you have more to read than this.

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