Just Plane Silly

Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentleman. We’re talking about flying today.


I love flying, but I’m terrified of heights. I can be perfectly fine staring out a couple inches of plastic window separating me from an uncomfortably thin atmosphere and be fine not being able to see roads, but I get shaky on a ten-foot ladder. If that strikes you as monumentally dumb: don’t worry, I think so, too.

Actually, before we get into the flying, let’s take a second to talk about open-sided escalators. These are the escalators that on, say, the right side, typically hug the floors of the building. The left side, meanwhile, is attached to nothing and overseas the open space in the center of the mall. At the Dimond Center in Anchorage, Alaska, it overlooks the ice rink on that side. In the 5th Avenue Mall, there’s a shoe store that takes up the bottom floor.

If you’re still having trouble picturing it, I’m talking about something like this:


Yeah, screw those things. I get terrible vertigo if I look over the edge of those, and every time I step on one to come down, I’m convinced I’m going to trip over my own feet and plummet to my death. And this is probably going to sound a little weird, because it is weird, but I always plot out my strategy of defense were a sudden earthquake to detach the escalator from the walls or tear it in half. I know which angle to hurl my body for maximum opportunity to catch the railing of the closest floor and pull myself up to safety.

Now, I do the same thing on planes. I know that the back seats on the plane are the ones with the highest survival rating. I’ve got the Exit doors and hatches figured out, and I’ve mentally gone through what I would do if I were to survive a crash, both in the ocean and somewhere in the mountains or something (Would I survive in Arctic waters? Probably not. Would I cannibalize my fellow passengers? Probably. I’ll worry about brain worms later).

Strangely enough, though, I never get anxious on planes, not even as a kid. I think it probably comes down to, once it gets to a certain height it just stops being scary and starts being absurd. Twenty feet? Ahhh! I could break my back! 3,000 feet? Haha that’s just ridiculous. Why care? I can walk around freely in this giant metal tube filled with other people. It doesn’t even feel real. That guy is snoring. This chick is writing her memoirs. It’s like a really crowded living room.

Or an elevator. I’m fine in elevators, and I’ve seen tons of films where the elevator detatches and crashes, mangling everyone inside. I saw Devil, where some malevolent force starts murdering everyone in the elevator. That movie was garbage, though. So.

Anyway, I know that elevators have safety catches on them, and I know that if something were to happen with the plane, well, at least I can blame someone other than myself. The fear just isn’t there. A little turbulence actually thrills me. The closest I ever came to being terrified was when I got kicked out of Canada and had to take a rickety little plane from Vancouver to Seattle and that plane got struck by goddamn lightning.

Man, but I do love planes. Some are better than others. By that I mean their coach seats are a little roomier or you’ve got an extra armrest or something. I don’t generally shill our the extra dough for first class, but on the handful of times I did, THERE’S an experience, too. Kick back and relax, watch some movies. Some airlines have headrests now that bend in a little bit to support your neck if you decide to nap. Others will provide packaged pillows and blankets (instead of recycled blankets they used to give out which, more often than not, smelled like pee). Just let me kick back and relax while a man-made machine shuttles 100 other people and me 600 miles an hour through the air.

And sure, sometimes the people you get seated next to suck. There’s the occasional crying baby, or the guy who was so much in a hurry to get to the airport that he forgot to apply deodorant, or the lady who’s spilling over the seat like some kind of meat comforter for your side.

But sometimes you’ll get seated next to a guy who buys you shots all night long, or a gorgeous Peruvian that you get to spend three hours getting to know, never to see her again, or you meet a guy who teaches you that life is a decoy duck.

Sometimes you’ll just get a weird story. I almost had sex with a stranger on a plane once, almost ten years ago. That’s a big no-no, generally frowned upon by anyone with decency and, by all accounts, fairly uncomfortable to pull off in the strict confines of an airplane bathroom. I was all about it, though.

I had a window seat (typically my preferred seat) and she had the aisle. A slender woman in her fifties took the seat between us, already drunk from airport cafe liquor. It was this woman, this center seat lush, that I got to know first.

I was co-writing a romantic-comedy novella with my friend Skyler at the time and as such, I had my notebook out. She asked where I got my ideas from. I told her sometimes I wrote from personal experiences. She asked if I ever had an experience on an airplane before. “Haha! I’m just kidding,” she said. “But maybe not.” This is not the woman I almost slept with on the plane, although I’m sure that would have been a given.

This lady proceeded to buy a Bloody Mary for the girl in the aisle seat (who gave it to me once the lady passed out), tried to hook me up with her lawyer niece, and then tried to fall asleep on my shoulder. When I got up to use the bathroom, she grabbed my ass.

Upon returning from the restroom, she was knocked out and I started having a whisper conversation from the aisle with the girl in the aisle seat. The lady in the middle woke up and switched seats with me, so she would be in the window and I would be in the middle.

Game. On.

The girl and I talked about all sorts of stuff for close to an hour. She was 23. I might have lied about my age, but she knew I couldn’t legally drink. I don’t remember which of us made the first move, but we kissed, made out, talked some more, kissed some more, and then she pulled away from my lips with a smile and said, “Too bad we’re about to land or I would have given you that experience she was talking about” AND THEN THE INTERCOM COMES ON AND THE SEATS HAVE TO COME UP AND THE TRAYS HAVE TO BE SHUT AND I ENDED UP IN SEATTLE WITH A TEN FOOT ERECTION.


I wonder what ever happened to her.

But yeah, I love planes. I wish meals were still comped, even if they were those terrible fake eggs or two-day old turkey sandwiches they used to give. I wish I still got free little snack packages. Hell, I’ll even take the peanuts and those are too salty for my taste. I wish half the time they give me a complimentary drink, they wouldn’t walk away with the rest of the can. These are first-world problems. I should pack a lunch, or get something in the airport during my layover. I should cut back on my soda intake (although if I ever die in a plane crash and I didn’t slam, like, three Cokes, I’m going to be fucking pissed).

Planes are cool. Flying is even better. I have often entertained the idea of taking flying lessons to be a pirate, but in the same vein that I hardly trust myself to walk down an escalator without dying, I’m convinced I would immediately crash a plane on accident.

Airports suck. Not a fan. SeaTac and O’Hare in particular can blow themselves up and down a mountain for all I care, but airports give me planes and planes give me rides, and my dissatisfaction with airports can be saved for another time because I want to end with my favorite thing about flying.

I love the take-off and the landing. I love leaving in the middle of the night and I love the window seat when it happens, because I can see all the lights of the city. It doesn’t matter which city. You can see the businesses that are open late and the street lights, the houses with one light on in the bedroom or the living room, and maybe they’re reading a book or playing video games or having sex or doing taxes, crying or painting or thinking about all the years that have been wasted, or all the things that have been accomplished. The city, any city, every city lights up like a jewel, and the plane takes you high up above it, pulling away, distancing you from hundreds of thousands of lives continuing on, each one focused on momentous things, despite that as you pull away, you see just how small and inconsequential everything is in comparison to the entirety of the world.

That is so beautiful and so sad and so awe-inspiring that we’re all so small and we don’t give a shit. We just keep doing us.

I also love landing during the day. You get such a clear look of the country-side and how the lands looks around and because of the cities we have settled. You get to see the work that went into building these places, and the monuments or the parks or the lakes or the bridges that define them. Landing in a city during the day screams You Are Here. And as the plane descends and the buildings get larger, the cars become visible, you can make out the ants that are people, there is this feeling of reconnecting with the world. You’re literally coming back down to earth from a sojourn through the skies. You were above and apart from the world for a while. That’s amazing.

Flying, man. Not just for the birds.

Life Is a Decoy Duck

Six or seven years ago, I was flying back home from upstate New York. It had been a good trip. I had flown over from Alaska to watch an acoustic show and concert performance of a band I enjoyed a lot, staying with a girl I had up to that point only known via a message board. I like to live dangerously.

Jenny took me to a hot dog festival (which was a total sausagefest but in a literal sense) and then the first and only frat party I had ever been to. I think I was 19. I recall winning flip cup on the lawn somewhere, a game that I am notoriously bad at and which I had no experience up to that point playing. Jenny and I had been mixing copious amounts of Grey Goose in bottles of vitamin water so we could, according to her, “rehydrate while we dehydrate”.

I ended up vomiting in the frat house bathroom and waking up with some girl’s number I didn’t remember getting and never bothered to call. I had the single worst hangover headache I had ever known. It felt like something was trying to climb out of my head and was making the attempt by slamming seven hammers in different directions against the inside of my skull. I spent the day recovering by laying in the sun and rooting for the Red Sox against the Yankees because, again, I like to live dangerously.

Anyway, I was only in NY for four days or so. I boarded my flight back to real life and found myself sitting in the middle seat in the last row on the plane. In the aisle seat was a quiet old lady I didn’t want to bother. In the window seat was a middle-aged guy. Early to mid-30s, I’d say.

We swapped names and stories, most of which I’ve forgotten over time. I remember he was moving somewhere to get a fresh start after selling off his half of a restaurant he co-owned with his best friend. I asked why he sold it and there were many reasons. The amount of maintenance was overwhelming. He never really wanted to own a restaurant in the first place. He found his friendship tested once he actually owned a business with her, and instead of risking that, he decided to sell and put some time and distance between them to cool everything down.

The following conversation is almost completely verbatim because I honestly can’t forget the earnest expression on his face the entire time.

“Wow. Well, you know…new directions can be healthy. Fresh starts and all that. What are you going to be doing now that you’re done with restaurants?”

“Making decoy ducks.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I make decoy ducks. It’s actually really lucrative.”

“…Decoy ducks. That’s, huh. That’s a very…how do you even get into doing that?”

“Well, while I was first starting thinking about selling the restaurant, this guy came and started telling me about it. I got interested, so I asked him what I had to do to get into that.”

“Yeah, is there like a class for that, or…”

“Sort of. We met up and he gave me this block of wood.”

“Uh huh.”

“And he handed me a knife.”

“Uh huh.”

“And he told me, ‘Now carve away everything that isn’t a duck.'”



“That’s really shitty advice.”

This guy went on to tell me that, yeah, it wasn’t much to work with. The first several attempts were awful. Eventually, though, it started to get the right shape. The wings grew detailed. The beak grew nostrils. The tail was edged. Then he went through the catastrophe that was learning to paint the things. But he grew better at it with time and practice and now he’s making money hand over fist selling fake animals so people can trick dumb animals into getting shot.

It was a bizarre conversation to me. I guess I knew that decoy ducks existed and logic would dictate that someone had to make them but it wasn’t something that ever occurred to me. Now there was this guy who, trying to figure out what direction to take his life, stumbles into this profession and the first and only things he is given is a block of wood, a knife, and the worst instruction ever.


But the more I thought about it, and it’s  come to me more than once over time, that’s a fantastic metaphor for life. How often have you been between jobs and uncertain which direction you should go? How often have you wondered if you’re living in the right place or working in the right field or giving too much to the wrong people?

Uncertainty and the fear of failure are inhibitors. They keep you unhappy but content to stay where you are and doing what you’re doing because what if you screw up something else that could make you happier. But you know what? It’s incredibly rare for someone to get their life right all the time, the first time.

There are many variations of this message, but here’s the one I propose: It doesn’t matter if it isn’t perfect or if you screw up. The world is just a block of wood. Now carve away everything that isn’t your duck.