The taxi is the smell of Stale. A scent of neglect and loss, something sitting alone far too long. The driver has a smoker’s cough, wears small dark shades, and one who attempts mild conversation. I think him to be an old beatnik fallen from grace, poetic soul lost all these years. The Eagles’ ‘Take it Easy’ plays, and I notice the gas station coffee cup that goes untouched.
I start with the end, a mundane affair of returning home. At Hobby, I’m sitting five minutes before I notice a pillow and a large military green sack three chairs away, no owner. Has no one else noticed this? I sigh, and rather than report abandoned luggage, I opt for the express cafe down the concourse. I’d rather nibble on an overpriced banana nut muffin than chance sitting close to potential explosives. Though I find myself questioning my ethics in mid bite. I walked away, said nothing, not even to the woman face deep in a novel that was just to the other side of me. For a moment, I justified it horribly, saying they all were there before me, oblivious to it all, whose fault would it have been but their own? Mentally, I argue with myself, remember woman, in your heart you said the world will be my child if one is to never come from this womb. Do not forget that self made vow. Love it better than your fallen gods have for their hands were never in the midst of their creations. Such intensity before noon, and I was already tired.
But this is how I am on returns. Feels like I’m backpedaling, returning to places like reversing time. It bothers me, always forward I want to be. I talked to no one during the return to Charleston. But I became infatuated with the clouds, the curves and patterns in a blue sky. I quietly hoped the pilot would turn, dive closer, so my lens could capture the movement. It all seems suspended though it moves as I on that plane. When the wheels struck Charleston ground, I had the urge to vomit. No desire for this place.
The end with the beginning. Charleston airport shutdown, George W. coming for some BBQ and golf. Almost two hours, no planes in, no planes out, and we sit. It’s CofC fall break, college students everywhere, faces now soured by the news, and donning my alma mater hoodie, I am easily assimilated.
On the first flight, coach, she takes my aisle seat. I let her keep it if she promises to block the rest when we leave. She is young, name of Sara(h), freshman. Art management is her study. I wonder about people who major in ‘art management.’ Sounds like the role for disenchanted artists or those of crippled creativity, finding their hands, words, eyes, to be dead of innate artistic ability, but cannot divorce themselves from what they can never become. Always have to be close to what you can never hold, to the opposite you wish you could comprehend and manifest. She is dry. Dry thoughts. Dry words. Even her admittance to having been fond of sketching but lacking of abstract mind, her retelling, dry. Were you not pained by your failure to break barriers of self, to not have the hand and mind mate and father creation? Yes, dry, this is why you can never be this, and have to settle for that. I distract myself with my camera, taking images at takeoff and the horizon, low shutter, streaks of light, I smile to myself. Sarah reads the sky mag, and waits for her coffee…yes, freshman, indeed.
Half the passengers are running, soon as the door breaks free. All of us have connections, so ready to be missed. Running in flip flops down Atlanta concourse D, gotta find C, gotta run, meet the train, run up the stairs, almost falling yet saved by the man who grabbed my bag and pulled me back like a rogue pup. My lungs hurt, asthma is a buzzkill, and I find my gate right as the flight is to leave. Delay. Twenty minutes before I bid Atlanta farewell. I f*&$%#@ hate ALT.
I upgraded to business class for the long flight. Air Tran is a cheap airline that serves cherry Coke and offers a nicer chair and snacks for $50 more. It is a self treat, two hours of peace. But I am in aisle 1, no room for the camera bag. The stewardess grabs it, and I ask to take my camera out and hold it in my lap for the entire flight. Now the questions. Photographer? What do you do? Across the aisle, I chat with a Georgia Peach.
The man by the window, next to me. Greenspan wisdom in his palms. Quiet, offers me a mint without even looking up at me. I want to know to him.
Somehow, conversation is struck, my camera makes him curious. And we talk. Man of corporate life, philanthropic endeavors at night, he is everywhere and yet nowhere, suspended in sky. We talk of Rushdie, economics, religion, philosophy, culture. He has a bit more than a decade on me, but my answers and life are free of age. He sleeps little, works so much, but don’t pity him, he is happy, this is what he loves. He will retire early, then find time for a different life, perhaps one with a lover and children, or not.
The more you do something, the more you crave it – Sleep Philosophy. So, he rests little. No time for slumber when half the globe awakens at our night. He tells me he has never talked to a fellow passenger for so long, and I half jest that it is of no importance, by the time we walk away, he’ll forget half of my words. He laughs. We both know it’s true. Near the end, he asks a perplexing question of introspection, worded awkwardly, about one’s weakness and strength. ‘Is this the question you ask when you don’t want to talk anymore?’ I laugh. Not quite, but he likes to leave a person thinking. But I already have answers. Say in my case, my weakness is needed for my strength. But then I ask, can an attribute be both, a paradox to the being? No one has said this before to him. He says no, not possible, he thinks. Creativity, my final answer in this philosophical game. Nodding, yes, it is both. It can be your weakness and your strength, the two-faced trait that entails all opposites and complexities of existence.
This is how we end. His e-mail address scribbled on torn Hertz rental advertisement. Let this not be our end, but rather our beginning, even if we never see the other’s face again, let us be friends through electronic letters.
It was the best flight I’ve ever had. And I waited curbside for my brother-in-law. Talking with the security guard, explaining shrimp and grits to him, a meal that shouldn’t be missed. And in the back of my mind, I think of this man sitting by the window. How strange of strangers. No matter its brief existence, I will be a friend through written word, if for no other reason than he makes me think, prods my mind into critical processes again, and I am never satiated of the desire of human exchange and having my thoughts and perceptions challenged. That is simply grand.