A Short (and True) Story from AirTran Flight #468, Written During a Brief Layover in Milwaukee’s Airport
I clicked the seatbelt and looked out onto the busy tarmac. Airport employees jogged from one place to another, and a pair seemed animated in argument. I was trying to read their gestures – was that open hand offered in apology or anger? – when I felt someone to my left kneel down on the middle seat.
It was a smiling young woman in a yellow sweater and a traveler’s ponytail. When I saw a smiling man also in his late-20s standing behind her, I knew immediately what she was going to ask.
“Would you mind switching seats with us?” she said. “We’re flying to our wedding.”
“Of course,” I said, waving off her continued explanation. “Congratulations.” I asked where I was moving and she pointed to the middle seat directly behind us. I unbuckled my seatbelt, picked up my backpack, reassured them it was no problem and moved into my new seat.
It was foreign, in a way. For years, I’ve so consistently grabbed window seats that I’d almost forgotten other perspectives exist. Sitting by the window is a rare cinematic experience, other-worldly in a way I always enjoy. Looking out a window during takeoff forces one to play the philosopher, watching a familiar city take new shape, roads and rivers we know so well being reborn in sudden geometric clarity.
The young man sat down directly in front me, his gray polo shirt matching her sweater and solid pink scarf in charming monochrome. Through the space between their seats, I saw them lean in toward each other, smiling. They touched foreheads. He made her laugh, and they kissed.
As we took off, I noticed that they never looked out the window. From around the bulky torso of the traveler to my right, occupied in some cell phone game, I watched the city reassemble itself below. In front of me, the couple stared at each other instead, giggling.
I felt around for the instinct to be chafed, to be irked by the parade of kisses and other endearments square in my sightline. But I came up empty. Their warm affection made them seem younger, much younger, like toddlers – giddy, obsessed, unaware. Sweet without being saccharine. They pulled their foreheads together again, energy zapping across their faces.
I put in earbuds and forced myself into my magazine.
In a few minutes, I felt a strange sensation. It seemed like they were turning around, watching me, peering past each other to check in on my silence. When I glanced up, I thought perhaps I was wrong – her face was turned only to him, her look not quite a full rotation backward. I was about to steal another glance, when the flight attendant surprised me by requesting my drink order. I declined and turned back to my article.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were looking at me. I felt their faces – their round, pretty, vaguely semitic faces under identical dark hair – turning to examine me. I felt embarrassed in the spotlight of their attention, and I shifted uncomfortably in my middle seat.
All of a sudden, there he was, the young man’s face rising over his headrest like a full moon, pregnant with happy anticipation. I saw him start to speak, and tore out my earbuds.
“Can we buy you a drink?” he said, as she fully turned around. “Beer or wine? Really, we’d like to – we can’t thank you enough.”
I stammered in my realization: “Oh, no, no, thank you…”
They smiled their acceptance, and slouched back into their seats. When the flight attendant turned to them, they ordered matching sodas.
When the plane eventually touched down, they chatted amiably, their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, amused at their view of the expanding city. The landing was perfect and smooth.
“For Schwartz this formed the paradox at the heart of baseball, or football, or any other sport. You loved it because you considered it an art: an apparently pointless affair, undertaken by people with a special aptitude, which sidestepped attempts to paraphrase its value yet somehow seemed to communicate something true or even crucial about The Human Condition. The Human Condition being, basically, that we’re alive and have access to beauty, can even erratically create it, but will someday be dead and will not.”
— Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding
How the Mitt Romneys of the world are all LeBron James.
The present moment, with protestors in the streets and people out of work, seems like a strange time for a concerted and proudly aggrieved rich person’s rights campaign. That said, it’s tough to imagine any moment, public or maybe even private, in which anyone besides other very powerful people would want to spend time pondering how difficult it is to be rich and powerful. And yet here we are, all of us, in that moment and being dunked, over and over again, into that lukewarm ponderful pity-pool by the richest people in our culture; people who, it turns out, are both our most coddled and most aggrieved. It is of course easier for a rich person who feels attacked—because President Obama said “fat cat bankers” twice three years ago; because the bad guy in Jason Segel’s Muppets reboot was a swaggy oilman; because on principle you shouldn’t have to apologize for achievement in America—to get a hearing for his beef than it is for a poor person who resents being portrayed as a “taker” or a deadbeat or an avatar/victim of The Toxic Entitlement Culture. But it is easy for most of us to recognize what we’re dealing with when presented with a weepy moneybags expressing his (and no gender-pronouno, I do mean “his”) concern about the Decline Of Civility and the Disturbing Class War Rhetoric being used to describe those who relentlessly and publicly leverage their wealth and influence to protect and enhance their wealth and influence.
What we are dealing with, if you’re feeling generous, is someone so distant from the world as it exists as to believe that a rich person’s right to feel uniquely comfortable and valued is 1) a thing and 2) an issue that belongs on the discursive docket. Or, if you are feeling even more generous, we are perhaps dealing with someone who can’t hear what he’s saying because he grew up in a culture that moralizes success (that is, wealth) in the silliest and most glib way, reverse-engineering valor out of wealth, no matter whence or how that wealth came to be. If you are not feeling generous at all, the recognition is blunt, instant and sure: you, we, are dealing in that case with an asshole, a vainglory case who has mistaken his 150,000-thread-count blinders for super-powered spectacles. We all quite reasonably aspire to comfort and security and maybe a cabin on a lake somewhere quiet, and we should; we work hard in that pursuit, and we should. But who aspires to be this person—this prickly, entitled, self-enamored swell, so secure and yet so heroically insecure, forever puffing up over how self-made he is and constantly on rabbit-eared guard against anyone who would so much as suggest otherwise. Who would want, in other words, to be the human version of the Miami Heat?
—Undercover Bosses, David J. Roth