The Stretch DC-9 had landed, taxied across the tarmac, and stopped just short of the gate. This model of airplane is properly called an MD-80, but I happen to think that Stretch DC-9 is a more descriptive and interesting name, so I’m sticking with it. I’m sure the pilot of the Stretch DC-9 announced something to us passengers, but we were parked for I-forget-how-many minutes, sitting in the dark, waiting for those last few feet of transportation to be delivered. Thus the man two rows ahead and across the aisle whipped out his cell phone and made a call to American Airlines. Here is the half-conversation that I overheard, with parts imagined but the gist intact.
“Hi, can you patch me through to your people at Dallas-Fort Worth International? Our plane has landed but we’re stuck on the ground….Flight 513 from Houston…. No, I don’t want to make a reservation. I’m on the plane right now…I understand, but can I talk to flight arrivals in Dallas? I don’t know if they’ve forgotten us or what….Hello? Can you help me?…”
Eventually the airplane inched forward, and the passenger stopped pleading.
That was almost 20 years ago.
At the behest of the physician whom I have decided to call My Doctor, I submitted myself to a certain diagnostic procedure that has become de rigueur for anyone who has reached a certain age that I deny actually reaching, and who has adequate health insurance. So I reported to a facility that, after arriving, I realized was dedicated to this particular procedure and not much else. The staff included a pleasant middle-aged male anesthesiologist with Asian features and a thick Chinese accent. The old saying about anesthesiologists, which I learned during my days in medical school, is that the job is 97 percent boredom, interrupted by 3 percent sheer terror. I asked many questions of the Asian anesthesiologist because I wanted to make sure I would be among the 97 percent. He seemed very pleased to talk to me and discuss his work.
The anesthetic, he explained, was really wonderful. You (meaning me, in this case) went under very quickly, and came out very quickly, and with no real side effects. They used it all the time at the clinic with no problems. He communicated lots of other information, including the name of the drug and a bit of its history, but I doubt I remembered his words even at the time, and certainly not now. The thought of stepping out of the cot and high-tailing it elsewhere was crossing my mind, but nope, I said I would submit to the test, and so I did. I had never met these people before and knew very little about them, but I opted to trust, if only because we all were surrounded by the United States of America.
When the moment of truth arrived, he injected a vial of something into the intravenous line and said I would be out in 10 seconds. I lay there counting quietly to myself. Six, five, four…and then I woke up in the recovery room. Shortly after, the doctor in charge told me that the body structure in question looked just dandy.
That was almost 20 months ago.
I recently returned from a trip to Manhattan. I used to live and work there, and the island is the same place that I remember, only more so. More crowded, more hectic, more expensive. The subway is up to $2.75 a ride, a coffee at Starbucks cost $4.00, a newsstand copy of the New York Times set me back $3.00, and all I really wanted was the crossword puzzle. I don’t know how ordinary working people stand a chance on that island and in that city, but they seem to keep making a go of it.
All of those people crammed into a space smaller than the DFW airport, and plenty more souls in the surrounding boroughs, and Long Island and Jersey, and the communities clinging around train stops all the way up to New Haven, Connecticut. Nevermind their reliance on strangers for health care, how about those vast, barely-visible systems for food, electricity, water and sewage, communication, as well as transportation; each of which managed and understood by a relatively tiny, specialized subset? The American West-slash-Texas ideal of going it alone, the cowboy on the prairie looking after himself and his cattle—it ain’t flying here in the land of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional. We are interdependent; we need each other; we need the strangers we may never meet.
I want to yell to someone in power, “Hey, will you pay attention to global climate change? Will you figure out how we stop burning fossil fuels, and how we pump carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere? Most of all, will you acknowledge this problem actually exists!” I’m naïve enough to think that if enough of us yell loudly enough, we might actually get the climate airplane inching toward the gate. It’s better than fretting silently in the dark.
Of course, Manhattan is really not a good place to fret. I’m sure plenty of fretting goes on there, especially on Wall Street, and in the offices and cubicles of the midtown skyscrapers—a few of which I used to inhabit—but on the streets, well, we’re too busy keeping our guard up while simultaneously being distracted and entertained. Did you know that they did a SpongeBob musical? You would if you were in Times Square recently, where several Jumbotrons advertise the production. They’ve got Squidward dancing on lots of legs! OK, four legs, not ten, but still. You can also go see a jukebox musical of Go-Go’s hits, set in the middle ages. I’m not making this up.
Gray’s Papaya is still selling hot dogs on the cheap ($1.25 per) although they appear to be down to one location, on the Upper West Side.
The Strand Bookstore is still the place to buy new, used, and out-of-print books at 12th and Broadway.
Back in my hometown of Minneapolis, a sports writer named Sid Hartman, now in his 90s, is still slinging the jock gossip in an occasional column in the daily paper.
I hear that Garrison Keillor is trying to mount a return to radio.
My home these days is in central Massachusetts, about midway between Boston and Springfield. We live in a confusing region that is semi-suburban, semi-rural, and semi-small-town, which I deem confusing because the three semis add up to one and a half. I think it’s true that New York is the city that never sleeps (as belted for us by Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli, and less famously by many others.) In contrast, central Mass undergoes a regular sleep-wake cycle that probably is a lot healthier, but for me takes some getting used to.
Last Sunday, as the afternoon was turning into evening, I was driving along unfamiliar roads on various errands, and it bothered me that I seemed to be missing out on the local excitement, due to bad timing. Lawn signs in front of a church advertised a fun Oktoberfest—spelled with a “k”—featuring food and drink, music, dancing, and a raffle, but the church was deserted and the party clearly was happening elsewhen. The Drawbridge Puppet Theater of Lunenburg, which is housed in a fairytale-like castle, was closed and emptied. Same for a car dealership called Mohawk Village Motors, which announces itself with a giant, somewhat weather-beaten statue of a politically-incorrect Indian warrior.
Nevertheless, just as the Sun was setting, the sky turned a muted yet brilliant shade of pink, and then a dark orange. I expect the post-industrial town of Fitchburg, where I had stopped for gas, has never looked more beautiful.
Times Square could never match it.
What else to tell you?
On the drive to work this morning, my older son, age 13.5, brought up and discussed at great length the old math-teacher’s chestnut of the infinite number of monkeys, each with a typewriter, eventually producing all the works of Shakespeare. Maxwell pointed out that the holding room would need very sturdy walls, that the monkeys would need hefty supplies of food, water, typewriter ribbon, etc. etc., and that we have to assume that they all don’t infinitely fling their feces at each other, which would foul up the paper. Did I mention how I really hope we solve global climate change—and fast!? Otherwise, if my two sons are lucky enough to reach my current age, they might not forgive me and the rest of us for the monkey-mess they inherit. And a mess it would be.
The regular season of baseball is down to its last week. After that commences the playoffs, but this is the last hurrah for most of the teams, including my hometown Minnesota Twins. Once I attended the last game of the season between two non-playoff teams—specifically, Mets and Braves at the old Shea Stadium—and I’d like to go to another game like that, for reasons I cannot quite explain. The sports announcers, when they’re being a little sloppy, sometimes use the word “meaningless” to describe these end-of-season games. To me, that raises the issue of the meaning of baseball in the first place.
So who wants to join me at a game? I’ll buy hot dogs or bratwurst, and for dessert, cups of soft-serve ice cream in miniature team-replica plastic helmets. Maybe together we’ll figure out the name of the goat.
That’s all I’ve got, for now at least. Please keep in touch on Facebook, over e-mail, in person, or through telegraph keys or smoke signals, if that’s your preference.