Methane is the country’s banner now. We ask for space suits for our children.
The overheard response to this is copulating. A fair pleasure for a couple beasts. Six times in a day, twenty times in one weekend. A new record. The self-esteem incalculable. It is a story worth retelling.
All the streets have gangplanks. Walk them — it is a children’s dare. At the edge they face their methane doom. It’s tough to look upon. It is a challenge to step on. Taking one step forward is like running in a nightmare. The brain screams at them but the legs won’t move. To even approach the edge takes a will the strength of which is rarely seen in pro athletes. Eyes will be shut tight. Vice grips and a crowbar couldn’t pry the lids apart. Sky people will block the gangplank path. They could do it although they are made up. Everything but the possible goes unceasingly. Each fence in front is a horizon.
Some strangers look impossibly good. Others look bad to the point of revulsion, but they never seem unreal. There exists an acceptance of the grotesque — no matter how outlandish, it resides in the realm of normalcy. Their ranks are swelled with visitors. But a round or two of medication frees them. Beauty’s realm is demarcated by concentric larger rings. The outermost is largest and is filled with people wearing makeup. The inner rings are smaller, staffed by the standards of the day and the residents who meet them. The center ring is the smallest of them all. It contains limitless dry ice and thick Cascadian fog. Looking in, one strains the senses futilely. Then, the hint of sound. There are words and pauses — someone’s speaking there! The second-most beautiful people in the world rush forward to the border, smartphones shakily recording in portrait mode. Though every nation’s represented, nobody can make out the voices mumbling. Scientists apply for entry — they’re scoffingly denied. Barely audible audio is posted to the web. Accompanying selfies get more hits. Eventually a genius linguist figures out it’s not one language being spoken, but many, and all those languages are dead.
Some have been lost so long, we have no names for them. For however long the cameras run, nothing is ever seen inside the center ring. For however long the people of the second ring press themselves against the border, they never smell, taste, or touch a thing. And for all their surreptitious means, none is ever able to cross and take up residence within. This hardly bothers them, for what this means is, all along, they have been the most beautiful.
The linguists meanwhile get to work. There is much decoding and translating to be done. Also they take a real ass-beating from the publicists. But as the linguists still have not deciphered the Indus Valley script, unlocking these dead tongues could take a considerable while. They continue at their best until an insecure religious type gets the one idea he’ll ever have, and sends in the sociologists to muck everything up. They ignore evidence in the face of their pet theories, which they do excel at. They generate an apotheosis-inho as a whole new vocabulary springs up around the dead tongues. The way of thinking changes once again.
Nothing is ever free from redefinition. No message passes undiluted. We are sentenced to cooperate.
Among the gotchas in this life is being bored. We are sentenced to this boredom for the conscious portion of a life, however ill-determined it may be. Anything repetitive becomes boring. Boredom is knowing there are lovers trying to contact you but the message can’t get through. Boredom is knowing everyone at school or work has a name for you, but no one ever brings it up, and you have no proof and never get some. Boredom is exactly like having something bad happen and then wanting justice for a long time; the want sustains, the goal does not. Boredom is a summer that leaves no good memories, not one, you just go through it with all its rising heat, and humidity, when there is no a/c so it’s hotter in the flat than out, though out is brutal, and it’s too hot to move so you move with the slow passing slant of any shade you grab, and you don’t drive, and no one takes the city bus,, not that you have the fare for it. Boredom is having so little experience you can’t appreciate not being shot at this minute. Boredom is walking til you get between two of whatever’s side by side up a-ways ahead because you got no place you need to be, which means no place others need you to be. Don’t think about that too deeply. Boredom is the compression and reserving of the period when you had no marking year, nothing did stand out, and the good was tainted by the current knowledge of how it puttered out and/or exploded.
Our hero distracted himself from boredom’s torment more than the average guy. When he felt himself getting stuck in its painful grip, he’d random-man it, doing something unusual for the context, or saying something that only made sense if your life was shaped by English television of the early ’70s. In a department store he liked to begin trying on whatever was next to him, putting on a size too big right over the clothes that he was wearing. He tried on jewelry until the clerk refused to retrieve any more. Watches, bracelets, and pinky rings he inspected from an arm fully extended, the thing reflecting bright, too close enough to blink on. Then he’d say in a dreadful kitchen sink accent, “Hmm — no.” As soon as he or a companion uttered a complaint, it was over to a kiosk to have a demonstration. He said, “It’s my job as a consumer to abuse the projections of the craven pestilent marketers, by using their schemes to boost myself.” He added, “And never giving them a dime.”
No one condescends as well as a caring friend.
The 4K 3D holograms inside our hero’s mind were his past mistakes. They’d never lose their sharpness. For great long stretches they were more alive than he was. At times they held the present hostage, at others it seemed the present was their incubator. He was sure they were in cahoots. But they distracted well enough that he never could complete an investigation in them. And besides what court could ever try them? What jail could ever hold them, and what restraining order could ever back them off for good?
The answer was two. One was alcohol. But the trade-off was his life. The other was Alzheimer’s. But no one hates his past enough to go through that. He had no choice but to wait for science to provide the flushable memory wipe. He never told anyone, but he’d be the first in line. He was convinced this wipe would be the way he’d reach his greatest potential. Free of the bloody wounds his life and loved ones had inflicted, he’d stand straight like Coriolanus and revel in the people’s admiration of his wounds.
To save drama departments around the world, we must keep on neglecting children. The arts will take a nosedive if we don’t.
As this went on our heroine took her flight. Destination: St Louis lite, population: gun-rack pickup types. Her airplane landed safely, taxied, stopped. The captain got on the intercom and spoke the language of transport: utter obfuscation. As minutes stuck on the runway stretched to thirty and then sixty, the passengers began looking around at each other. Each eye contact was a connection, however small. The passengers contained within themselves a pool of numb. Nature was uninvolved (a rarity). Their pools were purely dug by nurture. Society had put them in. Every tough experience from the intolerably painful to your garden bullshit is a stabbing shovelful. When bureaucracy from government licenses to corporations feels like Kafka’s hell within us, we have two choices, to start screaming or go numb. But the advent smartphones has put a damper on our public freak-outs. There is naught to do but dip into our pools, the ones we never asked for, never wanted in the first place.
This was the feeling that the passengers collected. As minute ninety trickled past without permission to deplane, they began to realize they had something in common. This was a feeling that had been propagated out of them some generations back. It was dead. It had been killed by power. It seemed unlikely it could rise again. It took this special circumstance, being trapped together, without information, to override the pressure to conform, which is twice as strong in airports, given their history of malfunction and terror.
Passengers began to look around. Implicit in their eyes was this question — who is going to do something about this?, which sits atop the broader instinctual question whenever people feel uncertain — who is going to lead us now? Power is never more worried than when the people are uncertain.
The cabin air was staid and greasy. Our heroine wanted to be the one. She wanted to stand up and demand answers. She wanted to speak for everyone. What stopped her was her personal conditioning. It was dangerous for her to attract attention to herself. There was always one male who would want more from her, who would turn her good-faith words and actions into a big prob. She would not stand today. She switched on another inner tool, one well worn by the kindly dispositioned — sitting quietly, hoping, giving off the forceful impatient vibe that says Do something. It passed like wind from comfort dogs in the rear up to first class.
Her frustration broke the pressure and she leaned her head into the aisle, looking to and fro. The attendants had made themselves aloof. It was remarkable. She heard a voice — Jerseyan by the sound of it. It was a male passenger in coach. He said,
“Excuse me, everyone. I don’t mean to make this bad situation worse, but there are a few things we can agree on. One, we’re all in this plane together. Two, the situation needs improving. Is there anyone who disagrees with these two facts? (One person raised his hand.) Sergeant-at-arms, fire up the turbine, take this man outside, and let him be sucked through that. What, it’s humane. He’ll be a smear before he ever feels it. No? Well, it’s less painful than lethal injection, and way less than the chair, just so you know.
“Now look, if we act together as one, we’ll shift the power from those trapping us. Then we can make sure they can’t treat us like this anymore. This is another thing we all agree on. To change it, here’s what we’re going to do. Everyone go on your social media and say we are refusing to get off this plane. Tell everyone you know, and tell them to tell everyone they know. We want everyone on this runway to refuse to disembark their airplanes as well. We want everyone in every city who’s in a plane at this moment to refuse to disembark. We’re going to shut it down, just like they did in ’68. It can happen right now — thousands of planes across the country with a hundred thousand passengers refusing to get off.
“Now look, I’m not here to lie to you. We’re going to suffer. We could be here all night. We could get hungry. But I promise you our suffering will be temporary. And by doing this we will stop greater suffering in the future.
“Is it right they cram us in here, six to a row on these planes, and ten or twelve in each row on big ones? Is it right they treat us like criminals just because we need to fly? I’m not a criminal, and neither are you. We’re tired of being assumed to be criminals!
“Let’s stop this injustice now. We can do it. If you ever wished the world could be a better place, now is your chance to change it. When we set the example, everyone will join us. When we all act together at the same time, we’re safe. They don’t have enough bars to hold us. They don’t have enough cops to get us all. We do this and they will never drag a person with a ticket and a seat off a plane again. When we ground the nation right now, they will listen to us, I promise you that.
“Now I would like to ask our Latin friends to step forward and lead us, because thankfully Latinos still have a sense of us as The People, and they are used to standing together under a common goal. Their culture has resisted the riot police beating it out of them and resisted the propagandists twisting up their thoughts and their beliefs. They have the momentum of history of action.
“For us! For the children! For a better world! Vamos amigos! Let’s roll!”
At this the captain announced they were allowed to disembark. The passengers filed out without glancing at this guy.
He said after them, “That goes double for the railroads too. Driver 8, take a break. You been on this shift too long.”