Tuesday, September 24, 2013


This is the story about how I put Des Moines, Iowa behind me.

Perhaps someday someone who doesn't know me will read that first sentence and think that this is the story of me triumphantly leaving my hometown for new exciting adventures.

It is not.  I am not from Iowa.  I was only there for a weekend, and, in fact, there's nothing particularly bad about Des Moines.  So, stranger (possibly a stranger from the FUTURE!), I hope I have assisted you in properly setting your expectations.

It was a working weekend, the kind where I would be forced to wake up early and sit at a computer for several hours at a time with no hope for a bathroom or cigarette break, or lunch.  The other guy working the event, my competition as it were, would try to keep us awake (we couldn't drink coffee, no; coffee was a diuretic, and again, no bathroom breaks) by joking around and asking questions about all the stupid shit that people were trying to sell, like the hat signed by late 70's rock group Foreigner, or why the shirt once owned by Poison frontman Brett Michaels included a photo of, presumably, the people that had the display case made for it with Brett wearing said shirt, and more importantly, what anyone purchasing this useless piece of memorabilia would do with the photograph.  Would they take it out?  Would they put themselves in the image?  Or, more likely, would they just leave it as an eternal reminder of an event that they never actually experienced?  Fran and Steve, as I named them, would inadvertently be a part of someone's life, possibly forever, for no other reason than they met some aging dude from a hair band and procured a shirt he owned.  I love America.  I hate America.

Despite all of this the work was an ordeal that left me physically and emotionally drained, and though there is certainly nothing particularly wrong with Des Moines, the only thing I wanted was to put the city to my back and get home to Brooklyn, where things, well, maybe didn't make sense, but at least moved with a strangeness I found familiar. It was in this haggard, yet determined state that I boarded the plane in DSM departing to O'Hare and connecting soon after to La Guardia, followed immediately by my goddamn bed.

Let me explain a bit about my travel habits, as some people are not entirely aware of exactly how awful air travel is:  No checked bags.  Ever.  Am I leaving town for 2 months?  Fine, I'll do laundry and stuff a duffel bag with t-shirts. I don't care so long as the second I touch down I get to leave the airport and go somewhere else. Anywhere else.  In the security line I've got anything previously in my pants pockets stuffed into my jacket pockets, my jacket under my arm, my belt undone, and my computer bag unzipped with my free hand on my laptop for easy removal, poised to dump everything in a plastic cart and be on the other side of the security gate in under 30 seconds if I didn't have to wait for every other asshat in the world that somehow forgets that his keys, cell phone, lighter, dog tags, lucky thimble, and about $30,000 in spare change was in his pocket until immediately before he has to go through the metal detector.  I am wearing socks; you have no idea how many people, women mostly, can be found in bare feet at the security checkpoints in airports. It's a special brand of disgusting, seeing people lined up with their bare feet touching the dirty airport floor.  I have my seat booked as close to the exit as I can manage. To summarize, I am a master of travel, mostly because I hate airports, and generally anyone in them that happens to engage me.

It my hurried irritation I boarded the plane.  They put me in the last boarding group.  I'm not sure why, possibly because I purchased a discounted ticket, but I actually suspect it had something to do with the $9.50 fee I elected not to pay while checking in at the electronic kiosk that offered me to board early.  It's fine; I'm in the front of the plane; I'm ready to crack open my book and ignore the in-flight announcements; I'm ready to drink my complimentary ginger ale; I'm ready to mouth "fuck you" out the window as I ascend like a newly reborn phoenix over the midwestern city.

This is what I was thinking about while I shuffled toward my seat, as people ahead of me found difficulty in putting a bag on a shelf and getting out of the aisle.  Ignoring this for now, I located my assigned seat, and, as I raised my bag to the overhead compartment directly above it, something strange happened: A young man, coming from the back of the plane toward me, bag in hand, stopped short and looked at me with an angry pout and sigh that wordlessly said to me "I can't believe you just did that.  You took my space in the compartment."  There was no mistaking it, and for a second my mind raced through scenarios wherein I was in the wrong and that space actually should have gone to him.  Despite the implications of this missive, I do at least want to believe that people are basically good and reasonable.  Failing this I was forced to conclude that this man, appearing some scant years older than me, was simply feeling entitled. To the overhead space. Directly above my assigned seat.  Meeting his pouty expression, so near tantrum, I said to him with a calm voice, with as little derision as possible, "Don't give me that fucking look."  His pout slackened, eyes widened, into a look somewhere between shock and fear, and as he hustled back to his seat, I knew that he was going to New York.  You see, while everyone is infinitely complex and a unique little snowflake and whatever bullshit people say to make each other feel special, there are, in point of fact, 2 types of New York personalities.  One that feels entitled to relative convenience if not luxury because they live in the epicenter of world culture.  The other is completely aware that no one deserves a goddamn thing in this world.  It's kind of odd that the two somehow manage to live such seamless lives in such a small area, but that's just part of the mystery that is New York, I suppose.

The next hour or so is the same as every flight you have ever had, because every flight is exactly the same.  I am not seated next to an attractive person; I am not seated next to a good conversationalist with interesting things to say.  I have the same nondescript person I've already forgotten about who wants to ignore me as equally as I do him, thankfully.  I have the same nondescript cheerful flight attendant offering me a cheerful single-serving soda and a cheerful bag of pretzels or peanuts, and somewhere in front the first-class passengers are having the exact same experience with, I suppose, better drinks and more comfortable seats, though I'm not sure who would pay extra to fly first class for an hour or so from Des Moines to Chicago.

Descending to Chicago the plane hovers through this layer of cloud that appears only a foot thick or less.  In one moment this cloud cover was the only thing visible - that kind of cottony layer that looks like you can walk on it; the kind I saw on my first flight and thought that maybe heaven was really up there, somewhere - the next moment I was seeing how thin it was, now well past the point of believing in that sort of thing, but still marveled at how something so fragile still looked like I could step out and walk on it.  You have no idea how much I still want to step out of a plane and walk on a cloud.

The world below is filled with the vast farmland that surrounds the greater Chicago area.  From experience, there is not much else to Illinois.  Or Indiana.  Or Ohio.  I could go on for about ten or fifteen states, but you get the idea.  Anyway, this is the main point I was getting to with all of this: I look at these farms, these perfectly carved out little squares of green, with the occasional tree-lined street separating them, dotted in the middle with a pond, or cut asymmetrically by a stream snaking through it all, and it strikes me that from up here how beautiful it is compared to the nearby suburbia.  Then, almost immediately thereafter, I think about how it all used to be great plains, just a huge endless sea of grass with ground sloths and smilodon and mastodon, and later buffalo and wolves, and now none of those things.  I love America. I hate America.

I found myself at that very moment yearning, actually yearning, to be on a horse on that ancient plain, pounding fire into the grass as I chased down some great beast.  I was on my way to my home in a concrete metropolis, and a voice in my head asked me what the hell I was doing with my life with a loudness that for one harrowing moment rose above the cacophony of my inner monologue. I wish I could have answered it.

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