"Flight of Paranoia" by Derek Keeling
As I stood at the airport security checkpoint relinquishing my dignity into a neat little gray tray, I realized that this invasion of privacy is the next best thing to a Nazi regime. One day soon, I pondered, we will be herded around like cattle and given barcodes and blood tests, just to determine the validity of our existence. Then it suddenly occurred to me. This is the herd. We are the cattle.
I was engulfed with a paralyzing nervousness. I knew if there was even one buzz from the metal detector as I walked through, a burly man in black with a cold stark white glove would be in my immediate future. This is something I do not want in any shape or form. Sweat was pouring from my pores like tiny waterfalls. All that stood between me and the other side of the metal detector was a line of people. And I seemed to be getting closer to the front of it quicker and quicker. What do I do, I thought? Do I just walk through the metal detector, not paying any more attention to the man who operates it than necessary? I could make eye contact. Maybe ask how his day is going. Yeah, I thought sarcastically, that’ll make me seem less suspicious. Nobody in their right mind wants a six foot tall, barefoot white man struggling to hold his pants up asking them how their day is going. It would have been a glorious sight to behold.
I looked around wondering what kind of a mess I had gotten myself into. People were everywhere. Why, I wondered? What is the purpose of the week-long excursions we as humans take? Is it for relaxation? If so, then why do we try to do as many things as possible in such a short amount of time? Maybe it’s for the simple reassurance that other people, places, and things really do exist outside of our confined cubicles and withering neighborhoods. We are, however, descendants of thick-blooded American explorers with an insatiable appetite for the ever-moving, ever-changing horizon that constantly teases us from our doorsteps. The problem is that there is nothing left to explore. We’ve left nothing for the future. There is no more room for the Lewis and Clarks. The map has been drawn from edge to edge. And therefore we must recreate experiences from vague memories and thick history books. It’s a fake facade that mimics and mocks true culture and real life for the low, one time price of $39.95. And sorry folks, drinks aren’t included.
It felt like I was standing in the same place and planning my next move for entirely too long. I have nothing to hide, I thought, I’m not a terrorist, I’m a fucking American. Besides, it’s not like I was smuggling a hefty quantity of weed in my pants, or a giant ball of homemade hash encapsulated in a hand-blown borosilicate glass ball, like originally planned. But on the other hand, I was carrying three thousand dollars in cold hard cash. One hundred dollar bills, crisp from the bank. The money was legal. But how was I to know what the Transportation Security Administration might think of it. As far as I knew, they thought it was big time drug money. I didn’t care at that point though. I just wanted out of that tangled, sweaty, and nervous mass of humans that crowded in front and behind me. I figured that I had made it this far, why stop now? Push through, I thought, keep pushing until headway is made, or at least until someone shoots me in the back with a high-voltage taser gun. So when I got to the front, I just walked on through, acting like any other American in the line. Thankfully, that’s how I was treated. I made it, I thought. No buzzer, no glove happy behemoth.
Once I got through security I was bombarded with an unusual and confusing assortment of directions. Damn airport, I whispered. I was not content with wandering around that infernal corn maze forever. All I needed to do was find Gate 26 to Honolulu, Hawaii. Looking at my watch, I saw that I had two hours until boarding. Screw it, I thought, it’s time for a cigarette. I found the nearest map and looked for the smoking section. “What the hell,” I blurted, “where the hell is it?” The map showed me nothing that I needed or wanted to know, so I walked up to a crusty table with a single telephone sitting on it. A tired sign hung sadly above the table. It boldly stated: Information. Ha, I thought, we’ll see about that. I picked up the phone and within seconds a woman answered and asked how she could help me. “Where is the smoking section?” I asked. Her voice sounded sweet, but her words were painful. “I’m sorry,” she said, “you can’t smoke once you go past the security checkpoint.” “Shit,” I said, hanging up the phone. There was no trust in that wretched place. It was absolute paranoia at every turn. Clearly a frightened post 9-11 society, built on a foundation of rickety threats and cheap promises.
A heavily armed cop and his K-9 companion walked passed me as I headed toward my gate. Glad I don’t have that weed or hash on me, I thought, that dog would surely have smelled it. One whiff from that inbred mutt, and the cops would’ve turned me briskly upside down and given me a full Bush Administration approved cavity search. A few bottles of petroleum jelly later and I’d be walking out of the airport looking like an old Texan governor that’s been riding his horse for too long. What a horrid situation that would’ve been. I quickly hustled for my gate. I had plenty of time, but the lack of nicotine and the high stress level made me feel the need to be in a rush. I probably looked like a crazed fool, angered and ready for domination. The idea that one can’t smoke a relaxing cigarette before taking a 30,000 foot trip through the sky is absolutely asinine. If I was running the airline, airport, or any other form of aviation jargon, I would want my passengers to feel calm and relaxed before, during, and even after they flew. After all, it could be a very rocky ride.
Finally, the gate was in my sight. A small group of people sat slouching in random chairs. They looked like I felt. A nagging dreadful feeling that mixes with excitement and anticipation. It results in contorted facial expressions and sporadic bursts of movement, usually masked as a readjustment of one’s sitting position. I followed suit and sat in a lone chair in the corner. I needed space. Space for the contemplation of my possible pending doom. It was all around me. It was all that I could think about. If I had it my way I would have brought a parachute as my carry-on baggage. Unfortunately, D.B. Cooper ruined that for everyone. Greedy bastard. It is sickening that no one is allowed to take preventive measures to save themselves if there is a catastrophic disaster.
People who fly can be separated into three distinct groups: those who love it, those who don’t think much about it, and finally, those who hate it so much that they sweat profusely at even the slightest tremble in the plane. I happen to fall under the latter of the three categories. I can only picture doom when I fly. I now know how the gnat must feel, flying around aimlessly and praying that nothing or no one swats it out of the sky. Flying is a gambler’s sport. A high-altitude game of Russian roulette served with juice and a sandwich so dry it would make all the deserts of the world proud. Of course flying is the safest form of travel. But if there’s ever a problem, you’re looking at the worst form of death possible, with the least likely chance of survival. Sure more people die in automobile accidents, overall. Think of how many people are driving cars compared to flying planes. One car, one plane: you tell me which has more deaths.
A bland voice spurted out of the public address announcing that boarding for Gate twenty-six to Honolulu Hawaii would begin shortly. “We will now board women and children at Gate twenty-six.” Women and children first, I wondered, what the hell does it matter? Normally if there is an emergency women and children get to be unloaded from whatever craft first, which is okay and understandable. But boarding? Why, so that they’re the first in danger? How stupid we’ve become.
There is an entire generation out there that is pissed off at the way in which the country is being run. All facets. From outlandish laws, rules, regulations, fees, and what’s even worse, the lack of ability to properly construct a stable existence out of life. The American Nightmare, as it’s being called by so many of the youth. Instead of being able to fend for ourselves, we’re stuck sucking on the teat of the previous generation. Well, the milk is about to run out. When it does, it will only produce a very dry powder-like substance that will only be able to be secreted in short puffs. This powder will choke out the youth of America like the dust bowls of the past. May God have mercy on our pitiful souls.
“Now boarding rows F through C,” a voice said through the speakers.
A temporary nicotine deficiency coupled with high trepidation forced me to yell, “That means me, damn it, get the hell out of my way.” I pushed a small group of people to the side. They seemed shocked by my outburst, but I didn’t care. I wanted on that plane. Come hell or high water. I had an urge to get this flight over with. Plus, fighting to get past a hundred or so people on a cramped plane was not something I intended on doing. The quicker I could make it to my seat, the better. The ticket taker snarled something nasty at me for my rude behavior. I quickly handed her my ticket and walked toward the plane entrance. The moment I entered the plane, a foul stench attacked my nostrils. It was violently overwhelming, filling me with a dizziness only chemicals can produce. “What in God’s name is that smell?” I asked the airline employee greeting people as they entered the plane.
“I do apologize. A passenger got sick as we were landing. Don’t worry, we’ve cleaned it with Lysol disinfectant spray. The smell should go away once we get in the air,” she responded.
Great, I thought, I paid over five hundred dollars for an extremely dangerous form of travel and I get the plane that is soaked in bile and probably the worst chemical spray in the world. To this day I still don’t know why people use Lysol. It has to be the only spray that can be tasted better than it can be smelled. I truly hate it above all other cleaners. After putting my bag in the overhead compartment, I sat down in my seat. It seemed to be form-fitted to the last person that was sitting in it–obviously, a typical American. The kind that considers fast food the only type of food and the kind that deems movement as an extreme form of exercise. They deserve to have to pay for two seats.
Hordes of bleary-eyed people filed onto the plane in a seemingly endless variety of shapes, sizes, and levels of income. It looked like someone had hit the shuffle button on the diversity MP3 player. A sad, sad assortment of human souls that all gathered in this one place and time. All in hopes for a chance to seek a vibrantly relaxing week in a beautiful paradise. We all had one major thing in common. The need for escape. The possibility of life. Not life like the existence you’re living. But like the love and deep warm feeling of life you got when you were younger, when things didn’t matter as much. We all signed up for this dangerous flight, knowing that at any moment in our five hour journey we could be thrown mercilessly into the sea below, with little or no chance of escape, rescue, or survival. Now that’s dedication.
It seemed like forever until all the people found their seats. A roar in the engine and the slight feeling of movement told me we were beginning our journey. It took five minutes to get to the pointwhere we could take off. Considering it was my first time flying, I didn’t expect such intensity. The sound was terrifying. It was a roar that pins your fears to the wall and exposes them for everyone to see. You know that there is no turning back. It’s ride or die time. The plane sprung to life and shot forward at a rapid speed. My hands gripped relentlessly at the arm rests. The vessel reached its take-off speed and lifted from the ground. My stomach twisted and lurched around inside me, sending horrible visions of death and destruction through my mind. Thankfully, after a few moments, the plane made it to its intended altitude and rested. I felt better, but severely needed a drink–stiff. Rum was to be had, and I could see the drink cart rolling down the aisle. Thank God, I thought, salvation at last.
Cigarettes, a mixed drink, and maybe even the Mile High Club. I’ve heard tales of the days of yesteryear when you could fly on a plane and get honest hospitality served to you by the glass-full. The days when flight attendants were proudly adorned by names like Stewardess Barbra, Gloria, or Maggie. Back when they welcomed the pinching of their ass with a slight smile and rosy blushing cheeks. Years ago you could smoke on planes and no one paid any attention to it. Now they’ve bolted up the ashtrays and installed cigarette detectors in all the bathrooms. And to top it all off, I can’t even get a decent rum and coke.
“Rum and coke, please,” I told the flight attendant. Looking down at my sweaty, shaky hand, I knew that I was going to need it.
“That’ll be eight dollars,” she replied.
“Eight dollars?” I blurted. “Have you lost your mind?” I reached into my pocket and withdrew a ten dollar bill. “Here, take it.”
“I’m sorry sir, we only take major credit or debit card,” she informed.
“What do you mean? This is good American currency,” I said waving the ten dollar bill around in her face. “Does it mean nothing to you?”
“I am truly sorry. It’s a stupid policy, but unfortunately, it’s the rules,” she replied. I pulled out my wallet and took my debit card out.
“It’s the American way,” I said handing her the card. She quickly slid it through a small and portable card reader. A whirring sound came from the tiny machine and soon after a small piece of paper.
“Okay, please sign here,” she said placing the paper on my tray with a pen. I scribbled something across the entirety of the sheet. Completely illegible, but they don’t care. She set down a one and a half ounce bottle of rum and a small cup of coke with ice.
“Thanks,” I said unappreciatively. I opened the bottle with haste and took a big satisfying swig. Half the bottle was gone in my one gulp. I followed it with a dosage of coke to cut the edge. Eight dollars my ass, I thought. This stuff is nasty.
Rum should always be dark. It should never be clear, or taste anything like California tap-water. The darker the rum, the better. Everyone knows that, with exception to the airline companies. The rum they serve is in tiny bottles filled with clear liquid made from the piss of dark rum drinkers. It’s insulting giving someone a rancid bottle of vodka disguised with a rum label. You might be able to fool the rest of the people, but you sure as hell can’t fool me.
The plane seemed to be traveling fast and steady. Just the way I want it to. Get it over with quick and with little or no bumps in the road. Off without a hitch, so to speak. The rum took a little bit of the fear away but not all of it. The best way I could think of how to relax was to sleep. I grabbed the tiny used pillow and tucked it under my head. The gentle roar of the jet engines lulled me into a deep slumber. I didn’t fight it one bit.
My sleep was violently interrupted by a drop and a dip in the plane. It threw my stomach into my throat and sent me into a very confused state. I felt as if I had woken up in the mist of catastrophe, with no time to think and no time to react. I looked around at the other passengers for some sort of visual reassurance of doom or otherwise. Everyone seemed calm and collected. I took a deep breath and started to fall back asleep until a bland voice came over the intercom. “We will be landing shortly. The turbulence you’ve just experienced is a result of the heavy trade winds that blow off the mountains. We do ask that you put your seat belts on for safety and enjoy your stay in Hawaii. Mahalo,” the voice said.
As I looked around the plane at the other passengers I noticed how pale and unhealthy everyone looked. God have mercy on their pure white skin. The amount of sunburns in this state must be through the roof. I think the saying goes, “If you leave Hawaii without a sunburn, you didn’t do it right.”
The plane veered sharply to the right, tipping its left wing into the sky and dipping its right wing toward the ocean. I clutched onto the armrest with my clammy hands and looked out the window. The sight was terrifying. A cataclysmic turn of events. Sapphire blue was the only thing I could see. “Hey, what’s going on here?” I yelled. A strew of looks from other passengers shot my way. “Can’t you all see. We’re going down. Straight into the damn ocean,” I screamed, my voice coarse with terror. “We’re all gonna die.”
I could hear a jumble of voices all talking. An old lady with wiry white hair broke out into a howl and shouted random gibberish. Panic ran amuck in my head. Words and sentences clamored over themselves with such intensity I could barely understand what I was thinking. “Help” was the only word that seemed to be on the forefront on my mind. And it yearned to be released through my lips. But my mouth wouldn’t let it. I was too stunned by the situation at hand. I just kept staring out the window.
“Sir, please calm down,” a flight attendant said from behind me. “We’re just turning so that we can land. You’re scaring the other passengers.” I refused to look and acknowledge her. I had no intentions of taking my eyes off the eerie blue view from the window. The other passengers, I thought, who cares about them? Who cares about other people when death is tickling you at your feet with a razor sharp feather.
“I can’t die now,” I whispered. “Not after all I’ve been through.” The plane started to level itself with the world. My panic began to subside and quickly turned into a wonderful relief. I managed to catch a glimpse of glaring stares from numerous people. But eventually the chatter and stares from the other passengers died down and turned into a sort of placid tranquility. My hands were so wet with sweat from the fiasco that I could barely grip the armrests anymore. I unfettered them and let out a deep breath of relief.
It was only a minute or two until we were on the tarmac, rolling around at ultra-slow speeds. The plane docked itself to the jet bridge and another announcement was made telling passengers it was now okay to exit. As I stood and grabbed my satchel, I noticed a beautiful woman staring at me with what many would call bedroom eyes. They penetrated me and left me with a debilitating feeling. Her hair was a beautiful dark brown, with streaks of black and blue for good measure. Her form was perfect. How great it would be to hold her close to me in the most carnal of ways.
She was standing in the middle of the aisle and blocking the exit of a very sweaty man. He made it apparent that he was in a hurry. Just as I realized the potential implications of our hooking up in this tropical heaven, he pushed her down the aisle and out the door. I tried to flee the plane as fast as I could so that I could catch up to the beautiful woman and ask her out for a drink or something similar. But lurching in front of me was a three hundred pound man with a cane. He walked slower than moss grows. By the time I made it into the airport the woman was gone.
I noticed a few men in thick black suits walking toward me. Their eyes were dead-locked onto me and their demeanors meant business. I tried to avoid them and walk in a different direction, but they enclosed around me.
“Sir, please come with us,” one of them said.
“For what reason?” I replied.
“We can talk about this somewhere else,” he said. He grabbed my arm and started pulling me toward a lone door. My mind raced with fear and wonder. What the hell is this for, I thought. Why me? Why now? He swung the door open and ushered me into a blank white room with two chairs and a single table. Set your bag on the floor and put your hands on the table and spread your legs,” he demanded. “Search him,” he said to one of the five men that followed us in. It was obvious who was in charge and who the pawns were. I was hesitant to comply with the lunacy he requested, but I did not dare to make matters worse. I set my hands on the table and extended my legs out behind me. Please God, I prayed, anything but the rubber glove treatment. “Do you have anything that we should know about on you or in your bag?” he asked me.
“No. I don’t have anything,” I replied. A man came up behind me and started patting at my pockets. His hands felt my lighter and pack of cigarettes in a curious sort of way. His large hand reached into my pocket and withdrew it.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“Are you stupid?” I said. “It’s cigarettes and a lighter.”
“What were your intensions with the lighter?” he said.
“To light my cigarettes, what do you think?” I replied. He didn’t say anything in response and threw my cigarettes and lighter onto the table. His hands felt my back pocket and he quickly snatched my wallet from it.
“Here you go sir,” he said handing my wallet to his official. He bent down and started to feel my legs up and down. It was an absolute violation of my privacy and dignity. He started to reach around to the crotch of my pants and I cringed and writhed. He grabbed hold of my bits and pieces and jangled them around. He felt me up with no remorse. It was almost robotic and without shame. Thoroughness wasn’t to be withheld on my account. “Is this necessary?” I asked.
“Yes it is. It’s for our safety,” the man in charge simply said.
“He’s clean sir,” the man frisking me said to his official.
“Okay then. Go ahead and sit down,” he told me. I walked around the table to the chair and nervously sat into it.
“What is this about? I have rights, damn it,” I asked. He said nothing, just stared at me. They all stared at me. A weird type of stare. It blasted through my defenses and wormed itself into my sanity. My body had started to tremble so profusely I was almost sure that they’d notice. I could feel beads of sweat sliding down the roundness of my forehead. A single drop splashed onto the table. It made a deafening sound that seemed to thunder throughout the cramped room.
“Well Mr. Kemp. We were informed that you were causing panic on the plane while it was landing. Is this true?” he answered. He was shuffling through my wallet like it was a public library book. He handed my ID to one of his goons. “Make a photocopy of this.” Another man had picked up my bag and started going through it. He was ripping things from it like it was nothing.
“Of course it’s true,” I said. “I thought the damn plane was going to crash. We were sideways.” I yelled.
“What you did is in violation of FAA and TSA regulations and requires us to do an investigation. It could be considered an act of terrorism for any airline passenger to cause panic while in the body of the aircraft.” he said as if he was reading from a law book. My stomach sank into my legs at the implications laid before me. What was this, I thought, a damn crucifixion? Were they bored?
“This is unnecessary,” I said. “I didn’t mean to cause so much alarm.”
“Sir,” the man searching my bag said. He handed him an envelope. I knew instantly that it was my money. The official opened it and started fingering through it. His bushy eyebrows raised and my heart started to pound through like a boxer was trying to free himself from my chest cavity.
“Is there a reason you’re carrying so much cash with you?” he asked me.
“Is it illegal to carry cash?” I responded.
“No, but it’s quite suspicious,” he replied.
“I don’t like keeping my money in banks. You never know when them filthy bastards are gonna lose it or get robbed. I don’t trust them further than I can throw them. Hawaii’s very expensive and I’m going to need a lot of money. I intend on having fun. With fun, comes money,” I answered.
“Your hostility toward banks is very prevalent. Have you ever been diagnosed with any mental disorders, anger issues, or anything of the sort?” he asked.
“That’s kind of insulting,” I said with a hint of annoyance.
“Just answer the question Mr. Kemp,” he said.
“No. No, I haven’t,” I replied complacently. A man unexpectedly walked into the room and whispered into the man’s ear. The man looked shocked and excited. My nerves were buzzing. What more could they pin on me?
“Alright Mr. Kemp. I think we have enough information. You can gather up your belongings. You are free to go,” he said. “Try to keep calm next time.”
“I’m free?” I hesitantly asked.
“Yes,” he responded dispassionately. “We will be conducting a background check, and if we have any further questions, you may be contacted. But yes, you can leave now.”
I stood from the chair and collected my things. When I walked out of the room the group of men followed me, but soon rushed off to another gate and apprehended an old man. They tackled him to the ground and handcuffed him. I shuffled out of view as quickly as I could. My head was teeming with sweat and I used my shirt to wipe the majority of it off. Better him then me, I thought to myself.
An unusual sense of freedom and liberation streamed over me. I was free. Out of the scrutiny and nonsensical ways of the Transportation Security Administration. It felt great. I just need my luggage and I can be out of this hellish airport, I thought.
I grabbed my suitcase when it came around on the conveyor belt and headed outside for the one thing that I knew would calm me down and make me happy. A nicotine rich cigarette.
After choking down the smoke, I hailed a taxi. An old battered looking thing pulled up to me and I climbed inside.
“How are you today?” the driver asked.
“I’ve been better. Take me to the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel please,” I said. I glanced at the sign on the drivers dashboard that displayed prices and other information. “Holy shit,” I blurted. “$4.50 a mile. That’s insanity. How many miles is it to the hotel?”
“It’s about ten miles,” he replied.
“My gosh. You’re raping my wallet,” I said.
“Sorry. I don’t set the prices. You still want a ride?” he asked with a chuckle.
“Of course I do. I’m not going to walk,” I said.
“Okay. Here we go,” he said. The man put the car into drive and we started on down the road. The airport soon disappeared into the distance and I felt, for the first time in what seemed like forever, relieved. Now, I thought, I can begin to relax and enjoy my vacation. Hopefully.