Harold Jaffe's docufiction


by Harold Jaffe

cover image of Beyond the Techno-Cave
from Beyond the Techno-Cave:
A Guerrilla Writer's Guide to Post-Millennial Culture

(Starcherone Books, 2006)


is one of those refined adjectives that a cultural theorist or ambitious graduate student would use but that a politician or banker would not use.
     Unless he was French.
     Its abbreviated definition is threshold, occupying a space while poised to enter another.
     Its application to airports is various: Threshold between one hyperreal airport-cum-shopping mall and another hyperreal airport-cum-shopping mall.
     Between bedeviled earth and congested airspace.
     Between life and oblivion.
     Between one kind of oblivion and another kind of oblivion . . .


Fingernail Clippers

You're flying from San Diego to Toledo via Cincinnati.
     Your departure time is 11:15 a.m, but because of the terrorist threat you're instructed to report to the airport at least two-and-a-half hours before departure.
     You're further instructed not to pack any sharp instruments, not even eyebrow tweezers or fingernail clippers, in your take-on baggage.
     If you're carrying prescription medicine, the medicine must be in its original container, or else it will be subject to chemical analysis on the spot, which may prevent you from boarding the aircraft.
     And if you are contemplating fastening an explosive to the sole of your shoe, forget it; passengers' shoes will be randomly scrutinized.



If you suppose that because of terrorist fears and the excessive attention paid to nail clippers, eyebrow tweezers and the soles of shoes, you can seize the opportunity to insert airtight, suppository-shaped packets of cocaine or heroin into your rectum, you are instructed to think again.
     Illegal -- that is to say, non-prescription -- drugs are produced and marketed by international terrorism, and as of this writing every major US airport has sigmoidoscopes on hand to scope out your colon or any other colon suspected of secreting drugs.
     If your colon falls under suspicion and you're ordered to prepare for examination by sigmoidoscope, you are instructed not to curse or swear, because under the post-9-11 edicts the use of profane language in US airports constitutes another form of terrorism and as such is subject to the stringencies of the law.
     Finally, if it's your habit to smoke weed, snort coke, shoot heroin, sniff glue, ingest ecstasy, drop acid, etc. before flying, either to calm your nerves or for the sheer pleasure of it, be advised that pleasure for its own sake is strictly prohibited, and that your illegal drug use is fattening the coffers of international terrorism; as a consequence, airports are now randomly administering blood and urine tests.      What happens if you're tested at the airport and fail?
     You are detained.
     Which, unless there are mitigating circumstances (such as your being white, wealthy and well-connected), means arrest, a prison cell and multiple, ongoing, gang-administered sigmoidoscopes.



You're thinking that maybe you should have flown from the Tijuana airport, even with the hassles of another language and the toilets not functioning.
     Tijuana is just 20 miles away, and you can show up half an hour before the flight and not worry about a rectal examination or even having the soles of your shoes ex-rayed.
     In Tijuana, even though they're chronically understaffed, the queues move fast.
     It's like "Mañana I'll do some work. Today I'll just go through the motions."
     Which, let's face it, is just fine with the majority of American flyers.
     Everybody knows the terrorists are out there, but you still don't want the hassle.


Doc Marten

Too late; you're stuck in San Diego's Charles Lindbergh International Airport.
     (Wasn't Lindbergh a Nazi sympathizer? Maybe, but that kind of "terrorism" doesn't count.)
     You do as instructed, queue to park your Civic, queue to have your baggage inspected, queue to check in, queue to pass into the boarding area, where your hand-baggage and you are x-rayed.
     Inevitably, something on you or in you sets off the alarm, which means you are patted down, instructed to undo your belt, instructed to sit on the hard-backed chair and raise your legs, right then left.
     There is it seems a question about your left Doc Marten.
     Two deputies are fetched; both have shaved heads; they wear camo cargo pants and industrial gray shirts with large tags on their chest, containing their names, the American flag, and "America First Airport Security," which you assume is a chain, incorporated, doing a booming business since 9/11.
     They wear latex gloves.
     A conference (sotto voce) ensues, with periodic stern glances at you. Finally, you are asked to remove your left shoe which is then gingerly transported through a door into a room which must contain the shoe-analysis apparatus.
     After twenty minutes or so the left Doc Marten is returned without comment and you are motioned to go forward.
     You gather yourself together and mount the escalator en route to gate 23, your boarding area and the site of another long, slow queue to recheck hand-baggage.


Monster Truck

And here come the repeated recordings about not leaving your baggage unattended under any circumstance, reporting suspicious looking personages to law enforcement, not accepting packages from males with black mustaches and zombie-like stares.
     (If that sounds like racial profiling that's your prob.
     Would you rather be politically correct or avoid another 9/11?)
     The last time you traveled by air three months before it seemed that half the passengers were talking on cellphones.
     That's gone up to two-thirds.
     With an hour and a half wait, you'd like to read a book, or scan something beside USA Today, but the suit to your right is talking loudly, commandingly, to an office underling.
     To your left, a teenage girl is giggling and talking coquettishly to a girlfriend.
     Behind you, a Marine Corps Lance Corporal from nearby Camp Pendleton, with a strong southwestern accent, is enthusiastically talking into his crisp shirt-front about motorcross.
     Or maybe it's monster truck racing.
     You try to concentrate instead on one of the TV monitors broadcasting a CNN "edited-for-airports" version of the news.
     Without being able to formulate it, those cellphone communicants mean to segregate themselves from nervous-airport-real-time via the electronic connection.
     Does the airport qualify as real time?



Airports have become what the logic of late corporate capitalism dictates they be: anesthetized, hyperreal global villages where the traveler talks into his cell or posts an email while watching the TV monitors; or sits on the floor, chews gum and plays video games; or trolls through endless-seeming corridors of airport boutiques.
     Which is what you are doing in your suddenly cumbersome Doc Martens.
     "America First Airport Security" in their latex gloves pried apart your left sole and after not finding an explosive did not hammer the sole all the way back into place.
     You do that, banging your sole against a railing, drawing suspicious glances from other travelers.
     Now you're moving again from boutique to boutique: newspapers, best sellers, candy, snack-food, knickknacks, clothing, jewelry, Starbucks, Nike, Speedo, The Gap, Sharper Image . . .
     Like drifting underwater, or gliding through the long gray corridors of a hospital, though without the smell of antiseptic, without any smell.
     Well there is the smell of Starbucks, coffee fragrance broadcast through floor-level vents.
     Meanwhile the airport recording repeats, repeats, repeats the peril of leaving baggage unattended, lest some intense-eyed swarthy slip a plastique under your fastidiously folded Lacoste polo.



After a dozen minutes of airport boutique surfing you return to your gate.
     You sit at the very back of the boarding area and watch anonymous travelers walk through the long corridors to and from their departure gates.
     Different humans on their cells, different walks, different airport couture.
     Difficult to love.
     If, though, there was a full-scale terrorist attack, major casualties, blood and body parts on the walls, on the boutique shelves, on the TV monitors, maybe then these anonymous American travelers would be lovable.
     Death is the mother.
     Some of the young travelers look like they rolled out of bed, slipped into jeans, a tank top, snatched their cell, wallet, car keys, sunglasses, back-pack, zipped to the airport.
     Almost without exception, every male over the age of about 45 has a protruding tummy.
     And this is San Diego, self-proclaimed fitness capital of the First World.
     How old are you?
     And do you have a protruding middle-aged tummy?
     No. Well, almost no. It's pretty much unnoticeable when I remember to suck it up.


Trotsky in Toledo

You glance behind you at the gate, and guess what?
     Your flight to Cincinnati has been delayed; the signboard doesn't indicate for how long.
     Without the delay, you've got just fifty-five minutes in Cincinnati to have your baggage transferred and catch your connecting flight to Toledo.
     You should have stuffed everything into the carry-on bag, but you needed additional room for the books you were lugging.
     Your Cincinnati to Toledo is the last flight of the day so if you don't make it you spend the night in Cincinnati.
     In one of those featureless large hotels near the airport.
     You queue up to question the agent at the gate.
     By the time it is your turn, the agent is not in a giving vein.
     Turbulence in the Cincinnati area, is all she says then looks above your shoulder at the next in line.
     You persist: What about the connecting flight to Toledo?
     Likely to be held up as well, she says. Next.
     You were about to tell her about your scheduled presentation tomorrow, 9:30 a.m., in Toledo.
     Wearing Doc Martens and driving a Honda Civic! Presentation on what?
     On Trotsky, specifically on his theory of unceasing revolution.
     Nobody at the Trotsky venue gives a shit about what you drive or what you wear.
     And if you don't make the gig, it's your bad.
     Marxists aren't sentimental.
     Except perhaps about the death of Marxism.



Prosthesis time.
     You head for the Gents, remove a small white oblong tablet, 0.5 milligrams, from its official container, swallow it with sink water.
     Then stop off at one of the newspaper-magazine-candy boutiques and buy a Snickers bar which you unwrap on the spot and sink your teeth into.
     Return to your chair and watch the back and forth passengers.
     But first glance again at the gate.
     Another surprise: the sign now says "On Time."
     What happened to the turbulence in Cincinnati?
     Boarding is about to commence: Passengers with small children along with the disabled; gold card followed by platinum card passengers.
     Or is it the other way around?
     Last to board: the proles sitting in economy class where the seats are hugger-mugger and the air is toxic.
     No lie: airlines save money by degrading the air quality of the aircraft.
     The oxygen, calibrated downward incrementally from the cockpit through first class, business class and general seating, was initiated during the burgeoning Sixties by a farsighted Pan American executive as a money saver.
     Pan American subsequently filed for bankruptcy and is no longer a player in the airline industry.



You're seated in 16-c, which as it turns out is the row directly in front of the exit row, which means that your seat does not lean back.
     So it's at attention the entire four hours-and-change to Cincinnati alongside a portly, frowning man wearing lawyer's suspenders and expensive, bad cologne.
     He's already colonized your common armrest.
     He's also coughing irrepressibly, a deep, hacking cough, broadcasting microbes through the bad air.
     You're still on the ground when the TV monitors in front of each row emerge from their niches and are set into motion.
     A golf tournament featuring Tiger Woods, which segues into the aircraft safety checks.
     The steward stops by to confirm that you are the passenger who ordered the vegan meal.
     You confess.
     He informs you that inadvertently the vegan meal wasn't packed.
     You look at him.
     He points out that they do have a non-vegan vegetarian meal.
     You respond that you're lactic intolerant, but what the hey, you'll take whatever they have.
     The small white oblong pill has kicked in.
     Nothing short of a full-scale terrorist assault is going to upend you.
     Datum: The category of vegan did not exist during Trotsky's time.
     Nor did lactic intolerant.
     In any case, Trotsky was a proud flesh-eater.
     Lenin reputedly was a vegetarian, though he had a weakness for white chocolate.


Dog = God

The inescapable in-flight movie features a boy and his dog in the genteel south. It is filmed in the faux-rarefied sepia fashion of Merchant-Ivory.
     The dog is a brown mixed-breed with soulful eyes.
     The boy becomes a young man who goes away to an Ivy League college in New England, leaving his faithful, aging, heartbroken dog behind.
     The dog dies.
     The movie is actually about nostalgia for the unwired, ante-bellum South.
     The stewards are delivering beverages.
     You'll have a vodka tonic.
     Spirits on the heels of the small white oblong pill will put you to sleep. Costs you ten dollars and includes the packet of vinegar-flavored pretzels.


Moving sidewalks

You don't sleep.
     However the portly lawyer next to you sleeps the sleep of the just while you listen to him snore and smell his cologne.
     Still Cincinnati, like old age and death, arrives at last.
     The Cincinnati airport resembles the San Diego airport writ huge.
     Corridor after corridor.
     Announcements about unattended baggage.
     Moving sidewalks.
     A smallish nation -- assuming it wasn't African or Middle Eastern -- could shop in the Cincinnati airport malls and scarcely be noticed.
     You mount the airport bus.
     Finally, 14A, the gate to Toledo.
     A large crowd of passengers are mulling around the two airline agents.
     Numbed anxious looks on their faces.
     What's the deal?
     Your connecting-flight, en route to Cincinnati from Lexington, Kentucky, has been skyjacked by a posse of black-haired, zombie-eyed, mustached terrorists.
     The rumor -- officially unverified -- is that the aircraft with more than 150 passengers is now en route to Peshawar, in northwestern Pakistan, bordering mad Afghanistan, Taliban territory.
     So it looks like you'll be spending the night in a Cincinnati airport-vicinity hotel after all.


Return to the top of the page.
Harold Jaffe: fiction, nonfiction, docufiction, interviews,
bio & blurbs, home.

Copyright © 2001-2013 by Harold Jaffe. All rights reserved.
This site designed and maintained by The Runaway Serfer.