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The Air is Different Up Here

I can't fly airplanes, so I've secured the friendship of someone who can. His name is Mark, he's an aerobatic pilot whose caution I trust, and he's the first person to give me a definitive answer as to why no one is allowed to use cell phones on commercial flights. "Well, if they would work at all at that elevation, they think it might screw up the plane's computers."

"Do they know that for sure?"

"Who wants to find out?"

Or maybe he made it up because I ask too many questions about airplanes. Either way, as soon as he answered, my curiosity expired and I haven't followed up on it.

I've also secured his friendship for the financial advice he gives me over dinner about stocks and bonds and mutual funds. He probably doesn't like to talk shop at the table, but he indulges me. These conversations are long and detailed and completely irrelevant to my life. I love them. I have to write the information down, though and file it away for when I win the lottery because he tells me I can't just invest ten dollars.

I also keep him around because I enjoy his friendship. I met him last year at a beer pong party thrown by Martha Stewart incarnate which was attended by stockbrokers, judges, forensic scientists, one surgeon and myself. He offered to get me a drink while I sat in a lawn chair mesmerized by the rich people frolicking with ping pong paddles. He had to choose between getting me a cold Miller light and a warm Obsidian Stout. He chose the cold beer over the good beer so I pushed my good fortune. "Will you take me flying?"

It took a year before our schedules and the weather converged into an actual flight date. By the time he asked, I had long since given up on the hope of it really happening. I was surprised at my hesitation.

"But Mark, what if we die?"

"I've landed a plane before."

"What if I vomit?"

"We have sick bags on board."

I told my little brother where I would be, just in case someone had to identify my body. I didn't tell my mom. I said to my roommate, "Goodbye. If I don't dome back, please send my Dropkick Murphys bumper stickers to KC McDade. Best of luck in life." My sudden fear of dying in a flying accident surprised me because until now, I've only been afraid of five specific things in life, namely the Loch Ness monster, psychotic breaks in general, swimming in open waters, (although that may be related to the Loch Ness monster), eels (which are like tiny, sneaky Loch Ness monsters) and falling out of a hot air balloon. Even though I find the idea of plummeting to the earth in a thing preferential to doing so after having fallen out of a thing, on that weekend they started to seem like remarkably similar horrors. Still, I'm unafraid of living life in general and doing things like holding tarantulas or dating. I believe in putting myself in uncomfortable positions so I'll grow instead of becoming stagnant. So, off I went.

Before the two of us pushed the plane out onto the runway, I followed him around and around it in the hangar running my hands over its body and wings amazed at how tiny and how light it was, covered in mere fabric. He talked me through the placement of each nut and bolt, its purpose and whether or not it was secure enough for a safe flight. This was akin to stock market talk in that I wouldn't remember anything, but it was immediately relevant in a way mutual funds have never been. I watched him step into his expertise and felt myself lean back into the rare pleasure of being taken care of, told what to do and where to sit.

As he strapped me into the seat, buckling this and cinching that, I told him, "This must be what my little girl feels like when I put her in her car seat." I didn't have to think about anything except how to open the door in case we needed out and he was incapacitated. I learned that in a hurry.

The flight was nothing like I expected. For one thing, I was allowed to keep my phone on. Even though I didn't get a signal, I did take pictures and as narcissistic as I am, I only kept the one I took of myself with my head set on. Beyond that, it turned out I was so calm and so at peace in the plane, that we went back down, strapped on parachutes and went up again to do aerobatics.

What I remember about the experience in the most vivid color was not the adventure, but the clarity. Most of my life is spent on the ground and from here I get a bit depressed about how much of our earth is irreversibly covered over with asphalt. It seems smothered in concrete, unable to breathe and about to die. From the ground, I believe it's too late. The earth is done for and subsequently so are we. From a thousand feet up, though, I watched the sunlit cars slide along threads of highway like barely toxic tiny balls of mercury, surrounded by miles and miles of green. Even the junkyard that Mark likes to fly over looked like a cluster of jewels glinting in the sun. The earth seemed salvageable from such great heights.

"How you doing back there?" he asked through the radio.

"I'm fine."

"I thought I heard you giggle like a little girl through that last Half-Cuban."

"I was." I grinned. "Right now I kind of feel like one."


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