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Dec
16

Christopher from Columbus (the esthetic of lostness)

People say that when you live near an airport it isn’t long before you don’t even hear the planes flying overhead.

Not so for Christopher from Columbus. He has lived by John Glenn International Airport for his whole life and he hears every plane that arrives and departs and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He relishes the sound. They are his friends and conspirators. Since he was little the giant hunks of metal lifting off and defying gravity were vessels that allowed him to explore the world without having to leave his backyard.

And while it’s true that he imagines beautiful locales and exotic destinations he always remains realistic that the majority of the aircraft are headed to less exciting places.

Omaha. Wichita. Alabama. (The ‘a’ at the end of Alabama pronounced like the previous cities, Alabamaw, as in “Aw crap, look where we’re headed.”)

(If you don’t take the time to pronounce the three of them together with this new spin on Alabama you’re going to miss out on a lot of things in life.)

Christopher thinks a lot about missing out on things. He sits at the end of the largest runway and watches the planes overhead and he wonders if there was a little boy centuries ago sitting at the dock of some large port city watching the big ships come in and out, wishing he could jump aboard, and he wonders if that kid ever did and where he ended up and how things turned out.

Christopher learned in school that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the British Royal Navy used a tactic called impressment to recruit sailors. What that term meant was that groups of sailors, “press gangs”, would grab men off the street and force them to serve on ships. One minute you’re walking along the shore the next you were in the middle of the ocean headed for unknown shores.

Christopher wonders if British Airways ever considered that policy for stewards and stewardesses. One minute you’re at the mall and the next you’re handing out peanuts 30,000 feet above the ground.

He would like to be impressed if they were headed to Hawaii but would be less impressed if the landing spot was somewhere like Birmingham, Alabamaw.

He sometimes had trouble using the term impressment correctly.

(If you didn’t take the time to pronounce Alabama like Wichita you continue to fight against your own jollity. You might not get another opportunity. I’m not sure I can squeeze in another Alabama reference.)

Christopher often thinks that school is the land-based equivalent of impressment, but that thought is hardly unique in Columbus.

He looks up at the airplanes and wonders what the kid from the seventeenth century would make of them. Probably the same thing he would feel watching rockets disappear into space or men walking through a portal and stepping out on the other side of the universe.

His dad works as a mechanic for one of the airlines and his mom is a secretary for one of the companies that provide the in-flight meals. Neither has ever left Ohio.

“The businessmen who spend their lives going from one city to another having their little meetings and never feeling lost are kidding themselves if they think they are travelers” his dad would often say. “The Holiday Inn in Phoenix looks just like the one in Columbus.” One time his dad added “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving… Lao Tzu said that.”

He wrote down that quote. It made the poster over his bed, which had a beat-up-looking hobbit depicted and bold print at the bottom saying “Remember what Bilbo used to say: It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to”, seem a bit more pessimistic than JRR Tolkien had probably intended. Christopher wondered if Mr. Tolkien had heard about press gangs.

Either way, his mom had bought him the poster and it has hung over his bed ever since.

He knows all the planes. He sits cross-legged in a field and feels the roar of their engines sweep over him. Occasionally he will say the model of a plane he hasn’t seen in awhile out loud. He finds the idea of building model planes silly.

Finally he lies down and stares up the planes and says “They have to speak a different language where you land for it to count as travel.”

He closes his eyes and feels his skin vibrating as each plane thunders past.

“Or at least the trees have to look different.”

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