#WPLongform

An examination of war in domestic plane travel

Indira Ganesan, New Hampire Dawn, 2013

Indira Ganesan, New Hampire Dawn, 2013

It began on a plane, but it might have begun at the security, when I was too slow to unshed for the inspection, and a guard scolded me roundly for selfishly holding up the line.  In my defense, I was waiting for the person ahead of me to finish, but I took three baskets from a nearly empty pile, and to be truthful, one basket too many to hold my coat, my shoes, my purse, my scarf, my sweater, my book/laptop bag, and the person behind me readied their basket to begin unloading before I had begun.  One should in Newark, have everything ready to go yesterday. One should remember, even if one had been up at four am, that people didn’t sleep at all and had flights to catch earlier than mine.  I had allowed an hour, and checked my big bag earlier, and was offended.

I boarded the plane, greeted the cheerful stewards with a big smile, and looked for my seat, 4D, window.  A man held up the line while rearranging the contents of a bin to fit in his roll-on.  A good feat of engineering, but also creating no allowance for my book bag.  This was my seat companion.  I sat down, tucked both of my bags under the seat, and unbuttoned my winter coat when the arm rest separating us was forcibly slammed down, with a “Thank you,” hitting me in my thigh, trapping my coat, my seatbelt and coat, and leaving me, once again, quickly offended.  I slipped the seatbelt over my coat on armrest side, under the coat window side, and proceeded to enjoy the view outside, while claiming half of the armrest deliberately.

“Can you move your coat?” asked my neighbor when we were taking off or having just taken off.

Here was the turning pont.  I could have quietly acquiesced, and readjusted.  Instead I replied curtly, saying, “You did not give me time to adjust.”

I proceeded to raise the armrest dramatically, unbuckling my seatbelt, removing my coat, rolling it up and –damn, my scarf had been in his seat as well– and placing them both under my seat, joining my two small bags.

“Take your time,” he said, possibly horrified a brown-skinned plane passenger displayed anger of her own.

I could have backed down at this point. I could have apologized.  I could have let him have his armrest.

It was a 43 minute flight.

The dawn appeared, spectacularly.  Other window seaters began to take photographs, and I did as well, enjoying an incredible expanse of dawn sky, orange sun, and below, islands making up New Hampshire.  I pulled out my notebook to write. Later, I pulled out my work, and became absorbed.

“Could you shut the window shade?” he asked.

I turned slowly to look at him, silently, both astonished and offended.

Without waiting, he reached over and violently slammed down the window shade.  I felt a true flicker of fear in my belly as he did.

I became very still and continued with my work.  But I am a fighter.  Three times offended and really, I should have gracefully admitted defeat in this game of human vs. human and withdrawn.  But I was at a window seat with a spectacular dawn occurring, on the last legs of a twelve day mostly business trip, and I would not be silenced.

“Can I just open it a crack, without the light shining on your eyes, please?” I asked.

“If it doesn’t hit my eyes.”

“Is this okay?” I asked, opening the shade three inches.

“Amazing,” he replied with generous sarcasm.

I looked out the window at a still-beautiful view.

Finally, trip over, and I waited until he was safely off the plane before I began to gather my things.

Expecting a common look of sympathy from the stewards, I found them smiling tightly, arms crossed.

This is when I realized that what I had indulged in was shameful.  My tug of war, which had no need for me to participate, involved innocent bystanders.  I had participated in a war that was meaningless, a waste of energy.  In the taxi to work, tears sprinkled as they must.  I remembered my yoga teacher who I hardly have the right to address as such, given my lack of practice,  remarking, after watching kids shrieking and tussling at a party, “It will end in tears.”  All such skirmishes must.

I tried tell the story twice verbally, and once on paper.  This is my fourth attempt.

The ending came much later when I cleared my purse last night.  My seat number was not 4D at all, but 3D.

I had literally sat in the wrong seat.

A New Semester, Part Two

Indira Ganesan, More of Last Year's Snow, 2012

Indira Ganesan, More of Last Year’s Snow, 2012

I had not known an ambulance was behind me, but I did make it home.  Driving at the speed limit is what gets me.  I like to drive slower, except in very good weather, when I am alone on the road, no one behind me, and then, I am comfortable driving at the speed limit.  But it is the pressure of imagining the impatience of the drivers behind me that often makes driving less pleasurable; that, and being lost on the road behind the wheel.  Near a highway merge.

To forestall a repeat, I treated myself to a commuter flight on a trusty Cessna to Boston the next teaching day.  After classes, after trying to find a watch store to replace my watch’s battery, and finding it closed, I hailed a cab to head to the airport.  It was in the cab I received a call from the airline telling me flights were cancelled until the next day.  Quickly, I called a friend with a B & B, and found a bed for the night.  In fact, it was a lovely apartment.  A Scandinavian crime novel was in the apartment for bedtime reading, and I settled in.  The next day, I began my day with a search for milk for the coffee provided by my hosts, and instead discovered a cafe.  Gratefully, I found a table, and wrote, then went to a deli for some food supplies.  After a lunch of chickpeas salad and yogurt,  I wandered into a paper goods store to ask the location of the nearest bookstore, and was not only given directions, but shown a picture of the bookstore for good measure.  This is what I love about university towns–they know that not all of us are frontierswomen who like explore without a map; they know that one can be addled and easily lost.  I found the bookstore very easily, and hauled a stackful back to the apartment.

I set out to explore my old neighborhood, for I had lived in Cambridge some fourteen years ago.  I located my old apartment, and found my way to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies.  The Institute used to be the Bunting Institute, housed in a circle of old Victorian homes in a courtyard.  Now, it is housed near the Schlesinger Library.  A man wondered if I was headed to Fay House, and pointed the way.  Fay House sounded familiar, but as it turned out, having gone in and trying to find a central office, I found I was not in fact headed for Fay House.  Out I went, to try the next imposing building.  That was closer, but this time a helpful student pointed out a third building across the circle, and off I went.  This time, I found a reception area.  I don’t know what I was seeking.  A library of old Fellows’ work, a welcome, something.  Instead, I realized that what I had so foolishly taken for granted, a year of paid time to work on a project, was not at all easily gained.  I had been given admission into a place that was indeed so rare, so accommodating, simply because I wrote.  I had had a unanimous acceptance by the committee that accepted me.  In my time at the Bunting, I saw my second novel being published, and as my brother proposed to his future wife, in the same city, I forged a relationship with a publisher who would bring back my first novel into print in paperback, ten years after Knopf had published it between hard covers.

Now, feeling quite an outsider, after chatting to the young woman at the front desk, and realizing my quest to find the Bunting at the Radcliffe Institute, to seek the past in the new, was futile, and I left, dispirited, but not before asking the way to the library.  I thought of just going on to town, but since I was here, I shook off my ambivalence, and went to the library.  There, at last, was home.

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