Column: Peripatetic Postcards

Back from the Dead

Where can a dead man go

The question with an answer only dead men know . . .

Nickel Creek, When in Rome

"Don't expect any favors out of life, but . . . enjoy the hell out of 'em if they ever happen to come your way . . . sometimes that is the thing that reminds you what makes life worth living."

There's a motto in there, somewhere. A philosophy. A means of surviving -- if not thriving. At the very least, a peripatetique's creed in the making.

At this point, though, all of you form-freaks out there are busy scratching your heads wondering how that aphorism-in-gestation has anything to do with this entry's title . . . come on, admit it, you are. Also puzzling through how favors and expectations have anything to do with the shots of the heavens or the lyrics from a Nickel Creek ditty. Well, brace up: it gets even less scrutable than that . . .

'Cause flying Business Class gratis from LAX to Narita figures in. As does Serena Williams.

Care to find out how? Whether you do or don't, here's how it all goes . . .

The business class part could have been because of my devilish charm and great looks galore.

Or . . . maybe just that I'm a frequent flier.

Whatever the case, my ticket was pulled at the gate and while I was busy tapping my foot in accreting ire, the agent was busy tapping keys on a computer and upgrading me. So, didn't I feel apologetic and severely chastened for the mental diatribe I had directed his way during every one of the two hundred and fifty-seven seconds that passengers passed by me on their way to . . . economy class, SUCKERS!

Actually, that is my normal condition. And so I completely empathize with them. The eleven hours spent wedged into a seat that is a good 25 centimeters too cramped for comfort (side to side) and about 30 (front to back). And, believe me, I have been there with the hundreds of others: at least two score times in the last few years, peeking my head behind the first class curtain on the way back toward steerage, counting off the 4 or 7 or 9 empty seats in Business and wonder (aloud): "why couldn't I get seated there . . . or there . . . or there?"

"I mean, it's not like anyone is going to be paying for them now that the doors have closed and the wheels have retracted . . . right? That is . . . what is it going to hurt if I just plop my ass in one of those chairs for the next nine hours? Huh? . . ."

Alas. To no avail. My skills of persuasion seemingly eluding me at the least opportune moments.

But this time -- through no necessary merit or guile on my part -- I find myself invited into a club that -- hello Groucho: I would love to have me as a member. Because behind curtain Number One is rarified air -- even if the plane is flying parallel. Within that compartment is the scent of entitlement, as soon as the fabric parts and the stew shows you to your seat.

It's like you have died and gone to heaven . . . even as you soar into the heavens. Of such coincidental confluences is life made.

The odor of difference is more than the seats that drop into a duvet, the extra leg room between chair front and back, and the food options -- which included scallops over sauteed eggplant and champagne and garlic bread for the appetizer.

The rarified air in there is communicated in the five kinds of wine hand carried in a basket by the somelier, and the cheese cart before dessert. It is palpable in the individualized movie consoles and the comely helpers who seek to convince you that their sole on-board mission is to service only you. As frenetic as their lives certainly must be, they act as if they are programmed for leisurely interludes of personalized conversation for every client in the compartment.

Then there is the steward who comes and offers a bow and meaningful eye contact both before and after the flight. "Thank you, Sir, for allowing me to serve you. Please come again."

This personal missive, he offers to me -- the random hitcher, the accidental invitee -- the dude with with the mottled shirt, the moth-eaten sweater, and faded, bell-bottom jeans frayed where the loafers constantly clip them against the pavement.

His bow negating my reflexive apology: "Hey bud, it isn't like I really earned this. I mean . . . it was a mistake -- okay? (But thanks anyway!)"

To which the steward and stews would say: "Don't you get it, chump?: it doesn't matter how you got here. The fact that you're here is enough." For them there is no skeptical appraisal, no doubts entertained, no questions asked. This is what it is; their client is who appears to be. A client. No more, no less . . .

Man, if the rest of life were only like that.

But, for some it is. People like Serena Williams. (See, I got there -- and I bet you thought I couldn't do it).

Well, okay -- I still have a little more groundwork to do.

So, first, let me conclude the previous section by saying that as pampered as my flight was, it turns out that Business Class is no remedy for jet lag. It hits me like a hammer -- no less whether I'm seated fore or aft.

Imagine that. Not getting what you don't pay for . . .

And so, by the time I emerged from the heavenly haze about four days later, there was Ms. Serena -- in all her overwhelming musculature -- flexing on the tele, kicking a number three seed in three sets. For those of you not up on your tennis, for Serena this was the first time that she had gotten beyond the quarterfinals -- let alone, prevailed in a tournament -- in months. And for all the criticism that comes with being in a profession like hers -- with the constant carping from merciless, opinionated scribes, all you hear is the constant comments about her training regimen, her mental toughness (or lack thereof), her physical limitations, her deficiencies in this skill or that one. Man, there is no winning for losing in today's world. All there is is an endless reception line of critics, carpers, and kibbitzers.

Everyone trying to throttle you. Smother you. Lay you to rest. Make you dead, and bury you.

But in the end? -- all that matters is -- bottom line: can you produce? Can you come through, pull it off, make it happen, come out on top. Like Serena.

In the end, it doesn't matter how many tournaments you tank, how many match points you dump in the net. The bottom line is: can you get over the top? Can you pull a rabbit out of the hat one last time? Can you manage a victory after everyone has written you completely off? Left you for dead.

And, if you do -- well, then, my friend, all that other rigamarole is prelude; dross; white noise (no pun intended). It is just all the crap that was in the way before we got to this moment. And now that we are in this moment, there is no longer any skeptical appraisal, no doubts entertained, no questions asked.

In that moment -- once you manage to ascend into that rarified space of "no one dares ask, no explanations required" -- then old buddy, all that is left in life is this:

"welcome back."

"Glad to see you after all this time."

"I thought we'd lost ya . . ."

". . . but glad to see we haven't."

Just like Serena. Lucky or skilled or neglected enough to find herself bumped up into Business Class. After all this time.

And then to the rest of the room, the remainder of this planet, it's: "Hey, mates, lookee here: look who's come through the door . . .

". . . Look who's back from the dead."

*Look who's got the answer to that Nickel Creek song . . ."

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