dispatches to and from

nathan f. elmore

Dispatches to and from faith, culture, and things in between

Pass the Catalog

It's 3am, I must be lonely {Matchbox 20} It’s 9:03 p.m. EDT. And I’m flying across the Atlantic Ocean – still miles and other kinds of distances from South Africa, the World Cup, and that experience which comes to a person as new. Like sex with my wife of almost 14 years, I sense that the rapturous, transporting experience called flight will not grow – say it – old.

At the moment I’m very much the young giddy child, awash in letters and numbers and colors, unable to sit still for the lesson. Row 60, Seat D. A luscious array of oranges and reds lay stretching out beside me, like a band-width of Crayola -- quite tired, I suppose, after playing all day. I squirm, smiling, in this chair in the sky.

Later, according to this black G-Shock watch I purchased from a J.C. Penney’s store in Ohio in 2004 – the longest running watch I’ve ever had – it has become exactly 9:56 p.m. EDT. The sky has gone and exchanged itself for a pale blue with hints of black; the face of the ocean is stunningly charcoal. I recall the charcoal fires of Kibera and Mitumba, in Nairobi, with an unfortunate ease.

These small ovals wedged inside my head, and that I use for seeing without even thinking, spot a point further out still, a solitary line, a place where a thin white-yellow thread is resting with a similar disposition to that of the oranges and the reds. Who can I wake up to get anything done around here?

This magnificent line, I have to say, is slowly emerging; it is cautiously but assertively becoming itself. Or whatever it will be. I recognize this overt, inherent tension with a sort of creaturely nod -- you know, wanting to say something more about it but knowing I would only make a wordy, embarrassing mess, and in front of this gentlemanly thread, which, by the way, is more glamorously yellow by the minute.

Moving about at a ground speed of 561mph – thank God, a person can retrieve this vital information by punching a few buttons on the media console wedged inside the seat in front, like a technological eye – you get the distinct impression that you are not exactly in control of much of anything in the world. Over the next hour it would, at some point, ahem, begin to dawn on me: I am – exactly – between night and day.

For those so inclined, naturally this surreal moment is as theological as it is political or practical. It touches down seemingly on all matters of eternal-earthly significance. I ask her. And the flight attendant proceeds to tell me it is now 4:34 GMT, practically speaking. Aha, that explains the conflicting powers battling for sky supremacy with their colors for swords: it is not the end so much as the beginning. A new day.

I notice that I am uniquely more restless with this knowledge than I was without it.

In an unrelated story, the man in front of me is currently having a flight attendant help him with a brand new watch – in the middle of the night/day! Voila, he had purchased it -- perhaps impulsively, or maybe it was the watch he had been waiting for all his life -- via the SkyMall catalog. Either way.

By now, I’m just trying to get some shut-eye, as my grandfather might say, and somehow the flight attendant is having one helluva time putting this man’s new watch on his rather old wrist. The light above this man's seat must be the only light, at this hour, that's beaming in the cabin. I look down at my G-Shock with a relatively reluctant half-smirk as the skirmish between flight attendant, man and wrist continues.

That much closer to the heavens, with a view to the place where clouds and water have kissed everyday forever, and we are still simply dying to shop. Comfort is as familiar does, I think, mumbling. Eventually I nod off, bored more than anything else, but certainly not because of whatever is happening outside.