|Up: Israel||[Related] «^» «T»|
Tuesday, February 13, 2001
By Paul Ford
The first time out of North America
On the plane I sat next to Haim, a Moroccan-Israeli French Canadian bearded Jewish socialist. “When a woman menstruates, she is dirty,” he said. “And the pig is also a dirty animal. I love women. You see this?”
I couldn't find a place for my arms, so I folded them across my chest. My knees caught fire over the Atlantic. I felt the fire rising to my thighs. I thought, prisoners are placed like this, in seats too small, wedged into boxcars and vans for days and hours. To be a fat man on an airplane is a sliver of suffering. I decided not to urinate, not to move about the cabin, and see how long I could hold out. The stewardess served wine.
Haim knocked my bottle with his and drank his wine in an emptying sip. “L'chaim. America is at the top now. But not forever. My son, he's in American business. Terrible health care.”
A screen showed our progress as a red line across a mercator projection. We flew over France at dawn. I couldn't sleep. I thought of the Holocaust, the Vichy government, compliance. The pain in my bladder rose until I couldn't blink my eyes. I asked the Orthodox man to my right, tassels hanging out of his suitcoat, if he could let me pass. The bathroom was a revelation of comfort. My knees returned to life.
I stood at the back of the plane and stretched. A woman from St. Paul said she was on a Bible tour, and then to Egypt by bus. She would be homesick by then, but she loved to travel. She was Lutheran and the tour was interdenominational, and even included Methodists. Her husband was sleeping three seats away. Her knees hurt, too, but not because she was tall. She was doing bible study in the morning and tours all afternoon. Her name was Betty. We shook on it.
A digital tone sounded and the plane rocked slightly; I went to my seat, past a hundred sleepers: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Shi'ite, Sunni, Protestant, Berber, Catholic, Reformed Evangelical, robes, turbans, tassels, sweatshirts, born-again and reincarnated, and at least myself as the voice of empty, resolute, bleached-soul Godlessness. Everyone had their book, leatherbound on acid-free paper, their revised annotated official annotated people's scholarly special edition story of everything straight from the voice of the sun. I had a CD player but the batteries were run out.
I watched an Israeli soap opera on the seatback screen. Army kids working at a radio station met, fell in love, and sat on the beach.
Time dripped, dripped. A voice spoke over the intercom, asking us to strap down, get ready. The wheels came down. We descended. Light came through the windows, looking like light I'd seen elsewhere. A bald man yelled at a stewardess in Hebrew. The 777 slowed to 150 miles per hour before the shudder of the wheels on the runway. We rolled to a stop; the passengers applauded.
The stewardess gone, the bald man still ranted, to his wife. “Israelis, they are very nervous,” said Haim. A huge swell of bodies rose to grab luggage from overhead. I shook Haim's hand and shuffled off the plane, down metal stairs. A young man held up a sign with my name printed in block Roman characters. My first time out of North America. I said to the young man, “that's me” and stepped off the stairs onto the asphalt.