Night Flight to Tel Aviv

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.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


There is a Facebook group.


You will regret following me on Twitter here.


Enter your email address:

A TinyLetter Email Newsletter

About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


Syndicate: RSS1.0, RSS2.0
Links: RSS1.0, RSS2.0


© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

Tables of Contents