Monday, April 5, 2010


I was recently reading an article in Newsweek in the doctor’s office, which is probably the only place I read magazines like Newsweek anymore. The article was about silence, and its general tenor was a lament for the lack of silence in everyday life. I started to think about silence in my life and concluded that one of the few places I am bequeathed silence is in flight. No cell phone, no Internet, and very few distractions from others. (Though this may change as airlines are increasingly offering in-flight Wi-Fi and potentially cell phone coverage.)

But the silence on a plane isn’t quite silence of course. There is that constant roar-cum-hum of engines and air blasting. When I reflect on my twenty years of regular flight, I have to admit that I am more silent than I used to be. I remember engaging in long, if not interesting, conversations with fellow passengers. Sometimes by the end of a cross-country flight, I’d learn the entire life story of my seatmate—or they’d learn mine. But honestly I can’t recall the last time that happened—five years ago, ten? Now, I try not to talk to people. I prefer to sit there quietly, either to be bored or terrified, without interruption. If I am flying without my wife and child, I will put on my headphones even if my iPod is turned off. Perhaps this could all be racked up to my getting older and no longer interested, as I once was, in the possibilities of having sex at 35,000 feet with a stranger in the plane’s lavatory.

And when I consider the strangest silence inside a plane it is, in fact, in a lavatory. (Does anyone use the word “lavatory” anywhere but on a plane?) When I enter that tight space, I often perceive that I am and am not on a plane. Or at least I try not to think of being on a plane, because dying in a toilet during an air catastrophe is my equivalent to being buried alive.

Usually I only have to urinate in the lavatory, as I’ve left my nerve-turd in some john in the airport terminal before boarding. After I unzip, I hold onto something—the handy rail-like grip or the wall, in a kind of isometrics stance so that when I pee I won’t splash too much. The stream of urine pelts the inside of the mini-toilet bowl punctuating the eerie semi-silence, and for a moment I am comforted in the thought that God won’t let my plane go down with my penis flailing about. Because even if my prayers to God have always been met with silence, God, I reason, is supposed to be a decent guy.