Plain and Simple

         On Tuesday, the day in which shit typically comes to rest upon my head,
I push back the sliding glass door to John Schmeer's little beige office and say,
I got your email.

         The email: come by when you have a sec.

         He's talking, I'm hot, my face is flushed. He wants me to fly.

         You down? he says.

         No, no. Not down, I say.


         Can't fly.

         Can't fly?

         It's a thing.

         An afraid thing?

         Not fear, exactly. More an aversion to the unreasonable.

         So you think flying is unreasonable.

         Unreasonable and illogical. Five hundred miles per hour, thirty thousand
feet, twenty thousand gallons of fuel, no means of escape.

         It's rare for a plane to crash.

         Tell that to those people.

         More likely to die in a car. Way more.

         I don't want to go.

         You want to work here?

         You serious?

         Not really. Actually, yes. No one else can go to the conference.

         I'll drive. Where is it?

         No way you're driving. It's in California. Take you a day or more to get
there. Plus, you have to be there tomorrow.

         This is total bullshit.

         I don't make the rules.

         You're making them right now.

         Maybe you need Jesus in your heart.


         I'm not afraid to fly.

         You would be if something went wrong.

         Here. Take this.

         I'll take it. I'll take it right to human resources.

         I know I shouldn't but you wouldn't.

         Stop giving out bibles at work. No one wants them.

         Out of my office, blasphemer!

         Fine. See you tomorrow.

         Hey. Heads are gonna roll. Bad quarter, man. Might be a few from our

         A threat?

         Just saying.

I am the only person who thinks flying planes are fucking crazy.
Plain and simple, they shouldn't be up there.


There are several plane crash web sites. Easy to find air disaster videos.
Reasons for the crash (crew error), pictures (wreckage in bits and pieces),
cockpit voice recorder transcripts (series of impacts), cockpit voice recorder
audio (rushing air, final words, screaming). I'm watching, listening, riveted.

An hour later I stand from my desk, close my eyes, breathe. Death is here. Not
just in a plane. In the car (accident), in the street (hit and run), at home
(murder), in my sleep (heart attack).

I'm fucked. We're all fucked. So I leave the office quietly, drive carefully, stop
at a friend's house to procure something to make me feel un-fucked.

I say nothing but he sees it, he smiles. He pats my back as I leave. He says I
worry too much.

In the car again, careful again, I feel like the only one.


The email arrives after nine. I'm high and low, things are in my system, so I'm
okay reading the flight information Schmeer sent despite the smiley face and
Isaiah 41:10 NIV quote.

I hit the "reply" button to tell him that I hate him before reconsidering and
calling my mom instead.

I wake her up. She wants to know what the emergency is. I'm a little boy at
thirty, knocking on her door because I want to sleep in her bed tonight.

Just calling to tell you I'm leaving tomorrow, I say.

Have fun, she says, and hangs up.

I feel like brooding. I sit at the table, drink and brood. Tonight might be the
last; so many things I haven't done; this is the tragedy; this is the human
condition; everything is meaningless; I should masturbate tonight; the universe
is cold; I wish there was a god; no I don't, he's a dick; please let tomorrow not
be like PSA flight 182.

I keep drinking. I smoke a joint. I get into my CDs, play the old ones. I sit
indian-style with the CDs spread around. I really feel it.

This could be my last time. Tomorrow I get on the plane.


         At seven I'm waiting by the window, drinking a beer. I look normal
enough, except for the beer, in khakis, a white polo, shades and leather
oxfords. It's hot, sunny, the house is a mess. I'm hung over, chewing a
second pill, washing it down and waiting for the shuttle to the deathport.

         In two hours I'll be in the sky, I keep thinking. These are the quiet
sunny days when accidents happen.

         No one knows I'm severely intoxicated. Not in the shuttle, not at the
terminal. I sit with my arms crossed, watch the people at the gate. I
feel wonderful. I have to remember where I am. I look at the flight
number printed on my ticket.

         Time is warped. I'm boarding the plane now, looking for 42C. I sit
alone in the aisle, ask the passing flight attendant for Jack Daniels.

         Little early, isn't it? he says, gay with an attitude.

         I'm a nervous flyer, I say. I'd rather not be here.

         Oh, he says, smiling naughty. He touches my knee. He whispers: Then
I'll make sure to tell the captain to make it a real rough ride. You
like it rough.

         Because I'm fairly fucked I wonder if things are going down the way I
think they are.

         There are times that I like it rough, I say. Weekends and such. But I
don't like planes rough. I don't like planes at all. And I'm feeling very
sensitive right now because I don't like heights, I don't like speed with heights,
and I don't want this plane to crash and I don't want to die. All that I want
is a drink to get me through. As for the captain, tell him nothing. But if you
must tell him something, tell him concentrate. Concentrate, damn it.

         Sorry, he says, the Captain doesn't concentrate on Tuesdays. I'll get
that drink.

         In my clouded estimate there are approximately thirty people on board.
They're talking, smiling, at ease. Like everyone is before the plane

         My Jack is there in a hurry. I down it. I breathe fire and secure my

         While others blather I close my eyes and begin my meditative drug
trance. Anything to forget where I am.

         Long summer drives, touchdowns, a minute of the Pink Floyd concert I
remember. Something about the conference I'm going to. My cubicle at work.
Schmeer in his. Stupid Schmeer.

         I catch myself falling over. I'm drooling. The window shade is closed.
I think we're moving but I don't think so. Motion, conversation, a thick
fuzz around my head. This is working as planned.

         A moment later I'm asleep in an ugly way.


I'm saying something. There's a turtle stuck inside a blanket and his shell is

A turtle, huh?

It's the flight attendant. He's smiling.

I wipe my mouth, sit up, look around. Others are smiling too. Some look away.
Put their hands to their mouths. The rest stay on me, waiting.

My head is exploding. I ask for some water.

Darn, says the attendant. No more turtle.

A woman behind me laughs. The attendant leaves.

Hell of a dream, a man says one row up.

He's fat and ugly. I want to punch him.

I was dreaming? I ask.

Oh yeah, he says. More laughter, and not just from him.

I rub my eyes, hold my head. I'm feeling too sober.

Hey buddy, a man I can't see whispers. You know we're in the air?

I don't move.

There is a tick, then the nasal voice.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we're about to descend. There's some slight turbulence
ahead so we ask that you stay in your seats and buckle in.

There is a pause. Little chuckles in the background. The voice continues.

For those of you who can appreciate a view from the aircraft, I'll be making a few
turns that will give you an excellent view of the beautiful California valley below.
Might want to take a look out your windows. Flight attendants prepare for landing.

I hear the bell. I tighten the belt. Fuck. I'm in the air.

I'm breathing too fast. Where is my goddamn water?

Keep your eyes on the floor. Don't look out the windows.

Imagine this plane is glass-bottomed. My little shoes hanging over six miles of
space. Don't throw up. Clench the stomach. Clench and hold.

Here's your water, says the attendant.

I finish the little bottle in three seconds. It doesn't help.

Wow, little mister. That was quick. Now hold on because I think we're going to

As he says it the plane is turning to the left. I'm clenching, scrunching myself
into a ball.

Don't feel it. It'll be over soon.

I peek at the attendant. He's holding on to the overhead storage compartment,
looking out a window, smiling.

Everyone is crazy except me.

Finally the plane is righted. I breathe a lot, keep my eyes closed. I ask how long
it will take to land.

As long as it takes, honey.

Please, I say. Please.

Thirty minutes or so. If we don't crash. If we crash I'm afraid it'll be much sooner.

Female guffaws. Sharp male nasal exhalations. Someone says, Oh!

There is dread, nausea. Between them I attempt to understand my societal
status when there is a bump, a loud bump from the bottom of the plane. We
descend. The nose goes down; the walkway is the bottom of a hill. We lean
to the left. The sides of the plane rattle. It seems too fast, too fast
to survive.

Sharply we pull up. I see the attendant holding on, both hands, looking down
upon me. He mouths something and I think it's, You're so silly!

We're back and forth for a few seconds. We straighten. The voice comes on

Ladies and Gentlemen, it looks like we'll be up and down for a few minutes. We'd
ask you to make sure you've reviewed the safety guidelines located in your front
seat pocket and do ask the flight attendants if you have any questions.

I'm wet with sweat. I'm cold. I'm having trouble breathing.

Are you okay, mister man? says the attendant.

I don't answer. Instead I raise my head, check the other passengers. They're all
looking at me.

Old bald man in a suit. A guy my age in a t-shirt. Three middle-aged women
sitting in the same row. More and more of the same.

They look. Waiting for me to say something. Hands to mouths, wide-open grins,
stupid expressions.

Like I've done something wrong. As if I'm being irrational.

What are you looking at? I say. Aren't any of you frightened? Why are you
laughing at me? What kind of a fucking plane is this?

Easy now, says the attendant. Maybe you need another drink?

It isn't right! says an old voice suddenly.

A thin woman with white hair comes behind the attendant. She's in a navy
pantsuit. Everything is wrinkled.

Get the hell out of my way, she says to the attendant.

He moves and she hands me a large round pill. She pats my leg. I smell
grandmother perfume.

These work quick, honey, she says.

She walks past the attendant.

It isn't right! she whispers to him.

         He looks around the cabin.

         I, for one, don't know what you're talking about, he says. And, Ma'am,
you're going to want to sit down - you heard the captain's message.

         She says something else but it's inaudible.

The attendant sits down in a chair in the aisle across from me. He displays the
two parts of the seatbelt in the air, puts them together, tightens it across his

Meanwhile I chew her pill, swallow what I can.

The drop comes again. Then the turbulent booms, two of them. I'm clenching,
leaning forward, holding my breath.

Yeee-hoooo! someone screams.

Alllll riighht!

Women laugh.

I start talking to myself.

Please, fuck, I don't want to die. I don't want to die, please straighten. Please
straighten, plane.

The plane pulls up. Pressure pushes me down. We're turning to the left again.


One more view of that valley, the captain says, his voice rattling. One more view.
Sure is pretty.

I look at the attendant who, due to the turn, is above me. He's looking at me. His
hands are raised like he's on a ride.

We're all going to die! he mimes.

I look at the window shade to my left. I see the sun behind it, adjusting as the
plane moves.

This is how they all died. Those in the air. Please don't let me die.

The engines whine. They seem to stop as the plane levels, then descends. Like
we're off a cliff.

Then they engage. We're moving forward. The plane is straight, the momentum
of the cliff fall pushed forward, further.

We're fine, I tell myself.

I'm clenching my teeth. I think I'm smiling. I must look like a madman.

We continue the descent. Each little fall is a thousand feet.

Somebody looks as green as a little turtle.

I'd like to hurt this attendant but I'm dizzy. I'm breathing ragged. Trying to keep
it together.

Turtle! someone says.

I hear it again, from others. Little giggles.

My field of vision changes, closes in. I wonder what the old lady gave me.

I think I might throw up. I reach for the vomit bag when the captain comes on.

Yeah, yeah I know. How's our little guy doing back there? Oop!


He wasn't supposed to be on.

I hear voices.

Don't fall asleep, dude, we might crash.

You'd think a man could handle a plane ride.

I can no longer tell who is speaking. I try to focus on my shoes.

Fuck you, I try to say. All of you. You're all against me.

It doesn't come out that way. Instead it sounds like fflllck uw, vwoo.

Leave him alone! It isn't right!

In the seconds before unconsciousness I feel drool falling from my mouth. I hear
boos, animated attendant laughter, turtle epithets. Then I see the turtle on
Schmeer's shoulder wearing an airline captain's hat eating a peanut.


Get them!

I wake up, limbs splayed, the end of my scream still in the air.

A guy sitting across from me lowers his paper. The little girl next to him starts

I'm no longer on the plane. I'm in a deathport.

Sorry, I whisper.

My carry-on is at my feet. I look through it and see everything is there.

For a moment I collect myself. I was on a plane but now I'm not. Now I'm in a
large terminal.

I ask the man with the paper which airport this is.

SFO - San Francisco Airport, says the little girl.

I look at my watch. I look at my ticket. The plane landed over an hour ago.

Excuse me, I say to the man. Have I just been lying here?

He shrugs and goes back to his paper.

Standing, I feel the fine residuals of whatever the old lady gave me. It keeps me
from throttling the guy with the paper.

I head to an empty bar and order a beer. I'm disoriented, suspicious. I don't
remember getting off the plane and I don't like it.

I pay the bartender.

What the hell is this? he says.

He's holding a folded up piece of white paper.

I apologize, give him money, take the piece of paper.

I unfold it, look at the crude pen drawing of a turtle and the text within the talk

I swear I hear the bartender whisper something negative.

In the talk bubble it says: I'm a little turtle afraid of planes. Please don't put
me in one - I might lose my shell!

I look up at the bartender. He's smiling down at the paper.

Did you see them carry me to those seats over there? I say.

People scared of flying shouldn't be in the airport, he says.

Deathport, I say.


Deathport. Did you see them or not?

He laughs. I didn't see anything, Mr. Turtle, he says.

You're in on this, aren't you? I say.

He shakes his head, turns away from me. Enjoy your beer, he says.

I move to one of the tables. I drink frantically.

I imagine them carrying me off the plane. Smiling, placing the drawing into my
pocket. They knew what they were doing.

Just like on the plane. All of them against me. Laughing. Toying.

Sons of bitches.

Baggage handlers walk by. Worn flight attendants. People with luggage. Secure
in their delusion of flight.

It is their job. It gets them to New York in eight hours. It's just something they
have to live with because what are they going to do - drive for five days instead?

The beer isn't helping. I'm burning up.

Everyone walks around like it's nothing. Like thirty thousand feet is nothing.
They don't think death. They don't think crazy. They don't think the airplanes and
those who build them, sell them, fly them and serve on them are wrong.

I'm the only one who thinks this is crazy.

I am the turtle.

I leave my beer, start walking. Anywhere to get out of here.

The hallways are long. They echo human sounds. I just need to find an exit. I
need to get outside and breathe so that I can stop thinking of each person in this
building as the enemy.

Calm down. You're not on the plane anymore. You're safe on the ground.

But that doesn't change what they did. All the courage I had to go through with it
and look what they did. They were against me. Everyone here is against me. The
entire airline industry is against me.

I hold my scream in. My mind rebels by flashing words on people's faces as I

Fuckers. Death Fuckers.

My stomach moves. I have to find a bathroom.

No, I see doors. Cars and taxis, people waiting outside.

I run and trip. I slide on my face. People laugh, I keep going, they get out of my

Outside I'm greeted with cigarette smoke, loud cars, cell phone conversations. I
catch my breath leaning on a concrete pillar.

I remember that I'm supposed to be here for a conference when I recognize a
voice saying, thank you! I look over and see my flight attendant entering a

My stomach sends a sharp warning. I clench, hold. In matters of defecation and
revenge, the latter takes precedent despite the inherent dangers.

I knock on the window of a cab in front of me. I tell the driver to follow that car.

Like in a movie, ah? he says.

Yes, yes, I say. Follow.

Why are we following? he asks.

He was on my flight and I need to tell him something, I say, trembling.

Wind rushes from the open windows. Chills run through me. I must purge.

I watch the other cab two cars in front of us.

And how will we communicate with him?

I'll get out when he does, I say. I need to stop talking now.

         The next two minutes are hell. Mind over body, body taking mind.

         I clench, squeak along the seat, keep my ass closed. I hope it will go

         Your friend goes to the 405, yells the driver.

         Follow, I say.

         He goes on about jurisdiction; how he can only go so far.

         I ignore him and consider my options. I come up with a very bad plan.

         Get into the other lane, I say. Go alongside him.

         As he does I take the toiletries out of the large plastic bag from my
carry-on. I bring the bag close to me. I unbutton my pants.

         Please just watch the road, I say, shivering. I put the bag beneath me,
raise up a little, cough loudly. The cough - meant as a distraction - lights the
fuse, so to speak, resulting in a minor, muffled explosion lasting several
seconds. As if on cue, a large truck honks, covering most of the sound.

         Oh, says the driver. Oh, my God.

         I do what I can. I wipe with the bag, move to the opposite side of the
seat, pull up my pants. The bag rests on the seat. I begin to tie it.
The driver turns around.

         Shit? he says. You have shit? You have shit in my car?

         The seat is a mess. So are my hands. But we're right beside the other
cab now. I see the attendant laughing with his driver.

         Hey! I yell. Heyyyyyyyy!

         My driver points at me. He turns around when he can. He curses my

         Hey! I repeat. This time the attendant sees me next to him.

         He scrunches up his face. Turtle? he says.

         Turtle shit! I say and toss the unstable bag through his open window.

         The bag turns slightly in the air. The top becomes the bottom. The
bottom enters the window. The shit bag sloshes all over the attendant.

         We slow down. His car moves forward. I strain to see him. He's a
large brown grimace, his face and body frozen, dripping.

         My car pulls behind his car, then off to the shoulder.

         I watch his car move away. I see him waving both arms wildly through
the back window.

         The smell, and my cabbie's shrieking voice, overtake my brief and utterly
enjoyable satisfaction.


         Two hours later Ahmet and I are in a hotel bar near the deathport. I'm
out five-fifty for the mess, plus whatever we're racking up here.

         I do not understand the irrationality, he says. Do you know, less than
thirteen thousand people have died in planes? And car accidents? Over
forty thousand per year in U.S. alone.

         Your statistics are meaningless, I say. The point is, it happens. I'll
never be in the air again.

         Nor my cab, says Ahmet.

         You admit, though, my actions against the attendant were justified.

         Throwing shit cannot be justified.

         I concur and apologize again.

         We drink in silence for a moment. I order another round. Ahmet asks
what I'll be doing about work.

         Ahmet, my reluctant friend, I say, thank you for reminding me. I have a
phone call to make.

         I dial John Schmeer's number. Ahmet staggers to the bathroom.

         On the end of the line I hear the radio voice impersonation: John Schmeer.

         I'm not at the fucking conference, I say.

         Why not?

         I'm in a bar, drinking.

         Excuse me?

         Yes. With bells on.

         Bells? You were supposed to be at the conference hours ago.

         I might've been had the passengers and entire flight crew not been
against me. They dumped me in the terminal. They didn't care. Except for
the old lady. They liked that I was afraid. They terrorized me. They called
me turtle. They dumped me but I found one of them. The important one. I
tracked him down. I shit on him. Not directly. Anyway, I'm at the bar now
with Ahmet, the driver. I had to pay him for the damage. I'll expense it with
the corporate card, you son of a bitch.

         Silence. Then: You're fired, you little atheist. Don't bother coming
in. I told you heads were going to roll and yours has, in fact I see it
rolling right past my--

         I hang up. I take a drink. Ahmet returns from the crowd of tattered
business people.

         When is your last day? he asks.

         I tell him. We raise our glasses.

         And what will you do now, my loose-boweled aviaphobic friend?

         Tonight I will get drunker, I say. Tomorrow I will rent a car and drive
until I return home. I'll sleep again and when I awake I'll begin the
process of creating a 501c3 non-profit organization to shut down the
commercial airline industry.

         You will need an army.

         There is an army. An untapped army.

         It will never make it off the ground.

         I'm serious.

         Your untapped army is crazies.

         Crazies with a voice. My voice. The voice of millions.

         And what about me? My work, my livelihood depends on airplanes.
What about the pilots, stewards, baggage handlers?

         Your job against my fear.

         What if I have a fear of people who fear airplanes?

         I stare at him and drink my drink.

         He stands and pats me on the shoulder.

         Face your fear, he says. Ask yourself, why do I really do this?

         He leaves and the bartender puts two drinks down.

         For a long time I sit and sip, watching everyone at the bar, relaxing in
the room's gloom and conversational hum.

         I press my feet to the floor. This is where I belong. On the surface.

         I hear a frightening rumble behind me. A growing bellow. A fiery
engine, the explosive force of lift.

         I finish my drink as the flying earthquake passes over me, shaking the
glasses on the bar.

         This, I say. This is why.

Bryn Treacy writes in Bellevue, Washington. He can be reached at

2007 Underground Voices