The Stranger (Preamble to My Book)

Stranger men had sat by that window, but not on this day. The lights dim, and pressure fills the cabin.

Excuse me.

I’m sorry to bother you, but I couldn’t help but notice something. Your phone. You’ve been staring at it for ages. Hell, you didn’t even notice when we lifted off the runway! Four hundred and twenty seven miles per hour. Right now. That’s us.

Who am I? Oh, I’m a window seat, you see. Everytime. Checkin’ out these clouds and – look! Down there, snow on the mountains! Lovely.

No, wait! I’m clowning, really. Listen, it’s about that stewardess. I saw your interaction back there. Heard it too. I’ve been sitting next to you for hours, you know. Well, to be honest, you were pretty rude to that poor woman.

Now, it’s not like I’m one to talk. I’ve been rude before, probably will be again someday. Hell, when Elycia and I broke up, I told this one attendant to-

No. YOU listen up. I see what makes you tick. You’re not so weak as you are tired. Tired, like every one of those men in every one of those movies where the bad guy accepts his fallen innocence and raises his gun while the protagonist-they-wish-they-were cries out – don’t do this! – to which they always respond, I’m tired, man!

And that hat! Man, I’d bet neither the villain or the protagonist would wear something like that. You-do-you and all, but I’d just rock the bald. I know, it doesn’t make for good instabook pics, but what would I know? I deleted mine a while back. Which brings us back to your phone. Man-oh-man have I watched you stare while you scroll, and scroll – and scroll – and the whole world scrolls right on by while you hunch over that thing, convincing yourself that you’re connected to something.

Oh Me? Yeah, I got one too, but I’m working on it. Trying, anyway. Got this game, see! Everytime a stranger sees me staring at it, or everytime I check it for no reason, I lose. Why strangers? Let’s be honest, we care more about what they think than we do our closest friends. Think about it. First impressions, isn’t that what they say? Hell, some men will beat the ever-loving-shit out of their own spouse and then wine-and-dine with total strangers that same evening. Suit and tie! We divulge our darkest secrets to people we know, and never to those we don’t. Kinda backwards, when you really think about it. It’s an inverse relationship: familiarity precludes pretense, do you follow?

So the phone thing… yeah, I like to think it freaks people out. Just looking around. No talking. No gossip, just thinking. It’s like riding a bike… or maybe learning to walk like a newborn giraffe. You know what helps, actually, cigarettes! Here, want one? Oh yeah, no smoking.

I know, I know. They’re evil. Everything good is, isn’t it? Still, there is nothing like a good smoke break. Ten minutes to yourself, breathing, and meditating.

That isn’t to say I don’t want to quit. One step at a time, I say. Got other things to worry about. Ever wanted to kill yourself? No, no. You’re right, let’s talk about something else. Lets see, ah yes, rocks! Mountains! That’s my thing these days, Rock Climbing!

No-no, it’s nothing like that. Quite peaceful, really. Really tunes you out, it does. Lots of people call it something different. I call it the Nexus. Ever seen Star Trek IV? Ah, forget it…

That’s what it’s all about, anyway – The Nexus – it’s happiness. Freedom. When you’re in it – somehow – time slows down and nothing else matters. Memories fade and anticipation falls with all your fears; your regrets; your girlfriends; all those times in the psychiatric wing… you’re not there anymore, you’re here… or are you still there? Where are we again, anyway?

Sorry, I’ve been on this thing too long, and I really do need a cigarette. Where did I- damn. Looks like I’m out. Say! Ever jumped out of one of these things? No-no, it’s nothing like that! Maybe a few seconds anyway, but afterwards it’s quite peaceful, really. Really tunes you out, you see! 

Well, time for me to go. Maybe fetch a smoke. You can come too if you want. Just pull this lever and-

Two hundred and eighty eight yellow masks suddenly drop and dangle from the ceiling over forty eight empty rows. The stranger’s stupid fucking hat rips from his head and sails through the Emergency Exit of Hawaiian Ventures flight #5645, disappearing into the clouds over the Pacific Ocean.

2021 Author’s note:

When I shared this passage with my father, he immediately identified parallels to a certain book and a certain movie of the same name. To be honest, I have never read that book. Nor have I seen the movie (a classic) for a very long time, and I don’t care. On January 25, 2021, I sat on an airplane next to your typical middle class man, and the idea came to me. While that certain other book (again, a classic) may be about a crazy man in a materialistic world, this book is written by one. I’ve seen some shit, and after a silly very-near-death experience (described in the next chapter), I’ve decided to write about it. That is that.

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