Two days ago I experienced what it’s like to be hated by hundreds of people in a tightly confined space. Ever have that happen? Makes you think. Here are my thoughts:
David Foster Wallace wrote a lot of incredible stuff. Essays, short stories, novels. If you haven’t read Infinite Jest, stop reading this weak shit right now and go pick it up. There’s a reason he, edging out his pal Franzen, is the biggest swinging dick of post-modernist lit.
For all of his breathtaking witticisms and invented words that communicate paragraphs and his genuine ability to make you furrow your brow or LOL, there is a consistent and deep undercurrent of raw humanity in his writing. That hyperrealism within the surreal that post-modernism strove for. All of his characters have depth, even when that depth is reflected in a lack of depth. They all reflect some basic human impulse and all have something to teach us.
I haven’t received a more condensed or vital lesson from DFW than in listening to his famous graduation speech at Kenyon College, “This is Water.” Because this particular speech differed from his writing in one key way: not only did it teach us more about the people around us, it elucidated his almost adorably naïve dream that we care more about the people around us. That in truly stopping to think about the “cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman” and attempt to share or at least give value to their personal perspective, we could be better people. His mission was empathy, not irony.
But that shit is hard to remember when you’re in the “hideously lit and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop” supermarket DFW describes. And even harder when you’re at the shittiest airport on a blizzardy day finally boarding a much-delayed flight for a business trip to a podunk flyover town you sort of wish you could ditch. And you’re waiting in the cold hallway contraption that leads from the gate to the plane (why don’t they ever heat these things?) and you can see nothing but the backs of fat Midwestern heads and harried, mid-management types with ugly luggage and ill-fitting suits and a group of white-dreadlocked Seahawks fans with a souvenir bongo they keep fucking banging on. And you just know that there are a whole ‘nother set of fat Midwesterners and mediocre suits and Northwestern grunge yuppies already on the plane taking an incredibly long time to stow their carry-on bags and find their seats and generally holding up the entire process with their ignorantly pugnacious stupidity and general lack of regard for the importance of time – your time.
And then you end up finally boarding the plane and getting settled in your seat and pulling out your current post-modern lit du jour as you wait for the damned thing to take off already so you can fiddle with your electronic devices and complain about the quality of the in-flight Wi-Fi.
But it’s then revealed that the plane is frozen and the runway is frozen and everything is fucked, in your own little personal world, and you can’t take off yet and if you want to leave the plane and re-board when it’s ready to go then by all means be the way-too-good-humored-about-this-fucked-situation flight attendants’ guest, just stay close to the gate because when conditions align and the plane is flyable we are going to get out of here pretty fast. As we should.
And so of course you get off the plane because Christ who wants to spend another minute around these obtuse morons giggling about this inconvenience like they have nowhere to go, and, yeah, it’s not quite noon but this is overall fucking untenable and you’re thus far pretty impressed with your composure and you deserve a drink.
But then you find that this old, decrepit and ergonomically-retarded terminal has placed the closest bar roughly two football fields away at the other end of the building, which is just stupid, stupid of everyone but you, but you figure that there is no way this plane would leave without properly warning everyone who may have deplaned, especially you, so you venture six gates down the offensively-fluorescent corridor to the one place you feel comfortable and alone and understood: the bar.
But wait, whoa, fuck, after two draft beers and on the verge of bourbon you go to the bathroom where you hear that it is currently final boarding call for your flight. Shit. So you throw some money down on the bar and grab your bags and your jacket and take off sprinting down to the other end of the terminal. Your rolling bag flips on its side once or twice and you make an ill-advised juke move into a crowded walking escalator and you’re starting to sweat and have this dumb defensive smirk on your face (because how else are you supposed to look?) and you realize that you are presenting the same dead-eyed, vapid smile in the midst of the same pathetic, slapstick running scene as any number of cow-like Midwestern travelers you’ve haughtily derided for their stupid, sweaty, panicked grins and total lack of knowledge of Northeastern airport geography and respect for general Northeastern speed and punctuality. And then you reach the gate and have to basically not-take-no from the gate attendants and slide into the abhorrent role of the “all about me” traveller that yells at people whose fault they know this is not and you just hate for being so fucking self-absorbed as to think that their self-inflicted inconvenience gives them the right to cause a scene. You talk your way through that situation and stand in the middle of the open-air end of that hallway thing and watch through the plane’s front windows as a seriously-pissed pilot glares at you while simultaneously maneuvering this massive plane full of ubiquitously-delayed people back to the gate so you, and only you, can board. Then you take this completely surreal walk of shame to your seat in the very back row of the plane (seriously) past people who all know that the plane literally turned back from the runway for you, just you, and they mutter obviously-audible expletives and look at you like “you shitty selfish bastard, you entitled fucking hipster, you complete and total and indecent waste of time and space.” And you’ve still got that stupid smirk on your face, because what else can you do?
And you’re all like “Jesus Christ, guys, no one here read David Foster Wallace?” Look at this from my perspective; I’m a person too.