Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Mysteries of Jet Lag
Yesterday (a loose term, as I'll explain below), a bit before I completed a 14-hour flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, I came across the following passage in a book I'm reading, Roberto Bolano's 2666:

Amalfitano had some rather idiosyncratic ideas about jet lag. They weren't consistent, so it might be an exaggeration to call them ideas. They were feelings. Make-believe ideas. As if he were looking out the window and forcing himself to see an extraterrestrial landscape. He believed (or liked to think that he believed) that when a person was in Barcelona, the people living and present in Buenos Aires and Mexico City didn't exist. The time difference only masked their nonexistence. And so if you suddenly traveled to cities that, according to this theory, didn't exist or hadn't yet had time to put themselves together, the result was the phenomenon known as jet lag, which arose not from your exhaustion but from the exhaustion of the people who would still have been asleep if you hadn't traveled.

Actually, this could explain why twice very early this morning--at about 1:45 and then again right around 2--I was in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, jacking my cab fare from JFK into the neighborhood of $60. It wasn't that there's really work going on; the construction signs and activity were a clever delaying tactic on the part of the universe, a more elaborate version of the screen behind which one might change clothes in a studio apartment with a stranger in the room.

(Bolano goes on to suggest that his character probably had read this in a sci-fi novel and forgotten that he'd read it. I'm actually pretty sure it's from an episode of the 1980s Twilight Zone revival, which had the theory that the universe is actually a series of moments strung together like boxcars, in which everything that exists is built anew; when you lose something and then later find it right where you'd initially thought it was, the reason was that the builders of that particular moment in which you deemed it lost had forgotten to include it, then later rectified the mistake.)

My trip, from the place where I was staying in Sydney to my home in Brooklyn, took a few minutes less than 30 hours in all. It occurred to me that there are two ways to think about this: one, that this is a fuck of a long time to be in transit, and two, that it's kind of miraculous to travel just under 10,000 miles in that little time--including my insult-to-injury five-hour-plus layover in LA.

Having spent a lot of time on planes over the last two weeks, including not only the to/from Sydney travels, but a trip-within-the-trip excursion to Japan (9.5 hours each way), I've come up with a few new rules I'd like to see imposed for air travelers:

1) They really should serve turkey as the lunch/dinner meal on planes. I certainly could have used some tryptophan (sp?) as I failed to fall asleep on the Sydney-to-LA flight.

2) For particularly large intercontinental flights, if you're traveling with a baby, that should cost you more (not less, as I believe is the case). Also you should have to personally apologize, reading a script I wrote that includes descriptive words and phrases like "inconsiderate" and "selfish narcissistic asshole," to every other traveler within ten rows in every direction.

2a) All families traveling with babies should be seated together, so that when one starts to cry, they all do. Rather than my whole fucking flight being essentially a nursery, just make one section of it.

3) For redeye flights, people who plan to read should be seated together rather than having overhead lights scattered throughout the plane.

Back with some actual thoughts on stuff--or maybe just the differences between American and Japanese baseball--probably over the weekend.

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