It was 2002 and I was in the window seat next to a man who had the aisle seat. This was on a Canadair Regional Jet, which has two seats on each side of the aisle. My seatmate was buff, and looked pretty tough. I could tell this by the glossy men’s magazine he was reading, and by the bicep he kept flexing; I noticed that he would look down out of the corner of his eye and watch how his muscle bulged against the hem of his synthetic athletic polo shirt. He was reading an article about getting outside and being challenged by the elements: hiking on scree, bushwhacking through old growth forests—in short, braving the wilderness. As he scanned the article, he kept reaching up and fussing with the blower above his head, trying to get the air to blow on him just right. First it was too cold so he shut the air off, but then the stuffiness of the cabin seemed to overcome him and he tried to blast air on his forehead with thrust and precision. He became very frustrated, constantly twisting the nozzle this way and that way. On his lap, there was a picture in the magazine article of some mountain peaks with snow blowing off of them, and a vaguely Heideggerrian caption that read: “The challenge of the wild is being everywhere and nowhere, at once...and out of control, your curiosity is delivered over to the world!”
A little while later, my seatmate had turned to a page about extreme contact sports. He was really into this story, which included pictures of men kicking other men in the face, and kidney punching one another while rolling around on the ground. At this point our flight attendant was coming down the aisle with the beverage cart, and she unintentionally clipped my seatmate’s knee with the corner of the trolley as it went by. My seatmate yelped and clutched his knee in pain; he cursed and glared at the flight attendant who by that point was several rows behind us, serving small cups of Coke. My seatmate gave up reading and stared stoically at the back of the headrest on the seat in front of him. He eventually dozed off, and the men’s magazine slid to the carpeted floor, strong smiling men flitting past as the pages closed.
Christopher Schaberg is one of the editors of Airplane Reading. His book The Textual Life of Airports (Continuum, 2011) will be available December 1.