I hadn’t gotten sick like that in seven years, with my head in a toilet, and it was the same toilet seven years ago, the last time at my mom’s in 2009, I had to ask Dawn if she could scrub it first because it was too nasty to put my head in, as if toilets shouldn’t be that way.
But I felt renewed as you sometimes do, and got back into bed, and thought about that first scene in The Big Lebowski where Jeff Bridges gets his head put in a toilet, and has to pull his sunglasses out, and how the movie tries to say more than it appears to on the surface, it makes you think about bigger things, like why some things are entertaining to us when they’re really disturbing, or how empty and useless we all might be.
And I stopped on the way back home to say hi to my mom’s neighbor who was out pruning with a ladder, and told him I was going back to the States to see my grandmother, and we spoke mainly in German and he asked if it was a birthday and I explained no, she was really sick and this could be it, and he said it was normal; he didn’t say he was sorry and I’m glad he didn’t, because he wasn’t.
And on the plane I judged the woman who sat next to me for all the time she spent on her phone before we took off, and I guessed she was from New York and like all the rest, and when it was finally time to stow our things, to wrench ourselves away and just be, she addressed me for the first time by saying sorry, thinking she brushed my elbow but she didn’t, she missed.
After we got in the air she sat for a time doing nothing, like she was thinking, and at last used her finger to pull up some music on the telemonitor which made me feel sorry her, for having to succumb to that, and I thought about offering her my iPod but didn’t.
When our food came we talked, and I realized how much I missed other Americans — she was working for the UN assigned to the refugee crisis, had flown from Jordan to Frankfurt and now home to New York — and we made what we could of it flying over the ocean, above the clouds, and I knew I was wrong judging her because most times you are, and turned to a guy across the aisle who’d been watching movies since the flight started and fixed on his phone, dancing on apps and games with his headphones not even connected to the film, and he started a new one with just 45 minutes left in the air and didn’t even watch it, just looked up now and then — and I wondered why so many of us are like that, why we can’t just sit there looking at nothing — or looking at a different nothing, a real nothing.
I’m no different and probably worse. At night I put the iPod on and it plays while we sleep. I’ll play ambient music that all sounds the same, a droning, sometimes bovine electronic sound blooming and whining in the dark, probably afraid of what my mind will think about given the chance, or like I’ll miss out on something.
And maybe this is why we should read hard books like Infinite Jest that tease out real themes, like how we stuff ourselves full of entertainment that’s empty and reflects back on our own emptiness like a feed bag that leaves no memory, just the crunching desire to consume more — and why is it we can’t look at a blank screen and think about nothing, or sit in the quiet of a room — are we afraid of what we’ll see if forced to sit too long looking inside ourselves, and not through a stick? And if we sit long enough waiting for something to come, and nothing does? Then maybe we’ll be left with ourselves, outside anyone’s understanding and where we really belong, for better or for worse.