Airport Pizza or The Man Who Died in Terminal B

 

airportchina

The airport is no one’s favorite place. I don’t care where you are from or what you do for a living. No one really loves the airport. I am particularly put off by Laguardia, but because they offer cheap flights to Fort Lauderdale on Spirit airlines, the most tragic air bus to ever exist, I find myself here often. You can’t beat the price, but you can beat the terrible service into oblivion. “Here” was not a typo, because I am indeed here, right now, taking in the scenery. The waves of people undulating in and out of terminals, some of them lonely, some of them waving their arms frantically at toddlers eating bottle caps they found on the ground. I think to myself, don’t eat it! You’ll choke! You’ll probably die! But I never say these things out loud. Especially not after this.

Being at LGA is always the same. The same light bulbs in the bathrooms are blown out, there are always more people than the number of molting seats and the pizza is forever an imposter; it looks fine, but it is far too terrible to eat. However, today wasn’t like my previous visits to this airport. Today was different. I had just decided to take a field opportunity in my home country of Belize and had begun the process of applying for a grant to fund my research. The nerves induced by crossing paths with TSA aside (this was born of personal anxiety and in its maturity it has melded with the current political climate to become a full blown fête nerveuse), I was feeling pretty good for someone doomed to a mindless hour and half of waiting for a flight that would inevitably be delayed.

Today, I thought to myself, is my day. Today I will indulge. Today is terrible pizza day.

It’s hard to convince myself that the choice to actively participate in the consumption of terrible pizza isn’t masochistic. Masticating, gnashing away at a day old display slice seems like a cry for help. But something drew me there, whether it was the incessant grumbling of my gut or my desire to be someone who lived life on the edge I can not decipher. I’m sure whatever it was that was calling, calling me to the airport pizza stand didn’t intend for what followed to occur, or for me to bear witness to the simultaneously reticent and vociferous death of a man waiting for his flight.

. . . . . . .

Pesto. . . Plain . . . Pepperoni. Endless options. I mull over the gastrointestinal emergencies that each one will surprise me with later, and choose pepperoni. Maybe I really am a bit of a masochist, but heart burn is a humbling reminder that I am a biological entity that ticks and tocs and hiccups and hurts. Life doesn’t stop because you don’t have tums.

Pizza ordered. Seltzer purchased. Commence shuffling to a dirty high top where I squash myself and my bulbous carry on between two travelers, not unlike a mouse does when he achieves the otherworldly and seemingly breaks his own bones to slide under a door. It is always an unnerving experience for me, sitting between two complete strangers who are enjoying, or not enjoying, a meal. As soon as I start to board a mundane train of thought about strangers eating boring food, my peripheral catches a security guard barreling through the terminal. I had never seen anyone run that fast in an airport who wasn’t five years old and in extremely deep shit, so of course, my anxiety worsened. I nervously tapped my fingers, sending out a morse code message that said “Where is my pizza! Stop! I feel extremely uncomfortable! Stop!” The pizza did not arrive. Instead, being wheeled toward me was a man on a stretcher, moving alongside him were five paramedics and a tangible lack of urgency.

I knew what I was looking at the moment I registered it’s presence… the shift in the sounds and the smells of the airport pizza place. The man on the stretcher was quiet and still, but the machines that were forcing his heart to continue beating were not. The compression vest keeping him alive caused his chest to thrash wildly in the same successive “lub dub” I learned from Bill Nye as a kid: “This is the sound your heart makes when it’s pumping blood… lub dub… lub dub… lub dub.” But this lub dub sounded different from the one of my childhood. The robotic din was not the sound of life and warm blood, of cellular division or firing neurons. Instead it resonated it’s mechanical morbidity through the terminal, echoing this great defeat of human existence. The sound moved from the terminal and into my body and I felt it then, the sigh that everyone talks about. That whisper of a life leaving the body. Or maybe it was just the whooshing sound of the ambu bag the apathetic paramedic continued to pump listlessly.

And then, my pizza arrived. The woman at the Dunkin Donuts’ counter paid for her sickly sweet strawberry frosted, and the paramedics rolled the body of the lonely man out of the terminal. As I ate my pizza, I thought of the family that waited in vain for him to emerge on the other side of some other terminal, anywhere, in any airport. I realized at that moment that my eating was shock induced. My brain was so stretched from wrapping itself around this coincidence-vs-fate encounter with death that the only message it could fire was “eat this pizza.” I watched the woman with her donut, my fellow pizza eater typing away on his phone and the rest of the travelers that returned to their habit of blending into the molting seats, the way all travelers do, as if nothing had ever happened. I casually noted the ease with which everyone who had just witnessed the death of a human being returned to their cell phones, kindles and bags of chips. If we don’t acknowledge it, it didn’t happen. Therefore, death won’t come for the rest of us.

The embarrassing realization was this: What do we do when we witness a death, when we are forced to converse with our own mortality? What do we do when we receive a not-so-friendly reminder that some day we will be food for worms? Hearing everyone shuffle around me, their impatient mumbles and the squeal of a tantrum, I was able to put my finger on exactly what it is that we do in situations such as these.

Why, we eat pizza of course.

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