An American Airport at Dawn
5:45am, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta
There’s a kind of politeness that’s so polite it’s impolite, you know? Like you can tell the person talking to you isn’t actually talking to you, but is really watching themselves talking to you and admiring how much they sound and look and move and smile like their dad or their boss or some TV Chef or whichever sleazebag they picked this schtick up off.
“Good morning sir, how are you doing today?”
“I sneezed in the toilets and one of my eyes rolled back into my head.”
“It came back.”
“And where are you off to today, sir?”
“Mexico. Me-hee-co. That’ll be Terminal C, leaving eight, fif-teen a-m, sir.”
“Okay sir, you have a pleasant day now.”
“What, right now? Why the rush?”
A mum and her teenage daughter with hayish hair from too much peroxide face inwards on the escalator and scroll through Instagram. Sport pic, liked, new house pic, party pic, party pic, liked. There are three types of people to remember in this world: the ones who helped you when you were in trouble, the ones who ignored you when you were in trouble, and the ones who put you in trouble. Liked. Exactly who was it that said that? Mark Twain? Leo Tolstoy? Sport pic, sport pic, liked, pool party pic, liked, inspirational sneaker ad, family photo. If someone can sleep soundly at night knowing that you’re hurting for them then that says a lot about how that person feels about you. Oh I know that one! That was definitely Goethe. Liked.
A man hops to attention over my right shoulder, startling me severely.
“Sir, come on! Where are you going?”
“Terminal C, Heil!”
“Which terminal is that, sir?”
“C for Charlie.”
“Very good, sir. Have a nice day.”
There is a special species of idiocy reserved for people who with full and conscious choice join the army. Not only do such people not want to use their intelligence, but they even go so far as wanting to outsource that intelligence to an inhumane system of clipped vowels and right-angles perfectly willing to corrupt it to such a point that they can look other human beings in the eye and, at a word, shoot them.
BANG! Here come the ladies. A bazooka of black women, all lipstick and laughter, wearing matching black shirts smeared with glitter cocktails in red glitter yellow glitter blue glitter green glitter and in silver glitter the words Intellectual Ladies on Deck. Glitter!
I’m almost certain the player piano is playing chopsticks.
“I have heard of her being crazy before, but I have never before handled her crazy. And I was just like, shut up, she was saying all these lies!” This girl has Chernobyl red hair, the kind of red that has never occurred in the human genome and didn’t even occur in the human experience until the mid-’60s. She has a flower tattoo running from between her shoulder blades right up to her left earlobe, mostly prison grey and blue, but with a little green and pink at the petals. Her friend has the scorched, blotty, low blood-pressure tan that you just know is going to wrinkle in three years. She smells of whiskey. Her eyelids and the skin next to her lips have started to puff. Her eyebrows are painted, each to its own postcode. One is noticeably up in a permanent quizzical expression that upsets me. The pair jolt off, hyper-flexing their knees so they stop and pop with each footfall, in the way girls walk who wear leather bangles and carry brand-name bags holding their arms straight down.
The staff appear hunched on account of gigantic sedentary backsides, backsides designed by evolution for people to be comfortably sedentary and gigantic upon. They have sparkling smiles and the eyes of the demented.
The passengers seem vacant too. Squeaky clean, all bright colours and twice-a-month haircuts but dead, quite dead. Even the children are bored. It’s like they know everything by age eight; they’ve seen the entire universe through an iPhone screen, and there’s really no reason left to hang about.
A cleaner walks out to sunrise with an ID pass around his bicep, hard rock in his Dre Beats.
A couple of guys side-by-side in shorts, polos and sunglasses tanlines across their temples, slouch forward onto their elbows, backs bent at the thoracic, and bury their faces simultaneously into burgers they hold with both hands. 6am appears to announce the meat course in the Dirty South. Wake up, murder a mammal. You cannot have a table in the foodcourt unless you load it with at least 50g of transfats. There are signs to the effect. This man over here is eating three Sausage and Egg McMuffins. You’re hard-pressed to get me to eat anything heavier than a grapefruit before noon. The Germans have a term for what is going on here: they call it “fressen”, as in eating, but with face in bowl, fat ass in air and making noises like a gungan.
A woman with hair like the plumage of a chicken, cut short and conditioned soft and feathery and coloured indigo orange yellow takes to the Fressen with particular gusto. She wears a tight blue t-shirt that shows off her biceps, which she employs now to ram – I say, ram! – handfuls of high-calorie breakfast down the throat of her son. She adopts a position behind his seat, spreads her feet wide for balance, tilts his head backwards, forms a fist and grinds it down on top of a mouthful of French Fries, leaning in on the fist and slowly rotating it like a garbage macerator down his gullet. I see the back of her shirt as she pivots. Football mom. Some people wait their whole lives to meet their favourite player. I raised mine.
Stereotypes were invented in America by Americans and for Americans, and not passively either, not like someone else stereotypes you, but actively, like you stereotype yourself. You choose a brand and brand yourself with it. Housewife, gangster, banker, musician, rebellious Asian, feisty teenager, class clown, salesman, athlete, moody, artistic, Christian, entrepreneur, holidaymaker, yogi, hippie, yuppie, cop, navy seal, hiker, model, traveller, college graduate, dropout. Arbitrary identities, assigned according to predisposition and fluke of circumstance, flimsy identities hardened to crust by a lifetime of unrelenting repetition.
Like ether, I exist unnoticed as a handful of three hundred million insignificants tumble through my consciousness, spinning like three hundred million suns at the middle of three hundred million solar systems, burning with vanity. At the centre of this prideful cosmos there is a black hole of vanity, appearing now on the big-screen in close-up with a red tie, don Donald Trump. America does not need Donald Trump, America would do much better without Donald Trump; America probably doesn’t even want Donald Trump. But that’s not the issue. America is Donald Trump.
7:07am, Harstfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta.
Cover by Skyler Smith