What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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by J.G. Ballard

Field-Tested by Leonard Pierce

at Reagan Airport, Washington, D.C.

October 14th, 2001: D.C.'s National Airport (actually, Reagan Airport, but that name is still much reviled by a few holdouts, the modern liberal equivalent of the old conservatives who called Franklin Roosevelt “that man”). I have never seen an airport in such a state. It's nearly deserted; I'm waiting to return from Natural Products Expo East, the first trade show to open in the capital since the terror attacks in September, and the airport has only been open for ten days. Flights are still limited to a dozen or so a day; the hallways and runways are equally empty, the innumerable shops and restaurants are closed, and uniformed, rifle-toting soldiers seem to outnumber passengers and workers by a two-to-one margin. It's eerily like being in a zombie movie; there's something profoundly unsettling about being in a center of commerce like a shopping mall or an airport when no one is there.

Not surprisingly, my flight is delayed, so I pass the time by enjoying a novel I picked up at Chicago's O'Hare airport before I came out to Washington: J.G. Ballard's visionary novel of our complex, often-eroticized relationship with technology, Crash. Though, really, 'enjoying' isn't the right word; it's not really a novel one 'enjoys' in the breezy, entertaining way you might expect from an airport fiction purpose; especially if you read it, as I did, in a waiting area of an Arctic-empty airport only a month after the worst terror attacks in American history. The cold snake of sensation that wrapped itself around my spine as I read Ballard's narrative of sexual obsession played out in an airport hospital meant for the treatment of the horribly burned and mutilated bodies of plane crash victims was about as clear an illustration of the difference between the erotic and the pornographic as one could ask for, and despite having friends who lived in Manhattan on September 11th and having watched the entire thing on television myself, the full reality of the attacks didn't quite catch up to me until that afternoon, sitting in a comfortable chair across from an abandoned Chinese buffet.

Sometimes it's better to stick with John Grisham.

Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer living in Texas until his past catches up to him. He writes about music, film, comics, history, philosophy, and other fripperies that prevent him from doing anything meaningful with his life. Archives of his questionable writing can be found on The Ludic Log.

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