Love In the Time of Coronavirus: Flying On Election Day


It’s the fear of starting. It’s the fear of starting that keeps me from the page. It’s no mystery to me what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of what I will feel. When I think about and write about things that matter to me I think of how they came to matter to me. Sometimes those times were hard. Meh. Maybe that’s a bunch of emotional (or psychiatric) navel gazing, “omphaloskepsis;” there’s actually a term for “navel gazing.” Isn’t that funny?  Anyway, let’s get to it.

“Don’t let your stories die inside of you” has become one of the things I say. Y’know, to other people, hoping to encourage them (you) to, through whatever medium suits, get your stories  outside of you. They include the incredible wisdom your most wonderful and horrible experiences have brought, whether you can see the wisdom there or not. That’s not your job. Your job is to tell your story. In your way.

(When I do this, by the way, when I write as if you’d come to me asking me for advice about how to do any damn thing, I’m acutely aware that the person I’m talking to is me. I’m encouraging me. I’m praying for me. Every journal entry that I wrote while I was in Iraq, I imagined that it was for posterity, presumably for some great-niece or nephew who might have found them in a family attic and gave a shit about what happened to me over there, this all presumably occurring long after my death of course. Now I know that each one of those journal entries was a letter to my future self. Me, now, for example. So that I could remember. And I need to remember. 

A whole, whole lot has happened since I last wrote a blog, amazing and sometimes mysterious things and now that I’ve been through one, I want to tell you about what’s it’s like to make love in a hurricane. And you know me well enough to know I’ll ring in on the election but hopefully in a way that won’t add to the obnoxiousness of it all, maybe even bring a little levity. (We’ll see.) I’m off social media. I’ve kept my Facebook page up as a place to post links to my blog and even that will soon disappear, the Facebook page, not the blog. 


Last night on the flight back to Los Angeles from New Orleans a woman got sick and, just like in the movies, the flight attendant came on the mic and asked, “Are there any medical personnel onboard? Any medical personnel at all?” I heard someone “ding” their call button so I was relieved (or perhaps a little disappointed) I wasn’t about to have to whip out my Marine field medicine training (whatever of it might remain). I also went to EMT school about ten years ago although I haven’t kept my creds current. I ought to look into seeing what it would take to get that up-to-date. Not that I want to go ride the ambulance or anything. But these are uncertain times, you know? I live in Los Angeles and New Orleans. There is a very good chance that those skills are going to become (unfortunately) more needed in coming months in my two hometowns. People are sick of this shit. All the people. Different people, different shit, of course.  But everyone seems to be near or past their boiling point. 

The lady on the plane, the sick lady, was elderly; bless her heart and I felt so terrible for her  and for her sweet old husband. They were both at least in their seventies. She had tried to make it to the forward lav but didn’t quite make it and apparently there was a lot of blood loss; she was bleeding from her lower abdomen (or somewhere below). First, of course, the legally obligatory “Ladies and Gentleman, as a reminder, the seat belt sign is still illuminated, if you are up and about the cabin, we ask that you return to your seat until the captain has deemed it safe to turn off the seat belt sign” announcement before we could all go back to wondering if we were watching this woman die in front of us. I ached for them so (just because I’m human) but it also was eerie to me because my own mother had flatlined (as in died) on a Southwest flight home to Alabama from my practice wedding in California many years ago. The flight attendants had used the AED and shocked her back to life. They emergency-landed in Memphis and she lived another ten or fifteen years after that. As the events were unfolding on the flight last night I felt like, in some odd way, I was getting to witness what I’d missed since I was not on the flight with my family but in Hawaii on my honeymoon when all that happened with Mom. My brother Smooch, who was on the flight on which my mother’s heart stopped, said my father was saying, “Please don’t leave me Judy, I need you! Don’t leave me, I love you!” 

A couple years later, when the three of us were leaving with full bellies from Niki’s West Restaurant in Birmingham where you can get some of the best Southern cooking you’ve ever tasted, I told them how very sad I thought it was that it took her dying for him to say it.  And I don’t regret saying that to them to this day. Their relationship gained in tenderness as they aged, I’m grateful to say. People waste too much time arguing. 

I’m a terrible storyteller. This is all over the place. But so’s my head. The election, yes, but all of it. Don’t you sometimes feel like we’re all actors in some really, really, really, high budget dystopian movie? 

And also, I may be as happy as I have ever been in my life. 

Last night, when the captain informed us that we would be making an emergency landing in Dallas, the nosecone pointed toward Earth and we were headed down. As my family had told me of the years-earlier incident, you really don’t realize how quickly they can get a commercial aircraft on the ground when they need to. 

The medics came aboard with the gurney and carried the woman out. Her husband, gray, once strong, now stooped shoulders, followed behind, sniffling. 

I pray for them now.  

There was so much blood they had to bring on a long piece of plastic to put down for us to walk across and then they told us to get off the plane.  After some rerouting and rearranging (Southwest does a pretty great job with all that, I think), Tater and I did make it to Vegas which was our original layover destination. We’d planned to lose $100 in the slot machines and wash down overpriced burritos with margaritas that taste like salty Kool Aid. [Incidentally, do you know why they call that drink “margarita?” It’s because “margarita” is Spanish for “daisy.” Daisies are white around the outside (like the salt) and greenish-yellow on the inside (like that stuff in the glass with the tequila in it.)] 

But all that had happened earlier deleted our Sin City plans because our two hour layover had been transformed into a thirty second layover and they actually came over the PA and said “all of you should be good with your connections except for passengers Jeffrey Key and Matthew Barnes. You should be aboard your connecting flight now. Please see a gate agent for paper boarding passes” And I yelled out, “tell them to hold that plane!” 

I knew they knew we’d landed and would wait for us, just not indefinitely– so after the gate agent had passed off our new printed boarding passes like Olympic batons as we dashed by, we ran (in cowboy boots) through the Las Vegas airport which has become, apparently, because of construction, a Visqueen labyrinth; and whereas I seem to remember that in Vegas Airport everything Southwest used to be right there in one little area, our little jog ended up being about a half-mile so by the time we rumbled, sweaty and huffing, onto our waiting jet full of people eager to get to Burbank, glaring at us, the reason they hadn’t taken off yet, I was feeling that all my tanks were sitting on “E”. 

Since it was Election Day, I was rocking my “USMC” t shirt and one of the other passengers said, “Thank you for your service.” But the word “service” barely made it out of his mouth; it just sort of trailed off by the time he saw my “Black Lives Matter” facemask. I noticed he was wearing a “Seabees” t shirt (they’re the construction guys for the Navy). His wife was rocking one of those bejeweled ball caps covered in stars, stripes, and “Trump 2020” emblazoned across the front. You could see the cognitive dissonance hurt their brains, such that they are, trying to reconcile my shirt and my mask. This is at the root of the inordinate amounts of ignorance in this country around military service, real patriotism, and party politics and it infuriates me. 

Tater and I made our way to the back of the plane, to the last two “socially distanced” seats. I apologized to the other passengers along the way and thanked them for waiting as if they’d had any say in it. I wanted to get settled quickly so we could take off, but mostly so I could get back to resenting those Trump supporters. It’s a quick, forty-five minute flight from Vegas to Burbank but I planned to spend every second of it just hating the fuck out of those people. 

But as I passed row after row, I began to notice faces, like as in those moments when you stop seeing a “bunch of people” and start noticing all the other individual human beings. We were headed to LA after all so there were lots of our flavors represented. I saw a beautiful older Indian woman with sari and bindi. A young Latina mother was consoling her travel-weary baby. Five young black women in their late 20s wore matching shirts that said “Girl’s Weekend” and a tired-eyed young sales rep, in a shirt that had been crisply starched 15 hours earlier, nervously fingered his laptop in preparation for the instant we passed 10,000 so he could get back to “winning.” A young black man popped out the Black Power symbol when he clocked my BLM mask. I nodded to him. Black People don’t owe me shit including “thank you.” White People seem to think we deserve a medal for doing the right thing. Fuck all that.

By the time I did get to my seat I had seen a lot more representations of “us”, not just Karen in her rhinestone celebration of anti-intellectualism but so many other expressions of that “one,” each single human, one little drop of the All of Us, each one a different expression of the Divine.

Living in two cities, I fly a lot and I’m not at all afraid to fly. In fact I still, if I catch just the right glimpse of the wing at sunset, can recapture that thrill I had as a boy flying to California to visit my grandparents. I have always loved air travel. Still, I think that each time I rubble down the runway with my fellow sky-goers, waiting to feel that moment when you know the wind has you and you are afloat, I probably hold a prayer or affirmation for our safety, holding in mind and acknowledging that this is a wildly unnatural thing to do and that if you’d told someone a hundred and fifty years ago that you were going to float hundreds of people and many tons of metal in the sky, you’d have been burned as a heretic. Yet here we are were doing it.  So (now) two nights ago (God, this gets confusing), when that moment came, especially after the events leading up to that take-off, I thought what an incredible metaphor this is! Here we all are, thrust into this big piece of machinery in which we have enough faith to entrust our very lives, few of us would be able to give even a basic explanation of how it all works. Everyone from the Sailor who hated me for not hating the way he hates to the young black man who flashed me the Black Power symbol when he saw the mask. We’re all on this motherfucker together. And we’re either all going to get there together, or we’re all going down together. That’s just the way this sort of thing works. 


It is an absolutely beautiful morning in Hollywood. It’s sort of obnoxious, actually. Some might call it a cliché. The cats are kissing the freshly watered plants and bathing themselves on the balcony. We were up at 5 am. A few small rain clouds hanging against an otherwise sunny blue sky with palm trees whipping in unusually rambunctious winds reminds me more of Sydney or Hawaii, more rainforest than the desert that is Southern California. Tater works the early shift today and I made him breakfast and packed up his lunch. He’ll come home at 3pm and we’ll work on projects together around the house or maybe just chill. We’re a family. Either you believe that or you don’t. That et. al. is what’s at stake politically, by the way. Not to seem reductive. Just be honest about what you support. 

I’m taking the morning to drink coffee and (please, God) post a blog I’ve been working on for days.

Yesterday afternoon, on the day the news agencies started announcing Biden and Harris’ win, I started to hear car horns blowing around Los Angeles. Get close to any intersection and you’d hear the cheering; people were flashing their lights and holding their fists in the air out of the windows of their cars. Peace signs too. Or is that V for victory?
I cried a lot of good tears. 

I’m not delusional. Heck, this ain’t even my first plague. But I do believe in the indomitable spirit of the American people.  We are, after all, a people who are agreeing, on a daily basis, to be governed, more than by any individuals really but by words, written, a while back now, on hemp parchment,  The United States Constitution, a document drafted by slave owners that would ultimately be used to go on to emancipate slaves. To me, there is something magic in that. It seems to be something better and greater than that which those who conceived it conceived it to be, in other words, the sum was greater than its parts. 

I was raised by a woman (thank you, Mom) who wanted me to know and understand the world I was born into (1960s Alabama) and you better believe that on the anniversary of D Day, in the year 2000, when I took the Oath of Enlistment to become a Marine, I was also thinking of those Black Vietnam veterans who came back to Alabama just to go back to being called “nigger.” I was, after all, signing up under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and agreeing to “closet” myself again after having already fought that battle many years earlier.  I did it willingly because I realized that sometimes you have to sign onto to the idea that the society you’re working to preserve can somehow inch forward toward making it better for all of us, that we can become better than we are. 

I am decidedly anti-war and pro-troop. The politics of the war in Southeast Asia aside, my point is, those Black, Alabama, Vietnam Veterans came to a represent being willing to make a sacrifice for a country that may yet receive them better. It seemed noble to a ten-year-old me. 

“It’s the pitch to suckers.” Says the Burn-It-Down crowd. Maybe it is.  

But I once did and still now do consider The Constitution something worth my life. I’ve known a lot of people in my life who’ve “pledged allegiance to the flag, et. al.” So I think it would be a good time for all of us to consider what exactly we’re willing to sacrifice and where those allegiances truly stand.  

Until very recently, I thought that the past five years had shown me the truth about people I thought I knew. In the end, I think it’s shown me the truth about who I really am. 

I’m down to make this thing work for all of us. Who’s with me?

About this entry