The Perils of Modern Jet Travel

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Commentator Andrei Codrescu ponders the mystery of jet travel. He can't take the cramped spaces and vast changes anymore. He says his memory is also not as good as it once was. He used to be able to remember lots of jokes; now, he can't.


Traveling this spring to Israel, Romania, France and elsewhere, commentator Andrei Codrescu has had time to contemplate the temporal realm.


Time is elastic; you can stretch it until you snap. One minute I was in Bucharest trying to change Israeli shekels into Romanian leu so I could pay for my cab ride to the airport. The next I was in Paris buying coffee using euros I bought with dollars. Then I was in Greenland unable to use my old Danish kronen because they had switched to euro dollars. Then I was in Cincinnati, where people were suddenly twice as huge as they'd been anywhere else and the currency was onion rings.

This is called jet lag, but if you prefer poetry--but I would rather make sense if I could. The trouble is that 20 hours in the air will undo me these days, whereas in my youth, about five minutes ago, I could stand being curled like a snake for upwards of 40 hours and feel like a young eel when I snapped to. I also remembered all the punchlines to at least six jokes at one time. Well, no more. My bones feel like they've been shaken up in a dice cup and thrown haphazardly against a stone bed, and jokes just don't appeal to me anymore as a narrative form.

In Europe, I noticed many people, including very well-read ones, will start telling jokes after a few drinks. This may be the secret of ancient places, like Europe, where people have been dozing on the same square foot of land for generations. The only form of verbal surprise that doesn't wake them up are jokes. Literature used to be big but only for a year or two before or after a big war, when people woke up against their will and killed each other and everybody else until they were able to fall back asleep again.

Europeans, when they aren't telling jokes, criticize Americans for reading trash. But in truth, the best-seller in all of Europe now is "The Da Vinci Code." It's even a best-seller in Israel. An old woman sitting on a bench by the sea in Tel Aviv reading "The Da Vinci Code" told me, `I don't know what this book is about, I don't understand what's going on, but I keep reading it anyway.' Now that's Israel, where staying awake is a matter of survival. So what chance do somnolent Europeans or overweight Americans stand?

The trouble is that everyone is up in the air somewhere, traveling at twice the speed of sound, being sold whatever will keep them off balance and asleep. Me? I'm only having this experience so I can communicate it to you at about a zillion o'clock in the dead of night. But come what may, I'll never read that awful book, not even for a jillion shekels.

BLOCK: Andrei Codrescu teaches English at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

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