“Higher” Education, as in 30,000 feet up in the air “high”

airplaneToday’s regularly scheduled “Mailbag Monday” has been postponed for the end of the week due to a brief sabbatical in south Florida. But just to prove that even though my physical person goes away on vacation doesn’t mean the gold lame (accent over the e) jumpsuit wearing Richard Simmons of my mind ceases to sweat its balls off.

In fact, it was in the airport itself where the inspiration for today’s post struck me. So, without further ado —

I, in my wander-lusting heart of hearts, love to see the world — whether the destination be an exotic country 4000 miles across the planet OR an unexplored city 400 miles across the border.

But by dental dam if I don’t hate, hate, hate the process of actually getting to those places.

Seriously, I hate airplane travel more than Thanksgiving Tofurkey AND bad tippers AND Toddlers & Tiaras. As a germaphobe and bad-lighting-a-phobe and general people-phobe, you can imagine why being herded into a linoleum feedlot of recycled air and public diaper changes and human Petri dishes could send me breathing into a paper bag. But on this recent trip, I peeled back that sweet Vidalia onion of neurosis and discovered a whole new layer of discontent underneath —–

Airplane travel — from arrival to departure — is a microcosm for the entire college experience — from enrollment to graduation — as an English major. (read: Bachelor of Fine (f)Arts)

BECAUSE you’re in for a bumpy metaphor:

Freshman Year/ARRIVAL

First day of orientation. You show up all Pollyanna bright eyes and eager — 4 hours ahead of schedule.  There is a tearful familial send off. Then, on your own now, you walk up to the registrar’s desk/CHECK-IN COUNTER and get your dorm/SEAT assignment. In the year/HOUR that follows:

You just “take-it-all-in.” You peruse the airport art and read the historical placards in their entirety. You stop in at a cute cafe, order a hot chocolate with whip cream, and pull out your battered, dog-eared copy of the ubiquitous literary tome “The Pound Era.” You then go to airport Brookstone and – still having daddy foot your finances – splurge on a $99 chiropractical neck pillow AND travel-sized Foosball table to play with all the new friends you’re definitely going to make next year.

Sophomore Year/SECURITY CHECKPOINT:

(A.K.A. Your first sexual experience)

You stand in a long line with your ID out of its holder. You show it to a bouncer/SECURITY GUARD and are ushered through to the local open-mic dive bar/BACKSCATTER FULL BODY SCAN MACHINE. The guy/TSA OFFICER is fully clothed but can see you in all your naked glory.

You hold your hands over your head for exactly 1-2-3 SECONDS and it’s over. You walk out, rush to put your shoes back on, and gather your belongings before causing a 20-person pileup on the rapidly moving conveyor belt of virgin English majors waiting to get plucked by their very own Heathcliff.

Junior Year/DEPARTURE TERMINAL:

By year/HOUR 3, “Little House on the Prairie” English major life has become “Brokedown Palace.” Since arriving, you’ve somehow managed to lose a few articles of clothing, including your travel Foosball table balls. You’re hungry again, but now – without daddy footing your finances – your dietary standards have dropped alongside your GPA: You grab a pancake scrambler from the pop-up Krystal, toss  the 40-pound “Pound Era” opus in one of those Smart-Pack compacting trash cans, and replace it with US Weekly and Star.

Senior Year/ BOARDING:

Year/HOUR 4: Boarding. The “ZONES” represent the ability of various majors to acquire gainful employment after graduation.

  • First Class, Platinum Preferred: Pre-med, Pre-law, Pharmacy, Business
  • Zone 1: Management, Computer/Web Design, Engineering, Architecture
  • Zone 2: Linguistics, Speech Therapy, Psychology, Forestry
  • Zone 3: Music, Dance, Broadcast Journalism, Theater
  • Zone 4 — YOU: Creative Writing, Studio Art, Philosophy, Anything with the word “Theory” in it, and all “Independents.” **** This also happens to be the part of the airplane most likely to be torn asunder and incinerated in a crash.

As an English major, you are in the very last row of the airplane, right by the bathrooms. 34 B: You wedge yourself between 2, 300-pound Tweedledee Dee and Tweedledum-looking brothers who smell of burnt coffee grounds and boiled cabbage.

You use your remaining line of AMEX credit to keep the on-board Bacardi’s coming, pop a Xanax, and fall asleep drooling on “Dee’s” shoulder.

Graduation/LANDING:

Unlike the tear-soaked sendoff leading to freshman year, now nobody is there to greet you. You claim your baggage and find the airport transit station.  You get on the subway. One stop in, a schizophrenic homeless man wearing a “I Heart Zack Morris” sweatshirt and holding a mason jar of his own piss sits down right next to you.

You stare at a poster hanging on the wall of the train: It’s a smiling woman who is a “Real Life” graduate of trade school “X.” Underneath it reads “From classroom to boardroom, find the job of your dreams.”

What you don’t know then is — as an English major — the only place you will have a framed picture of yourself is on the “Employee of the Month” board in the coffee shop break room where you will work for the next 5 years before opting to use your writing skills to bang out copy for a financial forecasting firm.

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