Airplane notes

It’s 11:55pm, New York time, and I’m on Continental Airlines

flight 31 from Newark to Sao Paulo. They’ve served the meal already

– I accepted the mini-bottle of Cotes du Rhône – and

I’ve also popped a couple of the Calmosedans I picked up in Santiago.

They’re perfect for plane travel, especially red-eyes: they’re

a combinatino of valium and sleeping pill. All the same, I’ve

whipped out my laptop, and am writing this.

I was inspired by a sentence in the novel I picked up at the airport

bookshop, Up

in the Air by Walter Kirn. (It was the last copy in the shop,

buried away in the K section of the fiction shelves, despite Christopher

Buckley’s rave New York Times review

and the obvious affinity for airport passengers. I noticed as I was

flicking through the opening pages that I’d wound up buying a

First Edition. I haven’t got that far into it, but I’ve

already decided that it’s an excellent book, and I highly recommend

it: it’s kind of Brett Easton Ellis for the mild-mannered air

traveller.) The narrator, who spends most of his life on airplanes,

is sitting next to a woman. “I’d guess her age as twenty-eight

or so, the point when working women first taste success and realize

they’ve been conned.”

Well, that got me thinking. I was 28 when I left Bridge News (or

BridgeNews, as it later rebranded itself), the company where I could

finally call myself a journalist without thinking I was being economical

with the truth, a company which paid me $5000 a month for my expertise

in capital markets: a key number for me, the point at which I always

thought that a person could be very comfortable, and beyond which

money became a little bit pointless, meaningless, silly. And yet,

notwithstanding the fact that I’m male and not female, I did

indeed realise that I’d been conned. I knew it at the time, although

I didn’t really know that I knew it: it was only after I qui^H^H^Hwas

fired that the truth sank in.

I was miserable at Bridge; I knew that; and the freedom which came

with not having to go into an office every morning; with not having

to answer to a boss wanting to know what I was up to all the time;

with being able to spend any day I liked in bed doing nothing (most

importantly, being able to sleep in in the morning, rather than getting

rudely awoken at 6:30 by my alarm clock); with being able to take

weeks or even months off on holiday; with being able to surf porn

sites on the internet without any fear of repercussion (not that I

would ever actually do such a thing, of course); with interviewing

bigwigs while sitting in my underpants in my living room; with walking

the streets of Manhattan in the middle of the day, enjoying the sound

of schoolkids playing in the yard across the street; with being able

to go into shops during the day and not having to suffer the weekend

crowds; with going into a Citibank ATM lobby without having to

get my card out and swipe it to gain entrance: this was something

I’d never really known before, and which I will be extremely

loath ever to give up.

There’s an astonishing work culture where I live: even I fall

into it, and feel weirdly uncomfortable when I’ve been with someone

for any length of time and still don’t know what they do for

a living. I don’t want people to judge me by my job, yet

I judge them by theirs the whole time: I honestly don’t think

I could ever be really good friends with anyone in sales.

But I think for Americans, a lot of the time, it’s worse. Without

exception, the Americans I meet and who find out that I’m freelance

assume that the minute I’m offered a “real” job, I’ll

take it. I won’t, of course, and I think that the headhunters

who were chasing me in the immediate aftermath of my departure from

Bridge realised that. I haven’t heard from them in months, and

I’d like to think that’s because they know that now I’m

a tougher sell. (Of course, I don’t really think that’s

true. They just happened to find out I’d left, and so did their

job on me; now the job market’s even tighter than it was then,

and they probably just have very little to offer me. Besides which,

come mid-September, hundreds of ex-Bridge reporters will be hitting

the streets in need of gainful employ.)

Is it true that the entire 28-year-old workforce is being conned?

No, it’s not. There are a lot of 28-year-olds out there who either

have a burning desire to make loads of money, or who need the security

of a job. I don’t fall into either camp: I’ve been very

lucky in that I grew up in a family which placed no kudos whatsoever

on the size of your paycheck, and I also managed to get myself a fabulous

I-1 journalist’s visa which allows me to stay in the United States

more or less indefinitely.

But anyway, I think now I’m going to go back to the book for

10 minutes, and then try and get some sleep. Night night.

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