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Bilingual, Pet Shop Boys

Atlantic, September 2, 1996

Track Listing: 1. Discoteca, 2. Single, 3. Metamorphosis, 4. Electricity, 5. Se A Vida E (That’s the Way Life Is), 6. It Always Comes as a Surprise, 7. A Red Letter Day, 8. Up Against It, 9. The Survivors, 10. Before, 11. To Step Aside, 12. Saturday Night Forever

Fuck knows whether or not popping an Ambien and a Xanex washed down with the smoky burn of a Jack Daniel’s miniature mixed one deadly cocktail, but it did the trick, killing hours at 35,000 feet en route to some godforsaken country impossible to pronounce. So thought Jonas Atled, resuscitated, as his flight prepared for landing. If the attendants made an announcement in English for him, then Jonas missed it. Only annoying babble crackled over the airliner’s P.A. system for what seemed the entirety of a routine descent. Jonas grabbed the complimentary paper pillow rolled behind his neck to cover his left ear, while he cocked his head and formed a suction seal to his cramped seat with the other. Already feeling groggy from self-medication, he was further discomforted when thoughts circled around the fact that the thousands of miles he had just flown were pointless in the most literal sense of the word. The stupid-assed carrier hauling him far from home was not a partner in any of the frequent flyer programs to which Jonas held an account. Endorsing a plan that the day’s air service might or might not offer would, moreover, register a lie. 23A had no intention of coming back.

The plane sluggishly advanced the gate, parking with a jerky stop. Surrounding passengers unbuckled their seatbelts and jumped to attention on cue. Jonas did not see faces. Remaining seated while everyone else fumbled to exit, he only identified fat midsections jiggling, as flabby arms, some with stained armpits, reached for the overhead bins to reclaim overstuffed carry-on luggage. Had he cared enough to look, Jonas would have failed to recognize anyone anyway. His friends had no business in foreign lands, although they often glamorized a life jet-setting from one corner of the earth to the next. As a seasoned traveler, Jonas had long since concluded there was no need to crush any illusions either. Besides, he had yet to meet someone thrilled to hear complaints about the occupational hazards accompanying life in the air, although should the homebound think about it long enough, they would acknowledge that time lost in the clouds is best reserved for the hereafter, where differences hold little clout.

Once the main cabin emptied of passengers, Jonas finally stood with his shoulder bag, containing a laptop computer, business cards, a passport, his wallet, keys, gum, prescription bottles, pens, a mobile phone and a nameless mass-market paperback that he started to read but had already forgotten. The book held potential to come in handy during the return flight—the fate of the pills much more a certainty. Walking up the aisle toward the front exit, Jonas examined the remnants of the chaos he escaped. Blankets and pillows were strewn about. Headphones sloppily hung outside seatback pockets or were tossed on unoccupied seat cushions. Some armrests were up. Some were down. Overhead bins hung ajar, unhinged. Crumpled and loose napkins littered the floor. Jonas summarily determined that these people were the messiest group he had encountered; they were savages, quite unlike him. He left his seat as vacant as it was greeted many hours and a continent ago.

At the front of the cabin, a flight attendant occupied the forward galley, while the rest of the crew completed innocuous duties elsewhere, shutting the flying beast down. It was night, and warm humid air injected itself into the stagnant vessel. Jonas did all he could to avoid eye contact with the woman, hoping to escape unnoticed, but a programmed smile blocked him at the door. The flight attendant chirped, in heavily accented words, “Bye-bye.”

Jonas maintained his unwavering determination to flee stealth and proceeded onto the jet bridge, ignoring the worker. She was doing her job, he knew. Yet the intrusion had foiled his needs and played into mounting irritability. The flight attendant had pushed personal boundaries first, which constituted enough to prompt Jonas to take a moment and push back. He paused in his tracks, looking back at the woman. Then, Jonas replied, “Eat shit” with a friendly smile and a nod, of course.

The woman did not wince. She held her grin, gave a slight head gesture in return and said with practiced intonation, “Okay! Bye-bye.”

Jonas would have laughed, except the frustration that he had been pegged an American so easily displaced any perceived humor. He immediately wished the whole trip were over and went on his way to retrieve his luggage. Inside the airport terminal, though, the signs meant to guide him were written in unrecognizable script. Not a single letter was familiar. Even the illustrations used to guide travelers lacked comprehension. Jonas swirled amidst a hangover of disorientation. Fear, an emotion he usually successfully fought, twisted with nausea like red and white on a peppermint candy rolling across the floor. Jonas pulled it together, in order to search for one of the last passengers disembarking his flight, thinking he could follow that individual to baggage claim. His hopes were soon dashed, when he had to admit that it would be impossible to pick out a fellow passenger. Bodies passed Jonas in a frenetic blur of arrivals, departures and missed connections, while he contemplated a next move.

Forty-five minutes later, after aimlessly roaming several joining terminals and returning more than once to the gate where the plane that deposited him rested for the evening, Jonas found his way to the baggage carousel. His single suitcase sat alone on a motionless conveyor belt. From there, a wave of relief and sadness levied Jonas and his packed belongings to the curb outside.

Rows of cars stacked in line. Discerning a taxi from a civilian automobile was problematic. Men stood smoking outside their cars, all of them appearing eager to catch a fare. The occasional honk of a car horn kept Jonas alert. He knew he had to be careful, after reading online warnings about kidnappings, but took a chance and approached a vehicle picked at random. Just as Jonas reached for the door handle, he spotted the flight attendant from before, loading into a dusty brown four-door two cars up. The woman must have recognized Jonas. She smiled her smile. She said, “Bye-bye.” Jonas slowly raised his hand, submitting a gentle wave. Under changed circumstance, an apology would have been in order. Nevertheless, it was evident from the instant she accepted Jonas’s untoward remark with kindness that anything he could say translated wholly into meaningless babble. Her car pulled away and turned out of sight.

Over the roof of the selected car, which he hoped was a taxi, Jonas handed the driver a piece of paper with his hotel’s address on it and ducked into the back. The man slipped behind the wheel. He surveyed Jonas in the rearview mirror. Jonas caught his glance, wondering whether or not he would ever make it to the hotel. Jonas struggled to find something to say—something they had in common—that would take him to a place of repose.

“¿Hay una discoteca por acqui?”
(Is there a disco near here?)


The man pulled the gearshift into “Drive,” and the car lurched forward, as Jonas thumbed through his wallet. The journey was miles away from reaching an end.