Flight of the Drunken Airliner

It is a flight attendant
And he questioned one of three
“By your chipper smile and charismatic voice
Now what for do you accost me?

The airlock doors swung wide open
And I am next to leave
The bags are got, I soon must jet
I hear the bag carousel weave and weave

But still he holds the passenger
There was a flight, said he
“Hey! If you’ve got a funny story,
Attendant! Come walk with me

The attendant speaks of a day past
Where the attendant lost his cool
A passenger was acting unruly
Truly seemed one great fool.

The attendant strolled the aisles
With the cart of goodies tall
Asking, “Would you like some nuts?”
For one man and the rest of all.

His day seemed to be going well
About as good as it could be
Some turbulence over Ohio
But blue, white skies to be seen

The attendant took his seat
When all his work was done
“What is that out on the wing?”
Is someone having a bit of fun!?

He peers through the porthole window
To catch a little glimpse
A strange figure runs from view
“Great… time to pass out the chips.”
A customer in row two said,
“Hey, brah? I want a beer.”
The attendant dawns a smile,
Trying hard to conceal the fear.

“What was that on the wing?”
The question panged his head.
He hands out the Coca-Cola.
While many passengers simply read.

“I must be going mad,”
The attendant quietly said.
He strolled off to the bathroom,
To cleanse his bowels instead.

He walked off to the stall,
Closed the door with a “clank.”
“This job…. It’s shearing out my soul
But, at least it’s money in the bank.”

The attendant cleans his hands
Suddenly—hears a strange sound
“Okay, what the fuck is going on.”
He searches the source like a hound.

He peers down the sink,
And, boy, what does he see.
A little green demon scurries down
The attendant is scared as can be.

The flight is soon to land
They’ve passed the Great Lakes
The attendant wants to leave,
He’ll do whatever it takes.

Some rough air as the liner falls
Through the open air
Some people suddenly awaken
Look out? The attendant doesn’t dare.
“I thought this job was easy…”
The attendant solemnly thought
Customer service was impossible
When in his mind fears were wrought

As JetBlue Flight 1052
Descended to the ground,
The attendants brow was furrowed.
His face: it possessed a frown.

“If anything else goes wrong,
Today will be my last.”
The future did not look rosy,
And certainly not the past.

The plane taxied to the terminal,
And a passenger got up too soon.
“Miss, could you please sit down?”
The phrase, it meant his doom.

She accosted him madly,
Trying to grab her bag.
“Miss, you’re breaking the rules….”
SHUT UP YOU NAGGING FAG!

The attendant was at wits end,
For a damned good reason.
He made his mind up now,
Because madness was in season.

He grabbed two cans of Coors,
For the jolly road.
He pulled the emergency exit,
And shouted with a goad:

“I quit, I quit, I quit.
I thought that you show know:
This flight has been the worst,
So, now, enjoy the show!”
He slid down the chute,
And ran from the terminal gate.
He sure had a blast,
But criminal charges soon await.

 

“Flight of the Drunken Airliner” is a parodic rendition of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” using the trope of a forewarning tale, themes of travel, and questions of sanity. While my parody lacks much of the Romantic quality of Coleridge’s original work, I’ve decided to use the generic plot as a skeletal structure to outline critiques of modern capitalism. The poem is intended to be a hybrid of antiquated and modern diction, with colloquial dialogue that punctuates the regular flow of poetic language and poetic rhyme pattern. I’ve used the same rhymed stanza format to tell the story, but, instead of being divided into parts, it is a simple long-form prose poem.

The narrative is a hybrid between the “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” episode of Twilight Zone and the news story of JetBlue Flight 1052. By combining both fiction and fact, I expound on two stories which represent the anxieties of post-war capitalism. In the Twilight Zone episode, William Shatner’s character Robert Wilson takes a flight where he experiences psychological trauma, and, in the JetBlue flight, flight attendant Steven Slater claims to face emotional abuse from a passenger, causing him to quit his job in a hilarious flare of commercial rebellion. By layering these two stories on top of one another, obscuring the differences between the two, I hope to represent the insanity of commercialism, technological fetishization, and the soul crushing nature of customer service work.

To some extent, I believe that humorizing the poem has done away with much of its historical, literary bite, but I’d argue that situating the poetry within a contemporary context is a useful act in and of itself. Where “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is wholly a ghastly story of naturalistic revenge within the context of a moralistic tale, “Flight of the Drunken Airliner” is meant to be far less proselytizing. With the modernity of the rendition comes the indeterminacy of a moral lesson, and I hope that I’ve left enough for the reader to digest and make their mind up for themselves.

Peace

—Nathaniel Schwass

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