5.09 / September 2010

Ich Bin Ein Trauriger Mensh

In 1987 a German engineer developed a clear plane.   He did not forge in response to public criticism, did not weld.  He blew.  He tempered, said it must be clear.  The frame and fuselage were constructed from reinforced glass.  The seats—inflated plastic balloons mounted on heat-hardened transparent resin.   The plane’s skin, like a cautious copulator, was polished latex.

The only aspects of the plane that retained opacity were the mechanics directly associated with propulsion and the necessary hieroglyphics on the pilot’s instruments.   These were painted white. White engines pumping electricity through white vein like wires to white propeller blades spinning into flanking white circles, the engineer created an anatomy lesson for a ghost.

These sparse aeronautic sinews made the plane a plane, made it want to leave dirt.   When finished, the engineer held a press conference in front of an ordinary shape dressed in an oversized West German Flag.   He informed the group that the test flight would take place the following day and, as a bonus, would be open to the press. He pulled the flag.   The crowd made the appropriate and anticipated noises.   Each outlet nominated its own representative.   A nomination was prestigious.

Twenty-three passengers, there were twenty-three people on board.   The engineer hired an actress to dress as a flight attendant.   She wore a tight, white skirt-suit with sharp shoulders and a round hat.   Her teeth were perfect, born that way.   The pilot and co-pilot wore matching white tuxedos.   The engineer supplied the press with white robes.   When they stood together for photographs before takeoff, they looked as if they were about to sing something in Latin, something about Christ.   Instead, they boarded.   Last up the treacherous, clear steps was the engineer—the only one wearing pale blue, the only one fully prepared.

The night before, he couldn’t sleep.   He went over details, complicated math, degrees measured with a protractor.   He fingered the plane’s joints, ironed his personalized cellophane parachute, wrote a speech and threw it away.

The actress as flight attendant gave instructions.   No personal effects on the plane—nothing sharp, a conference to occur thirty minutes after landing, no flash photography in flight.   She delivered her lines well.   The press was convinced, although an eager newspaper reporter, the youngest, doubted her authority and snuck a pen and small pad of paper on board.

The ground beneath the passengers’ feet moved too fast to stay close, so it pushed away.   The plane lifted, achieved a modest cruising altitude.   The young journalist leaned back to look at an almost unobstructed sky.

His pen pressed into the balloon cushion supporting his weight.

It popped.

He fell.

There was a noise that sounded like a crack and more noise to indicate chaos.   None of this was the engineer’s fault.   He wrote warnings and the actress performed them. She performed them well.   He shouted to stay seated, stay in one place at least.   The actress screamed and entered the cockpit and did not stop screaming.   Most people clamored to the front.   A good number ran to the back.   They saw the distance they would travel, closed their eyes, wished for walls.   The weight inequity in the small plane caused the minor fissure to expand.   The cabin lost pressure, reduced itself to glitter.

Wet produce retaining no shape, the passengers landed. Tomato. Cauliflower.

The engineer floated slowly, and the gathering crowd could not see him.   They saw the color of sky.   They saw the ground.   There was no one to capture the words they said.

Some years later the German people forgot about the engineer.

He took no more lovers and wrote a note:

I wanted to go to heaven.   I guess that will never happen.