• The transatlantic flight and the search for the lost position

    Posted by Michael Fennig on 12/20/2013

    The transatlantic flight and the lost position

    I always expect the worse on international travel. However, our journey to Heathrow International Airport in London was relatively seamless. Relatively. Arriving in Europe in the morning from a transatlantic flight from the States is a perpetual concern for me because one loses hours across the time zones, and during an evening flight, potential sleep time is also lost. At D/FW airport, I colored outside my personal lines and intentionally wolfed down a MacDonald’s cheeseburger and fries (don’t tell anyone) in anticipation of avoiding consciousness during the flight. I nestled into my window seat, pulled my Arsenal cap over my eyes and began the 7-hour adventure into the search for ‘the lost position’. I fell asleep quickly but the dull ache surging from my lower back forced my eyes open. Time to shift and squirm. Periodically, I found some contorted position that allowed enough reprieve from the back pain to drift off to the drone of the two massive engines that propelled the Boeing 777 at 35,000 feet across the icy north Atlantic in the darkness of night. But it was to be short-lived. Again, more combinations of contortions, leg wrapping, and head tilting. The pain momentarily subsided. My eyes closed naturally and my thoughts drifted away from reality into the unreal. I was asleep. Did I just find the ‘lost position’? The mythical body shape that produced instant and prolonged sleep regardless of condition or environment?

    No. I had not. It was not to be. The lower back pain seared upward into my shoulders. As with the Holy Grail, the seven cities of gold, or the coveted, unblemished and perfect score from one of Mrs. Settle’s walk-through evaluations, it simply did not exist.

     On top of the myth-shattering reality of back pain, there was the obligatory screaming infant only a few rows in front of me. Even before we took off, I knew there would be trouble. I couldn’t see the parents; only the father’s outstretched arms holding the spawn of Satan high in the air, in an attempt to what could only be to entertain his child by allowing it to look around his new environment, momentarily reducing the wailing to a constant whine. That, or to put a modicum of distance between himself and his embarrassing contribution to the gene pool.

     The child did fall asleep eventually. I believed he slept for a few hours. But then it awakened…with a vengeance. Now, I’m not good with guessing ages, especially children. What’s the difference between a ‘toddler’ and an ‘infant’? I don't even know which one comes first chronologically. But I do know that this forming humanoid was old enough to walk and make demands. And demand it did. With violent howls and screams, the beast carried on with accompanying mucous and tears, for what must have been hours. Remember, this was an evening flight. The cabin lights had been turned off. At one point, there were loud shushing’s emanating from surrounding passengers. The shushing’s became more frequent and increasing in volume. Finally, I heard a woman’s voice shout, “Sir! Sir!!” following by a muffled conversation. I don’t know what ensued. I was still hiding under my Arsenal hat in some spine-crunching posture.

     Daylight greeted us and we began our gradual descent into the country of the birthplace of my heroes, Led Zeppelin. Finally the clouds beneath us parted, and the greenery of terra firma revealed itself. We circled London in a holding pattern for about ten minutes, which is fine with me. We were given several tours of the London skyline and the river Thames.

    arial view of London

    We were on the ground. Customs and passport inspection were also seamless. Except for the passport inspection officer.

    “Reason for visit?”

    “To see the Arsenal game.”

    The bespectacled agent paused and peered over her glasses. “You came all the way from the States to see the Arsenal match?”

    “Yes.”

    The agent just shook her head, sighed, and stamped our passports.

    We exchanged some American currency, and proceeded to the train/tube stations, which is quite logically and conveniently located in the airport. Um, hello Dallas/Ft. Worth, you have a gigantic international airport with thousands of daily flights, and you have no decent mass-transportation system to serve yourself or the myriads of international travelers? Whose idea (or lack of intelligent thought) was that?

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  • Afternoon of the evening flight to London

    Posted by Michael Fennig on 12/19/2013 11:45:00 AM

    I am obsessed with soccer. I still play the game on Friday nights, but after breaking both legs (not simultaneously), becoming a spectator of the sport was more and more appealing. Of course, it’s no secret that I follow the World Cup around the world (I scored four games in Brazil this summer!), but over the years the ‘beautiful game’ has slowly but inexorably eliminated any and every competitive sport in my spectator-life. My passion for 'football' has spread beyond the international realm and refocused squarely on the Barclay Premiere League in England. It is here where I come clean.

    I am an Arsenal fan. 

    I don’t know how or why it happened. There are histories and contextual clues but I suppose if fingers were to be pointed, blame would have to be placed squarely on an English language-Japanese newspaper, “The Daily Yomiuri” and the acquisition of cable television.

    In 1997/1998 I was living in a suburb of Tokyo, teaching conversational English in a public high school. Not quite fluent in Japanese at the time, I indulged in English language newspapers to pass the time during those moments when my services in the classroom were commonly not required. The sport naturally reported on in the Yomiuri was soccer, or football, in particular games of the English Premiere League. Having played soccer my entire life I was mesmerized by the description of the level of play of these teams. In one particular edition of the paper, a large photograph of Dennis Bergkamp, the Dutch international was splashed across the entire front page of the sports section. The expressionless Dutch master exhibited no effort “…in leaving a trail of defenders in his wake.” In the photograph, three defenders, each on all fours, seemed to have been dispatched by the magical footwork of the talisman of the Netherlands, clearly on his way to slot home another goal for his unstoppable club, the Arsenal. It was this season, 1997/1998 that the Arsenal were undefeated in 49 games, clinching the distinguished nickname, “The Invincibles”. It was ballet at ten meters a second.

     When I returned home to Dallas the following year, cable television was readily available and one of the channels that was made available to subscribers was the “Fox Soccer Channel”. I never would have imagined that I would be spending hours in front of a tube, soaking in highlight footage from just about every prominent soccer league on the planet. However, most spellbinding were those of the goals by The Arsenal, led by a star-studded cast. Among these living legends was Thierry Henry, a French international. It seemed as if, every time I turned on the television he was scoring another goal, effortlessly dribbling through a wall of defender flesh, or committing outrageous acts of soccer skill reserved only for immortals and superheros.

     And today, almost seventeen years later after having read that first article in sports section of that Japanese newspaper, I would board a plane for the third time to travel to London, home to the Arsenal, for the sole purpose of being a witness to a single game. This time it is against London rivals, Chelsea Football Club. Clash of the titans.

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