{ 32,000 feet } by derek powazek

I'm 32,000 feet over the brown and green squares of some middle state on my way to Chicago and the pleasant couple next to me in row 19 wants to talk about what I do for a living. It's been so long since I've gotten a paycheck, I almost can't remember.

"Freelance," I say.

"Writer?" she says.

I look at the seatback in front of me. FASTEN SEAT BELTS, it says.

"No," I say. "Web design."

"No shortage of that!" he says.

"He's a designer, too," she says.

"Oh now, dear...." he says, some sort of faux-humble Midwestern twinge creeping through.

"Yeeah," she says, definitely Midwestern, "electrical component systems."

"Oh," I say, fidgeting with my cd player, looking for a conversational off-ramp to plug into the Massive Attack cd waiting patiently in the player and stare out the window for a while. But there's no ramp in sight, and the clouds obscure the view. I'm trapped.

So I look over my traveling compatriots in row 19, seats D and E. He's an aging Ken doll, toting a copy of "Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul." She wears a black leather jacket and has manicured nails. They talk at me for an hour about everywhere they went in San Francisco as if I'm the tourist board and never once tell me their names or ask mine.

I'm starting to hate air travel.