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Casey, Delta Flight Attendant 

I've heard pre-flight announcements a million times, so I wasn't paying much attention. I know reflexively when to put on the seatbelt, turn off my cell phone and straighten the chair back and tray, and I've seen the oxygen mask fall in my mind and have long ago decided to blow into the tubes if it doesn't inflate automatically. For all that, there was something in the voice of Casey, flight attendant, that got my attention. She spoke these commonplaces with a blend of indifference and passion that was a cross between Nico of the Velvet Underground singing "Sunday" and a Baptist preacher receiving a vision. Only the Nico parts were the important parts, like "in case of emergency," while the visionary parts were things like, "make sure your belts are securely fastened." In other words, even if you accepted this as a performance, it was upside down. I kept trying to figure out what she was doing and I couldn't, beyond the obvious, which was that here was someone who had created an avant-garde piece of theater out of shopworn text. The effect of the performance was that I heard every word and I couldn't take my eyes off her. Casey owned the captive passengers. She sounded as if she owned also about 80 percent of herself, a quality we like to call "self-possessed," but which occurs rarely and is the result of very hard work. Most people own only about 3 percent of themselves, if that. The rest is owned by their family, their company and whomever happens to pass through their orbit. These days the world makes it nearly impossible to own any substantial amount of yourself: if the army doesn't own you, the media does, and if they don't, some bad habit's got you. I do know people of whom it can be said that they have a mind of their own, or that they are self-possessed, but such independence comes at a high cost and, often, it's only for the time you see them, i.e. a performance. It's been fashionable among intellectuals since the last big war to maintain that modern people can't have minds of their own because society removes them at birth, like a tax for insuring basic needs. I never believed that, and here was Casey to prove it. Each word she said was shot through and through with profound wisdom and turned into something like mystical marzipan. I'll go on a limb and venture that Casey, Delta flight attendant, was using the preflight announcement like a guide to the next world, the ultimate flight, an instructional poem for leaving the body. Maybe she wasn't human. Or she was on some strange pills. She's one of a kind, though, and it's worth flying to hear her perform.


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