Tom McAllister


The author is writing this note from seat 26C on a Boeing 767 while flying home after a trip that cannot accurately be classified as either business or pleasure, and it occurs to him now that he owes sincere thanks to the pilot for not having (yet) crashed this airplane. He owes thanks, in fact, to the dozens of pilots who have miraculously flown airplanes containing the author (not to mention hundreds of other passengers, who may have had their annoying quirks but who, none of them, as far as the author knows, deserved to die in a fiery airplane crash) and landed those planes safely, even though the author spent much of his flight time complaining about restricted leg room and excessive ice in his drinks and too-frequent updates from the cockpit interrupting his fitful attempts at sleep. The author further owes gratitude not just to the pilots, but to the many people who could have killed him, intentionally or not, over the years and did not kill him: the drivers who obeyed all traffic laws both written and unwritten; the maintenance crews that have worked through the night to repair deteriorating roads, subway rails, and bridges; the muggers who saw the author wandering alone on city streets after having drunk two happy hour beers too many, and decided for whatever reason that he wasn’t a desirable mark; the madmen with assault rifles who have not gunned him down in his classroom or in a shopping mall in order to advance their murky political agendas; the creeps and molesters who decided the author as a child was either too well-guarded or too tall or too short or too truculent or too fragile or whatever it was that caused the creeps and molesters to choose not to abduct him and assault him and potentially ruin his life (although there were a couple close calls—there was the man who saw the author at twelve years old playing soccer by himself and told him he had the tickets to a soccer game in his glove compartment and if the author would just follow him back to the car they could retrieve the tickets, a ruse which the author, who liked to think of himself as savvy and cynical and streetwise, should have seen through but did not see through, and he was only saved by the fact that he already had tickets for that very game; there was also the man drunk in a public park at twilight, sitting on the downside of a seesaw and chain smoking, enraged that the author and his friends, each eight years old, had wandered into his territory, so he shouted threats at the children and ran toward them claiming he had a knife, but he was fat and old and slow and when he fell down, the author and his friends scrambled away while the author’s friend mumbled the Our Father).

Besides pilots and criminals and deviants, the author understands he owes thanks to all the wild creatures with whom he has peacefully coexisted: venomous snakes that remained hidden in wood piles while he walked blithely past; stray dogs that have sniffed his hand and invited an ear scratch rather than lunging at his throat; spiders that could crawl into his open mouth any night and kill him in his sleep but choose not to; zoo elephants that could stampede in memory of their ancestors roaming proud and free across the savannah, but suppress the urge for vengeance and instead maintain a stoic dignity while sticky-fingered children are placed on their backs to ride them in a small circle; jellyfish that have not stung the author and paralyzed him and allowed him to sink to the ocean floor where he would be dismantled by crabs; deer that have not darted in front of his car during a rainstorm and sent him hydroplaning into the guardrail at such a velocity that he would die instantly, or worse, survive but spend the rest of his life paralyzed and unable to care for himself.

The author is aware that his relative safety has been partly insured by circumstances beyond his control, and, in the absence of any knowable gods, is unsure to whom he should direct his thanks. He recognizes the great fortune of having been born a white male in 20th Century North America, middle-class and Christian and heterosexual, the fourth-generation descendant of two fully-assimilated ethnic groups (Irish, Polish), with two demanding but supportive parents who took out a second mortgage to finance his private school education. And although he’s not particularly attractive—generously, on his best days, he rates as a six on a ten-point scale—he looks so-called normal enough that he has never been subjected to bullying about his body shape or bone structure, and he can disappear in a crowd if he wants to, which he understands is a recourse many people do not have. He can trust that the police won’t harass him or threaten him without cause, can enter any restaurant or shop without being turned away, can disagree with the destructive policies of his government and know he won’t be jailed or tortured. He can live in a home with modern insulation and heated running water and custom blinds that redirect the sun for him when he doesn’t want to see the sun and a second refrigerator for holding his craft beers. By virtue of some hard work but more good luck, the author is able to live a life of comfort, one in which he has the free time to take his dog on a forty-five minute daily walk around a nearby lake where the greatest danger is ornery geese, and then sit on his deck and drink coffee and watch the clouds glide by. He can talk to the two ducks that visit his yard regularly enough that it seems like not an accident, like they’re looking for him too. The ducks are named George and Ruby, they’re a married duck couple with mainly duck-relevant concerns and they don’t talk much but they listen. The author can claim these moments of idle reflection are important to his work because he is fortunate enough to be able to seriously call himself a writer. He is allowed to sit quietly in his home wrestling with ideas and what Maslow would call higher-order concerns because his physiological needs are met, his safety and need to belong are satisfied, his esteem is more or less ok, and so day-to-day his focus is not on where to find the next meal or the cash to pay the minimum on his credit card bill but rather to try to self-actualize and better understand himself, to develop a clear code of ethics and a deeper insight into the world.

The author owes thanks, above all other considerations, to his own body, for being functional and healthy: for a heart that beats at a regular rhythm; functional joints and responsive muscles and sturdy bones; a pancreas that produces insulin at acceptable levels; a stomach that can digest all the foods he wants it to digest; kidneys that have never become heavy with stones; an immune system that for two decades has warded off all illnesses besides the occasional winter cold; a body overall that supports him even as he continually abuses and neglects it by eating a half-dozen cookies before lunch and making daily excuses to skip the gym and drinking too much bourbon at night; and eyes that, despite the blemish of a small freckle on the left retina, and despite being exposed to ten or more daily hours of computer screens, still give him perfect vision and allow him to see dangers others cannot see.