A Conversation at Altitude


I had 97 percent of this conversation shortly after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which Donald Trump won. That last three percent make it a parable. The actual exchange occurred at sea level, though it didn’t seem that way.



Last known photograph of flight AA270.










83J: We elected a new pilot. We went with the orangutan.


83K: I heard.


83J: It was a fair and square election.


83K: I know.  


83J: It’s pretty clear you didn’t want the orangutan.


83K: I did not.


83J: You lost. Fair and square.


83K: We covered that.


83J: How could you have possibly wanted the other one?


83K: He was a pilot. He flies Cessnas and Piper Cubs for a living. Yes, YES, he’s an admitted and convicted child molester, has on a tee-shirt that reads “YER KIDZ NEXT” and wouldn’t stop talking to his seat-mate about his dog-fighting compound, but we have two dead pilots, 853 passengers, we’re headed for the Andes in Novem–


83J: It’s unbelievable to even listen to you.


83K: …In November, going 630 miles per hour at 43,000 feet above the middle of the desolate South Pacific, more than six hours from the Argentinian coast, with absolutely—




83J: I know where we are. I bought a ticket. The point is, the orangutan hasn’t done anything nearly as bad as that crop duster pervert. At worst, the orangutan throws feces and grabs genitals. Do you blame him for that?


83K: He’s a Borneo orangutan rescued from a Thailand Circus and now the pet of a 20-year-old Brazilian amateur model who’s dating one of the Bulgheroni grandsons. Why would I blame him for throwing feces and grabbing genitals? He’s just doing what orangutans do.


83J: Well you don’t seem to like him very much.


83K: I don’t like the orangutan? I like the orangutan just fine. He seems like a perfectly good orangutan. I just don’t think he should be locked in the cockpit and expected to pilot the plane. Do you hear him up there? That thing is freaked out.


83J: He’s not being forced, he volunteered for the drawing. When the flight attendant made the announcement, he shrieked and grabbed–


83K: Yeah I know he made those sounds and went berserk and smeared his droppings into that old woman’s face. Look, we just disagree on this.


83J: Yes we do. I mean, you actually thought that bag-of-depravity crop duster would pilot this Airbus A380 better than that powerful, confident, highly successful creature standing on the captain’s chair right now and wailing like a glorious son of a bitch?


83K: I do.


83J: I admit the orangutan is not a perfect fit, but come on… it wasn’t even just an allegation, the crop duster said he boastfully confessed to opening up a fake drop-off pediatrician’s clinic and only went to prison for eight years because he had photos from the eighties of the DA sticking his dipstick into his own little harem of–


83K: He’s a bad man. Crop duster. Bad man. Let’s please just agree the orangutan is probably a nicer creature all around.


83J: Not only that, but he’s your pilot now. That’s just the way it is. He is the pilot of this aircraft. You understand that? And I’ll tell you something. You need to give him a chance.


83K: Okay. I’m not sure what you mean by “give him a chance.” I’m sitting in the last seat on a double-decker transpacific Airbus A380, next to the back coach restroom. You’re in the next-to-last seat. The orangutan is piloting this plane at this moment. He’s– it’s a he?


83J: Looked like a he to me.


83K: He is past the point of needing my blessing or my approval or my giving him a chance. I think he’s pretty much got the chance. He’s piloting the plane right now. You can hear him masturbating because he doesn’t know he turned the announcement thing on. And he wouldn’t know. He doesn’t have any aviation experience. He’s an orangutan.


83J: Okay, but can I ask you one very important question?


83K: Do you promise it won’t be about whether I blame or like the orangutan?


83J: I’ll ask you that again later. But this one is different. I want to ask you this: Do you actually even want the new pilot to succeed?


83K: Are you asking me if I want the orangutan to capably fly the plane I’m in, now that he’s flying it?


83J: Yes, because I don’t think you do. I think you want him to fail. 


83K: I’m on the plane. I repeat, we are talking to each other from the last two seats on the same Airbus A380, the largest passenger aircraft in the history of the world. My whole family is on this plane. Almost everyone I love is on this plane. Other people I love happen to be in the villages in the Andes Mountains which we will be careening over in four hours with any effing divine luck, because the dead pilots deactivated the auto–


83J: I can tell by your voice you don’t want the orangutan to succeed.


83K: Oh my God. Okay. You think I want him to plunge this plane into the South Pacific or crash it into the Andes in November and kill us all, including me and you and our families?


83J: I don’t know.


83K: Would you believe that I really, really don’t want that? Would you believe that I want whoever, whatever, is piloting this Airbus A380–an extremely sophisticated and buggy behemoth of the sky that kids watch gaped-mouth from airport windows–to fly us safely over the South Pacific and the mountains and land us down in one piece in Buenos Aires? Would you believe that I don’t want me, my family, and all the other people I love to die horrible deaths or even just be traumatized because they had to eat the bodies they found still strapped into a chunk of fuselage?


83J: Let’s say you don’t. But what will you say if he succeeds? Will you admit then that the orangutan could do it after all, and maybe we weren’t so stupid to make him the new pilot?


83K: You mean, if the Borneo orangutan from the cruel Thailand circus doesn’t crash us into the South Pacific or the Andes and lands us safely in Buenos Aires, will I think he’s a good pilot then?


83J: Yes. Then would you be big enough to admit he deserves credit? That he did good?




83K:  I will kiss the orangutan right on his hairy ass if he lands us in Buenos Aires. I will lay down and let him void into my mouth. I am praying, praying hard, that the orangutan will fly the damn plane and I don’t even believe in God. Do you see me praying here? Do you notice we’re completely upside down right now?


83J: Right. But what I’m asking is, will you admit that it was a smart choice to pick him over the kiddie-touching scumbag with a pilot’s license? A license that expired eight months ago and looks like it’s been through the washer and dryer ten times?


83K: Okay. Wow. I will be honest with you. I can’t really see any future scenario that would make me say, “I now think it was a sober, wise choice at that particular time, with the information and options we had, to choose the Borneo orangutan to pilot the Airbus A380 and lead him into the cockpit with a trail of Gummy Bears, INSTEAD of choosing the horrible bad man who has flown and landed incomparably smaller, simpler aircraft for 25 years even though he admitted he crashed seven times.


83J: Seven times that he remembers.


83K: That he remembers.


83J: I find that interesting. Incredible.


83K: I would just rather have a pilot, almost any kind of a pilot, flying this aircraft. Rather than an orangutan. I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say.


83J: I’ve never heard you say one nice thing about the orangutan.


83K: Okay. I think he’s an excellent orangutan. I actually have no idea what that means. He doesn’t look diseased or anything. And he’s ripping the living shit out of that cockpit because the Gummy Bears are gone. So he’s spirited. And he’s probably…very…smart. When he was going through purses for food he knew to unzip them. He’s smart. Does that help?


83J: Not really.


83K: I don’t know what other nice things I can say about the orangutan.


83J: I want to hear you say you think he has the aviation ability to fly this plane and get us down safely in Buenos Aires.


83K: I don’t have any evidence that would substantiate that claim. I actually don’t think the orangutan can fly an Airbus A380.


83J: See! Right there! There you go!


83K: What, right there?


83J: You’re expecting him to fail. You don’t want him to succeed!


83K: Okay. Again. Because I am on the plane, and my family and loved ones are on the plane, and we’ve begun doing erratic loop-de-loops and we both know I have a load in my pants, I have the most FERVENT HOPE IMAGINABLE that the orangutan will not fail.


83J: That’s how we differ. I expect him to succeed. I believe he will succeed. I believe in self-fulfilling prophecies, and I think if you’re not all in, 100 percent behind your fair-and-square elected new pilot, you’re making it more likely for him to fail.


83K: You’re saying we can somehow help the circus orangutan capably fly this Airbus A380 by believing he will?


83J: Believing he won’t certainly isn’t going to help him, will it? I believe he will succeed. I truly do. And I believe in self-fulfilling prophecies.




83K: I passionately hope and pray he succeeds. For my hope to transform into actual belief, I need some sort of reasonable evidence that would substantiate—


83J: If people didn’t BELIEVE without concrete evidence ahead of time, this country would not exist. Like the people who signed the Declaration of Independence. They were all in. One-hundred percent. They were all going to be executed if we lost the Revolutionary War and they knew it.


83K: Jesus Christ. I think the founding fathers had extreme, pantaloon-shitting hope that we would win the Revolutionary War, and fully committed themselves to a cause and direction that was perilously uncertain, which is why it required such courage–


83J: They were all in.


83K: We’re arguing about the definitions of hope versus belief. If one of them said to another, ‘I believe we’re going win this war for our independence’ before the tide of the war changed enough to make that a reasonable stance, I’m think the other would have said, ‘I admire your great optimism and ardent hope, and while I’m much aggrieved at the current situation involving whatever the fuck is happening, I too share your faith that we shall prevail for…the…cause’ …did that wing just scrape the water?


83J: Faith is belief.


83K: I elevate something to a belief when there’s reasonable evidence to substantiate it. Without that it’s hope. Or it’s faith, in which you’re saying, ‘I know there’s not defensible evidence for this but I’m going to accept this premise anyway’…and I think there are real problems with that in most– okay, on the next loop he’s putting us in. Christ that orangutan can scream.


83J: What’s with ‘this orangutan,’ ‘this orangutan’? His name is Chumley. You know, I read they did an election like this once, and some people called the new pilot names from the primate family and they got the shit beat out of themselves.


83K: They were doing it as a slur. The pilot had very limited flying experience and they hated him. I don’t mean ‘orangutan’ as a slur–


83J: It sure as hell sounds like one.


83K: Okay. In this particular scenario, there’s a fairly aged 31-year-old Borneo orangutan flying an Airbus A380 carrying almost 900 human lives. So I’m being literal. But let’s say for a brief second that I was being metaphorical.


In that case I would be using ‘orangutan’ to mean one of the universe’s great and wondrous creatures that is the full equal in worth and value and intrinsic beauty to all of us, large and small and arthropodic, but is categorically unsuited to do what it is being tasked to do.


If someone shoved Stephen Hawking in that cockpit and left him in there in his wheelchair unassisted to fly this Airbus A380, I’d feel exactly the same way. Stephen Hawking would be the ‘orangutan’ in that metaphorical scenario. Stephen fucking Hawking. Do you understand me?


83J: You’re just a little bitter, aren’t you?


83K: It’ll take me a while to accept that half of the passengers chose the orangutan over the child-molester pilot or pretty much any other human onboard or even the extremely elderly sloth in cargo who would’ve at least napped in the cockpit while we all died instead of throwing his shit all over and tearing the delicate circuitry of the plane’s life support systems apart.


83J: You’re being short-sighted. Can I again explain to you my reasoning for choosing the orangutan over the sick, sick asshole you wanted to hand our lives over to?


83K: I really wish you wouldn’t, even though you will, because we’d need a time machine to make that conversation relevant. Those words don’t mean anything any more. The orangutan has been chosen. The orangutan is flying the plane. The reasons for or against this decision just don’t mean anything anymore. It’s in the irrevocable past. Unless you have a time machine, I don’t want to debate–


83J: You said we were going to hit the ocean. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re still flying. We haven’t crashed. In fact we’re going straight up vertically. Everyone and everything, including the first class drink carts, are crammed back here with us.




83J: I noticed that. I was wrong again. Luckily the orangutan must’ve pulled or sat on the stick because the seatback entertainment screen says we’re at 92,300 feet and climbing fast, so we should all be passing out from hypoxia within a minute or two.


83J: Until that happens you need to show some respect for the new pilot. Chosen fair and square.


83K: Jesus Christ. He’s flying the plane. He’s holding my life and my family’s lives in his shit-caked paws. I’m going wherever he goes. Willingly, reluctantly, screamingly, it doesn’t matter. We’re going his way. We are ALL going his way! How can you not understand that? I’m going to vomit from terror at least one last time before I pass out. If that’s not respect I don’t know what is.


83J: I can see he’ll never get any benefit of the doubt from you. It’s sad.


83K: We actually don’t have long enough to live to rehash this ‘benefit of the doubt’ bullshit. He is actively flying the plane. Right now. I’m actively going wherever the hell he flies it. He doesn’t need any benefit of any doubt, he’s already in full tangible possession of an existing, concrete situation that supersedes your or my mental regard for his capabilities or limitations in every conceivable way‘Benefit of the doubt’ has no meaning or relevance. The animal has been chosen. The animal is acting. We will all surely swiftly go where the animal…where…I’m losing consciousness. Where is…my family…


83J: Orangutan will…do…good. He will…help…us.


83K: White…dots…everywhere…


83J: See you in Buenos Aires.


83K: Safe in…


83J: Buenos Aires. Buenos…Aires…Buenos…





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