The line at airport security snakes back and forth like a mountain switchback. I figure the wait will consume at least fifteen minutes. I haven’t flown in a while and I don’t realize these days you have to strip naked and stand spread-eagled in front of the Star Trek transporter. To fight the boredom I look around at my fellow travelers, a varied lot that has conspired to be in this place at this time, bound together by our common desire to fly out of Tulsa on a Thursday morning in July.

There are the obligatory business travelers, a few men and women in suits, but they are vastly outnumbered by the more casually dressed. For example men wearing shiny golf shirts of odd colors and styles, like electric orange, shirts that sport bizarrely-spaced stripes or the logo of a famous country club or resort. Shirts that are uniformly too large. There is a guy in a blue button-down shirt and khaki cargo shorts. A heavyset kid wearing a crimson Oklahoma University jersey. A woman wearing a giant shirt that Betsy Ross might have stitched. A girl in a white summer dress.

A cute girl in a white summer dress.

My eyes continue to work the crowd, but increasingly they return to the cute girl. She’s probably 25 or 30. Her tan is lovely and she’s wearing a bit too much makeup, but I don’t mind it heavy around the eyes. She glances over occasionally. We’re both trying to check out each other without getting caught. Or maybe wanting to get caught. Her mannerisms and general demeanor suggest we probably wouldn’t have anything in common, but that doesn’t stop me from looking.


In Houston the smell of food is delightful. Pizza, hamburgers, mouthwatering, buttery cinnamon rolls. The Pappas family of restaurants is heavily featured, with separate seafood, Mexican, and burger installments within feet of each other. I choose Pappadeaux, order the Catfish Po Boy to go, and sit down to wait. A blonde girl sits at the corner of the bar. After about twenty seconds, I watch a baldish man of about forty amble over to the bar and sit caddy corner to her. She pretends not to notice him. He picks up a menu and pretends not to notice her. In the ten minutes while I wait for my sandwich, the baldish man glances at her no less than thirty times. She doesn’t appear to look at him once, though it’s obvious she’s chosen not to acknowledge his presence.


On the beach everyone is preening. At least those proud of their physical selves are. Men suck in their stomachs as they walk to and from the surf. Women wear bikinis that are nothing more than brightly-colored underwear. Everyone looks at everyone else while pretending they aren’t. It’s difficult to ascertain the age of a female in a bikini. At a distance of seventy yards she could be 15 or 50.

Later, at the pool, seven or eight women are clustered at the deep end. Their ages vary from perhaps 28 to 45. I’m reading The Time Traveler’s Wife and pretending not to notice them. They drink beer and pour frozen cocktails from a cooler. They grow louder as the sun descends toward the horizon. The youngest one is the curviest and comeliest. Her voice is the pitch of a small bird’s. I can’t make out much of what anyone says but when I do they’re talking about men they like and don’t like. Men who are hot and men who are creepy. At the other end of the pool are two couples with children. An overweight father playfully splashes his young son with one hand and drinks a Coors Light with the other. Eventually a college-aged blonde in a yellow bikini walks to the pool with a radio and soft cooler full of beer. All eyes follow her, men and women alike. A college-aged dude soon joins her and they crank up the music. The sun is setting and people begin to leave.


On the trip home I’m back at Houston Hobby, sitting at a table near the food court. It’s a central location and good for people watching. With so many humans gathered in one place, trends call immediate attention to themselves. Women wear brighter colors than men. Some women dress more provocatively than others. It’s summer so there is a lot of bright pink and a lot of strappy sandals and golden tans. There are also shy women reading books. These women don’t show off much skin. They wear muted colors.

There are men who stride with confidence. Men who slink around trying not to be noticed. A couple of Italian guys sit near me. They have thick wrists and hairy arms and have nothing to read. They brazenly ogle every girl that walks by. But I look at the girls, too. I’m reading about Henry and Clare and their strange, timeless love for each other, but if I see a pink blur I look up. I can’t help it.


It occurs to me that in an airport, on a beach, at the resort pool, there isn’t much to do but eat and drink and look around. Which might be why we are reduced so easily to our base natures. Why our DNA is on such obvious display.

If there were airports for dogs, there would be bowls of food and water and rampant sex. Human airports aren’t like this because we’re different than dogs and probably every other animal species on earth. We are sentient. We’re conscious of our biological imperatives, and even though they drive our behavior to a very large degree—more than we often want to admit—we can also reason our way through them. Sure, dogs may also be able to make choices like these, but they don’t do so with the same level of sophistication.

Does this make us better than dogs? Happier? Do our high-powered brains, our awareness of ourselves, really matter in the larger picture? Perhaps humans possess souls that are observed and judged by a God and his arbitrary set of morality rules. Perhaps we’re all connected by some unknown medium to a conscious universe we can only barely glimpse. Perhaps these spiritual journeys are what separate us and make us unique among all living creatures on Earth.


But what if there is no great purpose? What if we have stumbled across eighty or so years on this planet and nothing more? You could make the argument that without spirituality we are just biological machines procreating and surviving until we die. Anything else is frivolous activity that occupies our prodigious intellect while said intellect isn’t fulfilling the primary imperatives. In that case, would ignorance truly be bliss?

I don’t suppose there’s any way to know. It’s both a blessing and a curse to be able to ask questions like these.

But even if there is no destination, doesn’t the journey override the knowledge of mortality? For all its warts, isn’t the sheer beauty of humanity, of the universe, where the magic lies?

Like our ability to gaze at and appreciate and make sense of the enormous cosmos. The linked photo is the farthest look into space humans have ever made. It’s a snapshot of one of the emptiest, darkest spots in the night sky. There are approximately 10,000 entire galaxies in this photo, and the rest of the sky is 12.7 million times larger than this tiny spot.

Like inspiration, creation, art. To be able to produce and consume ideas. Sprawling cities. Epic novels. The Internet. Decoding the human genome.

And most importantly, the gift of love. To know a person’s heart, to see into them by way of glances and touches and smirks and laughs; through tears and joy, through anger, silence; through twinkling eyes and furrowed brow; in hesitation, refusal, denial; the luxurious rush of intimate contact, gusts of humid breath, beads of sweat, whispered requests;in hellos and goodbyes, first kisses, introductions, and even final farewells. For someone to know you in a way you may not even know yourself…there is nothing more rare or precious, is there?


Being human is sometimes tragic.

Being human is sometimes magic.

But at least being human is always to be.

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RICHARD COX is the author of The Boys of Summer, Thomas World, The God Particle, and Rift. He can be reached on Facebook or at his personal web site, www.richardcox.net.

196 responses to “On Being Human”

  1. Irene Zion says:

    Ever since they began installing the naked scanners, I have been chosen as the one obvious threat to plane security. Somewhere there is a room with a bunch of people perusing my body inch by inch for explosives.
    I have ceased to ask: Why Me?

    I do think that regardless of the age or shape of the person, the line would seem to go much faster if they let the whole place watch the naked people getting scanned. I myself no longer can claim to any modesty, having been nakedized in just about half the states of the union.

    I am very pleased that you are reading The Time Traveller’s Wife! I wonder, as a guy-type person, are you crying uncontrollably through the whole book too, or is that just me?

    It does seem that you flew all the way to Houston to sit at a pool for one day and read and then fly back.
    Surely there must have been a closer pool, eh? Or did you leave something out?

    • Richard Cox says:

      I left out three days on the beach and a day playing golf. And grocery shopping and playing with my niece and nephews. It was in Port Aransas near Corpus Christi. Houston Hobby was the connecting airport.

      This is the not the first time I’ve read The Time Traveler’s Wife. Of course I can’t reveal if it made me cry or not, but I will say that it’s one of my top 5 all time favorite novels, and I was delighted to not only meet but to be invited to dinner with Audrey Niffenegger a couple of weeks ago. Sublime.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Okay, Ricardo,
        now I am so jealous of you for having met and actually broken bread with Audrey Niffennegger, that I will never get over it.
        I hope you’re happy.
        At least you could write a post about how fabulous she is and what a genius writer she is.
        Boy, am I jealous!

        Any men o’ war on the beaches on Corpus Christi?

        • Richard Cox says:

          I have considered writing such a post. She really was lovely and intelligent and unexpectedly funny. It was a great time.

          No men o’ war this time around. But too much seaweed, that’s for sure.

  2. Becky Palapala says:


    We’re a philosophical lot lately. And in love with humans and the universe and humans in the universe, apparently. Not to mention in love with love.

    I wonder if writers are like women. They spend enough time around each other and just start having the same thoughts. Not because of anything anyone else said, but just because they end up on the same wavelength. Cycling through thoughts and ideas in unison.

    It’s weird.

    It happens a lot here.

    That’s right. We’re cycling together.

    I’m comfortable, in the end, not knowing the purpose. Not sure I’m comfortable with there being NO purpose any more than I’m comfortable with people who seem too sure of the purpose or too sure that there is no purpose. All of these things strike me as unacceptable.

    And being too sure there is no purpose always strikes me as sort of joyless. Or at least wonderless. How can you have a fascinating conversation with someone about being born, eating, shitting, fucking, loving, fighting, and dying?

    I mean, as individual conversations, all are perfectly fascinating, but as the sum total of the conversations available with which to examine the human condition, they’re just sort of…depressing.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Yes, I noticed after I posted this how there was a recent trend for philosophical posts about love and culture and travel and girls. Haha.

      I didn’t conceive this reading these posts. It happened while I was in the airport. It was the combination of me feeling so animal-like looking at scantily-clad bodies but also being moved by the love of the two protagonists of the novel I was reading. But still, participating in these TNB discussions surely shapes my decision to post here, if subconsciously.

      I’m with you on being sure about purpose, one way or the other. I like the idea of wondering about it. I don’t like the idea of surety either way. And I like knowing there is magic in more places than just the mystical.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        I was suggesting the opposite.

        Not that you had been influenced by what was already posted but that there is some kind of weird mind meld going on that makes TNB writers think of these sorts of things all at once.

        You know, like we’re psycho…er…psychic.

        But not really psychic. More like we’re exposed to a lot of the same information and reacting to it in similar ways because we’re all part of the same intellectual community and accustomed to its ebbs and flows.

        Am I off the deep end here? What’s with the water metaphors all of sudden?

        I hardly got any sleep last night; I’m not sure even I know what I’m talking about.

        • Gloria says:

          TNB Synchronicity. That could be the name of our band.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          We’d do all Police covers.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I wouldn’t doubt the mind meld. Ideas are strange entities and they flow between us in ways we don’t necessarily have a handle on yet.

          I embedded all sort of movement between places in this piece to amplify the idea of a journey. I was traveling to Texas. People are always coming and going in the piece. Airports. Mountain roads. Etc.

          Then I post on TNB and right before me Irene posted about being on a long road trip (I know it’s summertime, but still). And the similarity to your post. To Irwin’s to some degree. Brad’s title is “Why We Exist” and he discusses existential pleasures. Greg went to Prague.

          As an aside, I once did some online research about that “cycling” deal with regards to women and their monthly visitor, and it seems the one primary study wasn’t able to be reproduced and didn’t get its assumptions and calendar math just right. So there is some question out there about the validity of that claim, which all women I’ve talked to about it believe unquestioningly.

        • Gloria says:

          We could start with “Message in a Bottle.” Though “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” also seems appropriate for us writerly folks. I mean, it does reference Nabakov. 🙂

        • Gloria says:

          @Richard – Re: women menstruating together. This is what I’ve learned (and i can’t cite a source, so you’ll just have to accept as heresay):

          Back before the Industrial Revolution, women who shared a close space would menstruate together because of pheromones released in armpit sweat. It’s simple synchronization of biorhythms. The Industrial Revolution saw a lot of women working in factories together and this was a huge problem. But, post IR, and due to the invention of antiperspirants, this is less likely to happen. Though it is still seen in places where women share close quarters such as all-girl dorms or households with lots of sisters.

          I don’t have the time to go collect URLs to vet my information. I’m confident, however, that it’s accurate because I’ve researched this multiple times. If you find contradictory info, I’d be totally interested in reading it.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Gloria, you do whatever you want. I’m doing “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”

          RC: They believe it because it’s true. 🙂

          But, regarding synchronicity, it’s funny what we notice.

          The connection to the travel stuff wasn’t immediately apparent to me, since, of course, the piece I wrote didn’t have anything to do with travel.

          All I could see were the similarities that applied to me and what I was thinking about.

          So maybe they’re not similarities or synchronizations, really. Maybe it’s just a type of projection.

          Like, the thoughts leading to them are unrelated but once they’re up, we start comparing them and laying them on top of each other and rooting out similarities……..

          Holy fuck. What am I talking about?

          I need coffee.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Gloria, I’m away from the computer at the moment but I’ll find the research and post it. I’m familiar with the reasoning but what I read cast doubt on the veracity of the proof behind it. 🙂

        • Gloria says:

          Great. Now you’ve thrown down the gauntlet, Richard. I’ll find my research to counter your research and then we’ll have an all out menstruation war. It’ll be epic – like at the end of Dark City when Murdoch and Mr. Book have the tuning war – and we’ll rise high above the city while we lean toward each other trying to out-fact each other and we’ll throw daggers at each other but stop them with our minds before they hit us and…

          Wait, what was the question?

        • Greg Olear says:

          We know you
          You know me
          Effect without a cause
          Subatomic laws
          Scientific pause

        • Gloria says:

          The NY Times says the jury is still out, Richard. It’s possible our tuning war would be all for not. Let’s just go have a beer and talk about something else. And then, when we’re really drunk, I’ll rehash the whole argument and force you to admit I’m right.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Haha. Well I wasn’t going to wage war that synchronized periods don’t happen, only that the evidence didn’t totally back it up. Yet. This line in the Times article is basically the same thing I had read:

          “Some scientists argue, for example, that synchrony cannot be possible because women often have cycles of different lengths. Other scientists who looked closer argued that many studies of the phenomenon — including the original one — suffered from statistical and methodological flaws.”

          But yes, I’m sure when you’re drunk you will use your own personal experiences to try and sway me. Because that’s how you roll.

        • Becky says:

          Yeah, but cycle lengths in even individual women can vary over her lifetime and in response to stress, all kinds of stuff.

          I bet those scientists who said it was impossible were all dudes.

          Friggin’ dudes.

          Always runnin’ at the mouth. *shake head*

        • Richard Cox says:

          If you were less biased in your typical characterization of gender, your assessment here might carry more weight. Instead, it’s like the girl who cried Crusher.

        • Becky says:

          Hush now, man human.

        • Sarah says:

          “Though “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” also seems appropriate for us writerly folks. I mean, it does reference Nabakov.”

          @Gloria: This song would be most apropos if you were wearing your patchouli.

        • Gloria says:

          @If Whitman can get props from Listi and Becky for digging his own pit sweat, I can wear my damn patchouli! (Which I don’t wear anymore [and haven’t in years] because no one will stand next to me when I have it on. I will, however, burn patchouli incense from time to time.)

        • Richard Cox says:

          I like the scent of patchouli. What’s the problem?

        • Gloria says:

          Over on Listi’s post, Becky and Sarah are insisting that my hippie brethren aren’t allowed in the TNB commune, so I insisted that I would still wear patchouli. The patchouli debate is as old as Brad Listi’s Dead Myspace Blog. It’s a divisive topic, Richard. Very personal and heated.

        • Becky says:

          Patchouli is widely considered stinky. That’s what. And Gloria, you are so not a hippie. At least not the kind in talking about. The TNB commune needs to rock. Not drum circle.

        • Gloria says:

          Once upon a time, in a drum circle far, far away…

          Actually, I didn’t ever really fit. I just married a hippie, so I gave it a real go. I think the day that I realized The Grateful Dead made me homicidal and that I didn’t really ever want to go to a Rainbow Gathering (but would, instead, much rather be at Burning Man) was the day that my hippie fate was sealed. Probably my marriage fate, too.

          (For the record, he wasn’t a “real” hippie either – it was just the best choice he could make to fully piss off his conservative Chicago Christian family.)

        • Richard Cox says:

          I don’t really have an opinion about hippies but I sure do like the scent of patchouli oil.

        • Becky says:

          Stick close to Gloria, then. Boom. Controversy solved. Everybody wins.

        • Dana says:

          Patchouli smells nice! Just don’t dab some on your unwashed body and call it a shower.

          Women’s cycles – it’s totally true. I think it’s for protection, so when one gets PMS’y the others have the ammo to fight back. One woman I work with suffers from severe PMS and has daughters 14 and 16. Yipes.

        • Gloria says:

          See? See Richard? Dana agrees, too. And since the NY Times article I link to was written by a man, his opinion and “Findings” are automatically ruled out.

          Really – what further evidence could you possibly need?

        • Dana says:

          Case closed!

          :high fives Gloria:

        • Richard Cox says:

          Well, you women are known for throwing out logic when it suits your needs. So I guess you win…in your own minds.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Hahaha! A sore spot! You haz one!

        • Richard Cox says:

          The funny thing is I never said it wasn’t true. I said the jury was still out, based on the available studies.

          And anyway it’s not my spot that gets sore. Bahahaha.

        • Gloria says:

          Look at Richard. He calls Becky out on making grand, sweeping statements about men, but does it with women when he’s in a position where concession is the most logical choice.

          I think you’re right, Becky. I think we’ve found Richard’s Achilles’s heel.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Oh, Richard, Richard…

          Gloria knows what I meant.

          P.S. All boys are smelly.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Becky uses her prodigious intellect to prove her case. I do it to be silly and make her mad.

        • Gloria says:

          And hard headed. All boys are hard headed, too. They’ll go to great lengths to be Right.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          And they lie about penis size and fart constantly.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          *unapologetically shrugs shoulders*

          It’s what we do.

          Not that I have to of course, because mines like, totally 3 feet long…

        • Gloria says:

          “Average” should be a term that is considered skeptically. That’s all I’ll say.

        • Gloria says:

          Oh. Right. And the bigger the claim, the higher the eyebrows should go. The proportions work inversely.

          In Irwin’s case, three feet = three inches.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I do fart a lot. No argument there.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Three inches is not at all ‘well hung.’

          Three inches barely protudes far enough to hang.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I feel compelled to add that the Gods have been a bit kinder to me than that.

          Although not by much…

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Except we know Irwin’s assertion was purposefully ridiculous hyperbole, so it’s entirely possible that he’s…um…

          Heee! I can’t say it.

          And see, Richard? I told you.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Haha, I know what you mean.

          Talking about my penis on the internet wasn’t on my list of things to do before I die… but here we are…

        • Gloria says:

          Notice how quiet he’s being about everything else? Must be because he’s hard headed.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Okay. I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be dirty or not. I do hope so.

          Look what we’ve done to Richard’s lovely, earnest meditation on love and existence and the human condition.


        • Richard Cox says:

          Well, this has sort of proved my point about the struggle between our higher and lower brains. 😉

        • Gloria says:


        • Becky Palapala says:

          Quit your winking, Mr.

          Guys are always winking at women.

          Lewd critters.

        • James D. Irwin says:


        • James D. Irwin says:

          I love that word. It’s a proper medical term, and yet manages to sound unfinitely ruder than balls, bollocks, or nuts…

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’ve never winked at a woman.

          Or anyone in fact.

          Which is a shame. I really want to be able to pull off a cheeky wink. I feel like I’d suit a cheeky wink.

          Sadly whenever I wink I look like I’m having a mild stroke, so I don’t.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I don’t think winks work very often, James. Only in rare situations. And you can’t appear to be trying too hard. Or thinking about it. Do it like you’re sharing a secret with her, not like you’re asking her to take off her skirt.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I wasn’t referring to any sort of sexual cheeky winks.

          It’s not like I wish I could go up to a busty girl in a butcher’s shop, nudge her gently and loudly exclaim ‘wow, look at the size of that rack’ before winking slowly and surely to make sure she got that really what I was referring to was the size of her ginormous funbags, and not a choice selection of pork ribs…

          I meant more the sort of friendly wink you give to people to reassure them that your zany scheme will definitely, totally work.

          More a scenarios like thus:

          Friend: have you done your paper
          Me: of course not, the pubs are still open
          Friend: but it’s due in tomorrow
          Me: and I’ll knock it out tonight after I’ve sobered up
          Friend: you’ll never get it done. at least you won’t pass…
          Me: trust me, I’ve done this before. I always pass *cheeky wink*

        • Richard Cox says:

          Ah, well in that case fire away.

        • Tawni says:

          To learn how to properly wink, watch Vince Vaughn. He’s the master.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Good point, Tawni. That’s a guy who can wink for any reason in any circumstance and make it seem perfectly okay.

          With him it’s a gift. Some of us have to actually learn how to be charming.


    • kristen says:

      “We’re a philosophical lot lately. And in love with humans and the universe and humans in the universe, apparently. Not to mention in love with love.”

      So true. I’ve noticed this among friends/family/acquaintances as well–starting around the first of the year.

      Kinda great, huh? Like the tide is turning–away from narrowness/isolation/fear, and towards a brave openness and wonderment and, yeah, love.

      • Becky says:

        I was thinking of something more isolated to TNB, but anything’s possible.

        Though, I think narrowness, isolation, and fear are always with us, and have to be, or else, lacking any alternative, love and openness cease to be wonderful.

        Tao, baby.

        • kristen says:

          Oh, yep, I got the TNB-specific reference; was just mentioning that I’ve seen it in a broader segment as well, which is interesting/neat.

          And, I agree, those things are always there, and for good use–it’s just encouraging when on occasion they’re featured less prominently.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Kristen, do you think you’re seeing the love and connection references more with friends and family, etc, because the collective mood is turning around from the bleakness that was 2009? There were even posts here on TNB around the first of the year about how 2010 was going to be better. Several of my friends made new year resolutions in a similar manner. Are we traveling back up the curve now? Past the bottomed-out stage?

  3. James D. Irwin says:

    1. this is the sort of cool stuff that I spend ages wishing I could write before giving up and accepting I’m little more than a human pun-machine.

    2. bieng human is awesome. there is nothing more fascinating than just watching people— not in a creepy, stalkerish way… just seeing how people go about. humans are strange creatures. sitting outisde cafes is akin to having a front row seat at the greatest show on Earth.

    Unless you’re in Milton Keynes.*

    • James D. Irwin says:

      *Milton Keynes is a really shit part of England.

      • Richard Cox says:

        James, if I could write as well as you when I was twenty, I would be a writer god living on the Monterey Peninsula right now. If I posted something here I wrote back then, Brad would kick me off the site.

        I love people watching. I could have sat in the airport all day long doing that. Well, not really. But you get what I mean.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          That, my friend, is one of the nicest things that anyone has ever said to me. Certainly on the comment boards of the internet (where some deeply unpleasant things have been said…) And a fantastic thing to hear on the day I’ve finally decided to definitely, properly start work on a second novel…

          It’s strange how nothingness can be so utterly fascinating. I spent a long time watching cricket earlier, which is the epitome of nothingness.

          But seriously, the main reason I love going to bars/pubs isn’t because of the beer. I mean beer is pretty fantastic, but sitting outside watching life just happen is so utterly enjoyable…

          I quite like airports as well, big ones. I always forget I’ve been to Washington. It was only the airport, but it still counts. Kind of.

        • Richard Cox says:

          It’s an honest response. You write well enough that half the time I forget your age. And you’ll only get better with more experience.

          Good luck on that second novel. I remember when I started my second. I was hating life because my first one didn’t sell, and the thought of starting from scratch was appalling. But that’s the one that eventually did sell.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I have a tendency to forget my own age, which often results in becoming jealous of other writers who are decades older than me. Which is clearly stupid. On the other hand it’s probably the only area in my life where I set such high ambitions and standards for myself.

          The first one I wrote was more an exercise in proving to myself that I could write one and I already knew that hardly anyone ever sells their first novel. But luckily the few people wo have read it have been pretty nice about it. I’m still quite proud of it as a first effort.

          I’ve been putting off number two since last year. The idea has been there for a long time and it’s pretty good, I think. I like the idea of starting from scratch though. My favourite part of writing the first novel was the planning stage. The beginning and then end— going back to the first sentence and failing to believe that 50,000 words have been written since and that you can now look scornfully at people who talk about ‘maybe writing a novel someday.’..

        • Isn’t that planning – that initial, mind-wrenching stage – also the most stressful? I’m planning, plotting, agonizing over my first and the possibility of writing that first sentence is a stifling possibility. Though, it’s exciting and sort of…magical. I can’t wait to jump in, to really write 50,000 words and then say, “oops, start over, Justin.” Ha.

        • Richard Cox says:

          In my particular case, I dreaded starting another novel because I was so set on the idea of publication. I wanted it now, not a year or two years from now. In reality, the idea of sitting down to write the first line of a new book is exhilarating for me.

          What I hate is making it about 1/4 of the way in and realizing how much I have left to write. Besides the initial rush at the beginning and writing the ending, I really hate producing the first draft.

          What I love is the editing process. Once I’ve cut out a rough shape, the cutting and polishing is where I feel the true work actually emerges. For a novel, anyway. For posts like this I edit a little but they don’t go through the same full-scale process as a book.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Justin— it is. The first novel I planned was so much easier than this. It was simple in it’s complexity. It was easy to get all the strands to tie up and it was fun planning around gaping plot holes.

          I went for a walk today to finally try and get a grip of the one I’m currently planning and it’s so much more stressful. Although it starts with an apocalyptic event and then moves onto time travel and two realities co-existing in the same place. It’s that much more complicated and I really want to get this one right. Because I kept giving up on it because I didn’t want to write comedy sc-fi or, more often, decided I wasn’t good enough to write it yet.

          But then I go back to a year ago where I had similar thoughts about the plot being stupid and not being good enough to write it. And the more I think about how the first one turned out the more confident I am in myself. It’s nowhere near good enough for publication, but christ I am proud of how well I told the story…

          Richard— I think I already said I knew publication wasn’t the goal. The aim of that was mostly because I knew a couple of people would read it and the point was to a.) prove I could write that much and b.) entertain whoever would read it. I would probably have given up otherwise.

          I enjoy editing immensely when it comes to shorter pieces, but it always seems boring and daunting with a novel. Although with the first one I didn’t write enough and structured it in a way that made editing it even more troublesome.

          On the other hand I had a lot of moments of acheivement and positivty. Rather than ‘oh, I still have XXXXX to write’ more often it was ‘great, finished part one/two/etc’

      • Dana says:

        The only other time I’ve seen a reference to Milton Keynes that I recall is that Nathan Fillion was there and he tweeted about it. He’s hot. Ergo, Milton Keynes, no longer shit.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          No, Milton Keynes is shit.

          Even if Milton Keynes was full of horny lesbians who spent all day wrestling in honey and cooking steaks to perfection it would still be a bit of a dump.

  4. Gloria says:

    It’s funny to live in Porland because you never see your neighbor’s skin. Never. And then, during the ten weeks of sunsine, BOOM! Everywhere you go, white, white skin. Everywhere. On everyone. All shapes and sizes. Even people who aren’t Caucasian are pale. All of us standing under the sun trying to soak up some Vitamin D and get our brains working right again.

    This is a great meditation, Richard. Sex, dating, mating, the cosmos.

    Happy Friday.

  5. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    My friend, this was beautiful. Truly. But, as soothing and pleasurable as it was to read, you could have simply written that one line – “For all its warts, isn’t the sheer beauty of humanity, of the universe, where the magic lies?” – and stopped there. Simply excellent.

    I haven’t really traveled much by plane in some time. Frankly, hearing what I have about modern “security”, I’m considering finishing getting my pilot’s license and renting from now on.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thank you, Andrew. It’s funny to write for so long and then realize you’ve written one line that essentially encapsulates your idea. When I read Becky’s piece I had the feeling that my paragraph on love was sort of like her entire most recent post.

      I don’t mind the security procedures at the airport. For whatever reason, I just accept the 15 minutes of waiting and stripping off my belt and shoes and pretend like it never happened. Plus I never get stopped for further consideration.

      Now that I said that I’m going to get stopped. Fuck you, Guy!

  6. Brina Blank says:

    This was fabulous. I always enjoy your introspection and observations, but there’s an almost delicacy, a sort of sensitivity, about this piece that allows it to sink in a little deeper.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Brina. I think it had something to do with the novel I was reading. It put me in a certain mood. And there was such a contrast between what I was seeing in the places where I was reading and what was occurring on the page. It was fascinating, and got me thinking about my own experiences and where they and I fit into the world.

  7. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    This is really beautiful, Richard. I admire the clarity of your writing. The opening line is really strong, and it’s a current that carried me right along. I was people-watching with you, and the images are so vivid and full of human nuance.

    “With so many humans gathered in one place, trends call immediate attention to themselves.” This is well said. So true.

    I like the turn this takes, where suddenly we go from a packed airport to your internal repertoire.

    I’ve got to read more of your stuff. I so enjoyed this.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Lisa. That means a lot. I used a lot of simple, straightforward sentences and I hoped the piece as a whole would work even if it was a bit declarative in places.

      It definitely shifts gears at the end, as someone else also noted. I was headed there all along, it’s what drove the decision to write the piece, but I hoped the transition would work.

      Thanks again for the nice words.

      • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

        Sure thing. Reading this was my pleasure. The simple straightforwardness of it was actually quite well done. The imagery was incredibly rich. So that made the inward turn very personal and vivid, which I loved. Thanks for the tour of the male psyche. I’m constantly wondering what goes on in there.

  8. Zara Potts says:


    You have such a romantic heart hidden away in that scientific soul of yours. I loved this.

    I love the quick portraits you give us in your stopovers. ‘A girl in a white dress.’ Six words – but six words that allow imagination to take over and create a whole story for this girl. ‘A pink blur.’ Three words and I have a whole person alive and moving in my mind.

    I love your observations. The descriptions of smells and colours and fabrics. It creates such a mood that I can almost see it through your eye.

    It’s one of my favourite things -to go somewhere and just look. Really look at things and try and capture a moment in time, or a feeing, or a mood. There’s a melancholy feel to this piece, it’s a different pace for you and it works really, really well.

    And no – there is nothing more rare and precious than the gift of love, even with its potential for heartbreak. I ended a recent piece of mine with a quote I stole from Greg Olear, which I cannot get out of my mind. I think it’s fitting here:

    “Every day she would weep…. Not because she was sad,
    But because the world is so beautiful,
    and life is so short.”

    • Richard Cox says:

      ZaraPotts, don’t tell anyone I have a romantic heart! I have reputation as a logic-loving wannabe scientist to protect!

      Haha. I’m glad you liked the piece. I appreciate how you noticed certain bits that I also enjoyed and tried hard to highlight. I meant to keep notes as I watched people in the airport, but instead I just thought about them a lot and committed the images to memory. People watching is so fun, isn’t it?

      I love the quote you stole from Greg. It’s so fitting. Thanks for including it. 🙂

  9. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    This is lovely! I was in and out of airports last week. I should have done more people watching. Taken notes. Instead, I introduced my daughter to my favorite airport game — flitting through with big sunglasses on as if I’m someone famous and glancing around to see if anyone has fallen for it.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Cynthia. I wonder if as a dude I could dress up in some hip clothes or an expensive suit and put on shades and try to pull off the same thing. Great idea.

  10. New Orleans Lady says:

    I am also a people-watcher. I’ve spent countless hours in Cafe Du Monde making up stories in my head about strangers I see. You can learn a lot about someone in 5 minutes if you just pay attention. Clothing, manners, tip amount, etc. It’s all so very interesting.

    Unfortunately, every summer brings a little more sadness for me. My 19 year old body and face have changed and although I’m only 27, a hard life and mommy-hood has left it’s mark on me. So, now I sit and stare at the half naked girls and realize that I’m not as sexy as I once was. I’m somebodys mom now. Which is better in so many ways but sometimes, a girl misses the jaw-on-the-floor stare every now and again.

    This was a fantastic piece that left me thinking. I love that!

    My favorite part:
    “And most importantly, the gift of love. To know a person’s heart, to see into them by way of glances and touches and smirks and laughs; through tears and joy, through anger, silence; through twinkling eyes and furrowed brow; in hesitation, refusal, denial; the luxurious rush of intimate contact, gusts of humid breath, beads of sweat, whispered requests; in hellos and goodbyes, first kisses, introductions, and even final farewells. For someone to know you in a way you may not even know yourself…there is nothing more rare or precious, is there?”

    • Gloria says:

      Ashley. You are still sexy.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        and a cool painter. I’m sending one back just as soon as I get access to paint (quite a while, virtually homeless all summer!)

        and it has to be better than watching half naked girls and knowing that you don’t have a chance in hell of any of them being interested.

        also, I would make the baseless claim that most 19 year olds aren’t sexy. They’re hot, sure, but it takes more than that to be sexy. Things like class and intelligence and style…

        • New Orleans Lady says:

          Irwin, you’re sweet.

          Oh! And the canvas is good for any medium! graphite, charcoal, good old fashioned crayons, ink, whatever you like to doodle with. Don’t spend money, have fun with it.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I want to paint. Painting is more fun. And I want to do it properly.

          I have a lot of arty stuff back in Winchester, but I’m not back there for a while, sadly.

      • New Orleans Lady says:

        Gloria, you are a sweetie.

    • Matt says:

      I’m convinced Cafe Du Monde is situated on some sort of nexus point that attracts human foot traffic. All of the most interesting personalities seem to pass by there—people who are interesting because that’s just how they are, not the self-aggrandizing carnie showmanship of the Bourbon street crowd. No better place in the quarter sit and peoplewatch.

      And those beignets ain’t half-bad either.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I think at some point we all look at our aging selves and miss the way we used to be or look. But as you said, there are so many great things that come from the years we experienced in between that most of us wouldn’t go back. I know I wouldn’t. But I do want to enjoy the years to come as much as I can, even with this body that continues to change on me.

      Thank you for quoting that paragraph toward the end. It’s my favorite part, too. I had that in mind from the beginning, and the piece was written to reach that ending.

      I want to people watch in Cafe DuMonde! I’m totally jealous of you.

      • New Orleans Lady says:

        Come on down any time! We’d love to have you!

        That paragraph reminds me of Emerson’s definition of success. It will be held just as close. From now on I will refer to it as Richard’s take on Love.

        P.S.-I sent to my hubby today in text.

  11. Wonderful post, Richard. Thoughtful. Funny. And yes, some of the best people watching ever to be found is always at airports. If LAX weren’t such a pain in the ass to get to, and airport security wasn’t such a bear, I might go there from time to time just to study people.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, man. I wonder what airport employees think, if they people watch in the same way? Or if they’re so jaded by dealing with so many humans every day that we look like a big, unified mass to them?

  12. Matt says:

    For whatever reason, I seem to always be barely making connecting flights in airports; even if my connection is scheduled to have an hour grace period, some delay always results in me frantically racing from terminal to terminal. Never leaves me any time for people watching.

    I hate what’s happened to air travel since 9/11. Travelers have been saddled with a bunch of knee-jerk rules and regulations that provide the illusion of security without actually securing a damn thing–and we put up with it. Last time I flew, I had a Swiss Army knife in my jacket pocket (I’ve carried it since I was 11, and had honestly forgetten it was there) which TSA didn’t even notice, but boy oh boy did they give me holy hell for the chain on my pocket watch. Needless to say, Amtrak’s gotten a lot more of my travel business in the last couple of years than any airline has.

    Ugh. Sorry about the rant, man. This is a wonderful piece, quiet and thoughtful and yet a thunderclap to the brain all the same.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I’m the same way. I had a whole bit at the beginning about how I was running late to get there, but it made the piece more frenetic and negative-sounding than I wanted. It’s always my fault, though, and I don’t know how I keep making the same mistakes over and over. I guess that makes me insane, right? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

      You’re right about the reactionary security measures. It doesn’t seem like anything is proactive, it’s all driven by the most recent innovation by some possible terrorist, who is going to abandon that tactic now in favor of something else, until eventually traveling is such a pain that we stop doing it. And then terrorists have truly won!

      Thanks, for the kind words. I appreciate “quiet and thoughtful” especially.

      • Tawni says:

        “I guess that makes me insane, right? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?”

        I think about this every time I unload my dishwasher, find a utensil that didn’t get completely clean, and put it back into the dishwasher for another wash cycle. Does that make me crazy?

        And now I have Gnarls Barkley in my head. I really hate my brain sometimes.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Hahahaha. I always do that. It just seems like such an effort to turn on the water and actually clean something when I’m already so bogged down with putting away all these other dishes. I mean, really.

        • Zara Potts says:

          Washing by hand is a much better idea. It really gets the glasses clean. Throw away your dishwashers.

        • Dana says:

          But then we’d be filling the landfills with hulking metal and plastic contraptions! Also we’d waste a lot more water as it’s much more efficient and hygienic to wash them in a dishwasher.

          It was probably long before you whipper snappers were born, but I vaguely remember some standup guy who made up words and one of the words he made up was for the act of vacuuming something over and over again. You know how you get one weird little thing the vacuum keeps missing? So you bend over and place it back on the carpet in a slightly different spot and aim the vacuum at it again? I just blushed when I typed that because I STILL do that. What a moron.


        • Richard Cox says:

          I tried all kinds of combinations on Google and couldn’t find this guy. Any idea who it was?

        • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

          I saw Steven Wright at UNH, dwoz. ’95.
          Just sayin.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Well, wait. Steven Wright was the understated comic who made jokes out of everyday absurdities. This is a different guy, right?

        • dwoz says:

          I didn’t. He was my favorite comedian at the time though.

        • dwoz says:

          That youtube vid isn’t him, it’s his bit though.

          Steven Wright had a great standup act.

          “why do you park in the driveway and drive on the parkway?”

          “If God took acid, would he see people?”

          …lots more. His delivery was deadpan, monotone.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Right. “I tried to record a bunch of my records onto tapes, but I got the wiring all wrong, and when I was done all I was left with was a bunch of these blank, black things.”


          “I got the idea to hook up my brake lights to my gas pedal. So when someone is behind me, I hit the gas. They stop, and I’m gooooone.”

        • Dana says:

          Rich Hall! I have awesome google skills. 😉
          He came up with the word sniglets for words that aren’t in the dictionary but should be. The word for the vacuuming something over and over again is carpetuation. Ha!

        • Richard Cox says:

          You rock the house, Dana. Thank you.

          He was on SNL at some point, right?

  13. Greg Olear says:

    This was great, Richard. The observations are all interesting. The poor bald dude at the bar…the knockout at the pool…it’s interesting how the power dynamics shift depending on the situation. In a bar, the pretty girl doesn’t acknowledge the bald older guy, but if she were in jail and he were her lawyer, it would be the opposite.

    And I do think that there is some kind of mind-meld going on…which makes it that much more fun to discuss mindmelding.

    Speaking of which, send me your exact birth time!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, man. I was totally fascinated by the power dynamics. Also, I bet if one of those Italian dudes had sat next to her at the bar, she would have perked up.

      I thought I sent you my birth time! I’ll send it now.

    • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

      Greg, I just have to chime in here since you always seem to know what’s going on in the universe. Are you an astronomer, astrologer or both? And, is it ethical to unveil the deets on Coxy’s birth chart? Because inquiring minds want to know.

  14. Sarah says:

    I people watch as often as I can. I like to observe people doing what they do when they don’t know someone’s watching. Not in the creepy way I’m sure that sentence reads but in more subtle ways that reveal what’s going on in their heads. What people do with their hands in various situations, for example, intrigues me. Flat at their sides, fidgety, hands on hips, twirling hair or playing with a necklace, etc.

    “And most importantly, the gift of love. To know a person’s heart, to see into them by way of glances and touches and smirks and laughs; through tears and joy, through anger, silence; through twinkling eyes and furrowed brow; in hesitation, refusal, denial; the luxurious rush of intimate contact, gusts of humid breath, beads of sweat, whispered requests; in hellos and goodbyes, first kisses, introductions, and even final farewells. For someone to know you in a way you may not even know yourself…there is nothing more rare or precious, is there?”

    I’ve been searching for those exact words recently, so thank you for revealing them to me. This is more proof that I need to shake off my writerly dust and start writing again. I’ve been having these feelings and wanting to express them verbally and have only been able to muster, “I love you so much.” And while those words are sincere and meaningful, yours get more to the why that I’ve been wanting to describe.

    Excellent piece, Richard.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Ah, the hands. Isn’t that so interesting and weird? You can learn a lot about someone just by watching this one behavior.

      Thanks the for kind words. I’m happy to know that my bit about love connected with you, because at least now I know I’m not totally off base. And I’m always in favor of someone shaking off their writerly dust. Get to it, woman!

  15. Joe Daly says:

    Thanks for dodging the cliches and giving us something to chew on. I love looking to pictures of the cosmos to put my life and all its little worldly clamors in perspective.

    I don’t know why, but your piece really made me think about fear and how it motivates so much of what we do. How we walk, what we wear, how we try to look in front of other people, and what consumes our private thoughts is so often driven by fear. Fear of rejection, fear of not being good enough, or simply the fear that comes with the uncertainty of what might happen tomorrow.

    The first time I saw that Albert Brooks movie, Defending Your Life, I didn’t really understand it. Ten years later, I think I finally do. Life, spirituality, growth- it’s all about finding the guts to set aside the fears that keep us from finding our highest selves.

    But yeah, magic or tragic, there’s an exciting ride waiting for us whenever we decide to hop on the train and see what’s at the next stop.

    Well done, Rich.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, man. I always wonder if pictures of the cosmos are going to turn people away because as fascinating as they are, they don’t really touch us in a human way. That we’re a speck of dust on a lonely planet in a vast and quiet universe doesn’t change the fact that I still have to wait in road construction traffic every day, right?

      At the same time, if you appreciate what you’re looking at, it a photo like that can have a profound impact on the way you envision humanity in the context of existence. For me, though I’m not religious, I’m still inspired in a religious-type way by the enormity of the universe.

      For instance, the stars we can see with the naked eye are in fairly close proximity to us, relatively speaking. When you look up at the night sky, even in a rural area, you’re only seeing about 0.000003% of the stars in our galaxy alone. The Milky Way is estimated to contain about 250 – 400 billion stars. In that picture I linked, with the exception of a couple of obvious stars in the foreground, every other object is an entire galaxy, most containing hundreds of billions of stars. Current guess on the number of galaxies in the whole universe? 500 billion to 1 trillion.

      Which computes to as many as a septillion stars in the universe. Septillion. Firefox doesn’t even recognize that as a word.

      The closet star to Earth, besides the Sun, is 4 light years away. With current technology the fastest we could hope to travel in space is 150,000 miles an hour. Which would get us there in 18,000 years. That’s the closest one. The closest galaxy to us would only take us 11 billion years to reach.

      The numbers and distances are so huge that really there’s no context in which to properly comprehend them. It’s a big fucking place. It blows my mind.

      And you’re right about fear. It drives so much of what we do. Another one of those built-in responses from when we lived in the trees, I suppose.

      • More cosmos. Please. Also, it is truly hilarious how baldly horny airports are. I guess because there’s such a tiny margin for follow-thru that the leering doesn’t need to be as guarded. Everyone peering over the lips of their novels, girls pretending to wear pajama tops because they’re comfy, guys roaming the concourse like thoroughbreds with wheelie luggage. The hope-against-hope Brazilian model seating lottery, 23c, 23c, 23c….and….it’s just another tool with a laptop.

  16. Your pal says:

    Dude. One time I was people watching and there was this family of like, seven people. There was a mom and a dad and like, five kids–four daughters and one teenage son. I could tell the dad was a doctor and the mom was a lawyer. The dad and son were having an argument about his grades in school. The dad wanted him to do better, but the son wanted the father to just accept the fact that he wasn’t smart, and too love him anyway, because he’s his son. Then the father was like, “That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard in my entire life!” Suddenly, I realized I was watching the Cosby Show.

  17. Tawni says:

    Airport people watching is choice, and doing it here through the eyes of someone else, especially someone male, was very interesting. I think about physical attraction more often than I used to, now that I am watching my own fade frighteningly fast with age and motherhood. Humans want to be above such basic urges, want to be more complex of mind, but we can’t escape it; we can’t completely intellectualize biology. It’s fascinating. Your “if there were airports for dogs” thoughts made me smile.

    “Her voice is the pitch of a small bird’s.” Haha. I have a deep voice for a girl, and whenever I feel annoyed by this, I think about how it could be worse; I could have a shrill baby girl voice. Honestly, I’d rather sound like a dude.

    I have never read The Time Traveler’s Wife, but will definitely do so soon based on your recommendation. I read Her Fearful Symmetry a few months ago and really liked it.

    I loved this, Richard. Great, thoughtful piece. xoxo.

    • Richard Cox says:

      You using the word “choice” in that way is so choice. That’s been in my lexicon ever since Ferris Bueller.

      That girl’s voice drove me crazy. Sorry, Girl From the Pool Whose Name I Do Not Know.

      I was thinking a lot about physical attraction and how much it matters as I watched the travelers hurrying to and fro, but then I would look down at my book and realize the inner self is obviously more important. Then I would look up and see a very tan girl in a pink sundress and forget about the book. Then I would look back down at the book and become lost in a story of deep, true love and realize humans are so much more than our animal selves. Then I would look up and see a girl walking by in flip flop wedges. Then I would look back down at the book. Then I would…

  18. Richard, this is so freaking great.

    If there is no great purpose, I’m fine with that. Mountains and Lake Superior and the beauty in humanity and that shot at the cosmos makes me okay with the absence of a purpose.

    “And most importantly, the gift of love. To know a person’s heart, to see into them by way of glances and touches and smirks and laughs; through tears and joy, through anger, silence; through twinkling eyes and furrowed brow; in hesitation, refusal, denial; the luxurious rush of intimate contact, gusts of humid breath, beads of sweat, whispered requests; in hellos and goodbyes, first kisses, introductions, and even final farewells. For someone to know you in a way you may not even know yourself…there is nothing more rare or precious, is there?”

    …and, isn’t this the purpose, maybe? To love and be loved in a way that changes everything? Is there anything that connects us to the world more than the feeling you just described? That paragraph is … wow. Dude. Again, you TNB folk make me set my own bar higher and higher. Damn.

    We may not be happier than dogs because, simply, we feel, we are a part of the world in which other people feel, and that makes us lonely and eager and angst-ridden and ready to love. Magic or tragic, this is where I want to be.

    This thing was great, Richard. Just great.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Wow, man. Thanks a lot. Even though I write every day, only occasionally does something really strike a chord with someone, or a few people, and I really appreciate your taking the time to let me know.

      I do believe, if love is not the purpose, it’s definitely the most important element of the journey. I called it a gift because it truly is that. Complex love is fairly unique to us on Earth and we are extremely fortunate to be able to know what it is.

      Thanks again.

  19. Jessica Blau says:

    GREAT piece!

    In your author photo at top (not your avatar) you LOOK like you’re thinking of all this, gazing into galaxies. I like gazing into galaxies, too. Is nice to feel small, especially when we momentarily fall into the false belief that we’re large.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Danke, Jessica! I don’t remember what I was thinking about in that photo but I know for a fact I wasn’t thinking about galaxies in the Gravatar photo. Haha.

      Galaxies are really big and we are not. But as far as we know, galaxies can’t feel love or make a hole-in-one. So we win.

  20. Lenore says:

    i haven’t read through your comments, so i’m sure someone has pointed this out already, but i’ll say it anyway: i think our awareness causes us to be worse off than dogs for their obliviousness. if we were all really stupid, we’d be much easier to please. the more we think, the less satisfied we become. that’s why smart people are always reading more and more and more and learning more and more and more, because smart people are always looking for the one thing that will just make them fucking happy, finally. they’ll never find it, of course.

    that was bleak, but i didn’t mean for it to be bleak. i’d still prefer to be human, even if it means i’ll never be satisfied. dogs are great, but they get fleas and most of their meals are the same. plus sometimes they need their anal glands expressed, and i’m glad i don’t have to submit to that process.

  21. TammyAllen says:

    Great post.

    I have an airport story to share. I have a metal plate in my ankle. I told the security person and he put in what looked like a shopping-cart-return queue. Then over the loud speaker he says “Female help in the shute.” Mortified, I stood there and no one came; so again he anounced over the AIRPORT LOUD SPEAKER “Female help in the shute.” Then this burly female security chick comes over and takes me to a screened in area. I say “Look I just have a metal plate in my ankle. I broke it.” She ignores, frisks me and then says I have to touch your breasts now. I said “I’m not wearing an underwire bra.” She then cops a clinical feel and told me I was okay to go. WTF.

    So I did an experiment, on my way back from San Diego I didn’t tell them about the ankle. I didn’t beep. So much for full discloser.

    PS. This country is grossly lacking in human research that combines emotion and brain function. Without the giant pharmacuetical machine I don’t think half of humanity’s emotional and brain issues would be tackled. Erectile disfuction is as much a condition of fear and embarrassment as a real condition. We treat symptons, not dig for the cause. That is a tragedy and a diservice to us all. P.S. I chose erectile disfunction because of it’s blantant stigma.

    Being human is curious. I wish love was respected. I wish we could respect each other. Being human will always be yet never be perfect.

    • TammyAllen says:

      Erectile disfuction is as much a human condition of fear and embarrassment as a real body condition. Or whatever. you know what I mean?

    • Richard Cox says:

      I’ve never looked into the treatment of erectile dysfunction, but my assumption from anecdotal evidence as well as the commercials for Viagra and Cialis is it seems to become more prevalent among males as they get older. I think individual cases of it the “this NEVER happens to me” kind are definitely about fear and embarrassment, but there must be something more on the physical side if it’s so widespread among older men. I mean they aren’t all scared are they? In fact they have more experience by then so one would assume they’d be more confident as they got older, rather than less? I dunno. Maybe someone on TNB is more familiar with the research?

      That sucks about your airport story. Sorry about that. But I like your experiment on the way back. Ha.

  22. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Hey, loved the people-watching travelogue. There is no more satisfying pursuit, is there?

    “But even if there is no destination, doesn’t the journey override the knowledge of mortality? For all its warts, isn’t the sheer beauty of humanity, of the universe, where the magic lies?”

    I don’t insist on purpose (I think that’s what Becky was saying, too). I agree that being is purpose enough. And in a perversion of the idea of anthropism, beauty and magic are just that, because we are here to make it just so.

    Which all boils down to unimpeachable excuse to watch as many pleasing-to-the-eye bodies as we can squeeze into a lifetime, eh what?

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Uche. I like that you mentioned the anthropic principle, which is something we sometimes forget when we are trying to make sense of the world, especially are blaming this particular universe on the supernatural.

      And yes, one could argue that all these discussions are just a way to say that men aren’t dogs. (I’m surprised no one tried to play that joke here since I intentionally paved the way for it. It was no accident I used dogs as my animal example).

      • Uche Ogbuji says:

        Choose yer own adventure…

        Answer #1: We all got that you’d put that ball up on a tee, but sometimes it’s more satisfying to take the bat and trudge off to go look for some fast-pitch.

        Answer #2: We’re actually too thick to pick up on such an obvious offering. You could have put it beyond doubt by spelling it “dawgs”.


  23. Simon Smithson says:

    I agree with the consensus, RC. This post was the bomb. I’m fascinated by what’s going on underneath, endlessly.

    As someone who has cross the Pacific eight time in eighteen months, the Tasman about six, and the NoCal – SoCal airhop about four, I can tell you – airports are awesome. I love them.

    Ask me again later about divinity. I’m feeling unsure right now.

    But less unsure than I was before I looked at the Hubble picture.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thank you, Mr. Smithson. I think you and I are both fascinated by our underpinnings and to what degree they influence us on a daily basis. Hence I mentioned working on this post when I read yours.

      Can you imagine a trillion galaxies? I mean think about that. All those stars and planets and civilizations out there, who we’ll probably never be aware of because of the vast, vast stretches of empty space between us. Can you conceive of how far away the galaxies are in that photo? If they even exist anymore?

      Just mind blowing.

      Current world religions didn’t know about all this when they wrote their stories of creation. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a God or a Guy out there…but it does fairly rule out the narrow world view that most creation stories are based upon.

  24. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Airport people watching is the BEST. I am one of those who sit in a corner with a book, avoiding chit chat if at all possible. I’m an introvert but not really so unfriendly—it’s just that I really, really enjoy looking at what people are wearing and doing. Endlessly fascinating.

    I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife.. Wooing me thusly is a rarity. That’s so cool you shared a meal with her!

    • Richard Cox says:

      I rarely talk to people in airports and usually end up watching them or reading. Or both. Honestly both. Sean said it best above when he noted, “Everyone peering over the lips of their novels.”

      Having dinner with Ms. Niffenegger was awesome, yes! I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife. It’s one of the few novels I’ve read more than once in the past several years.

  25. Judy Prince says:

    Richard, it’s such a joy to soar with your writing! Marrying the sensual and philosophical, ultimately, is what you do sooooo well. I liked “the pink blur” that you can’t help looking up at. It was sweet and seemed to embrace all you’d been saying about our biological imperatives.

    This was mind and heart-tickingly vivid:

    “To know a person’s heart, to see into them by way of glances and touches and smirks and laughs; through tears and joy, through anger, silence; through twinkling eyes and furrowed brow; in hesitation, refusal, denial; the luxurious rush of intimate contact, gusts of humid breath, beads of sweat, whispered requests; in hellos and goodbyes, first kisses, introductions, and even final farewells. For someone to know you in a way you may not even know yourself…there is nothing more rare or precious, is there?”

    I liked the way you introduced the pink blurs throughout this, the baseline of your soul’s search.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Hi Judy! Thanks so much for your kind words. It’s interesting that you saw this piece in a way similar to my books. I didn’t think of it that way (except for the bit about the Hubble photograph, of course) but “Marrying the sensual and philosophical” is a great way to describe it!

      As for the paragraph you quoted, it seems I got something right with that since a few people have mentioned it. I guess when you feel it, you know, right?

  26. Manda says:

    Hi Richard,

    My first introduction to your work and I felt like a welcome visitor to your private moments in public spaces – enjoyed being allowed to read-watch, the questions you pose, and the pull through to love.

    Amanda – NZ (fellow admirer of the writings of ZaraPotts)

    • Richard Cox says:

      Any fellow admirer of the writings of ZaraPotts is a friend of mine.

      I’m glad you felt like a welcome visitor. Thanks for your kind words. Visit again soon!

  27. Dana says:

    I’m a big fan of people watching and airports too. I had a really long layover one time in DC and spent about 2 hours of my time watching (over my book, of course) some B-list actor and his girlfriend eat lunch then one by one go off to the public bathroom with a paperback tucked under their arm. They ended up on my flight and I still have no idea who he was.

    When my husband and I travel together he has so much metal that we need to build extra time in our departure for the search. (Btw Tammy, it really depends on individual airport security. He never tells them anymore and most he sets off, but some he doesn’t. We’ve come to call this the Line Effect. Once the line gets too long and passengers start panicking about missed flights, they turn down the sensitivity of their detectors to keep shit moving.)

    But all this has nothing to do with this wonderful post Richard. I’ve been especially contemplative lately and somehow that leads to the beauty of nature and the cosmos for me, so this really struck a chord and brings to mind a favorite quote….
    “After all, what nobler thought can one cherish than that the universe lives within us all?”
    — Neil deGrasse Tyson

    • Richard Cox says:

      That’s a great story about the B-list actor. Hahaha. And the quote is awesome. That pretty much sums up what I was trying to say in one of my books. See there, I didn’t need to write 92,000 words. Just one sentence!

      P.S. The line effect totally makes sense. Which dovetails nicely with Matt’s theory on airport security knee-jerk reactions.

      • Dana says:

        92,000 words!? They flew right by.

        I can’t believe you turned off the comments on the Dallas post to placate that pundit, Daly.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Hahaha. What a pundit.

          I don’t know what happened to the comment box. It just disappeared. Probably the admins did it but I’m not sure why. Or maybe 645 is the maximum number of comments. Ha.

  28. sheree says:

    Brilliant perspective on the essence of Esse Quam Videri.

    Well done. Thanks for the wonderful read.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Wow, Esse Quam Videri. Very nice reference.

      Thank you for the kind words. And nice to see you, Sheree.

      • sheree says:

        Esse Quam Videri is a double crest in my immediate bloodlines. I’ve spent an considerable amount of time contemplating the meaning of the words. I think you voiced the meaning of those words from a tangible perspective that I can relate too. Beers to you.

  29. Megan says:

    bikinis as brightly coloured underwear – good

    And the fact you were reading The Time Traveler’s Wife, which seems like a smart book choice for a male on a solo trip. It would make a man seem approachable and safe.

    Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones – “Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical … magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded.”

    Nice job recording, Richard.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks for the observations, Megan. And I never thought of the book making me appear to be safe. Good point.

      But maybe I should also carry a Swiss army knife on my belt so I will also seem dangerous.


  30. Marni Grossman says:

    Airports make us- as people- look bad. Everyone’s cranky, everyone’s tired. But there’s some place worse than the airport: the amusement park.

    Amusement parks plunge me into existential despair. It just seems like the worst we have to offer, you know?

  31. Erika Rae says:

    Wow this was gorgeous. And want to know the coincidence (since i know you look for these)? This is exactly where my head has been lately. Funny that. Beautiful pictures in here. Love all the pretending.

  32. […] His posts have started many interesting conversations, including some about magic, rage, and even being human. Recently I sat down with Richard (I can’t even call him that…his name is Richrob!) to […]

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