Dear American Airlines [With Headphones]

Dear American Airlines [With Headphones]

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Sometimes the planes don’t fly on time.

Bennie Ford, a fifty-three-year-old failed poet turned translator, is traveling to his estranged daughter’s wedding when his flight is canceled. Stuck with thousands of fuming passengers in the purgatory of O’Hare airport, he watches the clock tick and realizes that he will miss the ceremony. Frustrated, irate, and helpless, Bennie does the only thing he can: he starts to write a letter. But what begins as a hilariously excoriating demand for a refund soon becomes a lament for a life gone awry, for years misspent, talent wasted, and happiness lost. A man both sinned against and sinning, Bennie writes in a voice that is a marvel of lacerating wit, heart-on-sleeve emotion, and wide-ranging erudition, underlined by a consistent groundnote of regret for the actions of a lifetime — and made all the more urgent by the fading hope that if he can just make it to the wedding, he might have a chance to do something right.

A margarita blend of outrage, wicked humor, vulnerability, intelligence, and regret, Dear American Airlines gives new meaning to the term “airport novel” and announces the emergence of major new talent in American fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433276316
Publisher: Findaway World
Publication date: 02/28/2009
Product dimensions: 4.60(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Miles left home at seventeen, intent on a life in music, but when he landed in Oxford, Mississippi, he traded in the blues for writing. Having learned the art of fiction and of living from Barry Hannah and the late Larry Brown, Miles has worked as a blues researcher, bartender, gardener, and journalist, covering everything from the death of Faulkner’s bootlegger to the theory and practice of bar fights to the Dakar Rally in Africa. Now the cocktails columnist for the New York Times and books columnist for Men’s Journal, Miles’s work has appeared, among other places, in GQ, the Oxford American, the New York Observer, and the New York Times Book Review.

Read an Excerpt

My name is Benjamin R. Ford and I am writing to request a refund in the amount of $392.68. But then, no, scratch that: Request is too mincy & polite, I think, too officious & Britishy, a word that walks along the page with the ramrod straightness of someone trying to balance a walnut on his upper ass cheeks. Yet what am I saying? Words don’t have ass cheeks! Dear American Airlines, I am rather demanding a refund in the amount of $392.68. Demanding demanding demanding. In Italian, richiedere. Verlangen in German and ndeáoâanü in the Russki tongue but you doubtless catch my drift. Imagine, for illustrative purposes, that there’s a table between us. Hear that sharp sound? That’s me slapping the table. Me, Mr. Payable to Benjamin R. Ford, whapping the damn legs off it! Ideally you’re also imagining concrete walls and a naked lightbulb dangling above us: Now picture me bursting to my feet and kicking the chair behind me, with my finger in your face and my eyes all red and squinty and frothy bittles of spittle freckling the edges of my mouth as I bellow, roar, yowl, as I blooooow like the almighty mother of all blowholes: Give me my goddamn money back! See? Little twee request doesn’t quite capture it, does it? Nossir. This is a demand. This is fucking serious.
Naturally I’m aware that ten zillion cranks per annum make such demands upon you. I suppose you little piglets are accustomed to being huffed upon and puffed upon. Even now, from my maldesigned seat in this maldesigned airport, I spy a middle-aged woman waving her arms at the ticket counter like a sprinklerhead gone awry. Perhaps sheis serious, too. Maybe, like me, even fucking serious. Yet the briefcase by the woman’s feet and her pleated Talbots suit lead me to conclude that she’s probably missing some terribly important meeting in Atlanta where she’s slated to decide something along the lines of which carbonated beverage ten zillion galoots aged 18–34 will drink during a specified half-hour of television viewing in four to six midwestern markets and I’m sure the ticket agent is being sweetly sympathetic to the soda lady’s problem but screw her anyway. So a half- zillion galoots drink Pepsi rather than Coke, so what? My entire being, on the other hand, is now dust on the carpet, ripe and ready to be vacuumed up by some immigrant in a jumpsuit.
Please calm down sir, I can hear you saying. Might we recommend a healthy snack, perhaps some sudoku? Yes, sudoku: apparently the analgesic du jour of the traveling class. That little game is what appears to be getting my fellow citizens through these hours of strandedness, hours that seem to be coagulating, wound-like, rather than passing. They say a watched pot never boils but baby it’s tough not to watch when you’re neck-deep in the pot. Just how many hours so far, I can’t say — not with any precision anyway. Why are there so few clocks in airports? You can’t turn your head more than ten degrees in a train station without hitting another clock on the wall, the ceiling, the floor, etc. You’d think that the smartasses who design airports, taking a hint from their forebears, would think to hang a clock or two on the walls instead of leaving the time-telling to the digital footnotes at the bottom of the scattered schedule screens. I take an oversized amount of pride in the fact that I’ve never worn a wristwatch since my thirteenth birthday when my father gave me a Timex and I smashed it with a nine-iron to see how much licking would stop its ticking (not much, as it turned out). But then airports weren’t designed for people like me, a fact becoming more and more obvious as I divide my present between smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk outside and drumming my fingers on the armrests of the chairs inside. But even more odious than the clocklessness, I might add, is replacing the beep-beep-beep of those passenger carts with digitized birdsong imitations. Birdsongs! I shouldn’t have to tell you that being run down by a twelve-foot sparrow is little improvement over being run down by a militarized golfcart. But then that’s a matter for the smartasses, not you, so mea culpa. We must be choosy with our battles, or so I’ve been told.
It occurs to me that none of this will do me a bit of good unless I state my particulars, to wit: My ticket — purchased for $392.68 as I’ve relevantly aforementioned and will continue to mention, as frequently as a tapdancer’s clicks — is for roundtrip passage from New York–LaGuardia to Los Angeles’s LAX (with a forty-five-minute layover at Chicago O’Hare; were there a clock nearby, I’d divulge the truer length of my layover, but it’s safe to say it’s edging toward eight hours, with no end in sight). In that eightish-hour period I’’ve smoked seventeen cigarettes which wouldn’t be notable save for the fact that the dandy Hudson News outlets here don’t stock mmy brand so I’ll soon be forced to switch to another, and while that shouldn’t upset me it does. In fact, it enrages me. Here’s my life in dangly tatters and I can’t even enjoy this merest of my pleasures. Several hours ago a kid in a Cubs windbreaker bummed one of mine and I swear if I spy him again I’ll smash him like a Timex. Cough it up, you turd. But then all this talk of smoking is giving me the familiar itch, so if you’ll excuse me for a moment I’m off to the sidewalk, as required by law, to scratch it.

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Dear American Airlines 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Smellsbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This started out OK, with some good laughs... but I had trouble keeping focused as it got going. Too many things going on, and also I couldn't work up too much of a connection to the main character, didn't really care. I didn't finish the book. Counted my losses and moved steadfastly forward to greener pastures.
bnbooklady on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having failed at everything he has pursued with any degree of seriousness¿marriage, fatherhood, poetry¿fifty-three year old Bennie Ford has resigned himself to a life of loneliness, estrangement, and mediocrity. But now, his daughter, with whom he has had no relationship to speak of for more than twenty years, is getting married (t0 a woman, no less, causing Bennie and endless amount of confusion), and if Bennie can just get to California in time, he thinks he¿ll have a chance to set everything right.Unfortunately for Bennie, American Airlines has other plans, and the farthest Bennie will get is the H/K terminal of Chicago¿s O¿Hare International Airport. Oh, I have been there and done that.Dear American Airlines is Bennie¿s letter to the titular airline, requesting¿nay, demanding¿a refund for his $392.68. What begins as hilarious, biting attack on the airline industry and the ubiquitous failure at customer service (who among us hasn¿t been stuck in an airport for seemingly no reason at all?) gradually becomes a reflection on a life gone awry. It¿s the sort of reflection we are generally able to avoid by distracting ourselves with the drudgery of daily life, the sort of insights we only bring ourselves to face when we have no other choice. After all, one can only read and watch airport TV and take so many smoke breaks (as Bennie frequently does) before thoughts about how one ended up here creep in.As Bennie¿s stay in the purgatory that is O¿Hare grows longer, so does his letter to American Airlines. He writes about his childhood, defined by misadventures with a schizophrenic mother, his failed marriage(s), his visit to the proverbial ¿rock bottom¿ that preceded the road to sobriety, and his hope, however unrealistic, that this weekend trip to California will somehow repair the damage he has taken decades to cause. Bennie writes about the people he meets in the airport, those temporary friendships borne of circumstance and necessity, and he addresses the poor cubicle drone who will inevitably spend the better part of a day reading his letter of demand.All I really knew about Dear American Airlines going in was the basic premise: man stuck in airport writes an angry and humorous letter of complaint. So I didn¿t expect the melancholy, the heartbreak, the longing, the sarcasm that reveals a deeply felt cynicism that stands in contrast to the hope underlying Bennie¿s journey. I thought I was going to get a good laugh (and I did, especially because, having gone to college in Chicago and spent more than a few hours stranded in the American terminal myself, I recognized many of the landmarks Bennie mentions), but I got much more.Dear American Airlines is darker and sadder than I bargained for, but that gives it added depth and makes for a more satisfying read. Author Jonathan Miles balances Bennie¿s losses with moments of great humor and touching encounters with his fellow travelers. At a slim 180 pages, this book appears to be a quick read, but there is much to be savored and taken in between its covers, and I found myself reading slowly in order to absorb it all. With something for every reader, Dear American Airlines is a solid 4 out of 5.
bragan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bennie Ford, stranded in O'Hare airport and about to miss his estranged daughter's wedding, writes what begins as a letter of complaint to the airline and quickly becomes, essentially, his entire life story. That life story is pretty standard for this kind of literary novel, really -- a washed-up alcoholic writer with a lifetime of dysfunctional relationships does a lot of navel-gazing -- but the writing is terrific, with a vivid narrative voice and an undercurrent of bitter humor that hit exactly the right notes for me. Even the letter-to-an-airline premise, which seems gimmicky and implausible, worked much better than I expected, largely due to the fact that being stranded in the limbo of an airport is such an incredibly familiar, relatable experience. I enjoyed it a lot, and read it almost in one sitting.
debs4jc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This short novel is one long extended letter. We learn all about the author of the letter as he is stuck in an airport and is amusing himself by writing to American Airlines. He ends up pretty much telling us--in a somewhat convoluted manner--his life story. I found this to be a bit tedious, it had some interesting moments but I never really got all that interested in the main character's struggles.
ExVivre on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jonathan Miles' Dear American Airlines was one of my long-shot books - the kind you pick out from the new releases in the dim hope it will be "decent". I'm happy to report this book is much better than decent.Beginning as a complaint letter to the air carrier, Dear American Airlines becomes the autobiography, memoir, diary and confessional of Bennie Ford - an ex-poet, ex-bartender, ex-drunk, ex-husband and current translator of better writers' works. Trapped in the purgatory of Chicago's O'Hare airport, Bennie pours his life out to the anonymous corporate drones at the receiving end of the letter. The results balance deftly between being heart-wrenchingly pathetic and perversely funny.Dear American Airlines is appreciable for its ability to carry a message without collapsing from bloated self-importance. Miles' wry descriptions of O'Hare (including the Soviet-style architecture of its Hilton hotel) add lightness and humor without detracting from Bennie's less than fond remembrances. It's a beautiful demonstration that a "serious" book does not need to be all angst and pain.
invisiblelizard on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was initially interested in this book because of the epistolic nature of its form: it's written as an open letter to American Airlines as our protagonist Benjamin Ford is waylaid in O'Hare (and who hasn't been there/done that before) as he tries to make it from New York to California to attend his daughter's wedding. There is a lot more to the story than that (obviously)¿consider that his daughter is marrying her girlfriend, that Bennie hasn't been a part of her life since she was a baby, that his own life is falling apart, etc. and you quickly understand that this is more than just an open letter to an airline, it's a summation of Bennie's life. And you pardon the author the obvious flaw that is: no matter how long the layover, there's no way a guy could write a 200 page letter while he waits for the next plane.I was interested in this because the voice of the narrator-as-author intrigues me. First person stories can either work incredibly well (if the author has taken the time to create an interesting character and then put himself into that character's mind as he writes) or incredibly not. I think the voice in this novel worked quite well. Like I said, could have gone the other way, but it was believable. Sarcastic (understandably so given the circumstances), shameful and sympathetic all at the same time, Miles has created a well-rounded, believable character in Bennie Ford and let Bennie's own voice drive the story along.Shame that the story itself didn't turn out better than the character deserved. (Potential spoiler alert ahead, I'll warn you now.) Yeah, I liked all of the back story about Bennie's life, how his own father was a immigrant, his mother a psychotic, his wife smart enough to leave him, he himself a drunk, but all of the story-within-a-story business (Bennie is a translator and is in the process of translating a story from Polish to English and we get a lot of that woven in here) felt like filler to me. And the 11th hour introduction of the (seriously, here's the spoiler) potential suicide that Bennie is contemplating felt, well, like an 11th hour introduction in a "where in the hell did that come from" sort of way.I liked Miles' writing enough to at least be curious about his next book, but I don't think I'll bother to buy it right away (certainly not in hardback) like I ended up doing with this one.
pdebolt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This short book is a gem. While Bennie's flight to his daughter's commitment ceremony is delayed in Chicago, he writes a letter to American Airlines to demand the money he paid for this flight be returned. What begins as a rant soon digresses into observations about his life that is alternately very funny and very poignant. I love Jonathan Miles' writing style - his words are precisely placed for maximum effect on, and reflection by, the readers of this novel. I hope he has another book in progress.
alphaorder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Short books often mean that much thought has been given to every line and this is certainly the case here. Bennie Ford is stranded at O'Hare on the way to his daughter's wedding. He decides to write a complaint letter to American Airlines requesting-strike that-demanding a refund on his ticket. I cannot recommend this book enough.
mazeway on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow. I LOVED this book. It reminded me of early Nicholson Baker, but with more soul. It's clever and funny and painful and...well, short. It's nice to have a really good book that has been well edited and never drags. I hope Miles writes more fiction.
datwood on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bennie Ford is travelling across country to his daughter's wedding, when his flight is cancelled. So he whips out his computer and starts a whiny message to American Airlines that gets out of hand. There has been a certain amount of hype about this little book, so I checked it out. I'm sorry! It is not the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's an okay read if there is absolutely nothing else in the house to read and you don't want to start on the cereal boxes, but I don't advise going out and buying multiple copies to give to all your friends.
grigoro on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book after hearing rave reviews, but I wasn't wowed by it. A man on the way to his daughter's marriage is stranded at O'hare Airport. He starts an angry letter to American Airlines, but ends up telling his life story. At times funny, but overall it is the story of a sad, wasted life of an alcoholic who destroys his marriage and hasn't seen his daughter since she was an infant.
kmaziarz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Benjamin R. Ford¿Bennie¿is stuck at O¿Hare Airport for the night, and he is entirely ticked off about the situation. In his free time, of which he suddenly has far more than he wants, he begins a letter of complaint to American Airlines in which he requests¿nay, DEMANDS¿a refund, in the most energetic, scathing, colorful, and utterly entertaining terms imaginable.As he writes, his letter of complaint to the airline slowly evolves into a letter of complaint seemingly addressed to life itself, detailing Bennie¿s long history of frustration and disappointment. Bennie, you see, is on his way to the wedding of his estranged daughter¿the daughter whom he has not seen since she was an infant and the inexplicable flight delay threatens to rob him of the most important day of his life.In explaining the circumstances that have led him to this point, Benjamin is forced to revisit every step and mis-step in his life, starting with his own birth to a schizophrenic suicidal artist mother and a Polish Holocaust survivor father who has, ironically, taken a job as an exterminator. Perhaps too much like his mother for his own good, Benjamin had some success early on as a poet, but his growing alchohol abuse eventually robbed him of creativity, the love of his life, his infant daughter, his self-respect, and very nearly his life. Now in recovery from the addiction, his days are spent taking care of his aged mother who, after a stroke, can communicate solely through pithy post-it-note messages; and in translating Polish novels into English. Portions of his latest translation effort are interspersed with the narrative of Benjamin¿s life, and slowly, the two storylines begin to mirror one another in odd ways; both feature victims of traumatic life events trying desperately to find a new reason for living. Hilarious and very wise, ¿Dear American Airlines¿ has a way of universalizing all the minor tragedies of life, while providing a good laugh and a bit of hope for the future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this. It speaks for the humans lost in a world run by uncaring corporations. Also it calls out to all of us that struggle with personal demons and/or dreams we have deferred. ~*~LEB~*~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Did not want to finish it. Would not recommend it.
Maximillian More than 1 year ago
For a short book, it took a long time to read. As I think about it, I should have pitched it. What a waste of time.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Dear American Airlines" is not only, as you might think, a diatribe against an airline disguised as a letter; it's much more than that. It's a man at the end of his rope, stuck at O'Hare Airport due to a delayed flight, musing over his life's low (many) and high (few) points which brought him there, on a flight to California to give his daughter away at a wedding. The man in question is a failed poet from New Orleans, now a translator. The richness of the novel comes from his alcoholic troubled past and his attempts to make amends with his wife and daughter. Stunningly written, Jonathan Miles's acerbic novel is worth reading. It only falls with an excerpted "translated text" meant to serve as a counterpoint to the translator's own life, but that's a minor flaw. Recommended reading.
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