Truthfully, I have no idea where this came from. I started writing and it just started forming in the air before me. Have fun.
I grew up on the doorstep of wild dichotomies, yet my parents never really tried to help us come to terms with the divergent world all around us. There were my four sisters and – me – the lone brother, the oldest – but not by much. My parents went into a kind of reproductive frenzy in 1945 and didn’t stop for seven years, and I think my father paused then only because he was trying to figure out how was going to pay for all those yearning mouths. The picture I had of my mother, by 1952, was of a terrified woman who lived in fear that her husband might come home from work – in the mood. The thought of one more childbirth sent her into paroxysms of scissor-wielding rage – as if my father had even remotely expressed interest in doing the hunka-chunka, scissors would magically appear from behind her back – and she would begin snipping away at his testicles.
“Get that thing away from me!” she’d shout, and those of us in the house old enough to know would have this vision of Van Helsing holding up a crucifix to ward off Count Dracula.
We lived in the shadow of Elysian Park, on Academy Road, on the east side of the park, an area just north of downtown Los Angeles – and the seminal event of my childhood involved baseball. The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to LA just as I hit my teens, and a new stadium was being built for them hard by the park. In time, we each graduated from Cathedral High School, the Big Catholic School near the park, and we went to St Peter’s every Sunday, too. And there was something weird about all that, too. In a city dedicated to the proposition that you needed to drive at least a half hour to find a quart of milk, we walked everywhere. To school, to church, to the local market – everywhere. Dad drove to work out in Santa Monica in those days, to the Douglas Aircraft Company, where he was an engineer. He designed several parts of the old DC-3, but what I remember most growing up was his work on what would become the DC-8. He would bring these colossal drawings of the cockpit home and we would go over them, and we would daydream about the places you could go in such a machine. How fast! More than 3000 miles! As work progressed, we would drive out to Long Beach on weekends and look at the first working mockups, then the first pre-production airframes as they came down the line. I stood by his side and watched the first one take off, and later that day we went to our first Dodgers game together. Nirvana…
Anyway, I grew up wanting to be just like him. I wanted to draw airplanes and have kids, raise my family near the park and go to St Peter’s, send my kids to Cathedral High, so I did just what dad did: I went to USC and started on my degree in aeronautical engineering.
But there was already talk about Vietnam. About how maybe they’d start drafting kids ‘any day now.’ Recruiters were all over campuses all over the country in those early days of the war, and that proved to be one of the earliest divergent dichotomies I ran into. Kids with crew cuts, like me, and the kids who were beginning to look more and more like John Lennon and the rest of the Beatle-haired acolytes invading the country. Kids with football posters on their dorm room walls, and kids with day-glow posters celebrating peace, drugs and rock ‘n roll. And the poster above the bed in my dorm room was of a DC-8 main panel. Annotated. And I knew the function of every button and dial on that panel before I graduated – from high school.
Need I say more?
Two days after graduating ‘SC I swore an oath and got in a bus headed north, to Seattle, to OCS. Officer’s Candidate School. The whole Officer and a Gentleman thing Richard Gere would make famous twenty years later…that was my life that summer. Then another year learning to fly. The the real deal. Getting shot off a pitching carrier’s deck at three in the morning, in gales, dropping bombs all over Vietnam on multiple tours over the next three and half years. Then the arm twisting: please, re-enlist! No more combat, just training the next generation of pilots for combat – and just like that two more years disappeared – and I literally left the Navy as Richard Nixon waved good-bye that last morning, as he boarded Marine One in disgrace and fled to California.
I was never “anti-war” – or anti-anything – for that matter. I was for designing airplanes, then flying them, and that was about as far as my political engagement went. To say I didn’t care about politics would have been an understatement. I voted Democratic because my parents voted that way, and so did everyone else we grew up around. I barely knew what “abortion” was all about because no one ever talked about it – at least not in polite society, and I literally had no idea what homosexuality was until my third year of college. I never smoked anything growing up because my father didn’t, and the first time I smelled pot I thought someone was burning manure in the dormitory bathroom. My father drank one or two beers on Saturday afternoon, usually listening to a game on the radio while he worked on the yard or stuff in the garage, and so later, if I drank anything at all it was beer, and always in moderation. My father’s college grade point average on graduation was 3.88; mine was 3.89, and I tried not to gloat. He was very proud, however.
We were Irish Catholics, and we hung out with other Irish Catholics; blue collar, hard working men and women who either built LA or patrolled her streets. Tons of cops, in other words, and with the LAPD’s academy just up the street from our house, ours was arguably the safest neighborhood in LA County. It also had the most well behaved kids.
The extent of the ‘diversity’ I knew of growing up was simply this: in my world there were Irish Catholics, and there were Italian Catholics. If we had a common language it was Latin, and maybe English. And that English would be replete with old world accents. The only thing I knew for sure was that Italians were different because their last names ended with vowels.
My reality changed little in the Navy. I was a serious pilot and I took the meaning of the oath I swore to the Constitution seriously. I held the words “we, the people” to mean just that. Not we the white people, but all us, as in: we’re all in this together. I thought that way because, by and large, my father did. Because the people in our church did. My teachers did, and even the cops who came over for my mother’s corned beef did. Well, most of them did. I think the first racism I experienced came in the form of scorching expletives a few of those cops would let slip when talking about the negroes down in South Central, or around the Rampart Division.
The only negro I knew growing up was the old man who came by twice a week to mow lawns in our neighborhood. If there was a family that had only daughters, or no kids at all, they got their lawns mown by Mr Thomas. I’d hear his push mower spitting away, cutting across those little patches of grass on those infrequent afternoons, and sometimes I’d watch him work. He’d have to stop every now and sharpen those turbine like swirls of blade, or pump some grease into the single axle, then off he’d go, pushing his mower across the grass. Fifty cents a lawn in those days, and he was as regular as clockwork. Always smiling, always whistling some tune or another. I think for a dime or two he pruned bushes or weed gardens, so he kept busy.
When I came home in ‘74 I went to work for United Air Lines, moved to San Francisco for a few years, then to New York City, and I flew DC-8s for a couple of years, which was a blast for both me and my father, but we grew apart, finally, and that was something new for all of us. And I know I haven’t talked much about my sisters, and that’s because I think their lives were almost peripheral to both my father and I. All but my youngest sister, Patricia, that is. PJ. I barely knew her at all back then; she was not yet ten years old when I went to USC, and she grew up in the height of the counter-culture wars that defined the second half of the 60s. She was in trouble all the time, doing drugs, pregnant – twice – before she got out of high school. She was this red-headed lust bomb that wanted a father’s attention and never got enough, so she went looking elsewhere. Everywhere else, and so, of course, in due course she broke my father’s heart and he did exactly what he shouldn’t have and threw her out of the house.
When I moved to San Francisco after the war, into an apartment on a hill overlooking the airport, I’d not seen her since ‘68. My parent’s had neither seen nor heard from her in two years, yet one morning, very early on a Saturday morning, I was coming in after an overnighter from JFK and there she was, curled up on an olive green army surplus duffel bag – on my doorstep. I’d have never recognized her but for the shocking head of wavy red hair she had, and those freckles.
I knelt down and lightly brushed her hair aside, saw her face and wanted to laugh and cry, all in the same breath. She weighed maybe ninety pounds and the insides of her arms were covered with tracks; she smelled of beer and urine, and – of all things – patchouli. I opened my door and dropped my bag on the floor, then went out to rouse her.
Which turned out to not be the easiest thing I’d ever tried, so I picked her up and carried her to my bedroom, laid her out – and after I carried her duffel inside I called father.
“PJs here,” I remember saying before I’d even said hello and, as he’d been most upset about her behavior – and his own – I think he started crying. My mother was on the phone in an instant and I told her what I’d just found, and she wanted to know what they should do. “I think consciousness and coffee first, Mom. Let me talk to her, see what’s up. As soon as I know something I’ll call.”
I figured if coffee and bacon didn’t wake her nothing would, so I went to the kitchen and started in on breakfast, making more than enough noise to wake the dead, and sure enough, about ten minutes later in she came. Even looking half dead she was as seriously gorgeous as ever, and she walked over to my breakfast table and sat, rubbing her eyes first, then looking at me –
I was still in uniform, of course, looking every inch the figure of upright moral propriety – which, ahem, of course I was – and she grinned when I looked at her and said: “Well, there he is, ladies and gentlemen, Roger Ramjet!”
To which I replied: “Two eggs, or three?”
“You know, I could eat three, maybe more.”
“How long since you had something solid?”
She shrugged. “I passed out with some guys cock in my mouth last night. When I came-to he was passed out and his dick was still right where he’d left it.”
I was aware of staring at her, at the extremity of her behavior, and her need, and that until this very moment the contours of her existence had been a mystery to me. I remember thinking how shocked I was, how almost outraged I was, then how scared I was. In two years no contact with any of us, and now here she was. Of all the people in the world she could have gone to, she chose the man most like the father who had cast her aside, adrift…to wander in the wilderness.
Why? I mean, really? Why?
To perpetuate a cycle that would put her right back on the street? To make my life a living hell, if only to validate her own low opinion of herself?
“So, what else have you been up to?”
“Taking classes, at Berkeley,” she said.
That figures, I wanted to say. “Oh? What in?”
“Physics and cosmology.”
And I looked at her again, really more of a double take. “Really?”
“Yeah, ya know, I’ve been trippin’ out there for a few years so I figured I ought to study some of the things I’ve seen.”
And this was said with a straight face, mind you.
“Timothy Leary’s dead,” I sang.
“No, no, no, no, he’s outside, looking in,” she sang back to me, and we had a laugh while I put on a skillet full of eggs.
“I can’t remember how you like yours cooked.”
I poured her a cup of coffee and took it to her, and for some reason I bent over and kissed her forehead. “It’s sure good to see you,” I said, then I ducked back in the kitchen to turn the bacon again.
When I turned back to her she was staring out my window, at the runways laid out below. “You like it? Flying, I mean?”
“I think I’d like the travel part. See new things all the time.”
“I see the panel most of the time, then a lot of strange hotel rooms, but I know what you’re saying.”
“Think I’d be a good stewardess?”
“I think you’d be good at whatever you decided to put your back into.”
“Is that a yes?”
“Could you help me? Get there, I mean?”
I carried our plates out and sat next to here, and she turned, stared at the plate. “I think I need to turn my life around, Tommy,” she said, her voice hovering someplace under the rainbow, so gentle I almost couldn’t hear her.
“Well then,” I said, “you came to the right place, didn’t you?”
“Yeah,” she said, and she looked at me just then in a way I’ll never forget, and in a way I could never describe, not in a million years.
I called the parents, told them what was up and what was down and that she wasn’t ready to see father just yet, and I heard some peace in the old man’s voice for the first time in a long time. She asked if I had a car, and I didn’t, not yet, but I was thinking of getting one. She said she had stuff from the pad she’d been hanging out in, over in Oakland somewhere, and she’d need to get it soon or risk lose everything, so I rented a van and we drove over, collected her things from three different apartments and I had to laugh. A few pairs of jeans, a few books and phonograph records…maybe fifty bucks worth of “stuff” – and that was her lot in life. She’d been traveling light, that much was certain.
We passed a Porsche dealership on the way home and I pulled in, had a look around. There was a Targa on the lot, white with a blue interior, and she went right to it, fell in love with it on the spot. I filled out the paperwork, my first loan ever, of any kind, and it was approved two days later. She went with me to pick it up and we drove down Skyline Drive and over to Half Moon Bay, ate artichokes above the beach and looked at the Elephant Seals basking on the sand.
And to tell you truth, I’d never been happier.
Need I say more?
She graduated from Stew School a year later, and she snagged a posting in San Fran and started helping out with the rent. She’d taken my bedroom a long time ago; I was sleeping on a fold-out sofa-bed in the living room, sore back and all. On the rare occasion we were home together, we’d sit up and watch non-stop Star Trek re-runs all night long, or go out for a burger and a movie, and time sort of slipped into this unexpected sequel.
When she graduated she bid for this crappy route – SFO to Orange County to Sacramento and back to SFO – and of course she got it, if only because nobody else wanted it, but she was home every night. I was home every other night, so we had a lot of time together. One afternoon I was in early and doing some housecleaning when she came in, dragging her ass in the usual early October heat, and she plopped down on the sofa and told me to “sit down, immediately!”
So I sat.
And she flipped off her pumps and dropped her feet in my lap.
“Foot rub! Now, before I die!”
“Peej, you need a boyfriend. Bad.”
“No. I need a foot rub. Now please.”
And now of course I must backtrack. Explain that not only did I not have a girlfriend, I’d also never, and I mean not once, given anyone a foot rub. Not once. And not only was I a foot rub virgin, it had never been in my game plan to give any of my sisters a foot rub. Not one of them.
Yet I could see her feet were wrecks. Red, puffy in places, almost blistered in others, her need was acute, and real, so I got down to it – and she fell instantly asleep. I kept at it for a few more minutes then ran the bath and carried her in, told her to soak for a while, and that I’d find some lotion to rub on them. When she came out we resumed, and the first thing I mentioned – again – was that this was a far better activity for a boyfriend to manage for her, not her brother.
“I know,” she said, “but the thought of being with a man again revolts me.”
“Well,” I said – jokingly, I’m sure, “what about a girlfriend?”
And she looked away. “And what if I have a girlfriend? What then?”
“Do you?” I asked.
“Kind of.” And she explained how she and one of her dorm mates at the academy had had much the same experience she had with boys, and how they both felt ‘over the whole boyfriend thing’ by then.
And of course I asked if she had done anything with this girl.
“Like what, Tommy?”
“You know…whatever girls do with one another.”
“You mean, like…”
“You want me to tell you about it, Tommy? What that excite you?”
“No, as a matter of fact it wouldn’t.”
“Oh,” she said, and she’d sounded a little disappointed, too.
“I have some interesting news,” I said. “A chance to move over to 747s. First officer. A few months of training, then a posting to Kennedy. Probably JFK to Paris or Frankfurt.”
She brightened immediately. “Any chance I could tag along?”
This wasn’t surprising. When she’d mentioned wanting to travel, Sacramento wasn’t exactly high on her list of places to visit. Paris was, and this was the opportunity of a lifetime. I, for my part, had already looked into the possibility, and yes, it wasn’t a stretch, but she’d need another year or two under her belt before she could bid on one of those routes.
It was a logistics nightmare, getting her moved to New York and settled in a new apartment while I spent months in training, but father drove across with her, and I think the time was important for them both. I arrived expecting to find her in a one bedroom close to mine, but no, she’d picked out a really nice two bedroom place and so our life together continued – with little changed.
With Paris my first bid run, I found myself away much more than I had been, and she was locked into a JFK to Denver Stapleton run for at least a year, so we really were lucky to run into one another more than a few times a month. I came home one afternoon and found her in bed with another flight attendant, a woman, and I let it go without comment. Pretty soon almost every time I saw her she was with this woman, and I started doing a little research on her.
She was almost forty, and considered a hard case. She was curt, I learned, and often abrasive, but she was by any other measure an excellent flight attendant. She was routinely passed over for plum assignments and, I assumed after reading between a few lines, this was most likely the result of her sexual proclivities. The few times I ran into her she seemed almost suspicious of me, yet she was nice enough, in an offhanded way. And, I had to admit, with her around I’d never have to give my sister another foot rub – and that was a very good thing.
Yet when PJ did indeed get a Paris run that was too much for this other gal. She’d put in for the run countless times, and had been turned down countless times, so when PJ nailed it on her first try the woman lost it and disappeared. Fearful that I might have to resume foot rub duties, I asked what her intentions were now.
“I think I’m ready to jump back into penis infested waters,” she told me, and we laughed at that.
“What changed your mind,” I asked.
“Dildos never come in your mouth,” she said – with a straight face, “and I’m kind of missing that.”
“I’m sorry I asked,” I sighed.
“When’s the last time you popped your cork, Tommy?”
“I know. Awful.”
“Want me to get you off? Just a one off kind of thing?”
“PJ, shut the fuck up, would you?”
“Hey, I could use the practice.”
“Get a dildo,” I said, rumbling away in disgust.
So, she started on the Paris run. Not necessarily on my flight, but every now and then she ended up on my plane. One December we were walking the museums together and she took my arm, almost in the way husbands and wives do, a very casual gesture – and I knew it then. A woman just wasn’t going to happen to me. I was going to have to go out and find one the hard way. Problem is, or was, I really didn’t know how.
So, I asked the captain on my return flight. His recommendation: stay away from stews. That was it. Like the poor guy had been burned by that fire more than once. Our flight engineer recommended the bar scene at TGIFridays. So much for that, thank you very much.
I went out to use the head mid-flight and talked to the senior stew on the upper deck and her advice was straight-forward and to the point. As long as kids weren’t in the picture, she said, she was available.
“If it’s just something casual,” she repeated, “I’d love to go out with you.”
Her name was Brenda Collins, a nice Irish girl. She looked, those days, a little like Deborah Kerr, but with ta-tas the size of the Hindenburg. We went out that night, for a burger and a chocolate malt, and when I dropped her off she asked me in. So, as I’m sure you know, I ended up giving her a two hour long foot rub, which led to a thirty second, tonsil shattering blowjob.
We were of course married ten months later. About three months before our first was born. She’d been married once before, and she told me once it just didn’t take. We celebrated our thirtieth anniversary a few years back, so I feel most certain this turned out to be something a little more than casual. Even so, I still rubbed her feet, and she gave the most glorious rendition of Hail to the Chief when she played the skin flute.
PJ started to come apart at the seams when Brenda moved into my life, and for the first time I began to think that all those moments filled with tense innuendo had meant a lot more to her than they had to me. And all of a sudden I realized I couldn’t just leave her in the lurch. I started spending more time with her, taking her out to dinner with Brenda from time to time, making her feel like she was an important part of something new, and better. I think I realized that, like the song, the more you give, the more you make. She went out on a few dates, and one of them took, another pilot, Derrick. She started having a life of her own again, a real, productive life of her own, and pretty soon we weren’t seeing each other all that often.
Brenda and I bought a house out past JFK, and life, for me, really started.
We had a boy, and two years later a girl, and even before I moved over to the left seat I was earning enough for Brenda to take extended leave and stay home with the kids. Both our parents were retired by that point, and both came out for extended stays, some more extended than others. To help with the kids, my father said, but we ended up cooking steaks over charcoal every night I was home, and drinking our ritual two beers more and more often, and PJ and Derrick came over for many of those nights, too. A separate, more enduring truce between Peej and pops was arrived at during that time of our lives, a peace that lasted forever.
And I don’t want to gloss over the next twenty years, but I can sum them up thusly: they were remarkably uneventful in the way America was during those years. Staggering material prosperity and almost endless opportunity defined our world views; you had to work at being poor in those days, or so it seemed. Our kids grew up along predefined pathways, went to Columbia and NYU, and my son stayed the course and went into the Navy, flew Hornets over Iraq and Afghanistan, while my daughter went to med school in New Haven, finished her residency at Sloan-Kettering.
What seemed to put an end to all that prosperity, all that certainty, was 911. A few years shy of my mandatory retirement, I could just see one of the impacts on the World Trade Center while approaching New York City. We were still out over Long Island Sound, and I felt a pure, white hot anger I’d never felt in the skies over North Vietnam. Like many Americans, I began to hate any and everything about Islam and Arabs, particularly Saudi Arabians. When I saw a news report about Israelis and Palestinians at each others throats again I’d turn and look away. I had zero interest or sympathy for their endless bickering anymore, and in fact thought the most honorable way out of the situation would be to forgive Mexicos debt and give Baja California to Israel in exchange for a few years peace. I figured with Israel out of the way the Arabs might let up killing each other, at least for a few months.
And after that it was so easy to Hate. Mexicans for this, Hondurans and El Salvadorans for that. Nigerians for failing to take baths seriously, Laotians for making better Thai food than Thai people. It seemed almost endless, the opportunities we created here to simply Hate People. Our politics became the politics of Hate and, like a cancer, our Hate began to eat away at the very heart and soul of what it meant to be an American. Maybe that’s what Bin Laden had in mind when he attacked America, but I doubt it. With a dozen people he accomplished what all the Japanese and Germans in the Second World War never could: he got Americans to turn against one another, to begin tearing the country apart from inside.
My mood blackened with the country’s, I think, and for similar reasons. Parallel trends, I guess you could say. Not long after 911 my father began to deteriorate, and quite rapidly, too. I’m not implying a causal relationship, either. He was old and his heart had begun to fail while Clinton was still in office, and the years passed quickly after that…too quickly. He passed in 2003, my mother a year later, and that would have been hard enough to take – but Brenda fell ill as well. Breast cancer, and it staged out at IV by the time she was diagnosed. So, father in ‘03, mother in ’04 and my wife in 2005. My kids gone, out of the house, and then – one-two-three strikes and you’re out of love right in the middle of the biggest increase in Hate the world had seen in seventy years. Oh yes. I retired too, so the one thing I loved was now gone. A victim of the simplest, most predictable thing of all: getting old.
So, I say this might have been a parallel trend with good reason. We the baby-boomer generation had witnessed and come of age in the greatest explosion of material wealth in human history, and that explosion had taken place in our collective back yards. A huge number of kids grew up with tennis courts and swimming pools and really excellent schools, not to mention The Beatles and cheerleaders in really short skirts, and then, in the span of just a few short years all we’d worked so hard to build seemed at risk – and just then our parents started dropping like flies.
So, dark world events eclipsed by even darker personal shake-ups. Got it?
I went out to LA after Dad passed to start to settle some of his lingering estate matters, and he wanted my mother to stay in the house, then, and when she was gone it would pass to me. The rest of his investments would go to the girls, assuming those weren’t eaten up taking care of Mom, yet she failed rapidly when she learned of Brenda’s cancer. I think seven months passed between my mother’s and Brenda’s death.
And one winter’s day a few months after the girls and I buried Brenda, a blue sedan pulled up in front of my house and a Navy Chaplain walked up and knocked on my door, told me that my son had been killed in Afghanistan. I took the telegram and went upstairs to our bedroom and didn’t come out for days. I’d heard the phone ring, of course. I just didn’t answer. I couldn’t, you see. I knew I’d have to confront reality if I did, that I’d have to tell my sisters and my daughter – and I knew I couldn’t. And not come undone in their presence.
So Terry, my daughter, started calling PJ, who started calling me, and with no response they came out to the house, saw my car in the drive and expected the worst. They came upstairs and found me curled up in a tight ball, the crumpled yellow notice still in hand, and they read the words and fell to the bed beside me and we cried for what felt like weeks.
There was no body to bury; we were given a flag and the grateful thanks of a nation – and that was pretty much all there was to it. In the aftermath I looked around Long Island and finally realized I didn’t belong there so put the house on the market and moved back to my parent’s house on the east side of Elysian Park. Back to LA. Back into a part of the country that now felt more like Central America than the city I had grown up in. Back into the middle of the front lines of America’s wars of dissolution, where firefights were waged nightly between the cops and too many gangs to count, where body counts went unremarked upon in the local paper because they were seen as a little too incendiary.
In the end I went back because there’s no place like home.
Need I say more?
The house needed work, but so too did the neighborhood.
Dad’s next door neighbors for the last twenty years, Tom and Doris Parker, were still on hand, but everyone else was gone. Oddly enough, many of the houses still belonged to cops, most long-time veterans with the LAPD, many of whom worked at the academy, yet even so most of the people around the neighborhood were not Irish Catholic anymore. Hispanic, I think, summed it up accurately, though there were a couple of black families around, some Asian, too, and this last group had torn down the original bungalows and erected boxy little apartment buildings. Unheard of thirty years ago, but the overall tenor of the neighborhood was little changed – beyond more bars on windows and a lot of alarm company signs on new, very strong fences. If you know what I mean.
Tom Parker had two boys working with the department, and when the moving van appeared outside my father’s house the Parker brothers were soon on deck to lend a hand, and Doris invited me over for dinner that night. Shepherd’s pie and Guinness, of course. And some fresh soda bread. We talked about the good old days, they fretted about the neighborhood, and Tommy and Judd filled me in on the real score. The war zone started down the hill now, on the other side of the 110, and the park wasn’t safe after dark. Gangs and dealers, they said, and the cartels owned whole neighborhoods. Two judges’ bodies had been found so far this year, out in the desert with their heads blown off, a cartel signature. They’d rendered opinions against cartel members, and the cartel’s judgement had been as swift as it was final. Cops were being targeted, their homes and family members too. This wasn’t police work, Tommy Parker told me that night. It was war. A war fueled by drugs, simple as that. Their was suspicion in the ranks, that hispanic officers had been targeted and compromised, that there were more bad cops in the PD now than there ever had been before. Hispanic politicians were turning a blind eye, Tommy said, because most were on the take.
I noticed that the more Tommy drank the more worked up he got, and I saw Judd distancing himself as Tommy’s rant became darker, and after Tommy left Judd hung around a little, maybe to clear the air.
“It’s bad,” he said, “but not that bad, and maybe not all that different.” Everyone knew Irish politicians had been on the take, that Irish cops had patrolled non-Irish neighborhoods differently than they patrolled their own. But true enough, the cartels had made a big difference, that too many cops had been turned and were now on the payroll. That judges had been gunned down, and too little was making it into the news.
“Life’s not that bad here,” he said. “Tommy’s still makes the nastiest burger on earth, the beaches are still the best because the babes are still the hottest. I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” he added, “and we’re glad to see you finally came back to your senses. Now, what are you going to do around here, besides pick your nose?”
“Get this house fixed up, first of all. Beyond that, not much.”
“You still fly?”
“Could you? I mean, could you teach?”
“Yeah, for a few more years.”
“Well, I ask because my daughter started lessons but the cost got out of hand. Think you could lend a hand?”
“Let me look into it.”
Fateful words, like out of the mouths of babes – lost in the woods.
So…when I started clearing brush from the back yard, Judd and his girl Rebecca joined in on the fun. Judd hacked away with a machete while Becky and I hauled stuff to a dumpster I’d had delivered. Two days of solid work and the three of us had it down to dirt, and I had a landscape designer come and look over the site. Becky and I talked all the time, of course, about flying. She was about halfway into ground school for her private, or non-commercial license, and she’d stalled out, wasn’t making enough money to pay for both the flight school and the hours of flight time necessary.
And when I checked with local schools the next day I found the cost of flight time exorbitant, prohibitively so. I talked with a few schools about my experience and they all sounded more than interested about taking me on, but that wouldn’t affect the price any. Becky still wouldn’t be able to afford the flight time, even if I gave away my time for her ground school.
But what if I bought an old Cessna and brought her up to snuff? Could I do that myself, and have a little airplane to tool around the neighborhood? Have a little fun while I still could? I talked that over with a few of the flight schools and yes, as long as I was willing to teach and train other students for their regular fees, they take me on – and even maintain and store the aircraft for me. I’d be out a little up front money, and I’d have to commit to teaching a certain number of students a week, but all in all, I could make it work. In fact, one dealer said they happened to have the perfect aircraft just sitting around, so I loaded up car with my log books and copies of my ratings and drove out to the valley.
The aircraft was a two year old Cessna Turbo Skyhawk JT-A with a dual G1000 panel, and I knew it was priced way more than I was willing to spend – “but this one has low hours and the owner might be willing to make a really good deal.”
“How much?” I asked, and the owner of the flight school wrote down a number on a post-it note and passed it over.
I whistled. “Wow. Who’s the owner?”
“I am,” Stan Wood said.
“So, what’s the deal?”
“I could use an instructor with your experience, simple as that. If you’re willing to do instrument and multi-engine, I can guarantee you a six figure income, and I’ll make a shitload more than that a year, so it’s a win-win. AND – I’ll float the note with twenty grand down.” And with that he held out his hand. I think he was daring me to refuse, too.
And I took it his hand, then we went out and took her up. I’d brought along a camera and snapped away, planning out the evening ahead as I framed shots. And the thing is, there’s nothing like flying a little bird like a Skyhawk, and for the first time in months I felt myself smiling inside, and as she was just a gorgeous aircraft – and had a panel to drool over – I felt close to ecstatic.
So, I called Judd, asked him to bring Becky over that afternoon after he got off from work, then I carefully baited my trap, and by the time they walked in the door I was beside myself.
“So, I began. I’m going to need some help ripping up this carpet,” I began, and I could see her deflate. “Next, I think we’ll repaint. Inside and out. How much do you think that’s worth?”
“I don’t know,” she said, now clearly depressed.
So, I went over and fired up my iMac, pulled up a photo of the back yard. “Come take a look,” I said. “Here’s what I have in mind.” I think Judd could smell the set up now, and he walked over, stood by my desk, motioned Becky to come over too.
And when she was by my side I flipped to the next picture, an exterior shot with me standing by the pilot’s open door. Then one of the panel, another of us out over the Pacific, dozens more, in fact.
Her eyes were transfixed, and when I came to a closeup of the panel I paused there, let her look long and hard. “Is that a Garmin 1000?” she asked.
“It is. One of the first in the country, too.”
“Jesus,” she whispered, then she turned to me.
“So, here’s the deal. Class meets here Tuesday and Thursday night. We fly Saturday mornings, rain or shine, at 0-800. You pay for gas, and you help me get this house cleaned up. We quit lessons when you’ve had enough, or I die, whichever comes sooner.”
Have you ever been hugged by an 18 year old female LaCrosse player? It kind of hurts. On the other hand, turns out she was a damn fine little house painter.
Becky spent summers at her grandfather’s house, and she’d made a few friends in the neighborhood over the years, and one was another girl on the LaCrosse team with similar aspirations. She too wanted to fly, if not in the military then at the very least commercially. This girl’s name was Bettina Rodriguez, and Becky brought her by the house the very next evening.
“We wanted to know,” Becky began, “if the same deal applied for one more person?”
“What? Cleaning and painting, in exchange for lessons?”
“I don’t even know you?” I said, looking at Bettina. “Or if your parents would even approve of such a thing.”
And I had never seen a look of such despair in my life. Not once.
“But…are you willing to work hard?”
“Now, what about your parents?”
“It’s just my mother.”
“Okay, what about your mother? Does she have any idea what you’re up to?”
“Any idea that you’re interesting in flying?”
“Only since second grade,” she said, grinning like I had just asked the stupidest question in the history of humankind.
“Is your mother home?”
“Well, you’d better see if she has time to come talk to me about all this? And Becky? You’d better go too. I think this may take some serious arm twisting on both your parts.”
I’d never seen anything move that fast in my life. They were out the door like two Phantoms on a night catapult launch – and I laughed a little as I went to the kitchen and fixed a big pitcher of iced tea.
I heard a knock on the door a few minutes later; I padded across the living room and opened it – and there was PJ, in tears, a taxi out front, waiting.
“Do you have any money?” she blurted.
Need I say more?
I guess, in order to make a long story somewhat shorter, I’ll skip the details and just say that Derrick had had enough of PJ. He’d met someone new and filed for divorce, alleging PJs resumption of drugs, this time prescription opioids, as the proximate cause. She’d just retired from United and had nothing but time on her hands, and “Just look at me!” she cried. “I’m OLD!”
“Who the fuck isn’t?” I said, swearing for just the second time in my life. That’s sarcasm. You’re supposed to laugh. “Just what did you expect would happen?”
At any rate, about ten minutes after my narcissist, quasi-incestuous sister found her way back into my life, there came another knock on my door, one I held as vastly more important. I told her to go to our parents bedroom and to remain absolutely quiet until I came back to get her again. Maybe it was the tone in my voice but that’s exactly what she did, and when I heard the door close I went to the door and opened it again.
I don’t know what I expected, but there was this Mexican woman standing there, her eyes full of molten fury – the girls nowhere to be seen.
“Just what kind of sick pedophile are you,” this Hell-bitch from the Dark Side started screaming, “to entice little girls with promises of flying lessons!?”
I, of course, did exactly what you’d have done in similar circumstances. I slammed the door in her face.
And I watched her tromp off across my yard – and straight into Tom and Doris Parker’s house. More screaming, then Tom Parker reading this peri-menopausal Whore-bitch from Hell the riot act. Ten minutes later Judd’s car screeches to a halt out front and HE tromps straight into his parent’s house. Then more screaming, and I mean real hispanic testicle piercing screams, then the She-devil is stomping down the middle of the street and I swear I could see smoke and sparks and flames erupting under each step, then Judd was in a low crouch, sneaking over while trying not to let this flaming female Tasmanian she-devil see him dashing between our houses.
Ten minutes later I saw three totally cowed women marching right up the middle of the street again, this time right up to my front door.
Polite knocking – while Judd ran to a back bedroom, trying to find a place to hide.
I opened the door, gave her my best, most polite “Yes?” as I stood there, my door cracked open not quite an inch.
“Oh, si, my girls did not tell me so much about you, Mister…”
“My name. Don’t call me Mister. It’s Captain. I flew 747s for 24 years. Y no me gusta ser llamado pedófilo en mi propia casa!”
A strong offense is, in my book, always the best defense.
“You speak Spanish?”
“Of course. And French. And German. And Italian,” I added, just for good measure, because I can ask where the bathroom is when I’m in Rome. I mean, can’t everyone? Dov’è il bagno, nes pas?
She was wide-eyed by that point, sputtering and apoplectic. I was enjoying myself, too.
“I must apologize…” she resumed.
The point I need to make here is you need to know when you’ve won, when it’s time to just sit back and shut up, listen for a while and to not press the point home any further than necessary.
“No apologies necessary,” I said magnanimously. “Now, what can I do for you?”
“May we come in?” she asked.
I wanted to say something erudite, something learned, something like “promise you won’t cut my balls off – with a soup spoon?”
But no, not me. I said something that sounded an awful lot like: “Of course.”
And then I laid out the deal. I showed her all my licenses, pictures of the Skyhawk. What I had offered Becky. What I was willing to offer her daughter in exchange for some work around the house.
“The girls mentioned painting? What are these lessons worth?”
“Around here, about ten grand.”
“Then that is not a fair deal. For you.”
“Okay. What’s fair?”
“They clean your house, three afternoons a week.”
“That’s not the deal I made with Becky.”
“For my daughter, then. Bettina?”
“Si, mama. I agree.”
“Then I do too,” Becky added.
“Fine,” I said, now looking this woman in the eye. “And I want one more thing.”
“And that is?” she said, returning my look with icy reserves of calm now. She was in her element now…combat had been joined.
“You prepare Sunday lunch here, at my house, once a month, for a year.”
Her lips began to quiver, her eyes to twitch. I had her, and she knew it, then she turned to her daughter. “And? What have you to say to this?”
She turned back to me, utterly defeated, and said: “I agree.”
I didn’t know this at the time, but there’s no way you can win a battle of this type with a Mexican woman, let alone a peri-menopausal Whore-bitch from Hell Mexican woman. I might have known the simple truth of the matter if I’d had a clearer view of her face just then, of the sly, murderous grin that crossed her face, but I missed that.
At any rate, I’ve left off something in this retelling of events. Something vital. You see, once the steam stopped pouring out of this woman’s eyes and ears she was really quite lovely to look at. Think Penelope Cruz, with streaks of gray in her hair – and very, very short. Like five feet and nothing.
Anyway, the prospect of a home made Mexican dinner four times a month was suddenly more than interesting, and as they were about to leave I felt I’d made the best out of a sorry situation. I’d come out ahead, even.
“Oh? What’s your name?” she asked.
“Just call me Captain Tom. And yours?”
“Rosalinda,” she said as she walked out my door.
And I smiled. Billy Joel songs danced through my mind’s eye just then, but…
One other thing I ought to cue you in on. PJ – and Judd.
Once upon a time, back at the height of PJs high school slut period, the first boy to get her pregnant was? Yes, you guessed right: Judd Parker. The girl Judd swore to love until his dying breath? Uh-huh. She’s the one. How about this one: the number of months since Judd’s divorce had been finalized? If you guessed three…close enough.
When I went back to my parent’s bedroom there they were, sitting on the floor holding hands.
Need I say more?
And so, here ends the first chapter “I have no idea where this is going, or how long it will take to get there,” he said, grinning.
© 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com
in re: need I say more?
If I am learning to appreciate anything in your writing style it is the little bits and pieces that are inserted ever so subtly. The occasional phrase or reference that might be glossed over if reading too superficially. faster than a Tomahawk in a catapult. we shared a common language, Latin, their last name ended in a vowel, and, and, and.
I’m surprised at the choice of a Skyhawk. Would one even get off the ground with all 4 seats filled at your altitude? I have seen some nasty situation over the years. 2 couples on a day trip to Flagstaff from Santa Monica. They loaded the plane for their return home with all their acquired goodies, topped the tanks, and while trying to take off at 1630 in mid August they couldn’t understand why the trees at the end of the runway were getting closer and they still couldn’t get off the runway. The pilot yanked back the yoke at the last minute and with a sickening splat spread the gear like a gooney bird. A Skylane would be much more forgiving, and have a greater safety margin. imho.
For a trainer in Los Angeles, perfect. For someone in Colorado? A TBM850 or a Baron. For me? Memories.
Memories can provide powerful motivations.