HEADER ART BY JOHN JORDAN

The characters and events described here are fictitious and any similarities to any other persons or events, real or fictitious, are sheer coincidence. Eventually these stories will be edited and prepared for publishing.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

FLYING UNDER THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE

The boy went to stay with his father for about six-months when he was in the third grade.  His father was working at the airport teaching people how to fly small planes.  They lived together in a very small room with a faulty gas-heater.  They would wake in morning feeling sick and dried-out from the carbon dioxide. Bloody noses from the toxic fumes were normal. His father was often gone at night and the boy would amuse himself reading Mad Magazine and other comic books.  They didn’t have a kitchen so he would eat pretzels and string-cheese and wait for his father to come home with something more substantial to eat.

The school in California felt strange and restrictive compared to what the boy was used to--the dirt playgrounds of New Mexico were nothing like the urban school playground covered with blacktop.  Strange markings on the asphalt in yellow hinted of some complex game which the boy knew nothing about.  He didn’t have many friends and was always picked last for the kickball team.  He preferred to keep to himself rather than endure the taunting and the humiliation involved in dealing with his small-minded peers.  Around the edge of playground was a tall chain-link fence which generally resembled those you see around prisons.  Trees growing out of square sunken openings were spaced inside the perimeter about 100 feet apart. Here was the only organic material that could be found on the playground.

During recess, the boy would go and sit on the edge of one of these tree-boxes.  He would draw in the sand with a stick and think deep thoughts.  One day, one of the teachers on playground duty interrupted his meditations to ask what he was doing. “I’m just thinking,” said the boy.  “Why aren’t you playing like the other kids?” asked the woman.  “I just don’t feel like it,” said the boy.  “Well you have to play!” said the playground monitor.  “I can’t believe it,” said the boy, “...you are actually going to force me to play?”  “Yes,” said the control-freak.  The boy went over to the monkey-bars and started swinging from one end to the other.  His oppressor watched him for awhile and he watched her back, out of the corner of his eye, until she got bored and went away.  As soon as she was gone, he went back to his tree, picked up his stick, and continued his musings.  Even though he was only eight years old, the irony of being forced to play did not escape him.

His father wanted him in some kind of after-school program so the boy joined the Cub Scouts--he spent only one day with them because he thought the den mother was oppressive.  Instead, after school the boy would walk about a mile and a half from his school to the airport and wait for his father to finish with his students in the sky.  There was a television in the office of the flight school and he would watch re-runs as he did his homework.  Of course he had seen Bozo the Clown; Sesame Street; and Captain Kangaroo back home, but his mother didn’t really believe in television and this was his first real introduction to it. He would lie on the carpeted floor, do homework and watch Andy Griffith; I Dream of Jeannie; Bewitched; Hogan’s Heroes; and other classic 70’s TV shows.

When afternoon TV was over and boredom overcame him, he would wander around the hangars and play on old, rusting equipment from some bygone era of aviation.  It was here that his father taught him to ride a bicycle.  He bought an old bicycle with a banana-seat and fastened wood blocks to the peddles so the boy could reach them—he ran behind his son as the bike picked up speed.  “Don’t let go, Dad!” the boy was terribly frightened.  “I already did,” said his father. Once the boy realized he was riding by himself, he smiled and pedaled harder. For a moment he felt like he was flying like Superman--then, very suddenly, he started to doubt that he could be doing such a thing. The bike wobbled as his confidence waned then boy and bike came crashing down.  His father came over and helped him get up. He skinned up his knee and it hurt, but he was too excited not to get immediately back on the bicycle. This new found skill promised a freedom of motion he had never experienced before. Once he had mastered this wondrous mode of locomotion he would spend hours riding his bike among the airplanes and hangars around the flight school.
 
Sometimes his father would take him up in the “Piper Cub” and practice aerobatic stunts.  They boy was frightened at first, but he grew to have perfect confidence in has father… “Do it again Dad! Do it again!” he screamed.  Sometimes, father and son would take long trips in an old Luscombe tail-dragger his father had won in a poker game.   They would fly over the grape fields of Northern California, touch down at a lonely airfield for a quick Egg McMuffin, and then take off again into the morning sky with coffee cups warming their laps. They flew away from the rising sun, towards San Francisco. As they circled down through a layer of clouds the San Francisco Bay appeared below. The radio was cackling away quietly as some far off air-controller guided a jetliner into San Francisco International Airport.

The metropolis surrounding the bay contrasted the expanse of grape fields which they had just left behind. They flew over Alcatraz Island and headed out over the Golden Gate Bridge. The old airplane struggled against the strong wind coming off of the Pacific, so his father pulled back on the throttle allowing a little more fuel into the engine. He started searching the horizon for something, and the boy wondered what he was doing. After they passed over the bridge and went a short distance out to sea, he pushed the throttle back in and reached down to dial up the trim of his airplane…the old plane slowed down and began to lose altitude. The pilot began to circle his plane even lower towards to ocean…when he got to an altitude of about two hundred feet, he turned the plane back towards the rising sun—back towards the bridge and the city. With the wind at their back now, the airplane began to pick up speed—trim out, throttle back, the engine got louder as the little plane sped towards the bridge.  The Golden Gate looked much taller from this perspective—it loomed large before them.

The boy could see white caps on the water and the shocked faces of some men on a fishing boat headed out for the morning catch. They had never seen an airplane flying so low this close to the bridge. The Luscombe wagged its wings to the fishermen and kept going. They boy looked up at the underside of the Golden Gate as they passed beneath it. They radio suddenly got loud: “Luscombe Two-Three-Niner, what the hell are you doing!” The man reached down and turned off the radio. He kept his plane low and headed for some hills on the far side of Oakland. Flying below the airport’s radar monitor they made their way back inland toward California’s Central Valley.

The boy would never forget this day--he knew he had just experienced something that few others did, and he knew that his father could be severely punished for his daring act. Surely his father must be the greatest dad in the whole world.     

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