Flying On The Ground Is Wrong
Once upon a time, in this here tube, or some such like it, I would occasionally have speaks, with a fellow a commercial airline pilot. And he would try to sell me on the wonder of planes. But, I was not buying. It was and is my position that all the planes, they should be grounded. At once. And. Forevermore. For, if humans, they want to fly, they should do so—my view—without machines. Otherwise, they have no business, none whatsoever, being up there.
But, you don’t understand, the pilot, he would say. It’s really magic, flying.
Of course it is, I’d say. But that is the province of the wonder of birds. And you just can’t have magic, in machines. To machines, magic, it is allergic. That, is just, a Law.
“What about a heart defibrillator?” one day this guy at me snapped. “Someday you might think that machine, pretty fucking magic.”
Yeah, well, okay, I admitted. Always, there are exceptions. And these. Just. Proving. The rule.
This man, he did not care about the passengers on the plane—I mean, he did; if ever there were a Crisis, up there, he would do his best, by them—as they were just an excuse, a Reason, and for which he was Paid, for him to be flying the airplane. There, in the magic. As it is, that way, with all, of the pilots. The pilots, they don’t care—not really—about the cattle, lowing, for more booze, there, in the back. The pilots. They just want to fly.
Although I will not get into an airplane, I do track them. And so I would confront this man with Proofs that the airplanes, they are five-star dangerbirds. Like the Air France jet that fell out of the sky on June 1, 2009 for seemingly No Reason, disappearing beneath the waters of the Atlantic. It took them two years to find the wreckage, then drag up from out of the deep the “black boxes.” Which disclosed that the instruments in the plane, way up there in the middle of the air, they just started Lying. Some ice got into them, and they decided: We will go mental now. But they didn’t tell the pilots they were mental; they instead insisted they were Real. And the various computers shut themselves off, but neglected to tell anybody. The pilots—and there were three of them, as this was a 13-hour flight, and the Laws of the French command three pilots on such a flight, so they can rotate in and out of Rest—were suddenly plunged into a situation where their plane had gone mad as HAL. And they didn’t know Why, or What To Do. You can hear them, there on the voice recorder: “We’ve lost all control of the airplane, we don’t understand anything, we’ve tried everything!” The HAL plane had decided to transition from what is known in the airplanes as “normal law” to “alternate law 2.” But it didn’t think it was necessary for the pilots to know this. Because it was mental. Finally, the klaxon that means !HERE COMES THE GROUND! started blaring, and a pilot said: “We’re going to crash! This can’t be true! But what’s happening?” And then the plane, it hit the water. At 175 mph.
All this happened at night. And so I said to the commercial pilot, there in the tube: “The first thing we learn from this is that a plane, if it has to be flown, should never be flown at night. Only in the day. Because if this plane had been flying in the day, the pilots could have looked out the fucking window, and seen there was water coming up. They would have known what was going on, and for tens of thousands of feet, instead of flying stone blind, relying on Lying instruments, claiming there was No Danger. Also, we know from this, that since the instruments, they will Lie, they should all be ripped out, and by the roots. The pilots can just use their eyes, to see where they are going. And, all and only, in the daytime.”
The pilot admitted that this Air France flight, it had been a boner. But he was adamant that the instruments, they should be retained. For instance, he said, if you are a pilot, and you fly a commercial airliner, into a big-ass mass of clouds, if you rely just on your eyes, and have no instruments, you may get confused and disoriented in there, and emerge flying upside down, and also maybe sideways.
My response to this was two-fold. First, no one has any business flying a plane into any clouds. For any reason. And, second, my friend, the dope pilot, he would fly, his little balsa-wood two-seater, into clouds, thinking it was just, like, Fun.
The first time I got into an airplane, my friend the dope pilot was at the controls. I understood later that I was then too old to be first getting on an airplane—I was like, 26, or 27, or something. And, by that time, I’d had enough life to know that there are Dangers, here, in this world. I should have first flown in an airplane when I was too young and ignorant to appreciate Dangers. As, an airplane, it is, totally, a Danger. And. With bells on. And, also, I should not have made my first flight, in a plane so light you could basically pick it up with your hand. And with less room, there in the interior, than there is in a Volkswagen.
My friend the dope pilot sat in the front, at the controls, such as they were, and next to him sat my then-lover, who had once been the dope-pilot’s lover. Everything was very incestuous, in those days. Still is, really.
I don’t think I had a seat, there in the back, I think I just rattled around where the dope would normally go. And as soon as the thing got in the air, I immediately wanted to go back to the ground. I understood at once that no one sane or decent would ever want to do such a thing, as be in an airplane. I don’t remember how those two talked me into getting into the airplane, but they were so Bad, and so Wrong, in doing so. All I wanted to do, was get out. But, I couldn’t. Because I was up in the fucking sky. Where I had no business being. The only thing between me and the earth, thousands of feet below, was this thin scrim of metal, beneath my feet, that I could plunge my fist through, if I went that mental. And. That might. Soon. Be. Happening.
Then, this cloud shows up. It wasn’t much of a cloud. Just a light, white, puffy thing. And the dope pilot said, “Oh good. Watch this.” And he flew directly into the cloud. And the balsa-wood plane began bucking and rolling, there in the cloud. And I knew, now, that luring me into the airplane, that was a mad murder-suicide pact, cooked up by the insane dope pilot, and my insane lover. They had decided, for reasons I would never understand, that all three of us, we needed to die, there, in a cloud.
Then, we emerged from the cloud. And the dope pilot, he laughed happily. “Wasn’t that great?” he enthused.
It wasn’t a very long flight. Just from Butte County to Lake County. But when we landed, I knelt, and I literally kissed the ground. I don’t remember the flight back. Though there must have been one. Probably I was then immobilized by Medicine.
The dope pilot liked being a dope pilot because, like the commercial pilot, he was entranced by flying, with the magic in it. Also, he believed in dope, and that it should go out, among all the people. Too, he found that doing something that was illegal, that was Fun. It was a little extra added kick, there in the air, when he was at all times a prison cell, just waiting to happen.
His “work plane,” it was generally somewhat larger than that Borrower plane he took me up in. But, still, it was neither sane, nor decent. He did not have a flight path, or a flight plan, he just flew down to some place where people spoke Spanish, loaded the dope into the plane, then flew it back here, where you all would smoke it. This was back in the days before the Americans started growing their own dope, in mass quantities.
Though the plane would have occasional instruments, mostly he would fly with his Eyes. And sometimes those Eyes. they would see a Bad plane, with people in it who wanted to put him into the prison. Then, there would be Evasion. A time or two, there was Load-Dumping. Because. You know. These things. Happen.
Once another dope pilot wanted to take me on an actual dope run. “Is that okay on the other end?” I asked. “It’ll be fine,” he said. Right. I would get down there, find out it was not fine, and then my head would be lopped off, there in some jungle. This guy was flying powders, rather than pressed plants, and so chances, they were greater, that he was in league with, Maniacs.
Most people who go to the dope remain at the Fun And Games level. Which is just using it. If you go into it as a business, and you climb high enough, you will eventually encounter Serious People. The first of these I met was one day at Z’s house. A couple quiet Asian gentlemen. With these folks you do not fuck. Unless you want to end up in a car trunk. At the very zenith, are Maniacs. These are people who amass so many midas piles, there in the dope, they basically buy a whole country, plant themselves there on some vast plantation, where they run, like, hippos, and when they want, say, tacos, they send what is basically an army, into town, to get some. If the tacos prove unsatisfactory in some way, or if the Maniac is just in a Bad Mood, he then sends the army back into town, to machine-gun everybody in the taco place. This goes on until the Maniacing becomes so extreme and unnatural it gets into the newspapers of the Americans. Then, the government of the Americans, demands the government owned by the Maniac, go out and capture or kill the Maniac. And, eventually, that happens. Then some new maniac, slouches out from Dopelehem, to be born. And so, it goes on . . . .
Also, what goes on, is using airplanes, to kill people. I knew this guy who had been a bomber pilot, in the version of the war known as World War II. That was back when gathering to me were stories from people who had been in the war. That’s how I learned that everyone, always, is killed in the war. It’s just that some go into the ground, sooner, than the others. This man, he did not officially die in the war, was not even officially wounded; and, for years, back stateside, he would walk and talk in his body, like a regular living person . . . but, sometimes, he would “sit at night with no lights on/his cigarette glows in the dark.” That’s who Carly Simon is talking about. In that song.
He was just a kid. They all were. His job was to fly the plane to where the people would be bombed. To get there he would have to rely on the navigator. For whom he developed a great Hate. Because the navigators, they never knew, really, where they were going. Then, once over the people to be bombed, he would have to hold the plane, still, totally still, while the bombardier, he fumbled around, dropping the bombs. He developed an even greater Hate, for the bombardier. Because, always, it was literally eternity, that’s how long, he had to wait, holding the plane, perfectly still, waiting for the bombardier to drop his load, while, there down on the ground, the people there, sent up, many savage seeds of destruction, seeking to kill him, even as he, there in the plane, sought to kill them.
He told me, years later, that he was not sure bombardiers were even fully human. They seemed to him to be more of a farm animal. "The kind of person who can’t tie their own shoes?” I asked. “I don’t think they even wear shoes,” he said. As for navigators, they were just lost. Once, after he’d been killed in the war, he went out to sea in a boat with some other men who’d been killed in the war. One, was a former navigator. This ex-navigator one night was charged with keeping the boat anchored somewhere safe, while they all slept. Then, in the morning, this man awakened. Peeked out the little boat window. To find that, in the night, the boat, it had drifted loose. And, now: “Rocks. Everywhere. Rocks.” They thought about pitching the navigator overboard. But, since he was already dead, and so were they, what would it matter?
While flying the airplane to bomb people, this man got the magic feeling, there in the flying, and he thought that, after the war, he would like to fly an airplane, where he wasn’t killing people. A lot of them, the pilots, they were like that. The first pilots in the commercial airlines, they were these men. Men who had been killed. Had killed. In the war.
This man’s commanding officer, he was a man of midas piles, who, and before the war was yet done, was setting about, setting up, an airline back stateside, for when the war was over. And he liked this man, and so said for him there would in this airline be a job. So. This man’s future. It was bright. Then this man, he was notified, that he was being taken, out of the sky; he had flown the requisite missions, and he would be sent home. So, hee packed up his gear. Wrote to his mother. Said: I am coming home.
Then, while waiting for the flight out, his commanding officer, the midas pile guy—still flying—said to him: “Come with me on this flight. It’s a milk run. We’ll talk about the job.” But this man, he felt funny about it. He’d packed up his gear. He’d written his mother: he was coming home. He didn’t want to offend this midas pile guy, who was holding his future. But neither did it feel right, to get on that airplane. And so, he didn’t. And so, it was no milk run. And so, that plane, it was blown out of the sky. Everybody, aboard, died. Right, then. No waiting around. None at all. For, those men.
It is always good. To listen to yourself. You just have to figure out. What you’re saying.
This man was a solid Republican, of the pre-Kleagle sort. Except he wasn’t, really. I went with him to the theater to see Reds. He cried. Dr. Strangelove, that was his favorite film. He read Catch-22. And said every word, was totally true.
After the war, he didn’t go work for an airline. But, sometimes, he’d go up in a small plane. All alone. As his cigarette. It glowed. In the dark.
The second time I got in an airplane, it was because I was Ordered to by a Job. It was decreed necessary that we go to an electronics conference in Las Vegas, and to get there, we needed to be in a plane. This was a commercial flight. It was still insane. It was January. And as we flew over the remote snowbound high Sierra, I looked down and thought: I wouldn’t survive that, even if I was trudging along on foot, and I’m certainly not going to survive it if I come crashing down in an airplane. And even if we survived the crash, we would all become the Donner Party. And I thought: what you need to do, is get out of the jobs, where they make you be on an airplane.
The third and last time I was on an airplane was the easiest flight, because Seth was on it. So I knew chances were good there would be no crash. Or any other mayhem. Because Seth, he leads kind of a charmed life. Even when there are the occasional rocky roads. Like those years when he was an international fugitive. Or the time they hauled him out of line at the airport, and said he was going to Guantanamo, because, post 9/11, they’d got into and linked up everybody’s Files, and so they were now “witting”—as we say in the spy trade—to that night years before when Seth and I got into the El Presidente and then called Albania and ranted to the man for ninety minutes about how we needed to be let into his country, and at once.
So I knew Seth would never go out on something as stupid and boring as a plane crash. And so, sitting beside him, I felt Safe. We were in the airplane because we had to fly to Los Angeles to there engage in some sort of PI Crime. I forget now what it was. Generally, I don’t find it necessary to go to Los Angeles. Because why do that, when you can just look at it, there in Blade Runner? Besides, my family already did its time, down in Los Angeles. My mother, she more or less grew up there. That was before Los Angeles was Blade Runner. That was back when it was Chinatown.
My favorite factoid about Los Angeles is that the first building erected there was a jail. That pretty much says it all. I know a woman who actually likes LA, and even lived there, back when she was of the movie people. And she refused absolutely to believe about the jail. Even when I showed her the Proof, still she would not believe. “That’s just something that guy wrote in a book,” she said. “How do we know it’s true?” She herself had written several books wherein she occasionally just made shit up. So who’s to say that guy didn’t do it, too? she demanded.
I had no answer to that.
I’m trying to remember if I made any shit up in this piece here. I don’t think so. But who knows, for sure. Because, like, I’ve been in an airplane three times. And that makes me mad as three hatters.
Also, I burned in a fire. So, probably, that makes me dead, as those war guys.
And, what do they know? The dead?
“Do you ever think you should fly?” last night, deep in the werewolf hours, I asked, out on the front porch, the skunk.
“No,” he said. “Not my job. My job is to waddle around blind as Mr. Magoo snuffling up this slobbed birdseed. And, if any rude dogs come, blow out a blat. And, I mean, think about it: do you really want to see a bunch of skunks, flying through the air?”
No. I would not want to see that. Just picturing it. Made me want Medicine.
“I don’t know that I know what my job is,” I, glum, said.
“Your job,” said the skunk, “is the wonder of birds. Except you can’t fly.” And then he laughed, like a Maniac, in a jungle, with some hippos. “Right now,” he sobered, “your job is to go in and get more cat food. And then pour it in this bowl. Because, it is empty. And, I want some.”
Right. So then. I did. That.