Chapter 1 (continued)


He awoke again the next morning with that same ineffable feeling of peace, as if something wonderful had happened during the night, something that he couldn’t recall. Alicia returned too, but it took just a tiny bit longer for her to make her entrance back into his heart. When she did, his melancholy was interrupted by the ringing of his telephone. “Hi, Earl, it’s John,” his friend said. “I’m not leaving you alone, man. I just thought you needed some time by yourself, is all. How are you getting along?”


Thanks for your concern. It means a lot to me. I’m doing about as well as could be expected, I guess. Not so good, really. But I’ll get by, I suppose.”


Hey, I’m here for you. Need anything?”


Yeh. My wife back. Sorry, that wasn’t fair. No, I just need time.”


When the brief conversation ended, Earl thought about his friend and the circumstance of their first meeting two years ago. They had been neighbors for several years before that, but in the semi-rural suburb of a large and rapidly-growing city the enormous trees had helped to discourage neighbors from communicating with each other. Basic indifference had done the rest.


The couple who lived across the street from Earl and Alicia were both tenured professors at the university. That accomplishment separated them as well, for Earl, possessing but a Bachelor of Science degree, had not attained to that level of professional achievement. The husband had other achievements under his belt, one of which was his wartime service in Britain as a pilot of a Lancaster bomber. At any rate, more than a few years passed before Earl had realized that they had a son.


Busily pursuing his own interests, Earl basically ignored the boy’s existence, although the boy knew of his and apparently respected his career, intermediate-level though it was. To him, Earl was known as Mr. Cook the engineer. More years passed before Earl was given to understand how high were the academic standards that his parents had set before him, and how desperately monstrous he perceived his own failures to be. His terrible depression had little to do with their characters, for they were warm and loving people. It was simply their example of achievement that did him in. He longed to satisfy his deep desire for the adventure he saw in his father’s wartime experiences, but found no outlet in the stifling environment of the big-city school system. By the time he had reached his mid-teens, maintaining a surly distance from his frustrated and disappointed parents and unnoticed by indifferent neighbors, he quietly attempted to take his own life. He bungled that, too.


He eventually reached that point where he knew he could sink no lower, so he made up his mind to pursue that which he knew he would love. He had saved some money, and he spent it on a used hang glider and lessons on how to operate it. In secret, of course.


On the day that Earl really met this young man John was experiencing the most humiliating and discouraging time he’d ever experienced, worse even than the day he tried to take his life. His parents had discovered his secret pursuit and made him agonizingly aware of their disappointment in what they perceived was a frivolous waste of time. They had decided to ground him and threatened to divest him of the glider.


Upon Earl’s first meeting with this unfortunate creature they were moving toward each other, John with his head facing the ground, shuffling disconsolately with his hands in his pockets and Earl behind the wheel of his slowly-moving car.


Hearing the approach of the car, John raised his head. In doing so, he underwent an amazing transformation. His eyes widened, attempting to assimilate what he saw. When recognition finally overcame disbelief his face broke out into the widest grin Earl had ever seen. An inner sun shone outward, completely dispelling his gloom.


What John saw, the thing that caused this abrupt change, was attached to the roof of Earl’s vehicle with bungee cords. A few months back Earl had been reminiscing about a flying career that had never materialized. After acquiring several ratings as a pilot, he had been denied the ability to exploit his experience commercially by the onset of deafness. After having read an ad that offered inexpensive hang gliding lessons, Earl’s brother Bob had decided to gift him with the offer as an outlet for the desire to fly that had remained with him. The surreal training experience involved much stumbling, headlong falling and raising of dust, furnishing an almost nonstop stimulus to Earl’s sense of humor, and he was soon hooked. Upon his graduation flight off the big hill, he purchased his first hang glider which was atop the roof of his car on the day he met John.


Earl was thirty-seven at the time, John still in his teens. Despite the large difference in their ages they became fast and close friends. The friendship was symbiotic. John was quite gutsy, getting his older friend into flight situations that he never would have attempted on his own. He persisted without relent until Earl finally agreed to go night flying with him, each of them jumping off the big hill into the black sky at thirty-second intervals, their only source of visual reference being the occasional car that traveled along the edge of the landing field. Landing was accomplished by guess and feel, guessing when to go from prone to upright and feeling the approach of the ground with dragging foot. On the way down they’d communicate blind to keep out of each others’ way. John livened the air with triumphant catcalls. If he’d known what a bat sounded like, his happiness would have been complete.


Infrequently the euphoria of flight was dampened at times for each of them. Accidents happened, sometimes approaching serious trouble. “Unplanned events” one might say if he was in a euphemistic frame of mind. “Overtaken by events” might be a better term, or even “overturned by events”, to be more accurate. Actually, “squashed” would be the most appropriate word. To the ill-fated creatures involved in such things, they were humiliating or painful, or both. To the onlookers they were hilarious, providing that the pilot escaped death or serious injury. They were like a playback of the dawn of aviation, complete with all its mishaps and setbacks, most of which were of the kind experienced by the contestants on TV’s Wipeout show. Most involved the unplanned aerial maneuver called the Auger.


An auger is an implement that takes a variety of forms and sizes depending on its intended use. A wood auger acts as a drill but is spiral-shaped with a hollow center to create the hole with a minimum of effort. A ground auger is larger, being used to bore holes in the soil. They have a common feature: the spiral shape of the bit. With regard to flying, mishaps in the air tend to assume this spiral-shaped ‘twirl’ as gravity flings the unfortunate craft groundward. But this isn’t the main reason why the term ‘auger’ is used with respect to aircraft misfortunes. The word ‘auger’ is, instead, descriptive of the forceful manner in which gravity hurls the twisting man-machine system into the ground, thus boring an impressive hole. A more recent version involves the term ‘crater’, evoking the image of an asteroid impacting the earth at a speed many times that of a bullet.


When an event that elicits colorful descriptors turns out to be not so serious, the typical response is to laugh about the process. It’s just a fact of life: it’s comedic to see normally dignified humans exposed to runaway, out-of-control situations. As he reminisced, Earl thought upon the movie The Blue Max, with its leader that showed all those ill-conceived flying contraptions that beat themselves to death against the tarmac. When it first came out there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience for the laughter. While it’s a lot more up-front and personal, the laughter over a hang flight mishap usually awaits a fortunate outcome and then is good-natured, carrying absolutely no intimation of mockery or indifference to the unfortunate creature’s suffering. To the contrary, those who laugh are usually recalling their own related misfortunes, so they are actually laughing at themselves as well.


John became the perfect example of the intrepid adventurer, a daring pilot who, through his own cutting-edge techniques and their attendant mishaps, advanced the art of flight. Before his parents had discovered this love of his, he had learned to perform strange and wonderful maneuvers that most pilots wouldn’t dream of attempting. He still did these things after Earl had met him, walking around with a limp and with scrape marks all over his elbows and forearms. His flying friends suspected that his legs looked the same way.


He had a gimped-up lip too. He wasn’t born that way, but acquired it a few months after he met Earl. It happened on the flight that killed him. He was night flying alone, that being another of his pioneering adventures, at least in the local area. The night was so dark that he didn’t see the high-voltage lines into which he flew. It was the electricity that did him in, entering through his lip and exiting out his foot, the side of which blew out from the force. As he lay there dead as a doornail his kite, which was all tangled up in the wires, began to burn. Eventually the aluminum tubes melted to the point where they could no longer support him, and he fell forty feet to the ground. It was the impact with the ground that got him going again, kick-starting his heart and giving him a massive chest resuscitation.


After his revival he resumed his flying activities, his parents throwing up their hands in despair. Despite his numerous accidents he was respected within the small community of hang glider pilots, and greatly so. The big point of his revival after being fried, though, is that God simply wasn’t through with him on earth. He had only one love that was greater than his love of flight, and that was his love for Jesus, which he had also acquired after meeting Earl. He was the most enthusiastic Christian that one might have the privilege of encountering. His open joy as a Christian was strongly connected to his exploits in flight.


Now Earl cherished their friendship. It was the only meaningful relationship that he had left.






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