Friday, November 6, 2015

On Turbines, Titanium and Time

I witnessed something profound the other night.  It made me wonder and worry and marvel and dream.  It scared me and lifted me.  It made time irrelevant and exploded memories like long buried, forgotten landmines.  I laughed and wept.  I felt simultaneously infinitesimal and embiggened.  I was at once a little boy again and then a very old man.

Baseball season is over so, a few nights ago, I took my hard apple cider out in the backyard, sat in an old lawn chair and looked up.  The moon was down over the edge of the yard and the sky was was black and the stars were bright and twinkling, The Big Dipper danced and just a scant smear of The Milky Way could be seen.  The maples in the yard are bare now and those beautiful black-blue branches traced a latticework in front of the stars.

And... somewhere in between, was the thing that overwhelmed.  A jet, high up, red running lights, a faint roar, soared through the night.

I wondered and worried about the souls on board, maybe the cockpit crew of a cargo plane casually ferrying the precious and mundane to those who do and do not need them, respectively.  I marveled at the inconceivable technologies that keep a plane up and guide it through the night.  The Wright's dream seemed manifest above me, true and perpetual.  I was scared with those on board who were frightened of either the turbulent bumps in the night or the more turbulent destination awaiting them.  Time folded on and around itself and settled on now which is both past and future and which always scares me so.  I felt small at the thought of all the importance that jet represented, the commerce and humanity of it when extrapolated across the skies upon which we all gaze and I felt bigger, superior perhaps, because of that same humanity, our Mankindness, that conquered the impossible and shortened and made manageable the vast and painful distances between us all.

And the memories, God, the memories...

My father was a metallurgist and worked for General Electric for a great part of his life designing and testing metals that went into the fabrication of jet engine turbines.  I probably understood the theory and some of the mechanics of jet propulsion well before I understood them in the lowly internal combustion engine.  He brought home pieces of the metals he was developing, powder technologies in those days, and I remembered holding them - which was like holding a piece of him - as he smiled on eager to tell me about it.

As a little boy, we'd go up to the Dayton airport and climb the stairs to the "observation deck" and watch the planes roll around or land, screeching tires and little puffs of smoke, on the tarmac while we waited for the one that would bring grandparents or my dad to land, to safety, to home.

In my twenties I boarded a red-eye from NYC to LA to see a girl who didn't want to see me.  Such high hopes going, bitter embarrassment on the return.

Meeting Marci at an Arizona airport and knowing the importance of it all.

A long flight to Europe, a longer flight back.

A first flight for me in a suit and bowtie and stewardesses in skirts and men in hats and silver wings on the lapels of heroes and china coffee cups and hot roast beef.  My most recent flight in jeans and sweatshirts, heroes double-locked behind closed doors, sad flight attendants, stale cookies and plastic cups and not a silver wing in sight.

All these memories and so many more hit me at once, which is a phenomenon that no longer surprises me as it used to.  Memories do flood.  One becomes another and that triggers another and it happens faster than seems possible.  It happens all the time.  It's a wonder our heads don't explode.

Back in the yard, under the trees, beneath the stars, I had to make a decision.  I knew that trying to imagine all that that plane held, all it represented, conjured, all the souls and collective dreams a pressurized tube of aluminum can carry, would overwhelm me.  I feel this way in crowds and on the interstate and at parties and in restaurants.  It is a sort of social vertigo which renders me scared and silent and lost.

So, as that jet made its inevitable way into the horizon, I let it go.  I prayed for the people on board as I often do when I see a plane overhead, and I whispered my goodbye.

And then I tried to remember every detail of a piece of titanium I once held in my hand, and the man who made it.

Peace to you today, I suppose this isn't very much about the boys, but, I can't help but wonder which of the memories I've put down here might stick, which ones might be important, which ones will linger, which ones will wait, which ones are theirs, which are mine.  Sometimes I think I get the social vertigo I spoke of for a reason.  Perhaps my mind or soul or intellect or whatever, the collective that is me, is saying wait, stop, hold on - we don't need new things to think about, new memories to imprint, we need to think about the ones already planted, already rooted.

Perhaps that is elderhood, perhaps it is selfishness, perhaps it is...  oh, hell I dunno.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

Nick: "This is the ultimate test of manliness."

Mom: "What is?"

Nick: "Opening this pack of Ritz crackers."

Zack: "True. They are hard to open."

Expectations of manhood have changed when I was kid...

Thanks for stopping around, I appreciate it.


  1. And next to that piece of froth I shall forever call Nessy because it reminds me of the Lochness Monster is a very small Betty lamp Rumored to have been carried into the coal mines of KY by a long forgotten grandparent or Great Grandparent. I'm sure the same things might have gone through the mind of another generation on remembering on it. Or even the Carbide lamp next to that carried down into the abandoned mines of southern AZ by the self same Dad in his youth.

  2. Wasn't there also smoking on your first flight?

    I've spent a lot of my life on planes — it's always such a surreal experience, like you're in another existence for a few hours.

    Hope you hop on one in February on your way to DC. :)