I hate flying.
No, I don't hate flying.
It deflates me. You get up there in the air and the world's suddenly flat. It's a panel. Men and women are specks, pepper on the ground. Cities look like digital grids, electric metrics, pinching out cars and trains and dirtied around the edges.
Or the clouds close in and you could be nowhere. The white nowhere of 29,000 feet in a plastic tube.
But when I hear a plane I look up. Every time. I love the sound of them, I love their naive shape, the faith we have as children given form - If I look like a bird I will be a bird!
I love seeing them teeter as they land. Something so huge admitting its unwieldy nature to the eye. You want to reach out and steady a wing tip, help the girl descending the staircase in her heels.
They look like dreams. They look dreamt. A huge business built on the absurd idea that you can defeat friction pushing an aluminum tube through the sky. That you can hold off gravity long enough, charge people just enough, if you thrill them, and everyone gets there faster.
Because it is there.
But what a drag. Continents reduced to "flyover"s. Oceans crossed that have swallowed nations, and buried enough metal to build London 80 times. The earth's meandering miracles, her scent and body and her beings given us as gifts, made into a spiritless map five miles down. Why would you want it? Sitting in tortured barcalounger and fed the same same same same thing. Eyes, ears, nose, mouth taking in the bad air, the bad food, the bad mojo.
But when I hear them go by I look.
I look up and I see my father's dreams. I see a fragile thing a boy born with polio thought could get him off the ground. Could free him from the stern gravity of Pittsburgh. You can't run, you can't play, you can't fight, but you can fly.
They go by, the commercial liners, the private jets, the weekend rarities and I see him in his basement building models; a wartime child with his fighter planes and bombers and DC-3s which carried the troops, the frames he cut from balsa wood by hand, the glue rare and expensive, the paint applied with medieval patience. I will build a world. I will make a thing that flies and I will be that thing. I will know them stem to stern, piece by perfect piece. When they pass over your house I will turn my back and tell you their names from the sound of the engine as they level off.
Fifty years later, his son playing on the rug somewhere near him, sitting in his chair, a jet would gear down on its approach to Pittsburgh and my dad would say "727" or "707" or "Heavy" and keep reading.
This is my chariot, this will be my way, up and out.
But it wasn't. You could fly with a withered leg but back then you had to have perfect eyes. And he didn't get those either, in Pittsburgh's eastern suburbs born in a house far from any neighbors in 1929.
Planes were my father's imagination. Not in it. They were it. Once in a great while we'd be in the same living room not doing the same unspoken things- I'd play, he reads- and as suddenly as he could be he'd be up and out onto the porch. Something with an engine built when he was a teenager was passing over our house and he'd stand in the back yard and look up and speak to whoever it was who was listening; name, model, make, year.
My missing dad loved planes. Enough to make my missing brother back from college haul off and scream one Thanksgiving that he loved them more than us.
And now I love them. No, I don't. But I look.