I love the way the sun hits the earth during this season. It’s hypnotic. I am listening to Johnny Cash and June Carter sing “I’ll Fly Away.” And I can’t seem to find anything to write about because I am too distracted.
I’m looking out my office-trailer window at the sun hitting my ugly dirt lot, and singing along with music about flying away.
This plot of land wasn’t always bare dirt. It used to be forest. But the man who owned it before me cut down all the pine trees because he was as crazy as an outhouse fly.
When I asked the man why he did this, he told me, “I just really hate trees.”
What kind of a depraved human—not counting real estate developers and New York Yankees fans—hates trees?
So mainly I just park all my junk on this ugly lot. Old boats, my truck, and I have a few dilapidated recreational vehicles. An old Airstream trailer (1969). And one Yellowstone camper (1956) which I gutted, renovated, and made into my office. That’s where I am right now.
This morning I’ve tried to write but I keep losing focus because of the way the sun is shining. And this music. I’m a sucker for old-time hymns.
It’s also brisk outside and I have the doors to my office slung open. Something I rarely do because it’s usually hotter than twelve hells where we live.
This summer we had temperatures upwards of 127 degrees. That is not an exaggeration. I would check the weather on the internet, and the “feels like” temperature would read 127 degrees.
When I was a kid, we didn’t have feels-like temperatures. We only had thermometers and old men who talked about the weather by cracking jokes. I love it when old men cuss the weather.
“It’s so hot,” one man might say, “I saw a funeral procession pull over at Dairy Queen.”
And nobody would laugh. Becuase that joke sucks.
Then, another old man would answer, “It’s hotter’n two rats necking in a wool sock.”
And I would laugh at this one because it was racy for me. I was a kid from a fundamentalist household who wasn’t even allowed to eat Count Chocula cereal because the picture on the box featured a vampire, and vampires were Episcopalian.
I could survive ten years on one good joke.
Right now, in the sky there are zig-zag clouds. They were put there by antique biplanes. The planes are gunning their prop engines. They do this almost every weekend, flying in big loops.
I once knew a pilot in this local flying club. He and his friends were middle-aged men with too much money. You know the kind. They buy antique planes because hundred-foot yachts are so last year.
The guys would fly every weekend. One man was an orthodontist, the other was a lawyer, and the other guy was—I am not kidding—a former Rabbi. The jokes write themselves.
The sound of their engines is loud. How am I supposed to write with all this going on?
So I turn Johnny and June all the way up.
My father once promised me that we would learn to fly. It was his goal in life. He was obsessed with planes. And by “obsessed,” I mean that his entire garage was covered in a billion posters of fighter planes. Hawker Hurricanes, Meschersmits, F/A-18 Hornets, F-14 Tomcats, A-10 Warthogs, you name it. Daddy knew the anatomy of afterburners, and he could tell you which jets were flying overhead without even looking.
I remember being in the garage with him one afternoon. He was sorting screws and bolts into little containers to keep his hands busy. Out of nowhere, he told me that on his fiftieth birthday he was going to take flying lessons.
“Really?” I said.
“Because by then you’ll be in your twenties, and you can take lessons with me.”
And I was so honored. My father had included me in his lifelong dream. I almost didn’t know what to say.
So I, too, became minorly obsessed with planes for a few years. I started reading books, I sank my extra money into airplane posters from a mail-order catalog. There used to be a hobby shop that sold model airplanes. I would buy them, put them together, then suspend them above my bed using fishing line.
My father died too young, he never sat in the cockpit of a single airplane. Except at an airshow one time.
The Blue Angels came through town with a bunch of other planes. We watched them do tricks and display their sky-ripping power, and my father was a child again. That day, my father stood in line for an hour just to sit in the cockpit of a bomber and get his picture made. He was tall, lean, and so very young. I still have that picture.
Sometimes I get letters from people telling me they’re tired of reading columns about my father. I totally get it. And they have every right to feel that way. But sometimes my mind wanders, you understand. And I find myself trying to bring him back for a few minutes.
I guess that’s just what happens when the sun hits the earth in that special way. The birds will sing. The light will catch the world just right. The glad morning will look almost postcard perfect.
And I’ll fly away.