The Eye And The Sky.
So I’ve got at least two nurses and a hospital orderly pinning me down for a technician holding a gi-normous needle–the likes of which you’d expect a vet to use to put down a quarter horse–so the medical guy can put it straight through my five-year-old eye.
Sure, he says it goes into a vein in my arm and I won’t feel a thing, but I’ve been screaming my head off from the examining room to the lab just in case–because I don’t believe him. And you just know everything’s going to go haywire and oops, sorry about the needle in your eye and it hurts like hell, doesn’t it?
And that’s the look I see in this business-suited guy’s eyes, standing before the gate counter as I drag a ten yard flight plan out of the computer, asking me, “Will the flight be smooth?”
Which is as sensible as me five years before the needle-in-the-eye incident as a newborn asking the O.B. who held me upside down by the ankles, still covered in the packing material, “So, will my life be smooth?”
Now, how to answer that? “Well I’d have to say that around the Ohio Valley/Rust Belt which on the timeline is about your teen years, things could get ugly.” Because we have a coast-to-coast sea of roiling air miles ahead and yes, the teenage years may be bumpy, expect a little declining baldness near the middle-aged Great Plains of your life and God knows you can’t even dream of the desert spread of yawning cracked scorched earth mesas and desolation which lies before the emerald paradise coast, then the endless blue above and below and beyond. You know you really shouldn’t have asked. Newborns can’t, five-year-olds don’t; thirty-somethings shouldn’t but that’s the downside of holding the needle for a living.
Because in the great yawning maw of the sky and life and the dreamy arc of flight–ain’t no smooth rides. But how do you tell someone, convince a person, that the needle isn’t going to stick in his eye? Still, though, life’s going to get downright bumpy enroute but just hang on.
Because I’ve done this flight thing a couple times only poking what I intended; I’ve checked out the weather, the jet, the jet’s performance–relax. And expect a bump or two, but don’t make the fat nurse sit on you.
Twenty-five thousand feet, puffy clouds above and below and the red dirt pancake of West Texas sprawled wide as the eye can see. Aloft in the “two thousand pound dog whistle” jet trainer, Air Force Flight School, filling my oxygen mask with sweat; my helmet chafing, ejection seat cinching me tight.
“Want to spin to the bottom?”
Means ‘do you want to pull those nose up, chop the power on both jet engines till we stall, then kick the rudder till she falls out of the sky in a flat spin like helicopter rotor blade broken loose and plummeting straight down for five miles?’
Which doesn’t seem like a good idea to do in a jet. But it’s part of the syllabus: you need to learn how to do this, to get out of this before you fat-splat onto Prairie-dise below. Because you’re going to fly solo once you master it–or you’re going to wash out if you can’t.
“Yup,” I lie, “Ready. Let’s do it.”
And all the needles in the world hover over your eye–not your vein–and nurses threaten but you’ve already tightened the web of straps cinching you to the ejection seat like a shrink-wrapped burrito. You didn’t ask the instructor pilot if it was going to be smooth because that’s as big a failure as the newborn seeking assurance for the O.B.. Guts, faith; just live it, dammit.
Because at that point, every bit of life is about flying–whatever the cost. Stick the needle in my eye; rip the wings off, shear the rotor, smack my ass like a newborn; I don’t care: I’d rather be dead than not fly.
Which is in itself a birth into the sky. And from there, the smart fearlessness is the journey of life–don’t ask because you really don’t want to know the answer, really: don’t need answers.
The dreaded spin? I had it all wrong. Slowly at first, then faster, then a blur but the point is this: it felt like I was stable and the jet was firm and stable but the world itself was spinning around me. Not me. Eyes fine. Relief. Confidence. Do it.
Ignore the blur, take the right steps: slam the stick forward; opposite rudder, power on, recover from the dive. And from that moment on, own the sky. No matter what.
Don’t know what Joe Biz did in the back when the rumbling started and the wings shook. I know I was at that time and for the entire transcon flight engaged with the radar and fuel flow and navigation and a thousand performance parameters including not sticking a needle in my own eye: I’m in the pointy end, remember? First on the scene, if you get my drift. I’ll spin us down, me down, every damn time–and recover before we hit the dirt. Trust me. Trust you.
Joe Biz, I feel your pain: as a five year old, I remember when they finally did stick the needle into my arm, it really didn’t hurt. But I had to keep the howling up to save face. A half breath and the dreaded moment’s past–but until it is, the second lingers like your very last heartbeat.
But once you get into the sky, you’re on your way–and everything’s better. It just is.