When I started writing this, it was as a present for my brother Sonny. Being the old coots we are (he much older and coot-ier), we’d sit on the phone talking about the weird crap our parents put us through and how we managed to survive it all. Considering he’s in the throes of senility, he had ask me to write these stories and “childhood recollections” down so he’d remember them.
Silly rabbits, we thought we were the only ones to go through this kinda stuff, but as these stories started to circulate, we discovered that there are a lot of us who had messed up upbringings! Dysfunction does not run in my family, it gallops!
Warning: In order to maintain authenticity, there’s some “flowery” language. Read it first before the kids do…
So, here’s a little excerpt from Chapter 1: “That Sonofabitch Father of Yours” (see what I mean?)
I can tell you one thing; the man knew how to fly a plane. My mother always said “That sonofabitch father of yours can circumnavigate the globe with nothing but a compass, an altimeter and a stop-watch but get him on the ground and he can’t find his ass with both hands and radar…but he sure as hell knows where the local liquor store is”. I think that’s a compliment. It’s really true though. We lived in the same house for nearly thirteen years and he could never, ever remember how to get there. But the boy could fly. He used his VA to go to flight school and upon graduation, started his professional career dusting crops in Texas and Louisiana. I would like to point out here that his prowess for flying was not passed down to my dear brother Sonny. It seems Sonny had a penchant for turning off the engines mid-flight when he’d go dusting with Pop. Had we only known how strange our lives would get, maybe we would have tried harder to end it all before kindergarten.
I’m not exactly sure how things progressed from crop dusting to airline captaining (if that’s actually a word) but I can tell you at one point my father was a pilot chauffeur for Battista when he still ran things in Cuba. In fact several years later, during a Wild Turkey and egg-nog induced diatribe, Mom told me that my father was on his way to Havana to get his employer the night Castro and his buddies decided to overthrow his government. Unfortunately for El Presidente, he was too hung over to fly. Still, I thought that was kind of cool in a James-Bondish sort of way, even though at the time I learned this I had no idea who Battista was and I thought Castro was one of the guys on the cough drops box.
Turns out the story really was he had come up with yet another one of his famous get rich quick schemes. Seriously, if he spent half as much time trying to make a million dollars as he did thinking of ways to make a million dollars, he would have had a million dollars. He had made a deal with a wealthy Cuban plantation owner to dust his crops for a substantial amount of money. Sensing immediate fame and fortune, he flew his Stearman to a tiny airfield outside Havana where he was then promptly arrested by the Cuban Federales. It seemed neither he nor the plantation owner obtained the proper clearance for this little project with the appropriate Cuban authorities. His plane was immediately confiscated.
According to the folk song, my mother then had to appear before the Cuban Embassy in the States to get “that sonofabitch father of yours” released from jail and get his plane released from the authorities. The release was granted but only under one condition; he was not allowed to fly the plane out of the country. This was no doubt my father’s biggest punishment due to the fact that he was the cheapest human being ever to walk the planet. He was forced to hire a ship and a crew to disassemble his Stearman and ship it back to the States. His get rich quick scheme netted him a stay in jail in a third world soon-to-be-Communist country and a butt load of money out of his pocket. So much for fame and fortune.
(Just a side note, I never really researched the authenticity of either one of these tales. I was happy to believe the folk lore).
By the time I showed up, we had left Louisiana for Midwest City, Oklahoma where Pop began flying for the now-defunct Capital Airways. It was the late summer of 1961. John Kennedy ruled over Camelot and Americans had just seen the first images of the Berlin Wall. The New York Yankees were well on the way to defending their World Series Championship, Patsy Cline and “Moon River” were on the radio. “West Side Story” was the summer blockbuster and somewhere in the middle of an Oklahoma City suburb, my mother and father pretty much couldn’t stand each other. I can’t tell you much about those days in regards to my father because frankly, I never saw the man. He was constantly flying somewhere, someplace or at home blasted to the gills with Old Crow seeping from his pores. Even as a toddler, I could find it amusing that the man who fell off the toilet the night before was off to carry your relatives and mine thousands of miles away thousands of feet in the air with a full blown hangover the next morning. Since decades have passed and I’m sure regulations as well, I feel comfortable enough to tell you that just about every pilot I ever met from birth to my teenage years were raging alcoholics. Two things that my father always had in his flight bag were a fifth of Old Crow and a .38. (By the way, I was a little shocked in the aftermath of 9/11 that they were considering letting pilots carry guns in the cockpit, from what I knew most of them were armed to the teeth already). Over the years when I see stories of pilots being detained from a flight because they were inebriated, I always double check their names to see if they are by chance relatives.