scholars and rogues

First Flight

by Terry Hargrove

I don’t like flying. There, I said it, and no, a few hours in the air with you and your restored 1918 British Bi-Plane won’t help. Oh, I’ve done some flying and expect to do some more, but I don’t like it. I don’t have a fear of flying. It’s the landings that scare me.

When I was a kid, there were only two seasons: summer and everything else. In the same way that some people watch the earth for signs that signal the changing of winter to spring, so too we kept our eyes on Harmon Park. When the swings went up, it was almost time for school to let out. Better finish that tree-leaf science project. When the grass on the croquet lawn was cut, it was time to study for exams. Exempt? Not in my neighborhood. When the kiddie pool was filled, it was summer baby! Toss those books to the darkest corner of the basement, because it was time for doing something fun. And we had to hurry, because the fun turned to boredom in less than a week.

The workers who transformed Harmon Park from weed-overgrown, eyesore to low-tech, fun-filled extravaganza were usually high school kids paid $5 a day. They did all the painting, repainting, sweeping, mowing, and trash gathering. While my siblings and I were among the regulars who played there, we weren’t considered middle-class enough to actually do any of the work. That really sucked, to think that the town of Lewisburg considered us thieves and vandals. Glenn and I never stole anything from the Park that didn‘t need stealing, and you’re not a vandal if you break something by accident. I think Caesar wrote that somewhere.

About a week before the Park opened, my brother and I walked

across the street to check on the progress. The grass was cut, the NO RUNNING warnings were freshly painted along the edge of the pool, and the swings had been hoisted into position. There were some cans of paint that had been left open at the front of the concession stand, and several brushes soaking in turpentine nearby.

“You know,” Glenn ventured, “I bet I could jump off this building.”

“You’d kill yourself,” I said.

“No, I wouldn’t,” he replied. “I don’t think it’s that high. It just looks high from down here. From up there, I bet it ain’t high at all.”

“Then why don’t you do it?” I asked.

“I would for a dollar,” he said. “I wish I had a dollar.”

“Too bad they won’t hire us to do any of this work,” I said.

“They won’t hire us. Bastards! Why won’t they hire us?” asked my brother. “We can paint and we need the money. I mean, how hard is it? You just slosh some paint on a wall and wait for it to dry. And look! They left all this stuff right here, open for the whole world. We better cover these paint cans.”

“Why?” I asked.

“If somebody throws paint all over this building, we’ll get blamed for it. It’s bad enough they think we steal candy from the concession stand.”

The door to the concession stand opened. Out from the darkness, as if they were rising from the underworld, stepped our sisters, their arms laden with candy bars.

“What are you two doing?” demanded Glenn.

“Stealing candy bars,” said Donna.

“Are you gonna pay for them?” Glenn asked.

“Pay for them? Don’t be silly,” laughed Donna. “Stealing is a crime, and everybody knows crime does not pay.”

“But…but… that’s why they won’t hire us to work here!” screamed Glenn. “They think we’re stealing stuff from them.”

“Of course,” laughed Donna. “That’s why we’re stealing from them. If they hired and paid us, we wouldn’t have to steal. Besides, for us it’s the perfect crime. They’ll think that you and Terry did it.”

That’s when we heard the siren. Time to hide. If we went inside the concession stand, we’d be guilty of breaking and entering. If we tried to run home, Glenn and I might get away, but Donna and Connie would surely get caught, and they’d sing like chthonian canaries. And so all four used a ladder the painters had left and scrambled to the top of the concession stand, kicked the ladder away, and flattened ourselves against the roof. The police car didn’t even slow down. It raced down Fourth Avenue, then turned right onto College Street.

“What are we gonna do now?” asked Donna. “How are we gonna get down?”

“No problem,” I said. “Glenn said he would jump off this roof for a dollar. He can jump down and get the ladder for us.”

“Here,” said Connie. “Here are 10 Hershey bars. That’s 50 cents. When we get down, I’ll get you ten more.”

“I don’t know,” said Glenn, peering nervously over the edge. “Now that I’m up here, I don’t think I should jump.”

“I told you.” I said. “You’d kill yourself! We’ll just wait until somebody comes by

and they’ll let us down.”

As I said this, I moved over next to him and together we saw the world from this new, higher perspective. It was quite a sight. The park from 20 feet up looked different. It was vaster, grander, hell, I thought it even looked greener. We stared silently at our world for a good minute, and I thought this must be how a giraffe sees the world. Or a giant.

“I don’t think it’s that high on the back corner,” suggested Donna, breaking the spell. “Go and see.”

Glenn eased himself to the rear of the building. Contrary to Donna’s belief, the roof was actually higher on that side of the building. Glenn and I peeked over the edge.

“Sure you don’t wanna jump?” I asked.

“No way,” he whispered. “What was I thinking?“ He tapped the edge of the roof with his right foot.

And that woke up the wasps. A nest the size of a basketball was just under the edge. 40 or so of the big, nasty red ones flew up and stared at us. We stared back. For a moment, each side considered the other.

“Oh, my,” said Glenn. “Oh, my.”

When words fail, emotions must do. I remember the anger I felt at the universe and at Glenn. One moment, we two clear and rational beings had observed that it would be an act of high stupidity bordering on insanity to jump off the top of that building. The very next moment, we knew we had to jump off the top of the building.

It has been suggested that moments of great suffering are necessary to achieve great insights. So maybe this is something you already know. I didn’t know it. When my brother and I made the jump we weren’t planning to make, it caught the universe by surprise. And so, for a very brief moment, we disappeared. Gravity hadn’t realized we were trying to avoid it, and Fate lost sight of us for a micro-second. And in that moment, we were free from everything. We hovered for an instant, neither rising nor falling. We thought this is what it must feel like to be angels.

But we were not angels. Gravity put his coffee cup down quickly and grabbed us by the feet, Fate boomed “OH, THERE YOU ARE!” and the universe slapped things back into their normal spheres. There was a sickening feeling of a bad trajectory, the approaching ground, the wasps laughing. The screams. My useless attempt to throw a punch while falling. When we hit, it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. The paint cans broke our fall. Of course, the wasps just flew down with us.

“Jump in the pool! Jump in the pool!” screamed Connie. “Wasps won’t bother you if you’re in a swimming pool. They hate the color blue!“

When you’re desperate, any advice is welcome. We staggered, slipped, fell into the freshly painted, sky-blue wading pool. The wasps simply came along. It turns out wasps don’t mind the color blue at all, It’s water they don’t like. The pool had no water in it. Eventually, the wasps left us out of pity. I was stung 9 times, a personal record that still stands. Glenn was stung 11 times. He always had to win at everything.

That those evil, stinging, biting furies didn’t bother our sisters at all didn’t surprise us. Professional courtesy. The paint cans we landed on splashed their contents on

the side of the building. I smelled like turpentine for two weeks.

For the rest of that summer, Glenn and I gave the concession stand a wide berth. We were the prime suspects, after all. Once the swelling went down, he was able to laugh at the whole thing. And sometimes, when the summer heat drove us into the cool of the library, he would tell the story to our friends with a smile, as if the view from that high place and the freedom of our temporary flight were well worth the pain.

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1 reply »

  1. Your best post for S&R yet. Some great lines:

    . . . because the fun turned to boredom in less than a week.

    Glenn and I never stole anything from the Park that didn‘t need stealing, and you’re not a vandal if you break something by accident.

    “Stealing is a crime, and everybody knows crime does not pay.”

    “Wasps won’t bother you if you’re in a swimming pool. They hate the color blue!“