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Flights of Fancy That Get More Fantastic With the Telling

August 28, 1988|BOB O'SULLIVAN | O'Sullivan is a travel writer based in Canoga Park

If my grandmother told a story once, you could live with it, but the more times she talked about an event the more exciting it got.

If there'd been a cat-and-dog fight in the alley in the morning, by the end of the day Grandma would be telling about the mountain lion that had wandered down from the hills and was attacking the neighborhood dogs.

Some people said she didn't know the truth from whole cloth, but Grandpa scoffed at that. He said she was only doing out loud what everybody else did in their heads, trying to make things a little more interesting, that she just figured reality needed work if you were going to have to live in it.

What with being married to a self-educated Irishman and starting a family of six children before the turn of the century, she was probably right.

It's in the Genes

My wife, recognizing this aggressive "reality-adjusting" factor in the family gene pool, wisely helps me keep such adjustments out of what I write.

This time, though, the story is about that reality-adjusting tendency. The proper label for it is fantasizing, and we all do it.

Even Joyce, my constant seeker of truth, does it. She sometimes starts her fantasies when our trips are in the planning stage. I know because I can hear her making little airplane and bus noises while she moves a finger along routes on the map.

Personally, though, I never start before we get to the airport. But then, when we've checked our baggage and boarded, when we're in our seats and the aircraft is loaded and pulls to the center of the runway. . . .

"I'll take her this time, Chuck." (My co-pilot is always named Chuck.)

A Quick Scan

"You got her, Skipper. Mind if I watch? I might learn me a little something." Chuck, with his slow grin, rolls his toothpick to the opposite corner of his mouth.

I make a quick scan of the instruments and a visual of the flaps on my side. Chuck, reading my mind, does the same on his and nods. "By golly, I think the wings match, Skip."

The word comes through the headphones: "Air Canada, you are cleared for takeoff on runway 2-L. You are cleared."

Chuck acknowledges the tower. I make another quick check of my instruments, the runway and the air space ahead, and advance the throttles to the maximum power setting.

I glance at my engineer as we approach rotation speed. We are the ungainly about to become pure grace. "Wiley?" (My engineer is always named Wiley.) "No. three feels a tad heavy."

"Yes, sir, you're right. She's running a tenth of 1% rich. Correcting."

Airborne at Last

"I thought so." I try not to sound smug. We are at rotation speed. I pull back on the yoke and we're airborne, vaulting into the sky over the Pacific.

"Gear up, Skip," Chuck says. You can feel the light surge as the drag of the landing gear fades. Lord, I love this!

"Reduce to climbing power."

"Beautiful takeoff," Joyce says.

"Thanks," I answer.

"Sir," says the flight attendant, "you'll have to keep your seat belt fastened."

"My seat belt is fastened," I answer.

The girl is embarrassed. "Oh, sorry. I couldn't see it there."

" You're sorry you can't see his belt. You should hear him complain about it," Joyce says. "Of course, if we really cared, we could skip lunch."

Sometimes reality just doesn't seem like it's got a whole lot going for it.

Blue Denims

It was on an airplane that I first really got into an active discussion on fantasizing. The man next to me was all in blue denims and wearing a lettuce-picker's hat with what looked like a squashed chicken on the front. It was back in the time when a lot of people were wearing Western clothes.

"Rancher, are you?," I asked.

He put down his paperback. "Naw, play at it a little." Then he introduced himself as a doctor.

We talked about fads like wearing Western clothes. The upshot of the conversation was that he thought fantasizing was an indication of good mental health, that insanity occurred when people had too firm a grip on reality.

"We're always leaping in and out of fantasy, for our own good," said the doctor. "Watch anyone around a large mirror. They sneak a peek and then kind of shape up and stay that way until they get on by. Protecting the self-image."

As far as I was concerned, shaping up for a mirror was pretty small stuff.

-- -- --

With the Eiffel Tower always in sight, it's difficult to get lost in Paris. Joyce and I have accomplished it, however. At least we have become considerably misplaced a time or two.

Once when that happened we approached a parked taxi. The driver was eating a sandwich. He looked at me angrily as I bent over and smiled. " Excusez-moi," I began. He rolled up his window. Joyce and I were astonished.

Joyce tapped on the glass. " Ou se trouve la gare ?" He turned his face away from us. "I only asked him the way to the station," Joyce said, bewildered.

As we walked away, my temper began to rise. Ten feet down the street I could feel the hackles rising on the back of my neck. I turned and went back to the cab.

Incredible Hulk

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