Friday, January 2, 2009

Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles

I am not Beepy. Beepy's bloated body washed ashore a few days ago. She's been dead a few weeks, killed, I think, by the inattention of an STD.

I am not Beepy. Where Beepy was gentle, I am rough and cruel. Where Beepy was passive, I am tense and fast. Where Beepy was forgiving, I am hard and angry.

I am not Beepy; I am F-Stop. F-Stop as in "Will you stop it? Can't you just stop it? Why won't you FUCKING STOP?" See? F-Stop. I am also known as The Cleaver, The Clatterer of Bones, Breaker of Spirit, Destroyer of Dreams. But I prefer to be known as The Devourer. F-Stop, the Devourer of Souls to be precise.

The first soul that I bring to you, devoured by my Wrath, is that of Benjamin R. Ford, known to most as Bennie. I came across Bennie in the airport lounge of Jonathan Miles' Dear American Airlines. At first glance, he was angry too. Angry and funny and he appealed to me immediately. On his way from New York to LA to attend his daughter's wedding, Bennie finds himself indefinitely laid over at Chicago's O'Hare Airport waiting for the weather to clear. Bennie's take on the weather differs slightly from that of American Airlines.

Dear American Airlines, since when did you start canceling flights in midair?...We circled O'Hare for an hour before the pilot informed us he was landing in Peoria. Peoria! In my youth I thought Peoria was a fictional place that Sherwood Anderson and Sinclair Lewis had cooked up one night at the tail end of a gin bender. But no, it exists. We sat on the runway for more than an hour before a handsome pilot with exquisitely parted hair emerged to tell us that the flight was "officially canceled." Wha? But he offered us all a bus ride to O'Hare "on the house," kind soul that he was, the revealing of which I hope won't endanger his job. Not that I'd worry too much about him: Go ahead and can him, he has a guaranteed second career as a JCPenney catalog model. The (alleged) cause for
this fuckedupedness was (allegedly) foul weather blowing off Lake Michigan but after eight-plus hours in Chicago I can tell you, without a pinch of hesitation, that the weather here is flat-out delightful and you're more than welcome to visit for a round of golf to so verify. Pack some sunscreen.

No wonder Bennie's angry. His only daughter is getting married, he has promised to be there and life has thrown him a sinking curveball full of poop. Now you, who are not cruel and heartless with a sizzling hatred of all mankind, would take this moment to assure Bennie that a daughter's love will forgive what is surely not his fault. Grow a pair and see what's coming next! Bennie has not been the doting husband and attentive father that a kinder fate would have made him. Since his daughter's infancy, he has see her exactly once. Bennie's ex, Stella, took off seeking sunnier pastures and non-alcoholic sheep, as it were. This provokes, for me, the biggest laugh of the book. Bennie, locked out, stands under his wife's window and shouts her name.

Almost instantly, however, I went silent-struck mute by the interior echo. "Oh shit," I finally said aloud. Had Stella been named anything else, and/or had we lived in any other city besides New Orleans, my desperate call would have been just my desperate call. In that alternate universe the neighbors might have peeked from behind the curtains but they wouldn't have laughed or, worse, joined in. But you simply cannot shout the name Stella while standing under a window in New Orleans and hope for anything like an authentic or even mildly earnest moment.

As Bennie's letter of complaint turns into a confessional listing of Bennie's worldly woes, the story loses much of its humor and gains plenty of pathos. If Bennie hadn't already admitted to his booze-addled past, we'd have to imagine that there was one based on what we learn about his childhood. Who among us wouldn't down a gallon or two every night if faced with the uncertainty of Bennie's youth. Am I sounding a bit understanding, a bit soft, a bit "I feel your pain," a bit Beepy? Because I'm not and I don't. Bennie deserves what he gets; I'm just saying that I know why he gets it.

You see, Bennie's mom is nuts. At least she was before a stroke rendered her sane (can that really happen? I have a few coworkers...) I don't think that Jonathan Miles made an in depth study of psychology while writing this book (Bennie either, for that matter.) Mrs. Ford is said to have suffered from schizophrenia but clearly she was manic-depressive in her pre-stroke years. I saw it on an episode of Oprah. It's so trendy! (Sorry to offend anyone who is dealing with this heartbreakin - wait, I am not Beepy. I am F-Stop the Offender, so stet. Suck it up.) Besides all the knowledge I gained from Oprah, Beepy told me that some of her friends are bi-polar (although she herself preferred the warmer waters of the Gulf Coast. Ba-rum-bum.)

Anyway, Bennie the Youth had to deal with his bipolar mom and passive Polish immigrant father. In my favorite passage of the novel, Bennie's dad drives from New Orleans to Nevada in order to rescue his son and wife, who has decided one day to live the life of Georgia O'Keefe. Of course it didn't go so well (it never does when your sanity is regularly upended.)

She would flee, and my father would inevitably fetch her home. Maybe that was always the point: marriage as an awful game of hide-and-go-seek. Maybe my mother never expected, or even intended, to actually escape. After all she was terrible about not finishing her paintings and her suicide attempts were almost
always dramatic half-measures. Standing beside the car in that hot cloud of road dust and tailpipe vapors, her hair tossed by the wind, she smiled at my father and said to him, "I don't know why you always do this."
"I did not know," he replied, with neither tenderness nor bitterness, "that I had choice."

I became very fond of his dad at this point. Such responsible fatalism is hard for a bitter heart like mine to resist. It was a shame to devour his soul but even the virtuous must face the gaping maw of destruction. Better luck next time, Henry Ford (born Henryk Gniech); may you meet a kinder fate in some other novel.

You get the picture by now. Benjamin Ford has a lot to complain about and what starts out as a letter demanding a refund of his $392.68 ticket, turns into a monologue of soul searching. I wasn't expecting it and maybe wouldn't have started reading if I had, but Bennie's soul was tasty and went down smooth. I'll give it @@@.

Oh yeah. Dear Newbury Street, Scrape your fucking sidewalks when it snows!


elmo said...

It's just as well- I owed Beepy like a hundred bucks.

julesrules3114 said...

...And as he wheeled through the aisles, and through our hearts, Joey believed, with all his might, the beginning was upon him.
His confidence was infectious, like a germ, it contaminated us all.
We sneezed & coughed with delight, our foundations, our souls, shaken by this manchild.
There is a man & woman for all of us.
Even Joey.
His preparation was meticulous, studying & studying his books, unaware Dawn was breaking.
"I will know what to do," he whined, "...if & when the time comes."
But doubt hung heavily in the air.
If could mean never, his confidence crumbling as he made valiant efforts to alter his mind's path.
"I will know what to do," he said, solemnly.
Slowly, he spun his wheelchair towords the large window that overlooked a city of available women.
"The odds are in my favor," he chuckled, "but first...more research."