Wayback Wednesday: Learning to Fly
Learning to FlyErik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
On Wednesdays, rather than rehashing a news story, I reprint one of my old columns. I've got 15 years' worth of the damn things, so there's no point in letting them sit moldering in a box in my garage. At least not the good ones. This one is from December 2005.
I often ask people: "Would you rather have the power to fly or become invisible?" Your answer is supposed to provide some insight about who you are as a person.
I've noticed a lot of people who choose invisibility do so for less than ethical reasons. They would spy, sneak, and do mischief if they could do it unseen. But the flyers talk about saving time, saving gas, and avoiding traffic.
I'm a flyer.
Not in a plane though. I've never had the dream of flying my own plane or becoming a pilot. That's just not the same. Flying on a plane isn't like flying through the air like Superman. There's no sense of motion or movement, there's no food anymore, movies are sterilized into mediocrity, and the kids won't stop screaming.
I would rather be the Superman-type flyer who takes off with a shout of "Erik Deckers awaaaaay!" I would soar through the air, hair blowing in the breeze, playing tag with birds, buzzing through the clouds. Real flying. None of this namby-pamby plane stuff for me.
I've wanted to be a flyer since I was a kid, when I first tried to become airborne in my living room. Like most people my age, I learned things by watching TV. And at four years old, I had learned several important things about the way the world worked.
Like if I rolled a piece of paper into the shape of a rocket, it would fly when I set it on my front porch (it didn't). Or if I ate a lot of spinach, I would immediately grow huge muscles like Popeye (I didn't). Or if I flapped my arms, I could fly.
After a steady TV diet of Superman, Scooby Doo, and Bugs Bunny, I had become convinced that if I tried really, really hard, I could fly around the house. It was just a matter of speed, velocity, and willpower. They did it on TV, so I should be able to do it myself, right?
I chose the highest point in the house — the arm of the sofa — and leapt into the air, holding my arms out like Superman. No luck.
A-ha! I thought. I need to flap my arms. So I remounted my launch pad and tried again, flapping my arms furiously.
I tried several different flapping styles, long armed, bent arms, hands only, but no luck. All it earned me were some sore feet and a request from my mother to kindly "KNOCK OFF THAT JUMPING!!"
So I settled down to watch Scooby Doo, disappointed that I would never be able to fly around the house. That is, until I discovered the answer right there on my television. The solution to my previous failures. I watched as Scooby picked up two sheets of paper, flapped them, and actually stayed aloft.
It was my Eureka moment.
I grabbed two pieces of clean typing paper from my dad's office — used paper isn't very aerodynamic — and resumed my position on the launch pad.
I gripped my new wings exactly like Scooby had, leapt off, and flapped like mad. This was it! It was working! I would slip the surly bonds of Earth and touch the face of -- THUD!
I sat back down in front of the TV and finished my show. A tear trickled down my cheek as I realized that TV had betrayed me. I never tried to fly after that, the dream all but dead. But as I tell you this story now, I finally realize what I was doing wrong.
In the cartoons, the characters are always able to stay airborne as long as they never look down. As soon as they do, they immediately plummet. This was my error. I watched the ground when I tried to fly. And in doing so, I was reminded of where I was, which caused me to fall.
So now I'm inspired to try again. I've got my own paper — four sheets, since I'm a grown-up now — a pair of goggles, and I'm heading up to the highest point of my house for one last attempt at glory.
In fact, when they make a movie about my personal victory, that's what they'll call it: Thirty Feet to Glory.
I'll see you when I land.
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