Every summer, Vigi and I make at least one excursion to the seashore to take in the frothy surf, the screeching gulls and the screaming kids. Neither of us is particularly fond of sticky salt water or, for that matter, simmering like slabs of bacon on the broiling sand … but we go anyway because, as the mountain climbers say, “It’s there.” So last Monday, we put the top down and followed the traffic toward the ocean.
Veege broiled in the sun while I took pictures of anything that moved, until we both became hot and hungry enough to head for the boardwalk in search of food. The destination for our sand-filled shoes became the first teeny-bopper open-storefront that demanded patrons wear shoes and the help wash their hands. We built a couple of sub-sandwiches, balanced our drinks on a tray and elbowed our way to a table. It’s nice the way they bolt the benches down so old folks won’t tip over or anything.
Suddenly, as I looked up to take my first bite there it was, hanging on the wall next to the fake vomit, chattering teeth, disappearing ink and whoopee cushions … a genuine Guillow’s Jetfire Glider! As Veege and I talked, spilling lettuce, onion and black olive slices onto the sandwich paper, she must have noticed I was looking past her, not at her. “You have hats older than some of those kids.” she observed. She probably thought I was staring at the constant parade of marginally clad beach bunnies passing behind her.
Any other time, she might have been right but this was something special! I hadn’t seen one of those gliders since long before any of those jiggly little maids were even an urge in daddy’s libido. “I’ve got to have one of those!” I exclaimed. Fortunately the love of my life looked around, instead of slugging me, just as I got up and reached for one of those balsa wood beauties. In fact, I retrieved two and headed for a pair of uniformed girls behind the counter [their matching red t-shirts said "Eats!"].
“That’ll be $5.32.” said the one with the earring in her nose. “Gee!” I exclaimed, stroking the silvery hairs on my chin. “Ya’ know, when I was a kid we used to call these 10¢ gliders?” “Really?” she replied trying to seem interested but, most likely wondering why the old coot didn’t just pay his money and go. “Really!” I pressed. “Ya know why we called them 10¢ gliders?” This one nearly stumped them both. Now their complacency became curiosity, until the other one, with the pierced tongue said, “Um-m-m … becauth they cotht 10¢?” “Right!” I affirmed, like a teacher passing out gold stars. From the smiles on their faces you’d think they just answered the $64,000 question. Their apparent joy nearly matched my own. I had just purchased my first 10¢ gliders [for five bucks] since I was old enough to take my dimes down to Hotkin’s Drug Store … one to fly and one for backup, just in case!
We returned home late that night, so test flights were definitely out of the question. The next morning I awoke in a time warp … a reconstituted kid, everywhere but in the mirror. Vigi left for work and the runway was clear! I opened the cellophane and slipped the contents out of the package. The first thing that changed was you had to punch out the tail and stabilizer … and everything was only printed on one side. Balsa can be brittle but I was careful not to split the wood; soon my glider was assembled and ready for flight. In case you hadn’t guessed, this was one of my favorite things to do in my early kidhood … even better than having rock fights with Norry Ricky [ I still have a dent in my head]!
My leather flying cap, goggles and silk scarf were mentally in place as I headed for the yard. I wet one finger, sensed the wind and adjusted the front wing … forward for loops, back for straight flight. I chose forward. Grasping the tail between thumb and middle finger, with index finger on the rear of the fuselage [my special looping grip that predated even my first baseball mitt], with a slight snapping motion I let fly! My Guillow’s Jetfire did a lazy half-circle to the right and dropped to the ground about ten feet away.
“Guess I’ve lost my touch.” I thought. So it was back to basics, with the wing to the rear and a more conventional grip. I gently released the glider, for level flight, and watched as my Jetfire did a lazy half-circle to the right and dropped to the ground about ten feet away. Forty-five minutes, several wing adjustments and an equal number of lazy half-circles later, I decided I simply wasn’t putting enough “English” on it. By now my mental flying cap, goggles and scarf were in tatters on the ground and I had regressed several decades into a nine year old with a mission.
Forgetting that even someone of advancing years possesses greater arm strength than that younger pilot, I set the wing forward, reared back and using my special looping grip, fired my prized aircraft into the wind, like a pitcher releasing a fastball with two out in the ninth inning of a perfect game! There was no lazy half-circle to the right. There was no ten foot flight. There was no loop. There was only the sickening sound that crackling balsa wood makes … as the wings folded upward and the remains fluttered slowly to the ground like a wounded, featherless bird.
“Good thing I bought a backup.” I mumbled to myself as I slipped the parts to my second glider from their package and carefully assembled them. This time, no attempts at flight were made. The Guillow’s Jetfire is permanently grounded in my memorabilia museum, printed side out, next to the fortune telling 8-ball, Magnus Harmonica, Duncan Yo-yo and my somewhat worn but still serviceable whoopee cushion!
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