By lex, on January 23rd, 2006
Miramar it was, and back in the 90′s too, what with your humble scribe being an adversary pilot but recently arrived from the purgatorial southern swamps of Naval Air Station Key West, Florida, from whence liberated, like Prometheus unchained from a demanding flight schedule, bound as he had been like any galley slave and forced to fly two – sometimes three! – air combat flights in a day, alack, and alas and if your heart wasn’t made of brass, wicked thing that you are, then perhaps you would have felt more sorry for him.
“Go west, young man!” the operations officer had said, meaning TOPGUN when he said it, and the adversary course to be more particular, challenging though it was too fragile egos and given in judiciously and repeatedly applied thumps by the world’s finest fighter pilots, themselves accustomed to treading the hallowed halls of the Prestigious Navy Fighter Weapons School with the heavy step of Praetorian guards. The School itself was not unlike Valhalla to a man of a certain age, never mind the repeated getting of your ass kicked by your betters.
So your scribe and a brother of another mother paired themselves up in a two-seat F-16N and did as they were asked, desired and required, pre-flighting, manning up and tearing the sky apart in a vertical departure before rolling her over on a westerly heading out over the Gulf of Florida and towards Barksdale, Louisiana, that being a short stop on account of all the damn gas we’d burned just getting out of home, profligate wastrels that we were with our vertical departure, and no stewards of the national bounty. At all.
There were few places in the world to rival Key West for a young pilot, burdened as he might be with the flying of not one*, nor even two**, but three*** kinds of fighter aircraft on any given day, and doing nothing but the fighting of them, so as to make him extraordinarily wise, not to say preternaturally wicked in the art and science of gunning his opponent, given anything like an equal chance, if that was the best chance that offered. Except of course at The School, in sunny Sandy Eggo, where the cream of the crop busied themselves like knights of the round table in the pursuit of such intramural excellence as could maybe only be otherwise had in one of Plato’s forms, while taking it upon themselves in the intervening periods to absentmindedly punish the occasional external pretender to the throne such as your scribe and any of his cohort as a matter of dreary course. Shaolin monks they were, and their aerial kung foo was very strong, and we mere apprentices, a-trying of our mettle against the flower of American youth, equipped with g-suits, harnesses and superabundant attitude.
Oh, they were good gentle reader, the TOPGUN instructors, and professional too, so that when they would afterwards describe to you what a chunder-head you had been to reverse when defensive (which you should never, ever do, what in God’s name were you thinking?) only to watch them fall savagely upon your soon-to-be-odiferous corpse with glad abandon and something very nearly approaching carnal glee, it somehow came out sounding in the debrief not like you had simply been an idiot (although you self-evidently had been), but only that you had learned so very much that day, and wasn’t that a good thing, selah. Because you were so damn grateful for it. Weren’t you?
And in such a manner is abuse enabled and perpetuated.
But all was not pushing rocks up hills, nor even being chained to them at Naval Air Station Miramar in the 1990′s. There was also, as it turned out, an officer’s club, which had, in the days, weeks and months immediately subsequent to the movie “Top Gun” (which they didn’t even spell it right, it being written as one word, all caps, which anyone could have known just for asking) had become quite the venue for all kinds of predatory beasts attempting to determine exactly what the Other was constructed of, and how long it might last when put to the test.
At least that’s what I was told by others, seizing the moral high ground and satisfying myself for the most part by the staying in my room at the end of the fly day, and the reading of Gideon’s while conscientiously eschewing any pleasures of the flesh that might have offered themselves up, whenever I wasn’t doing charity work at one of the local orphanages. Chiefly on account of my oak-like constitution and iron will. I’d point out that my next-door neighbor was not nearly so abstemious, entertaining guests, sometimes quite tumultuous and cacophonous guests, until all hours of the early morning, which I couldn’t help but hearing, the walls between the rooms being so very thin and what with my ear pressed up against them.
Be that as it may, it came to pass one night that your correspondent and his brother found themselves at the club one night partaking of such pleasures as could be had without entirely jeopardizing their actual lives, should they ever go back home, until the wee hours of the morning, notwithstanding the fact that they had an early go the next day. Which couldn’t have been, based on the rules, any earlier than 12 hours after their last taste of an alcoholic beverage. Because that was the rule.
But just as it is always after noon somewhere in the world, so is it also 12 hour or more from take-off time, depending on how you look at it. There were many heroic acts that evening that I will not bore you with, not being central to the tale, which would nevertheless be preserved in song if that sort of thing was still considered fashionable, but anyway.
Sufficient to the day the evil thereof, and then some, and it came to pass that the next day as we took off out of NAS Miramar and pooted our way out to the Yuma Tactical Air Combat Systems range to the east that your humble scribe thought it better to ride in the trunk, rather than to lead from the front, at least until the first flight had ended, and maybe its debrief too, and only then might he feel a little more human than he currently did. Up, up into the burning blue, and leveled off at 25,000 in a high tech fighter, your narrator felt quite frankly a little weary, not to say jaded.
A big clamshell canopy had the TF-16N, and the day was hot and bright, so it served your correspondent’s leisure to loosen his O2 mask, let it fall from his sweating face and rest his weary eyes, a little, that being thought the best thing for it, really. Taken as a whole, his friend up front didn’t seem to mind his absence on the intercom, asking of him “What are you doing?” and “What’s the plan now?”, etc. But the TOPGUN IP who joined up on the right wing at angels 25 prior to the first push was alarmed and dismayed to see your scribe apparently passed out hypoxic and unconscious in the back seat of a multi-million dollar fighter, just prior to joining the fray. This worthy was y-clept “Stump,” on account of his exceptional vertical stature and physical dimensions, and he wasted no time communicating to the nose gunner that there was apparently a dead man in the back seat, and perhaps something ought to be done about it.
The nose gunner wasn’t convinced that I was dead, and cleared Stump out for to give the jet a violent shake, and see if that could revive my spirits. Which of course it did, and damn near brought up breakfast too. Having stirred to greet the dawn with a gimlet eye, I was dismayed to see the Stumpster come back close aboard and give me a questioning “thumbs up”? Was I OK? Would I live?
In an unconsidered moment (himself being a Marine major, and a TOPGUN IP, and your scribe a mere snot-nosed Navy lieutenant, not to mention a student, and the distinction between the two being thought critically important) I raised and returned a finger of my own, not corresponding to that opposable digit which is the pride of our species.
And for this crime I paid, gentle reader.
And I learned about Gideon’s from that, so I did.