Monday, February 20, 2006

A father-and-son moment

A sunny blue day in Tracy, California. Though relatively early in the day, the heat was already building, strengthening the already pungent aroma from the nearby dairies.

My dad was going to show me how to properly fly one of those little balsa wood gliders. Fortunately, on the other side of the mobile home park where we lived, there was a vacant lot. The lot has since become a shopping center complete with a grocery store, eateries and roughly 8 million nail salons.

On the other edge of the lot, there was a chain-link fence and some Dumpster-like containers. But there was plenty of room and enough mounds of dirt for most of the neighborhood kids to play and do a little dirt biking.

I'd tried flying the gliders before without much success. Since I was in the early stages of puberty my already deficient coordination level was now hovering somewhere between wingless albatross and drunken downhill skier.

My dad opened the package with the pair of scissors he always had with him. He worked for the phone company, and as a result, always carried the scissors -- his "snips' -- and a small blade on a little holster attached to his belt.

Any time there was packaging that was reluctant to open or errant tactical warheads that needed defusing, my dad was there to MacGyver it with his snips.

In recent years, probably due in no small part to teasing from my brother and me, he doesn't carry them all the time now.

We assembled the glider in short order. I awaited my aviation lesson.

My dad adjusted his Pacific Bell ball cap to block the sun from his eyes and gripped the glider with his right index finger and thumb. Then he made a few practice swoops to show me the arc I should use to throw it for maximum glide.

"Check this out," he said. He cocked his arm back and let the glider fly. It went up, seeming to float lazily over the vacant lot. It silhouetted against the bright blue sky, arced down and went right over the chain-link fence into a Dumpster, where it landed with a faint thunk.

"Oops," my dad said. "We'll, uh, have to get you another one."

I never got another balsa glider. Instead, we all went to the bookstore, where my anguish over the loss of my plane was alleviated by the stack of comic books my brother and I got.

Up, up and away, indeed.

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