by Nick Gallup
I think James Jones first brought it to my attention in his novel, Some Came Running wherein he opined that most people didn’t have a clue as to what love really was. They, or so Mr. Jones argued, were more or less guided by the lyrics of the many love songs they’d heard during their lifetimes.
Take my personal non-favorite love song, “Love Walked In.” Sample the lyrics.
“Love walked right in and drove the shadows away. Love walked right in and brought my sunniest day. One magic moment and my heart seemed to know that love said hello. Though not a word was spoken.”
No logic to it. The lyricist would have you believe something mystical occurs. Think about it. Or better yet, don’t.
Just another silly love song.
Well, I wasn’t that naïve, primarily because I wasn’t looking to fall in love. I just wanted to get laid. More misses than hits, but I plodded on; and, if I were to believe the stories of my friends, getting nowhere near my fair share. One friend bragged he slept with three out of four of the girls he dated. I hoped he was lying because I was more like one out of four.
Most of my friends worked at the same place I did, a large government installation in Dayton that bought airplanes and spare parts for the Air Force. All of us were college grads; some even had MBA’s, which got them a little more attention than the rest of us. I thought about going to night school to pick up my MBA, but my boss, Colonel Brown, gave me some good advice.
“Don’t waste your time, Tyler. Study something that will benefit you on the job.”
“Like what, sir?”
“Learn how to fly so you can understand what the engineers are saying when they talk to you about the aircraft they want you to buy. Not a damned one of you guys really understands what he’s buying. Learn how to speak pilot.”
So I did, and it was great advice. I now understood ailerons and flaps and lift and stall speed and elevators and the difference between the vertical and the horizontal axes. I was promoted more quickly than my friends, even those with MBA’s.
The number of my single friends was dwindling. One by one, they were taking marriage vows. Once they were married, I became convinced they were plotting to persuade those of us who had not yet taken the leap to join them. I never knew if it was because they wanted us to share their joy or their misery.
I eventually realized they were simply acting at the behest of their wives.
We were invited again and again to dine with our married friends, and we learned not to be surprised how pleasant and nice their wives could make marriage appear. We also learned not to be surprised when a single girl would also be one of the invitees. I theorized single men were a threat to the wives, in that their husbands might begin to look at us with envy and perhaps yearn for the single life again. Their strategy was to marry us off and eliminate any threat we posed.
They weren’t evil women. Think tribal instinct.
I accommodated them on occasion. Perhaps not on as many occasions as they would’ve liked, but enough to retain their good will. I realized I’d been issued a biological clock and that it was inevitable that someday I’d marry. I liked to think I controlled my clock, though, not it me.
To prove it, I bought a Corvette, a dream come true for me. What twenty-something man hadn’t longed for a Vette? But you rarely see a twenty-something driving one unless it’s his dad’s mid-life crisis loaned out to his son for the night.
It came to me by the good graces of the colonel who had given me the advice about becoming a pilot. He’d plunged for a red 1980 used beauty that he planned to take with him into retirement. He was waiting only to hear he’d been passed over a final time for the general’s promotion list to put his papers in. To his surprise, he wasn’t passed over. He was promoted to BG and ordered to ship out to Afghanistan to assume command of several squadrons of fighter-bombers. He was divorced and looking at a two-year, possibly three-year tour, if they dangled a second star in his face. Sorry, no Corvettes allowed in Afghanistan, General Brown.
He offered me his Vette at thousands below wholesale. It wiped out my budding stock portfolio and savings account, but I managed to scrape together enough money to buy it from him.
This was a severe setback to the wives, as it was recidivism on my part, a signal that I was affirming my bachelorhood, if not my teen-age years. Still they pressed on.
My friend, Allan, was married to a nurse, Janie, and she worked with a girl who was the head nurse of the local hospital’s maternity ward. Her name was Roxanne, but she answered to Roxy, a name I always liked. But would I like the owner of the name?
Janie assured me I would.
“A head nurse? Sounds like an old lady to me.”
“How old are you?” She questioned.
“I’m 29, same age as Allan.”
“I think she just turned 30.”
That would make her the oldest woman I knew, other than my mother. “Thirty, and already a head nurse?” I questioned.
So Janie arranged for the four of us to meet for dinner at the Pine Club. Roxy was almost a no-show, as she was called in to assist one of the doctors in what was turning out to be a difficult birthing. She said for us to go ahead, and she’d meet us at the restaurant. We agreed to wait for her at the bar.
We waited and waited. Finally another call. Not from Roxy, but from an underling with a message from her. Baby’s head hadn’t turned enough. She’d be a while. Go ahead without her. Hoped she could arrive in time for dessert. Apologies to Tyler.
Apology accepted. Less time under the microscope for me.
I always ordered Chicken Parm at restaurants. No sense of adventure when it came to food. Some said I had no class, but at least I was never disappointed. As I was swallowing the last bit of Parm, someone collapsed into the empty chair beside me.
“I need a fucking drink,” the collapser moaned.
It was Roxy, of course.
“Did you arrive by wagon train?” I inquired, making it clear the long wait had annoyed me.
“Ha, Ha. You must be Tyler, my date for the night.”
“Well, would you be a good date and order me a Manhattan?”
I got the waiter’s attention and ordered her a drink.
“I can’t believe you guys ate without me.”
“Then shoot your messenger. She said not to expect you before dessert.”
“Don’t you know how to play social theater, Tyler? A gentleman would’ve waited.”
Janie sensed bloodshed and sought to intervene. “Ty, I’d like for you to meet—”
“Let me guess,” I interrupted. “Nurse Rachet?”
Roxy gave me a I-knew-you’d-be-a-jerk smile. “Another Ha, Ha. How original. Know any other nurse jokes?”
“I do, as a matter of fact.”
Janie looked nervous and Allan amused. Roxy looked a mess. She took note of my looking and correctly interpreted my conclusions. “Sorry I don’t look party-perfect, Ty,” she said sarcastically, with heavy emphasis on Ty, as if it were an affectation. “An unexpected problem came up. I had to don a cap and gown and wash all my make-up off to avoid infection.” She held up slender hands. “Want to know where these have been for the past two hours?”
“Did Harris have to do a C-Section?” Janie inquired.
Roxy said no, she’d been able to turn the baby’s head with her hand, which she’d done many times and was the compelling reason Dr. Harris had asked her to come in. Her slender but strong hands evidently were known to have the magic touch.
“Mother and baby girl are doing fine, Ty. Nice of you to ask.” More sarcasm from Roxy.
Her Manhattan arrived, and she immediately drained half of it. She ordered another one.
“Happy Hour still on?”
“You just missed it.” I informed her. “It ended two hours ago.”
“Too late to order dinner, waiter?”
“Not yet, ma.am, but you might want to do it quickly.”
“What did you order, Ty?”
“You come to the Pine Club, the best steak house in Dayton, and order Chicken Parm?”
She scanned the menu and ordered a Porterhouse. And another Manhattan.
We, or rather Allan and Janie, had dessert. I had another beer.
We made small talk while she ate. I learned she’d been two years ahead of Janie in nursing school and had stayed on for some graduate work in pediatrics. She was a natural for it, as she loved working with mothers and babies. She was gifted with a near photographic memory, or so she claimed, which enabled her to pick up things so easily.
“You have a photographic memory?” I looked at her dubiously.
“Don’t believe me, Ty?”
“You may have a good memory, but I doubt anyone has a photographic memory.”
“How long do you hold your mental camera on the material before you snap a photo?”
The waiter had left the menu on the table. “Pick the busiest page in the menu.”
I looked at the menu. The steak page looked the busiest. I handed it to her.
She looked at it for about thirty seconds, then gave it back to me.
“Ready?” She asked.
Hardly looking up from her steak, she recited the entire page back to me, word-for-word.
“Oh, and Ty, did you catch the misspelled word? The last steak on the bottom?”
“Aged Filet Mignon, Smothered in Giant Mushrooms?”
I studied it carefully. I was about to give up when I noticed giant had been spelled gaint.
“Son of a bitch!” I exclaimed, “Giant’s spelled wrong. I’ll be damned.”
She laughed. “If you don’t mend your wicked ways, you very probably will be.”
Janie and Allan, in turn, laughed at my open mouth.
“Nice teeth, Ty,” Roxy observed. “Too bad you don’t smile more.”
Janie decided to change the subject. “Know what her nickname is at work, Ty?”
“Think I already guessed it. Nurse Rachet.” I smiled, just to show I could.
“It was Nurse Ratch-ed, not Rachet, for your info, Ty,” Roxy happily corrected. “And Louise Fletcher, who played her, won the Oscar for Best Actress. But you’re probably not a movie fan, so you wouldn’t know that.”
I was a huge movie fan. Hadn’t known that, though. “So, what is her nickname at work?”
“Doctor Nurse,” Janie answered.
“Why the Doctor?”
“Because she delivers more babies than the doctors. Many mothers deliver early in the morning, and, by the time the pediatricians crawl out of bed and get to the hospital, Roxy’s already delivered the baby.”
“You get paid extra for that?”
“Well, you should.”
“At last, a kind word from Ty.”
I’d sneaked looks at her as she ate. She had the darkest hair and bluest eyes I’d ever seen. An unusual combination of dark and light. I would’ve liked to have seen her in make-up, but I had only her scrubbed face to study now, and being the superficial person I was, I ungraciously accorded her a seven-plus, maybe an eight, on the Bo Derek 10 rating scale. I was more generous with myself, especially now that I had the Vette. I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, was a ten.
She knew I’d been totaling up her score cards, but didn’t seem to care. She was what she was, and, if you didn’t like it, I suspected, that was your problem. When she’d finished eating, she looked up at me playfully.
“Now you can tell me a nurse joke, Ty.”
“Okay. A guy calls the hospital and gets a nurse on the phone. ‘Nurse, nurse, you’ve got to help me,’ he says. ‘What’s wrong, sir?’ she asks. ‘My wife’s having a baby.’ he replies. ‘Is this her first child?’ The nurse inquires. ‘No,’ he answers. “This is her husband.’”
She laughed, showing some nice teeth. I had a fetish for nice teeth, although it was a minor fetish. My primary fetish was tits and ass. You may have surmised that already.
“Any more nurse jokes?”
“Yeah. How do you tell a head nurse?”
“You realize, of course, I’m a head nurse?”
“Janie did mention that.”
“Will I be offended by the answer?”
“Probably, unless you remember it’s just a joke and meant to entertain, not offend.”
“To entertain whom?”
“Why am I not surprised? Okay, Ty, how do I tell a head nurse?”
“She has dirty knees.”
Everyone groaned. No problem. I liked a groan more than a laugh anyway.
“You know what oral sex is, don’t you, Ty?” Roxy asked.
“I know it could put you out of a job.”
“True, but you’re supposed to say, ‘No, Roxy, I don’t.””
“No, Roxy, I don’t.”
“It’s when people just talk about it,” she said, delivering the punch line.
I did a groan-laugh, my ultimate compliment.
Her blue eyes studied me for a moment. “How long have you suffered from insecurity, Ty?”
“Talk about a non-sequitur,” I responded. “Where’d that come from?”
“When Janie told me you spent your life savings to buy a Corvette. And a used one at that.”
“Did I ever tell you, Allan, that your beautiful blonde wife talks too much?”
Allan grinned, as he had several times listening to our conversation. He and Janie had ringside seats as Roxy and I exchanged body blows. “Common knowledge to all, Ty. Thought you knew.”
“I just said you’d bought an expensive car,” Janie protested. “Roxy asked me what kind, and I said a Vette.”
“And from that, Roxy, you concluded I was insecure?”
“True, Ty. Disagree?”
“I work hard. I deserved it.”
“And to also possibly attract girls?”
Obfuscation time. “Actually, Roxy, Vettes appeal more to guys.”
“So you wanted to show the guys you’d arrived?”
“Haven’t seen a one yet who didn’t eat his heart out when he sees it.”
“And you’re happy with it?”
“Very much.” Mostly the truth, but I wasn’t crazy about the monthly repair bills.
She smiled sweetly. “As long as you’re happy with it, that’s all that counts.”
Allan laughed. “Ty’s happy now, but wait until some guy dings him in the parking lot.”
“It’ll be the last car he ever dings.”
The waiter arrived and gifted us with the check. Allan and I reached for it, but a strong and slender hand got to it first. “Least I could do, guys. I messed up your evening.”
I was impressed, but, more than that, I was touched by her sentiments.
Roxy look whipped, and it didn’t take a genius to see she was ready to call it a night. So, we called it a night. It’d been an interesting and unusual night, even though I didn’t get laid.
The next day was Saturday. Allan called for my post-game analysis.
“So, what did you think of Roxy?”
“Liked the way she picked up the check.”
“Yeah, that was something.”
“What’d she think of me?” I tried to make it sound like a question about the weather.
His pause told me his answer wasn’t going to be pleasant. “Two things.”
“Something about boys and their toys.”
“Kind of expected that. Second thing?”
“Yeah, she did kind of capture your essence.”
“Oh, there was a third thing.”
“What?” I asked, disliking myself for sounding eager, which, of course, he picked up on.
“A little interest on your part?”
“Just tell me the third thing.”
“She liked your dry wit and occasional smile and thought you were very handsome.”
“So she wants to see me again?” I tried to hide my complacency.
“I think not. Her bottom line to Janie was she wasn’t interested in dating a high schooler.”
Rejection and I were not friends.
“Anything I should tell Janie?”
My mentor, General Brown, even though he was gone now and in Afghanistan fighting to make our longest war ever even longer, hadn’t been content with my just learning to fly. He insisted I take it further and get an IFR or instrument flight rating as well. They actually put a helmet on me, blocking my peripheral vision, and made me fly the plane by instruments alone.
I had to manage airspeed, time, direction, and altitude at the same time. In an actual IFR situation, the air controller might tell me to climb to 6,000 feet and hold a course of 250 degrees for ten minutes at 250 knots per hour. Then he might tell me to reduce my altitude to 4,000 feet and hold a course of 180 degrees for five minutes at 200 knots per hour. It was incredibly hard to do. The ultimate multi-tasking. Screw up, and the consequences were severe. If JFK, Jr., for example, had had adequate IFR training, he would still be among us. I wanted to quit several times, but the general, who was then only a lowly colonel, wouldn’t let me.
“It’s imperative you get this, Tyler, so that you can better understand what the aircraft designers want. Keep at it, and one day it’ll just come to you. You’ll laugh at how hard you thought it was.”
He was right. One day it did all come together, and I got my IFR rating. Trust me, though. I never once laughed at how hard I thought it was.
I eventually picked up a commercial license as well, which was easy after IFR. I lived near Dayton International, which is where I took my training, and I agreed to be on call for a small shuttle line there if someone needed a lift. It inconvenienced me on occasion, but the recompense for flying someone to Cleveland or picking them up there was good and a welcome supplement to my Vette style of living. They called me usually on weeknights (they knew I wouldn’t be available on weekends) and often in spotty weather. I kept my hand and head in IFR and stayed current. The general would’ve been proud of me.
It was a Thursday night, and it had been storming periodically during the day. I was in the midst of planning a fun-filled weekend when my sometime airline employer called me. They needed a hospital patient flown to Cleveland immediately.
“What’s the weather like?” I asked.
“Iffy, but it’s life or death. Baby needs a heart transplant. Heart and heart-transplant team are in Cleveland.”
“They can’t wait a day?”
“The baby’s blue now. We’ll pay you $1,000 to make the flight.”
A thousand bucks? The magic words. “On my way,” I speed-answered.
I filed the flight plan with my cell on my drive there. There would be the couple, the baby, and a nurse. I asked for a plane I’d flown before and requested it be gassed up and ready for takeoff when I got there. Visibility was okay. I could see pretty well as I drove. The ceiling looked low.
Everything had been greased. A guard was waiting for me as I pulled up. The airplane had been taxied up to an approach runway, The parents, baby, and nurse were on-board and waiting. One of the mechanics handed me the flight manifest and two flashlights. You always carried a spare on night IFR flights. The father was standing by the right door. The mother, the nurse, and the baby were in the back seat.
I know what you’re thinking. The nurse was Roxy. Wrong! It was an ICU nurse, but one very much like Roxy in the way she sacrificed her personal time to care for others. She had volunteered to accompany the couple to Cleveland on her own time and with no recompense. The airline had offered its services pro bono and was paying me out of its own pocket. Very un-airline like.
The tower told me they shouldn’t let me take off as the ceiling was below limits. Runway visibility was okay. It was raining, and there was a cross wind gusting to thirty knots.
“You’re the pilot,” the air controller advised. “Your call. Go or no go?”
“Let’s go for it.”
They cleared me for takeoff. The cross wind jerked us around a little on my take-off run, but I got off okay. Within a minute, I was in total clouds.
“I can’t even see any lights down below. Are we going to be okay?” the father asked.
As if the poor guy didn’t have enough to worry about already.
“It’s okay,” I said reassuringly. “I’m trained to fly without visual references. The controllers will know exactly where we are at all times and help us along the way. We’ll be fine.”
The Dayton air controllers passed me off to Columbus and then Columbus off to Cleveland. They knew it was a mercy flight, and, with the bad weather, there wasn’t much traffic. They baby-sat me and the baby all the way.
Cleveland was technically socked in, and the controllers there requested me to declare an emergency before they could officially permit me to land. Fortunately, there wasn’t much wind, and they had me on their GPS to within five feet.
The father was sweating, and he sighed with relief when we broke through the clouds and saw the airport lights below. “That’s some damned good flying, Tyler.”
“Just following directions. The controllers had us all the way. My job was just to shut up and listen.” I spoke truth, and I’m not the modest type.
An ambulance was waiting, and the doctors in the OR had the little girl in their hands within thirty minutes. She got her new heart. Had she gone by ambulance, and given the weather, it would have taken six hours to cover the 215 miles to Cleveland. We got there in an hour. I slept in the airport that night. The weather cleared up by morning, and the nurse flew back with me to Dayton.
They paid me the $1,000. The nurse, whose name was Phyllis, asked me for a ride home, as she’d come to the airport in the ambulance. As I was dropping her off, I impulsively handed her the $1,000. “Give it to the parents,” I requested. “An anonymous donor.”
I’ve no idea what came over me. The $1,000 would’ve been nice, but how could I take it when everyone else involved was working pro bono?
Phyllis accepted the money and thanked me on behalf of the parents. “I’ll see that they get the money, Tyler, but I intend to tell them it was from you.”
The airline appreciated the publicity for helping the little girl, who was doing fine with her new heart. A TV station asked the airline for an interview. They asked me to sit in, but I declined and requested my name be withheld. Publicity might’ve been helpful in my never-ending search for girls, but pilots are funny guys and I was a minor member of their community. If you do something really heroic like Sully did on the Hudson that day in NYC, take a few bows. But flying to Cleveland in IFR weather is no big deal. It would be an insult to a competent pilot to start bragging about something that routine.
Wasn’t I risking my life? No, good pilots would’ve quickly said. I had the proper training and focus for the mission. It was routine. That’s how they think. Why do you think they picked test pilots to go to the moon instead of geologists?
Only heart-thumping thing I did was forking over the $1,000 to Phyllis.
Phyllis told the story to her sister nurses at the hospital. Who was the mystery pilot, they queried? She described me and said my name was Tyler and I procured airplanes for the government. That got Roxy’s interest. She called Janie.
A few days later Allan appeared at my desk. “Forget it,” he said and turned away.
“Wait a minute. How can I forget what you didn’t tell me?”
“I knew you’d say no.”
“No to what?”
“Well, Janie… Aw, forget it.”
“Sit the fuck down, Allan. Janie what?”
He reluctantly sat down by my desk. “Janie needs a favor.”
“This favor involve another bachelorette?”
“Full disclosure, Ty. It does, but not another one.”
“A previous one?”
He stood up to leave. “I told her it was a waste of time.”
“Just out of curiosity who was it?”
“Come back, Allan,” I requested, much too quickly.
He returned and sat down again. I tried to ignore his smug smile.
“What about Roxy?”
“Janie’s been talking to her, and Janie’s of the opinion a second date might be in order.”
“Even though I’m a lowly high school fuckup?”
“Roxy is no longer of that opinion. May I proffer a personal vignette, Ty?”
“I went to a hospital affair the other night, a cocktail party, to be precise, and Roxy showed up with a tall handsome doctor who’s been chasing her around for a year now.”
“Your point being?”
“She was dressed to the dimes in a killer black cocktail dress and looked fucking gorgeous. She’s a gym rat and what a body.”
“Am I that craven?”
“Of course not. That’s why you date so many librarians.”
“Sarcasm noted. So what does Janie want me to do?”
“Give it another shot.”
“None, and I’ll even pick up the tab.”
“You realize you’re putting our friendship on the line?”
“Would I risk something as valuable as that if I didn’t have a good feeling about it?”
“You’d do whatever the fuck Janie told you to.”
“Assuming that’s true, I fail to see what you have to lose.”
My heart began to beat faster, Unbeknownst to me, it was my biological clock speeding up.
“Okay,” I said, endeavoring to sound casual. “Set it up. Now, can I get back to work?”
“A grateful husband thanks you.”
“And give my regards to Emma.”
“You’re an English major. Read your Jane Austen.”
So, we were set for the Pine Club again the following Saturday night.
The maître d led me to the table. Allan and Janie were there, but no Roxy.
“Doctor Nurse out jumping over tall buildings again?”
“Sit, Ty,” Janie directed. “Just talked to her. Minutes away. In the meantime, though, someone else wants to say hello to you.”
“Hello, Tyler,” a feminine voice said. Although not Roxy, it was a nurse, in fact, the nurse who’d flown to Cleveland with me. A man was with her.
“Hello, Phyllis,” I replied. “Nice to see you again. Here to eat? We can squeeze you in.”
“My husband and I have already eaten, Tyler. I just wanted to thank you so much for what you did the other night. All that rain and wind and lightening. And the darkness. I couldn’t see a single light below us. I was terrified. How you found your way to Cleveland absolutely astounds me. I know you’re going to say it was nothing.”
“It was nothing.”
I knew that the appearance there of Phyllis wasn’t a coincidence. She was there to confirm I was the mystery pilot. It was apparently a matter of concern to someone who thought I still had pimples and masturbated four times a day.
Phyliss and spouse departed. All that remained was for a curtain to open and Roxy emerge.
I gave Janie a semi-glare. “Did your husband tell you your name is no longer Janie?
“He did, and Emma is one of my favorite literary characters.” She smiled with immense satisfaction. “I think you’re going to be more than satisfied with my meddling, Ty. Take a look at what’s walking up behind you.”
I turned and had my Gold Toe socks knocked off. It was Roxy, and although the place was busy as hell, heads were snapping around as she passed table after table. Her raven black hair was long and lustrous and swept past her right ear to fall over her left shoulder. Her Carolina blues were sparkling. Our eyes met. She smiled broadly and sucked the breath from my thumping chest. She was dressed in a killer black cocktail dress, maybe the same one Allan had raved about. He had lied not. Killer was the operative word. And her body, long, slim, lithe. It would make the girl from Ipanema run screaming from the beach in shame.
She approached me and took my hands in her long and slender ones, then leaned forward and kissed my cheek. She was as tall as I in her heels and smelled of perfume and a trace of bactericidal soap.
My biological clock was behaving erratically.
As Roxy sat down next to me, Allan and Emma rose to leave.
“You two are on your own,” Emma announced. “Unless you prefer to be chaperoned.”
Roxy still had my hands clasped in hers. She lasered me with her smile and water-boarded me with those incredibly blue eyes. My biological clock sputtered a final time and died.
“Love walked right in and drove my shadows away. Love walked right in and brought my sunniest day, One magic moment and my heart seemed to know that love said hello. Though not a word was spoken.”
Just another silly love song?