Learn to Fly
The other day I was driving along on a back road and spotted a billboard that said, “Learn to Fly.” Seeing it was like receiving takeoff clearance to reminisce.
I did learn to fly, a long time ago. My father, a flight instructor, showed me how when I was a teenager. It was nothing official, but I could take off and land a Cessna 150 just fine from that unremarkable runway carved into a New Jersey swamp.
Sometime earlier in my youth I learned to play the saxophone. I remember precious little about this musical interlude—least of all how to play the instrument—except that the saxophone was rented from a little music shop housed in a decrepit building beside an old cemetery. I also recall the saxophone case let off a funky pungence when opened.
Some years before that, I learned to swim. This was at the antediluvian YMCA in East Orange. The natatorium was unventilated and ill-lit. The walls had a mossy cast. The pool water was suspiciously warm. When told it was time to get into the pool and learn to swim, the other small children in the class started crying. I joined them.
Just a couple blocks away from this Y was the home of the painter Ralph Blakelock. That was long before I was born. He lived in a house with his wife and nine children till he was committed to the State Homeopathic Hospital in Middletown, New York. I once visited that now-shuttered facility hoping to catch a glimpse of Blakelock’s ghost. All I saw was a bunch of abandoned buildings. There wasn’t even a historical marker.