The file man

I’VE MAINTAINED a file cabinet for decades. I find filing satisfying. When I left Houston, I culled wildly, keeping just the bare bones, which I packed over the Rio Bravo.

new-imageI bought a new file cabinet, resuming the habit.

I have insurance files (one for homes, one for cars), bank files (two banks), investment files, three house files (two here, one in Mexico City), receipt file, tourism file, health file, and many more.

But my favorite is the Miscellaneous File where I keep stuff that doesn’t belong elsewhere. Yesterday, killing time at home due to having a cold, I opened Miscellaneous.

It’s a trip down Memory Lane.

  1. Press passes with mug shots. One from my first job, New Orleans. I’m clean-shaven, 24 years old, in a dress shirt and tie. Another for the San Juan Star. I’m 30, My collar is open, and I have Fu Manchu mustache. The third, Houston Chronicle, age 39, shows me in a dress shirt and tie but with the full black beard of a Hells Angel.
  2. Expired passports. Two U.S. and one Mexican. The older U.S. passport shows me in eyeglasses. That’s a no-no now. Both Mexican and U.S. passports were renewed this year, likely for the last time. I’m not immortal.
  3. Air Force shoulder patch. It’s a large circle that says F-106 Dart. The Delta Dart was an interceptor aircraft, and I maintained survival-equipment pods in the ejection seats. Had I not screwed up so much of my youth, I would have been flying the F-106 instead.
  4. A bookmark. On textured blue paper and inscribed with a haiku of my father’s: cajun cabin/the aroma of hot gumbo/floats on the bayou. His name, dates, and the phrase American Haiku Master, which he was.
  5. Air Force discharge. Two versions. One suitable for framing, and the other with dates and mumbo-jumbo.
  6. new-imageA watercolor sketch. Of me, done by local artist Arturo Solis. He just walked over and handed it to me one day years ago while I was on the plaza enjoying a cafecito. We have a number of his works hanging on our walls.
  7. Drug formula. For committing suicide. You never know when it may come in handy. The Hemingway method is messy. Anyway, I don’t own a shotgun.
  8. Texas driver’s license. I arrived with it. It expired six years later, and I never renewed. My DL now is Mexican.
  9. Solo certificate. On the 28th day of June, 1976, I took off alone and returned to the New Orleans Lakefront Airport in a Cessna 152. Suitable for framing. I don’t fly anymore.
  10. A love note. From my wife on my birthday in 2003. We had been married almost 18 months.
  11. Final electric bill. Houston, dated Jan. 8-12, 2000. Amount: $86.02 for just four days 16 years ago. That’s approximately what I pay now in a year at the Hacienda.
  12. Certification card. International Bartending Institute. Dated May 7, 1982. I am a certified bartender. Whoopee!
  13. Flying license. I became a pilot of small planes on Oct. 26, 1976. The license never expires. You do have to renew your medical certificate, however. The last medical expired June 1, 1978. There’s also a radio permit in the envelope.
  14. Cremation certificate. My mother was cremated on Jan. 8, 2009, at Atlanta Crematory Inc. in Stone Mountain, Georgia. She had made it to age 90.
  15. Divorce papers. I had them in this file until fairly recently, but I tossed them into the trash. Two divorces. Two utterly miserable experiences that I’ll never repeat. I would prefer the Hemingway solution.

If you got all the way down here, you deserve a Gold Medal. I also have a Letters file.

Maybe I’ll spill that here some day. That’s where the love notes are stored. I love love letters.

Aerial adventures

Me

ONE SWELL THING about multiple marriages is that you get a recess between wives.

My recess between Wife #1 and Wife #2 was five years, and it was a great recess out there on the playground of naked women.

On the other hand, the recess between Wife #2 and Wife #3 was a spell of much misery and lasted seven years. Recesses can vary in tone.

One of the many happy things I did in the first recess was learn how to fly small planes.

A favorite activity during that time was landing a Cessna 172 at the New Orleans Municipal Airport right next to Lake Pontchartrain after an hour or so of fun flying over the swamps of south Louisiana or maybe a jaunt over to cornpone Mississippi.

During steaming summers, I would park the plane, hop aboard my 1977, black, Harley-Davidson Sportster, and haul butt about a mile south on Downman Road to a sprawling clapboard tavern that kept the air-conditioning in the neighborhood of 35 degrees year-round, or so it seemed, and it was sweet.

I was often alone and wearing cutoff jeans and a T-shirt that said San Juan. The best things about that bar, the name of which escapes me, aside from the air-conditioning, were boiled crawdads and chill Dixie Beer.

Not being rich enough to have my own plane, I joined a flying club, which basically was a bunch of folks who banded together to maintain a few small planes, and each of us paid a fee per hour to take one up. It’s how poor people fly, but in time even that system got too rich for me. By the late ’70s, I was a retired flyboy.

Much of my life back then was haphazard. My first flying lesson took place on July 23, 1974, with a lanky, hillbilly instructor named George Gunn. He was an inch taller than I am, and I’m 6’3″, so it was quite a squeeze in the cockpit of the tiny Cessna 150 training plane.

hija
A flying companion, my daughter.

I first soloed on June 28, 1976, which was quite a spell later. I must have been paying more attention to Dixie beer and crawdads than I was to flying lessons with Gunn.

The last time I took a plane up was November 9, 1978. I still have my logbook. Later, I went up in a hot-air balloon, parachuted once and put in some training hours in gliders.

There were only two times I ventured far from the skies over South Louisiana and Mississippi. Once was a Christmas when Wife #2 and I flew to Southwest Georgia to visit my parents and sister out in the boonies.

Due to a menacing weather forecast, we left early to return to New Orleans on Christmas Eve morning.

We were forced down, hair-raisingly, in rain and buffeting winds at the airport at Dothan, Alabama, where we spent the night in a motel, not much of a Christmas, trust me.

The second venture was down to the border where I flew with two friends to visit the sins in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. This flight too presented problems. First, I neglected to adjust the altimeter to the higher altitude of the airport in Laredo, Texas. As I entered the pattern to land, a birdie whispered that I was quite low. I didn’t understand why until after I landed and a light bulb ignited over my head. Whoops!

* * * *

Radio out, overshooting runway

Flying back to New Orleans from Laredo the next day, the plane’s radio went out. I could hear transmissions directed at me, but nobody could hear my response. But before that happened, we were forced to land at Galveston, Texas, due to bad weather, again. I did not have the proper license to fly in bad weather.

I was a fair-weather pilot.

Two of us spent the night in a motel, but the other companion decided to return to New Orleans in a bus. He said he was in a hurry, but I believe he’d just lost his nerve, the panty-waist.

Early the next morning, we took off again, one man lighter, and it was over Southwest Louisiana that the radio went out. Some airports allow landings without a radio. Some do not. New Orleans is one where you cannot.

Just north of Lake Pontchartrain is a small airport in the piney woods. I needed to land there to phone the New Orleans control tower to let them know to expect me. That’s one solution to not having a radio.

Here’s how I landed at that airport in the tall piney woods: badly. Due to those tall trees, you must come in rather steeply and level out at the last moment. Alas, it was a very windy day. To offset that added peril, I came in faster than usual and landed farther down the runway than I would have done in a perfect world.

When the tires finally screeched down, halfway down the short runway, my passenger and I watched as the trees at the other end got nearer and nearer with alarming rapidity. I braked like nobody’s business.

The concrete runway ran out.

And we were still barreling along — through high weeds. But we stopped short of the trees.

We taxied to a hangar where I phoned the other airport. An hour later we landed in New Orleans uneventfully. I believe that flight was my last. I decided to stick to motorcycles, crawdads and Dixie Beer.

And I did that with a vengeance.