Feb

1

 The life of Ray the Pilot is a tragedy, perhaps except for this memory.

At nine his father, an Air Force pilot and crop duster, taught him to solo an airplane. At eleven years young Ray was crop dusting alone in a helicopter. He was an Eagle Boy Scout and, standing 6'9" with 300 pounds, was a high school football and basketball standout. He followed in the air steps of his father, a Lt. Colonel, and joined the Air Force. He flew jets and helicopters in three wars: Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Then he taught flying for 14 years to cadets.

In one incident he crash landed and the paramedics took a pulse, found none, and stuck him in a body bag. En route to the morgue he 'rose from the dead', and punched his way out of the bag, astonishing the medics who re-diagnosed a concussion, with a tiny piece of shrapnel lodged near the spine. A hump grew to encase it, so large that he looked like a snail.

He fathered thirteen sons and daughters who joined the armed forces, and never called him on Christmas.

He had seen and done it all ten years ago, except Slab City, where he moved. People shunned him because he made the Elephant Man look like a pretty boy, but I enjoyed his war tales lowered into a raspy voice at eye level bent over with the hump rising like a glacier to the clouds.

Last week, Ray asked me for some Peppermint Oil through his window. He said the hump was freezing. The next day I followed the coroner to his camp, and now his trailer is empty of the most important thing. The Slab City yellow tape raises in one week, and the human vultures will scavenge all that is left.


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