SS novice field agent
Posted - 03/13/2009 : 06:11:49
| The Night of the Fantastic Flight (late 1978)
…or How I Learned to Sit Down and Mind My Own Business
I remember it as if it was yesterday, although so much was now different, that it proved to be a lifetime ago. I was to fly on a now defunct airline, from a city I formerly lived in, visiting relatives who have long since passed away. Now I must point out, that my destination did not make this vacation memorable, but instead journey to the West coast on the five hour flight from Miami to Los Angeles on Eastern Airlines, late November of 1978, was the cause for putting pen to paper in 2008. Thirty years ago, I was a sniveling, little pest of sixteen, annoying and aggravating my parents to the point that exile to California was my destiny that Thanksgiving holiday. I gladly accepted their invitation to ‘get out of town’ and soon was waiting in concourse D at Miami International Airport, looking around at the gang of humans who I would share a five hour ride with. Calls were made for boarding, and I dutifully lined up with the masses, still oblivious of the life changing experience I would soon undertake. I pushed and clawed my way through the confines of the jetway, which lurched and creaked as passengers of various sizes tested the quality of the construction, and soon burst into the aircraft, simultaneously being smiled at and ignored by my stewardess (1978, no flight attendants existed yet…in fact, I ate at a Denny’s that morning, and my waitress (no servers yet) seemed to have trained the stewardess, as the smile/ignoring attitude I just experienced was a carbon copy of the one from mere hours ago) who roped and corralled the masses who were destined to sit behind the first class seats. I actually incurred the wrath of one stewardess by actually placing my left hand upon the headrest of one of the first class seats, and I saw her, from the corner of my eye, retrieve an umbrella from an overhead compartment and attempt to launch the closed item directly at my hand, but technical difficulties caused the umbrella to open in mid-flight, nullifying any potential injury to me, but greatly annoying the gentleman in 3B, as one of the little, wiry, pointy, razor sharp bits of metal that make up the skeleton of this rain repellant detached his retina better than any prizefighter ever could have, even on their best day. I took advantage of this mishap, and was grateful for the injury of my fellow passenger, as it allowed me to escape unharmed. Curtains parted as if Moses himself walked in front of me, and I soon was located in the safety of the coach part of the aircraft, mindlessly looking for 27E, wishing indeed that Moses was on board, as I imagined I could use his staff to fend off the stewardess if she ventured this far south in the jet.
And there it was, a beautiful center seat, and I would have the luxury of being boxed in for five hours by two men, one who occupied 27D and one who sat in 27F. They both were engrossed in reading, and I failed to make eye contact with either, until my knee brushed up against the man in the aisle seat, and I saw, pinch me, I must be dreaming, but I saw Ross Martin look up from the manuscript he had been so concentrating on, and smile and stand up, sliding into the aisle permitting me easy access to my seat, which remained empty, as I stared into my boyhood hero’s eyes, and my mouth dropped open without benefit of words passing by my duck-billed platypus type lips. He smiled a bit more, eventually slightly laughing, as he had been greeted this way before, and he patted me on the back and said hello.
I looked at him, and weaseled my skinny frame past his seat, dropping it upon the now occupied center seat, and being locked in as Ross retook his seat. I looked straight ahead, at my tray table, and then the behemoth in front of me reclined to a degree that caused me to receive a plastic burn on my two knees, as they continuously tried to cause their huge body to become horizontal, although it was restrained in a vertical object. Back he pushed his seat, only stopping when human bones and flesh prevented the further declination of his basketball sized head, then he would return his seat forward two inches, certain there was a defect in the mechanism, only to slam it back harder and harder, believing he could cause the metal to give just a little bit more if he applied the correct pressure, and after the seventh try at becoming prostrate, he accepted the fact that he would probably be the most uncomfortable passenger on this flight, and he mentally patted himself on the back (I could have done it physically, as his body rested inches away from mine) for being such a gracious and wonderful person, deciding he would not bother the poor girl who ran up and down the aisle trying to shove people into their proper seats, readying the aircraft for takeoff. Despite the uncomfortable situation, I remembered that one of my favorite actors of all time was breathing the same air I was, and that he had patted me on my back, and smiled at me, and even spoken directly to me. I didn’t want to annoy him, but I did want to somehow get into a discussion with him, as I had so many questions, but here he was, reading again. Hmmm. What to do? I twisted and strained to free my left arm from the confines of the tray table, and managed to move it, millimeter by millimeter, onto the armrest that his right arm covered. First I conquered the side of the armrest, climbing that 90 degree object until reaching the summit, then, imagining I was Sir Edmund Hillary, and burying my flag (what country…the UK…no…Switzerland…no…Australia…maybe…I would have to remember to look that up later) into the upper surface of the armrest, my hand covered about ten percent of the armrest, with Ross still dominating about 85 percent. My eyes strained to see the progress, as I still appeared to look forward, although my beady eyes each rested in the far reaches of the left orbit of my eye sockets. Then it happened, as I brushed up against this acting god, and he looked at me, after first checking his wrist, making sure I had not absconded with his watch, and then smiling as he spoke to me.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he said, accepting blame for the mishap. “They don’t give you much room, do they?”
Not only was he speaking to me, but he did so in the form of a question. I must respond. But how?
“No…they don’t,” I incitefully responded, preparing to begin a repartee with Ross, which would then lead to an exchanging of ideas and common interests, theories of acting, meanings of life, religious beliefs, political comments, humorous anecdotes, historical reflections of seminal events, intertwining economic interests of different nations…but then I noticed that Ross again became a slave to the written word that rested upon his lap. I nervously began to swivel my eyes from side to side, as if watching a table tennis match being played at lightning speed on top of the head of the giant who locked me in. Next, the gentleman with the window seat attempted to stand, and his cranium slammed into the hard plastic that hovered over our seats. This angered this gentleman, and his anger expanded as he had to deal with the large headed human in front of me, who would not permit treks to the lavatory from two thirds of our row.
“Hey, pal,” he said, while gently rocking the seat with his two hands.
Could it be? That voice. It is!
“Hey, buddy, can you give us a break back here?” He shook a little harder.
“I paid for my seat too, I’ve got a right to lean back, I own this seat and all areas it can twist and lean into. It’s my property until I get off this…”
He had finally looked backward, and his eyes met the eyes of a simmering Robert Conrad, who looked very much like a simmering James West about now, and I watched to see if Robert would launch his derringer from underneath his maroon jogging suit, or maybe reach behind his collar to retrieve a dagger, or possibly pop off the heal of his (I looked down, disappointed) tennis shoe and find a syringe of acid to eat through the metal supports of his chair to free us from the grip of airline travel, but instead only saw Robert look straight through the monstrously large individual, peering beyond his eyes, into his brain, and mentally intimidating him into submission, and instantly the chair returned into its upright position, and in fact, the derelict tried to make the chair lean forward more than it would, and he began pounding the poor soul who sat in front of him and he did not bother us again the rest of the flight.
“Wow!” I exclaimed, having seen a bad guy done away with by James West, right before my young, impressionable eyes. “That was cool,” I further added to my first comment, expanding upon and my original statement and lending credence to it not only being something deserving of a one word expostulation with an exclamation mark, but an immediate follow up of a three word sentence. I looked at Robert as he slid past me, nearly stepping on my left big toe, but gracefully turning at such an angle that I was left unharmed. So, I’m not only boxed in by Ross Martin, but I’ve got Robert Conrad boxed, I helplessly looked to the empty seat, I had, I will have again, Robert Conrad boxed in against that window seat. How could this happen? My two favorite actors, on the same flight as I am, in the same row, probably having left the center seat open, hoping for extra elbow room, until I dashed and destroyed their dreams by showing up and separating them from each other, almost as if I was a secret agent myself, assisting West and Gordon on the difficult case of…well, the frantic flight attendant, no, the aggressive fellow passenger, no, the search for a clean lavatory, maybe. Wait a minute. Why are they sitting in coach? What happened? Are they struggling financially? These two men should be sitting in first class. But…then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity of sitting next to them. Maybe they like to mingle with their fans? That might be it. I casually looked at Ross, studious as ever, reading page after page of…what? I struggled to read the words, but he flipped through the pages too quickly, and I could not determine what he read. I looked toward the floor under the seat in front of Robert’s sitting area, and saw a similar group of papers protruding from a carry on bag that rested there, and I flipped my shoe off and tried to grab one of the papers with my big toe and its skinnier but a bit longer partner as I poked them out of one of the numerous holes that decorated my right sock. I reached and reached, not looking down further, as I did not want to alert Ross of my attempts at nosily grabbing these documents, so I blindly hooked whatever I thought was the paper, and retrieved an old air sickness bag, a copy of Life magazine from 1976, a photograph of Frank Borman (look it up, people), and lint and dust and paper clips and peanut shells and gum wrappers, until, I vainly stretched my leg while staring straight ahead, as if I had nothing on my mind save enjoying a quiet flight to Los Angeles, until…
“AHHHHH!” I screamed, as a seat occupied card embedded itself between my toenail and the tender skin that rests just below the protective nail.
“Are you all right, young man?” Ross asked concerned, still unaware that the genesis of my scream emanated from my lower extremity.
I looked at him, and his magical healing powers instantly dried the tear before it even had a chance to emerge from its protective cocoon, or tear duct, if you will. My lower platypus like lip began to quiver, but the calming influence of Ross also limited the motion of that part of my body, and I even managed a word or two.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Martin. It’s just that,” gotta lie, can’t admit to trying to pilfer the document, “it’s just that I get a little nervous when I fly, what with being an orphan, and having had to fend for myself since I was ten, and getting straight A’s in school even though I hold down three full time jobs, just so I can help my Aunt and Uncle out, and when I’m hurdling through the atmosphere at 600 miles an hour, with nothing but a thin covering of sheet metal between myself and certain death, and with the wings being full of 60 thousand pounds of kerosene, and my goodness, even if you can comprehend the miracle of flight, how in the world do they get these things to land as they do, well, with all of that, it just overwhelmed me somewhat, but I promise not to make any shrieking sounds for the rest of the flight.”
“Very well,” a compassionate Ross responded, “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t having any difficulties.” Ross smiled as he mentally patted me on the head, as if I were a Dalmatian, a Pekinese, or maybe even one of those wrinkly dogs with too much skin or not enough body. I responded by shaking my injured toe, dousing Robert’s partially read manuscript with more blood than any writer had ever been able to squeeze into an episode of The Wild, Wild West. In fact, I felt as if I had accomplished what only a pairing of Robert Bloch as writer and Sam Peckinpah as director could have accomplished had they been permitted to team up on an episode of our favorite show. Ah, the possibilities.
“Excuse me,” Robert said as he tapped Ross on the knee, with Ross acquiescing and standing up in the aisle, permitting Robert to once again claim his seat. He expertly scurried over me, and I once again found myself sitting between Robert Conrad and Ross Martin, with hours of flight time remaining. I must keep Robert from looking through his script again, I must. I kicked his bag forward, causing it to lodge itself four rows in front of us. He looked at me, unsure of what he had just seen.
“I’m sorry, I’ve got a nervous twitch in that leg, it won’t happen again, sir,” I meekly told him as I prepared to be pummeled.
“Yes, Bob,” Ross leapt to my defense, “this young fellows had kind of a rough life, many burdens to bare, and he gets nervous when he flies.”
“Oh,” Robert looked ahead, “but why’d he kick my bag four rows forward?”
“Bob, it’s not important, I’ve got a copy of the script as well,” Ross reassured Robert.
“Are you guys working together again?” I inquired.
“Yes, yes we are,” Ross smiled. “Just like old times. You know it’s been ten years since we played West and Gordon, and we’re both looking forward to it tremendously.”
“Yes, son. Ross and I haven’t worked together since, what was the last episode, the one with Lana Wood?”
“That was TNOT Sudden Plague, very similar in name to TNOT Plague, but not at all a similar story, as one was in B&W and the other in color, although the color one seemed rather bland, and if you ask me, the B&W one was more lively. You know,” I continued, with Ross and Robert hanging on every work I uttered, “I never understood why in TNOT Simian Terror you drilled a hole in the floor, I mean, that’s how the senator knew you were up there, I mean this might lead to discussions years from now with different theories being offered about why you drilled that hole. I mean my goodness, Artie,” I blushed, “I mean Ross, that was an old house. I mean a little termite action coupled with you drilling more holes in that floor than Exxon has drilled in the Middle East, and BOOM, there you go, right on the senator’s desk. Be more careful with things like that. It bothers the fans. And another thing, what was up with Richard Kiel. First he doesn’t speak. Then he does. Then he’s not Voltaire, but Dimus. I mean, come on now. And what about Tennyson? Whatever happened to him?”
Robert attempted to stem the flow of comments and questions, but it was as if a beaver (by itself) tried to build a dam and quell the rapids that poured over Niagara Falls. “Son,” he said while smiling, “we simply acted out the stories as they were written. The writers…”
“The writers? But you two were…and are the stars. The writers should know Jim and Artie well enough to let them do what the fans expect them to do, and should be kind of like a roadmap one would use when taking a vacation. I mean, come on guys, nobody cares about the writers, it’s the stars we all care about.”
Ross smiled, and looked at Robert, then at me. “Why thank you very much, son. That was very nice of you to say. You know,” he looked back toward Robert, “we are not only working together again, but we are doing a Wild, Wild West reunion movie. Those are the scripts that we’ve been reading. We have two versions, one that takes the series completely seriously, obviously written by a true fan, somebody with an understanding of the nuances of the characters relationship, and the other one being a…I don’t know how to say this…but a horrible excursion into a failed attempt at comedy, completely disregarding the love and respect Robert and I developed for each other, and how that carried over into the series. I don’t think it’s going to be very difficult for us to make the correct decision, in fact,” he slightly laughed, “they actually have promised to let us decide which script to use.”
“That’s right,” Robert piped up, “we’ve each been looking over them on this flight, and all they’ve asked us to do is hand them the one we want to use when we arrive. The settings are all the same, so we begin shooting tomorrow, regardless of our choice. We’ve inked the contracts and are especially proud of the clause we had included which gave us complete control of the script. They are bound to use the one we hand over, and we are bound to finish the shoot as long as they use the script we give them when we step off of this airplane.”
“Gosh,” I replied, in my best Opie Taylor amazed voice. “That’s amazing. And you have both scripts here? Each of you has two copies? Wow.”
“Well, Ross has two copies, my…favorite…is somewhat soiled with blood from your big toe. Unfortunately, you bled all over the good script and left the horrible script in mint condition.”
“But Ross has his, doesn’t he,” said while turning back to Ross, hoping he still retained the vital document.
Ross smiled, nodding his head. “Yes I do, I’ve got both right here,” he patted the papers upon his lowered tray table. “The good and the bad.”
“Golly gee whiz, Ross, I hope you don’t turn in the wrong one by mistake, I mean with that clause in the contract where you’re forced to finish filming regardless of how nasty and insipid the script is, could you imagine that. I mean, maybe one day we will all be able to collect the entire WWW series on video tape, and we’ll be able to place the WWW reunion movie at the end of the line of tapes we have on our bookshelf (unencumbered by books) and maybe, just to make people not feel like complete idiots who never read anymore, maybe they can call it, oh I don’t know, maybe something nonsensical like a video library, to make the great unwashed masses not feel like morons for not owning or ever reading anything other than the TV Guide. What do you guys think?”
Ross and Robert looked at each other, and smiled, both shaking their heads ‘no’.
“Why would people watch a television show over and over again, I mean, people joke about watching reruns in the summer, there just isn’t any suspense when you know everything around the corner.”
“That’s right, Bob, I just don’t think these items, as much as we enjoyed doing them, I just don’t think people would pay money to watch them over and over again. I mean, television is free. But thanks for your kind words.”
Ross patted my left hand with his right.
“Ross, I sure would like to see those scripts, I mean, I’ve watched WWW since I was eight years old. That’s half of my life.”
“What do you think, Bob. Couldn’t hurt to allow a true fan of…what is it you keep saying? A fan of WWW, that’s it. He likes to shorten things. Like when he was talking about The Night Of The, he kept saying TNOT, almost like he was typing all of this and just looking for shortcuts, I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s almost as if somebody is just typing up a story with all of us in it.”
“What are you talking about, Bob? That’s bizarre.”
Robert ashamedly sunk into his chair, eyeing the cute stewardess who walked past our row of seats.
“Guys, I do have one question, I mean, why are you sitting in the coach section of the aircraft? What happened? Hard times?”
“Great Expectations,” Ross responded, then smiling, “Our mutual friend here, sitting between us, I believe he is challenging our knowledge of Victorian literature, Bob. We’ve just rattled off three titles from Dickens’ novels, with his help. Not bad my friend. Actually, we’re sitting in the coach section because all the first class seats were sold already, something about a Democrat convention in Los Angeles.”
“But Ross, I thought they were the party of the working man, the little guy, the underrepresented, the poor, the unselfish, the angelic, and that they always castigated the Republicans as being the party of the rich, but here they’ve all purchased all the first class seats, forcing my two favorite actors to be wedged in here like two sardines in a can. When I turn eighteen, I’ll never vote for a Democrat.”
This brought a big smile from Robert.
“Here you go, son,” Ross said as he dropped the two scripts in my lap. “We’ve got about three hours before we land. Read them, digest them, determine which one a true fan would like to see, and we will take very seriously your suggestions.”
“Thank you, Ross. I won’t let you down, or WWW fans around the world.”
As time passed, Ross and Robert nodded off, and I read each word from each script.
“Sir, would you like something to drink?”
“Yes, ma’am, thank you. I would love a Coke” (one full of sticky syrup, instantly ruining any document it would come in contact with, destroying all written words and reducing this paper to a mass of nothingness).
“Can you manage, it looks somewhat tight.”
“No problem, and can I have two extras in case my friends here wake up?”
Next came the amazing balancing act of trying not to spill three Cokes upon the priceless document that was the good script, in spite of Ross’ twitching as he slept, and Robert’s snoring and gurgling, which shook the table so violently that the three glasses leapt up and down, and with different amounts of liquid in each, and different heights achieved, and a seemingly random pattern of jumps by the three glasses, when they landed back repeatedly upon the tray table, they played the beginnings of ‘Fur Elize’ by Beethoven. I became hypnotized by the lovely sound, and forgot to block Robert’s wildly swinging left arm, which ended the musical serenade and simultaneously ended the life of the good script, as it was instantly soaked by the dark liquid. I managed to salvage page number three and fourteen, but everything else was lost. With my new friends still slumbering (peacefully?) I secretly inserted the two good pages into the bad script, retaining the title page of the good script, called The Wild, Wild West Revisited, and hoped all would work out for the best when filming began.