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Model Airplane Fun Fly

Model Airplane Fun Fly

‘My kid, flying above the hundreds of unknown hands.’

Owen was picturing his son with nothing but strangers between him and the cold, trodden ground of the mosh pit.

Inching along highway 400, one of countless cars funnelling off toward the Warped Tour, Owen and his son Jasper had made a last minute change of plan. Even over the hum of the highway, music could be heard and a steady stream of kids were walking toward the site of the concert. Owen jumped lanes, took the left turn and let Jasper out in the underpass.

Jasper ducked his head, careful not to bump his multi-spiked Mohawk. Instantly, someone walking by yelled “Punk”. Jasper smiled, turned back toward Owen and as was their custom when a full hug was somehow inappropriate, reached out his fist to knock knuckles.

"So we'll meet in the McDonalds parking lot after."

"Yo," Jasper said, then lopped off, turned and yelled "Thanks."

When the light changed, Owen rolled on. He tried to spot Jasper on the sidewalk, but traffic pouring off of the southbound lanes demanded his attention. It irked him that he could not get even a glimpse of Jasper, though he knew it would serve no purpose. Occasionally, Owen and Jasper still went to concerts together, music had always been their bonding ground, but Jasper was nearly fifteen and Owen's presence at an all day show would be uncomfortable for both of them. For the first time, Owen was letting Jasper go it alone.

Owen drove past the turn for the McDonalds. He presumed to know the town well enough to make his way through it, having been in and around the vicinity countless times. The fact that he still thought of the city as a town, though it had sprawled beyond that definition decades before, was indicative of Owen's familiarity with its thoroughfares. His intention was to drive beyond the congested side streets before turning around and heading back to the highway, but he kept going awhile.

Owen had not yet decided how to fill the hours of the day. He had planned on spending a leisurely afternoon at the provincial park where they were camped. Not asking for much, Owen had chosen the park purely for its proximity to the concert, but when he and Jasper arrived it had proved even less scenic than expected. Another option was dropping in at a cottage an hour or so north. As he drove on and passed a Tim Horton's, then a stretch of expansive parking lots and malls, Owen reconsidered whether the road he was on in fact lead to the highway to the cottage. That there were now a number of unfamiliar industrial buildings and big box stores was to be expected, but a few blocks on, as he entered a new residential development, Owen knew this was not the road he had imagined. Still, he'd settled on visiting the cottage. The visit would require several hours of travel round trip, but that meant nothing to Owen, though he had been driving all week. The drive would be back roads and byways and no firm itinerary, and that, to Owen, was a joy.

Jasper and Owen had covered a lot of highway that week, driving east from Toronto for a few days of canoe camping. They had walked a spectacular 12K hike that climbed up to a series of viewpoints overlooking lakes and beaver ponds scattered among rugged limestone hills of the Canadian Shield. Owen came off the hike both inspired and exhausted. Though the nights had been restful, sleeping on the ground took more out of Owen than it used to. Everything took more out of Owen than it used to.

Owen had redoubled his efforts to be prepared and properly outfitted for the camping, as the year before he had fallen too far below his mark. After years of procrastinating, he had gotten a zipper on the tent fixed; he had splurged on self-inflating air mattresses, and had planned their menu carefully. The first morning they enjoyed bacon and poached eggs and bagels, but realizing he had forgotten the milk for his coffee left Owen feeling incompetent regardless.

Thinking again of Jasper, Owen hoped he would have no trouble meeting up with his friends. Being away from the Internet all week had disconnected Jasper from the Byzantine interweaving necessary to organize his 'peeps' at various summer locations and transport them to the concert. Making matters worse, Jasper's cell phone time had run out that morning. They had set off from the park in good time, but not fully satisfied with the performance of his hair gel, Jasper had convinced Owen to stop in as they passed a mall in a rural town. Under the tall, spindly light towers, Owen watched as Jasper fixed his spikes with a bottle of Elmer's glue, completely unconcerned with the gawking faces of shoppers going by. Owen smiled to see that in this way his son was cooler than he had ever been, and it shamed him into relaxing. People would always have their opinions.

"We should be rolling if you want to be on time," Owen said.

It was well after eleven already and the highway would be slow. Jasper and his friends were to meet by the BMX stage at one.

"Meh," went Jasper, utilizing his favorite dismissal.

Jasper gave a spike one last twist, held out his hands for Owen to rinse with a jug of water, and they got back in the car.

"A.F.I or Green Day?"

"Green Day," Owen said and started the car.

Owen signalled into one of the residential streets and doubled back toward the Tim Horton's to get a coffee and consult the map.

"I've hardly gone out of my way at all," he justified.

Minor navigational glitches were of little worry to Owen; it bothered him much more to pore over every detail of an outing ahead of time, not that this was a conscious resolution. Enough of his time, Owen felt, had been compromised and he would not waste more of it on over-planning.

After many chaotic, destructive years, Owen had chosen to live more responsibly, but had resented the loss of spontaneity this decision, and his new status as a father, had entailed. Owen felt his life had veered from its intended course, but he’d come to realize he never had charted a course, had barely even considered a direction, and had, at hazard, ignored all of the most potent warning signs.

Confronted with unplanned parenthood, Owen had accepted the challenge. Though he made no attempt to salvage his collapsing marriage, he swore to do better as a father than he had as a husband. In the past, Owen had worked his jobs, focused on his music and slipped socializing in between. Now, it was his music that had to be fit in, and his muse, it seemed, would not respond on a punch clock. When Jasper was small, Owen made every effort to keep him in contact with friends' kids. The kids had their fun and went to bed early and Owen and his friends would still stay up late talking much as they used to. Though the kids needed less minding as they got older, Owen increasingly felt they were all the parents talked of. As Jasper grew and established his own network, it gave Owen one more excuse to withdraw from his own.

Owen waited at a stop light as cars full of kids poured out of the crossroads and fast food joints, hooting and blaring music, some of which belonged to Owen’s generation.

"Get your own revolution,' he thought.

Up ahead an ambulance was parked behind a tow truck with a car up on the hoist. Someone slouched against the back of the ambulance as the paramedics bent low to speak to him. It occurred to Owen that the person was not physically hurt so much as somehow damaged, and he thought of Rick. Owen shook off the thought and drove on.

Why, Owen wondered once again, had he in any way encouraged Jaspers interest in Punk Rock? He reassured himself that this new music was Punk in name alone and Jaspers' enthusiasm was not motivated by what had propelled Owen, or Rick, and those kids headed for the Warped Tour were just looking for fun. The people at the wreck probably weren’t even headed for the concert.

Owen parked and laid his map on the warm hood of the car. Highway 26 was indeed the route he wanted, winding northwest in a solid red line from the striped blue line of the 400 where it curved east at Barrie. But which numerical interchange he had taken, and which of the marked secondary roads corresponded to Molson Park Drive, the map did not indicate. Owen looked up from the map and along the line of fast food outlets and strip malls. It still looked identical to the road he knew lead to the 26, but then, it also looked identical to the suburb where Jasper lived, and to just about everywhere Owen had been in years.

Owen used the men’s room, bought a coffee, and went back out to the car. A much older, silver-haired woman stood outside dressed in a green Dropkick Murphy’s t-shirt.

"Are you in town for the tour?" Owen asked, charmed at the idea.

"Heavens no," the woman replied in an Irish accent, not unfriendly, but clearly flummoxed at the implication.

"Well, could you tell me, is this highway 26?"

"Can't help you, son. We're here visiting."

"Thanks anyway," Owen said, as the woman was met by her people and went on inside.

Owen leaned against the car, looking at the map and sipping his coffee. The warm sun felt good on his face.

He was about to get in and drive off when he noticed the woman inside the coffee shop. She was speaking and nudging her chin at Owen. A man stood up from the table and moved toward the door.

"You're looking for 26, are ya? That's but a skip north on the freeway, but in all this traffic. I can tell you the quicker."

"Yeah, I'd much appreciate it. I'm headed out Stayner way."

"Get on here and go down to the end," the man said, gesturing out where Owen had just been. "Turn right, then keep on to the flower shop, take your left and keep on toward Angus. You'll see the signs for Stayner. It's the long way, but it'll be quicker today."

"Hey, thanks a lot. Thanks for coming out," Owen said.

Such small, unexpected kindnesses always moved Owen deeply, at once swelling and calming the loneliness housed beneath his ribs. Tears welled behind his eyes and that empty, ballooning sensation threatened to momentarily overwhelm him, but as he drove off Owen felt warmed and somewhat renewed.

Owen came to the end of the road on the far side of the residential developments. A run of tall, plank to plank fencing lined the last backyards like a battlement but across the worn asphalt of the old concession pastureland, beautifully unchanged to Owen's eye, opened up and ambled off into the distance. Owen took the right turn, drove on a kilometre or so, and as he approached his turn ahead felt himself more clearly oriented. Again he felt warmed, jaunty even, as he rolled the wheel and accelerated into the curve. The land around was flat and spread out and as his gaze traveled out over it he felt himself ease and open with it, as if he too were gently inclined toward the beaches of Nottawasaga Bay.

A sign announced CFB Borden and Owen remembered visiting the base years before. An uncle kept a small Cessna there and once took him up for a flight. Owen remembered again his delight when his uncle offered up control of the plane. Such generosity, frivolity even, was entirely out of character for not only the man, an officer with the Provincial Police, but for Owen's family in general. As Owen took hold of the co-pilots wheel, his uncles’ hands lay on his knees directly below the master control, the sight of which left Owen feeling safe and secure, without diminishing at all the thrill of feeling his small adjustments truly maintaining their uplift.

"Let's see what's what with your friend Mr. Jonson today," Owen's uncle said as he reassumed control of the plane. He swept them up into a steep, tight turn that set the plane almost on its side and brought a great laugh out of Owen, releasing his excitement and joy.

When they flew over the farm of his 'honorary' Uncle Carl, Owen did not recognize the house or the barn, but he spotted Carl's sleek, powder blue 442 in the drive. Handsome and relaxed, Carl was the only extended family member that Stan considered cool. Carl was out in the field so the uncle banked back for a closer pass, circled and wagged his wings hello. Owen waved and waved at the inclined window, suppressing his urge to call out, then felt a powerful feeling he could not decipher. Peering up from the seat of the tractor Carl looked small and confused, all but unknown.

Still bitter about it, Owen realized it was only a year or so later that his own parents broke contact with Carl. Once Owen moved out on his own he himself broke contact with all but his immediate family. Until now, it had never occurred to him that he could have looked up Carl on his own. Maybe he still could, but what would Carl think of Owen now?

The memory surfaced a dream Owen had a week ago, before he and Jasper had gone camping. It was another of the flying dreams Owen had experienced off and on since he was a boy, though he had taken little notice of them. He only began to consider them 'flying dreams', or in any way separate from other dreams, when Rick, back in their art school days, had spoken of his own. Rick said he had to run and flap his arms to become airborne, but Owen simply bounced his legs and, arms-outstretched, soared into swooping flight. The recent dream though had not been like that. In it, Owen had infiltrated the ranks of a vast bureaucracy and having been detected was fleeing for his life. He had made his way to a rooftop at the edge of the compound, knowing this was his only hope of evading the sentries of the perimeter. Diving off of the roof, coat flaps held open in his clenched fists, Owen worked his rapid descent, careening through the air toward a derelict warehouse across the tracks at the edge of the free zone. Straining to hold altitude, Owen managed to slip through a gap in the crumbling wall of the warehouse and roll to a stop, safe among the shadows.

When he had woken and recalled the dream, at fist Owen was thrilled, it was the first flyer he had had in years. Then, thinking again of the previous dreams, Owen became all too aware of how different this one had been. And now it had led him back to Rick. What didn't take Owen back to Rick?

Rick just happened to be hanging out at Owen's apartment on the night of the neighbours' birthday. Owen shared the second floor and garret of an old Victorian row house south of Queen Street West in Parkdale. As the spring grew warm he began conversing with the gay couple on the balcony next door. The boys ran their own restaurant, and Owen was unemployed, so they all had their mornings free. Owen would be out on the porch first, working his way through Nicosia’s 'Memory Babe'. At first he and Patrick chatted briefly, then Patrick offered to top up Owen's coffee. By late June, Owen was gladly sharing Pat's morning joint.

One night in early August, as Owen and Rick were out on the deck strumming in turns on Owen's worn, old acoustic, they heard the boys coming before they'd even turned the corner.

"Dior shoes and a big pink hat," Pat sang again and again.

Cal wore sparkly birthday hats on either side of his head, streamers dangled from Pat's pockets, and their carefree swagger was a joy to behold.

They spotted Owen and Rick from a few houses away and called out "Sing with us, boys. It's happy birthday to me."

There was a moment of quiet as they passed into their house, then Patrick burst onto the balcony.

"Laddies and gentlemen, direct your attention please toward ring number two - the second floor circus presents an extravaganza. Come, come, gentle sirs, don't be shy. Right this way. Step across, mind the gap. Take my hand and ye shall be upheld in more than this."

Once again, Owen and Rick swung their legs over the wrought iron railings and climbed onto the balcony next door. As they followed Pat into the apartment, Cal was slipping a Talking Heads record onto the turntable.

"Oh, no. This will not do."

Pat grabbed the album and flung it, Frisbee style, between Owen and Rick, out the balcony door, into the Parkdale night. Soon Iggy Pop was screaming into ‘TV Eye’.

"I always said if I survived until forty I'd have already beat the odds and would be deserving of a special celebration. And, by virtue of your splendiferous presence, you - are - invited."

Pat slipped a long, plush jewelry case from his jackets' breast pocket and with a flourish spread it open to reveal a row of hypodermic needles and two small, glass vials.

"Rock and Ruh-ool," Rick said.

Owen wished it were just the same old scene in another junkie movie. As the match exploded to flame and was set under the spoon, he knew all too well the glint in Ricks' eye.

At a casual glance, at most points in their lives, most people would pick Owen as the wilder of he and Rick. He wore the rebel clothes, played in a punk band and shot his mouth off too often, but it was Rick who truly pushed the limits. Back in high school, Rick was sprinkling marijuana on his Corn Flakes before Owen would even toke. Rick was the flash man, the one who drew the girls quickest, who scored first and most often, who even mocked Owen for his long, difficult relationships. Rick was the popular one. He had the fast smile, the firm shake, the casual chatter with anyone. Even once Owen became known in his band, it was Rick who worked the scene, got the address of the party, knew the doorman, became everybody’s good friend and explained that though Owen was a little withdrawn, he was cool.

Rick could never be filled, and Owen was usually ready to ride along, but not this time. Still, Owen never expected that Rick would get hooked. And all these years later, though he well understood the theory of ear to mouth to ear elaboration and distortion, Owen could not understand how the tale of Rick happening upon junk at his apartment had been spun into him being held responsible for Rick's eventual overdose.

For a long time after, Owen mourned and holed up inside himself. He kept clear of all parties and went to no gigs but his own until his loneliness grew too heavy to bear. Then, in a way he never had before, Owen craved the noise and crowded shelter of parties, but he seemed never to be invited. If he was, people seemed to speak only of Rick, how they had loved him and missed him, though Owen knew they had never known him at all. It was Owen who had lost a friend, a brother, a huge part of his own life.

On his own, Owen began to seek out the late night booze cans, but the more people he approached, the more he knew the chill of a winter of cold shoulders. Next his band elected to fold, and then start up again without bothering to call him. It seemed every time he would run into someone from the scene, heroin happened to be mentioned. 'I thought about Rick just the other day,' they'd say, and then walk off without a goodbye. Soon Owen saw a disdaining eye everywhere he went.

Even harder to understand than how Ricks' needle got placed in Owen’s' hand was how and when Owen had come to worry that it was true. When, and how, had grief and loss slid into shame and guilt? In time he had come to accept that he had been rejected, but how had he come to condemn himself? It got so he would not go out to the clubs, would not let himself get to know anyone new, as he knew they would only reject him once someone told them about Rick.

Owen noticed a sign for the Wasaga Waterworks then saw a long, curving turn-off branching to the right up ahead. On Impulse, Owen took the turn, then pulled onto the gravel shoulder to look over the map. Scanning south-west from Barrie he saw the road and traced it north to where it joined the 26 at Minesing. Minesing. Stan liked the name.

It was a small, two-lane road, faded so as to seem almost unpaved. Along the roadside, blue-petalled Chickory rose up beside splashes of purple, bursts of yellow and waving, white caps of Queen Annes' Lace. Cut hay lay in ragged rows in fields dotted with round bales that had already been gathered. It did not matter that Owen had seen fields like this all of his life. For Owen, to travel a new road, no matter how humble, was to taste the fresh again. Fields he had seen, but never this field. The way the distant woods turned as if on the axis of a lone pine surrounded by scrub grass, how the road fell away after a gentle rise, the faces of rocks on a blasted outcropping, they were all notes of a tune Owen had never heard, yet knew deep in his heart. Each unexpected sighting was a homecoming, and the arriving went on as long as Owen kept driving. Flattening out again, the road ran straight on far ahead when Owen noticed a series of signs, all the same; Model Airplane Fun Fly - All Welcome.

'All Welcome,' Owen thought. What a wonderful sentiment. How often did a person hear that? How long since Owen had felt welcome? Fun Fly. There it was again. The dream, the Cessna, now this. Owen signalled and braked and turned into the next concession. He drove on until he could manoeuvre a three-point turn then made his way back to the road. Owen sat at the intersection awhile watching cars roll toward him. He felt the slight push of their wind on his vehicle as they passed. For several minutes he waited, though he had many clear openings to proceed.

Owen signalled left, set his foot on the accelerator and pulled back onto the road. He dropped speed as he saw the first of the signs, then noticed the lane that led off beyond a line of trees. Owen heard the gravel beneath his wheels, felt his chest tighten as he cleared the trees and passed again into the open. Owen pulled in beside a pick-up and stopped.

Cars were parked here and there, and in a group outside a barn. In several different places stood small groups of people. A glint in the air caught Owen's eye and he followed the tiny plane. He watched it make several passes around a circuit, come toward him, then turn and drop down toward some people near a dirt lane. Owen noticed other planes as well. He got out of the car and walked indirectly toward one of the flight zones. He stood awhile at a distance, then began to amble off again as someone came in his direction.

"Good afternoon," the man said, and Owen nodded as he walked past.

Owen kept going toward a far off group of flyers.

"Couldn't ask for a better day," another man said.

"Hi," Owen managed this time.

Owen purposefully held to a slow pace, but kept moving around the open field. Under an open, striped tent, burgers, dogs and corn on the cob were for sale. Owen waited his turn, ordered a cob, then fixed the light, perfect ear with salt and a generous portion of butter. Owen scanned the crowded tent, then started back out into the sun, but he felt good in the shade of the tent. He looked again for a vacant picnic table but saw the only open space was at the end of a table seating a woman and her children.

Unwilling to leave the cool, muted air of the tent, Owen walked over.

"Would you mind if I shared your table?"

The woman glanced up at him.

"Oh, sure. Plenty of room," she said, then directed her attention back to wiping her young sons' face.

Two other boys sat across from each other, reaching across the table to steal each others fries, and laughing, threatened each other with squeeze bottles of ketchup. The father soon joined them and silently sat eating a cob of corn.

“I thought you were gonna have a dog, Pa?”

“Or a burger. Aren’t you gonna have a burger, Dad?” asked the other.

The man ate at his cob some more then took out a handkerchief and wiped his lips. He spoke slowly in a grave tone.

“Boys, corn is Nature’s gift to us all.”

“ I want some corn, too.”

“Momma, can I have a corn? Please, Mom?”

The father sipped at a Coke and winked over at his wife who stood, passed the man their young son, and stepped off toward the vendors.

As he ate his cob, Owen fought to contain a tide of melancholy and regret.

A bright yellow bi-plane rose up from the field and soared beautifully toward the trees back toward the road. The double bank of wings blazed against the blue of the sky giving the planes’ arcs and sweeping passes a majestic air. Owen walked toward the area the plane had risen from. Maybe it was the colour. Owen had always loved yellow. Owen let himself move closer so he could watch the operator as he deftly guided the craft.

"Would you like to try a run?"

Startled, Owen turned to face an older gentleman with a sincere, open smile. He wore a bright, red vest on which a large, green button declared HOST.

"Oh, I've never - never done this," Owen said. "But, thanks."

"A rookie then. We're all rookies at first. You can be my guest."

Owen's chest swelled and he laughed to keep his gaze firm.

"No, really. I was just passing by."

"That's okay. But you've been watching, what, an hour now. Intently, I might say. Don't worry. I won't try to sell you anything. Not right off, at least."

"Well, how do you work it?"

"Come on, let me show you. Name's Bill."

"Owen," Owen said, and shook the mans’ hand.

Bill’s shake was firm and he did not draw it out.

As a few other planes made runs around the circuit Bill spoke of their engines, the fuel, and commented on the skill and style of the various pilots. Then he started up a plane of his own and sent it into the sky.

"And that's all there is to it,” Bill said. “ C'mon, take her for a turn."

"No, really, I . I'd probably crash it."

"Son, anyone could tell you want to. And I'm not about to let you crash her. Look, I'll bring her about from this turn, and, there you be."

Bill set the control in Owen's hands, waited, then let go as Owen took control of the joystick. Owen glanced back down at the controls for a second, then fixed his eye on the plane.

"That's it, Owen. Just keep your eye on her."

Owen eased the stick gently back until the plane rose up to where Bill had held her. As Bill had, Owen squeezed up the juice and banked into the turn. The plane jerked a bit high, but Owen got it right before he came out of the bank. Loosening, Owen took her up and back down a couple of times on the straightaway, then managed a more graceful curve on the next turn. By the next circuit he'd all but forgotten himself. He felt the air beneath him, the sun on his face, felt light and unencumbered.

"Okay, Owen, after this turn I want you to line her up with the runway, drop her down slow and bring her in."

"Bill, I -"

"Owen, you're a natural. Bring her in."

Owen let the last curve melt on his tongue, then he turned straight toward the brown earth of the run, set his feet, and ever so gently, exhaling as he went, eased up on the stick. Sunlight blazed on the propellor as the craft drifted down. There was a small puff of dust, then Owen let her roll to a stop.

He remembered setting off just before sun down and driving east as dusk fell. It was full night long before he hit the 400 north of Barrie and in the darkness Owen had grown anxious about finding Jasper after the concert. He signalled into the off-ramp, drove to the McDonald’s and parked. Kids were sprawled along a small strip of grass at the edge of the parking lot, laughing and throwing ice cubes at each other. Owen had only just sat down on the warm hood of the car when he spotted Jasper coming up the street. His spiked hair, all fallen to one side, bobbed as he loped toward Owen. His pink, tiger-striped shirt was filthy.

“What happened to your shirt?”

“Mosh pit,” Jasper smiled.

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