Beside Oneself in Frustration

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Beside Oneself in Frustration

There’s always two of me just a-hangin’ around.” –“Weird Al” Yankovic

“Not you again”, two voices said in perfect synchronization.

A nearby passenger looked up to see a rather odd scenario play out before him.  The man, an I.R.S. Section Supervisor, blinked a few times.  He rationalized that the two were either twins or he was just that tired.  Turning up his NPR podcast, the man closed his eyes and instead focused on the soothing voice emanating from his headphones.

“Ugh.  Hello Prime.”

“Hello Number One.”

“Don’t tell me you’re seated in this row.”

“Yep.”

“Sitting next to me?”

“It sure looks that way”, Prime replied.

“Typical, just typical”, Number One said.

“What do you mean, typical?  I’m going to a family reunion”, Prime argued.  “We agreed that you got all the friends, and I got all the family.”

Thomas and Thomas had a unique problem.  Once upon a time, Thomas Dustereoal was the foremost expert in cloning.  Working in a privately funded lab in international waters, Thomas had managed to create a perfect human clone.  Being somewhat of an egomaniac, he decided that he was the one most worthy of cloning.  (Thomas would continually state that his genetic material was the easiest and cheapest to procure, therefore it was only logical that he should experiment with his own DNA.  Any person that knew Thomas recognized that this was merely a supplemental reason.)

To say that the experiment had eventually worked would be underselling Thomas’ achievement, which the self-obsessed scientist could never do.  What was truly remarkable about Thomas’ cloning process was that it copied the experiences of the source DNA as well.  Memories were retained, scars were coded into the tissue; everything came along to make the clone a true duplicate.

The problem began when Thomas realized that his process had worked too well.  The morning after the clone’s brain had been programmed, the arguments started.  Each Thomas declared that they were the original and the other was the clone.  One Thomas would claim that the other had slipped some chemical into their coffee and stolen the clothes, the wallet, and most importantly, the keycard to the lab.  They couldn’t even agree on what to call each other.  Finally, a compromise was worked out and neither would call themselves Thomas when around the other.

“So where are you going?  Off to one more lecture?  Still trying to cash in on our genius?”  Prime had been allowed the family ties, but he no longer set foot inside of a laboratory or dabbled in biology and he resented that Number One was constantly focusing on the financial benefits.

“If you must know”, Number One said with a sigh.  “I’m on my way to present at the Bioengineering conference.”

“Oh, that one”, Prime said as he nodded in remembrance.  “Does that one still take place in the same hotel?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I miss the continental breakfasts they used to offer.  That bacon, it’s just…”

“The greatest treat around”, they both said.

“I thought you hated it when I did that”, Prime said.

“What?”

“You keep getting annoyed when we say the same thing.”

“So?  I’m not raging with fury, am I?”  Number One was already dreading the four-hour flight and just wanted to memorize his talking points.

“Okay, but this time I was talking and you joined in.  You talked over me.  So you’re allowed to do that?  When I do it, it’s the worst thing ever.  Yet it’s perfectly acceptable for you to finish my sentences?”

“I’m sorry”, Number One grumbled.  “You’re too sensitive; further proof that I could have copied you better.”

“Don’t start that again.  Or else I’ll have to express my theory about how the emotional transfer wasn’t as smooth as it should have been.”

“Fine”, Number One said.  He closed his eyes.  The row they were sitting in only had two seats and Number One had gotten stuck with the aisle so he had no window to rest his head against.  “How’s Mom?”

“What?”  Prime raised his eyebrow in amusement.  “What did you say?”

“You heard me”, Number One grumbled.

“I did, it’s just that every time you actually show concern for a member of the Dustereoal gene pool that isn’t you, I go into a mild state of shock.”

“Are you going to tell me or not?”  Number One’s eyes had snapped open and now they were glaring right at Prime.

“She’s fine.  She says I sound different when she tries to call me at work.  Why don’t you ever have a real conversation with her instead of telling her that you have to go?”

“You got the family”, Number one replied.

“Oh c’mon”, Prime rebuffed.  “I’m not going to explode if you exchange pleasantries every now and then.”  Prime studied his twin and thought for a minute or two.  Then the realization struck him.  “Wait, I thought you said you were going to have the work number changed so that Mom couldn’t get a hold of you?”

“Work wouldn’t let me change it”, Number One said as he unpacked his papers.

“Work?  That’s your excuse?”  A look of incredulity had taken residence on Prime’s face.  “Are you serious?  You’re the most demanding, most obnoxious, most pretentious…”

“…Most recognized, most rewarded, highest paid…”, Number One added.

“…Scientific twerp that they have working there.  They give you whatever silly thing you ask for, even if it breaks; I’m sorry, “bends”, the law half the time.  And they won’t change a phone number for you?”

“Company policy”, was all that Number One said.

“Uh huh”, Prime said with a smile in the corner of his mouth.

“All righty, if you want to talk then let’s talk”, Number One said as he put down his papers.  “What have you been doing with your time?”

“Reading”, Prime said.

“And?”

“Just reading.”

“How is that supposed to pay the bills?”

“You know, it’s the funniest thing”, Prime said.  “Nobody really asks you to pay taxes when your identical twin already does that.  You want all the prestige, well you can finagle all the income taxes too.”

“How do you pay for food?  For gas?”

“Well, gas implies I have a car, which I don’t.  I just walk or take the bus.  As for food; there’s always some little task or chore that needs to be done that someone else doesn’t want to do.  I take care of it for them and they help me pay my bills.  It’s a work-for-hire kind of thing.”

“But you spend most of the time…”

“…reading”, Prime replied.  “Yep.”

“How is that furthering society?  How is that adding to the world of intelligence and discovery?”

“How many of Isaac Asimov’s books have you actually read?”  Prime looked to his double already knowing the answer hadn’t changed.  “When we were little, the closest we got were reading the descriptions on the back of books, and then it was straight on to the homework.  You don’t have time to read anything and learn from it.”

“So, you’re spending all your time, being half-broke, and reading science-fiction novels?”

“Not just sci-fi”, Prime replied.  “Sure I’ve read Asimov and Wells, but there’s also Dickens, Shakespeare, Keats.  I once spent a whole day reading nothing but Roald Dahl.”

“Never heard of him”, Number One said.

“I’m not surprised.  You’d like him though.  Lots of potions, experiments, and he can be very dark.”

“That’s all you do is sit in a library and read?”

“Sometimes I go to the park.  There are quite a few interesting people to discuss books with.  You also meet some pretty cute women while ‘loafing about’ outdoors.”

“That’s what you’re using my genius intellect for?”

“Ours, you dolt; ours.  I keep forgetting just how greedy and possessive you are”, Prime said.  “I don’t know why you care.  We enjoy seeing women swoon when we get all theory-talk on them.”

“I do not”, Number One stated.

“Yeah you do”, Prime replied.  “What, you’re going to lie to yourself?  There’s a sure way to prove your mental health.”

“You don’t know everything there is to know about me”, Number One said as he picked up his papers again.  He was done listening to the other Thomas and decided he was going to focus on his notes and nothing else.”

“We’re still the same person, just with new experiences.  How different could we really be?”

At that moment, a flight attendant walked up and leaned towards the two men.  She was a middle-aged woman and her confident stride made it clear that she the boss on the plane. She put an arm on the headrest and towards both men at the same time, which is to say, not really at all.

“What can I get for you folks tonight; chicken or fish?”

“Chicken”, Number One replied.

At the exact same time, Prime had answered, “Fish”.

“One chicken, one fish.  Coming right up”, the flight attendant said and then departed.

“You didn’t get the fish”, Number One said.

“And you didn’t get the chicken”, Prime noticed.  Both men had a look of confusion about them.  Somehow they had grown at least a little different in the years that had passed.

“Huh”, they both commented.

The Day I Crashed a Commerical Flight without Even Trying

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Day I Crashed a Commercial Flight without Even Trying

I bet the main reason the police keep people away from a plane crash is they don’t want anybody walking in and lying down in the crash stuff, then, when somebody comes up, act like they just woke up and go, ‘What was THAT?!’” -Jack Handy

I would like to start off by stating that I had absolutely no business being in the pilot’s seat that day.  Others that were present may claim that I offered to take the stick.  However, when all was said and done, I was woefully unprepared for the responsibility of landing a Boeing 747.  I hadn’t completed the necessary training and I shouldn’t have been put in charge of such an unwieldy airplane.

Granted, I had seen others in my class land the same plane with much greater success.   I was still quite overwhelmed by the cockpit.  I was just one young student trying to comprehend the sheer volume of all the controls that were in front of me.  Until you actually sit in the cockpit of such a large plane and have the hundreds of lights and switches stare you down, you don’t really grasp how complex the process is.  I had undergone instruction and I had been witness to other successful landings.  Still, as the man over my shoulder offered direction and navigational updates, I knew I was in over my head.  In hindsight, I probably should have leapt away from the pilot’s seat and asked for someone more experienced to take over before things went horribly out of control.  But I didn’t.

ImageIt started off well enough.  The plane appeared to respond kindly to my touch.  The views that flew by in the cockpit window were pleasant.  There were no blue skies or puffy clouds to admire since the instructor had chosen a night flight for me.  Mostly, I was greeted with a black sky with the world beneath me glowing happily in a vast array of tiny lights.  I’m sure that each light beneath me represented a building full of hope and happiness for the people on the ground.  If only they’d known.

It wasn’t long until my instructor tried to coach me in the art of landing.  He pointed me towards the landing strip.  I had a hard time trying to make out where I was supposed to go.  The constellations of lights on the ground confused me and it took me a while to find the series of parallel lines that he pointed me towards.  I didn’t have a headset on, so I was not in communication with any tower personnel.  The instructor pointed to the ground and tried to offer helpful suggestions.

My first approach was a mess.  My aim was off, my speed was somewhat reasonable, but my angle was all wrong.  I pulled up faster than I should have and went for a missed approach.  I agonized over how long it took this lumbering giant to climb back up and turn around in air.  Again, I felt the pressure to control such an expensive and complicated behemoth.  It was about then that I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to get the plane on the ground like I was supposed to.  It was at that moment that I should have walked away and let someone else take the stick.  But I was young, eager for a win, and foolish.

The second approach was a flat out disaster.  My hands gripped the wheel firmly, but out of fear, not confidence.  Had I fully appreciated what I was about to do, I’m sure rivers of sweat would have trickled down my forehead.  Either way, I came in too fast.  The instructor did his best to remain calm, but I was frustrated and wasn’t used to the controls.  I’m not trying to excuse my actions.  Still, someone should have stopped me. 

I barreled towards the ground.  The instructor started to realize this was not going to end well.  He told me my angle was off.  I grew more frustrated, but did not change course.  I tried to raise the nose of the plane, but I overcompensated.  The instructor suggested strongly that I pull up and go for another missed approach.  That was it for me.

I took the stick, shoved it forward, and watched the plane rush to meet the ground.  The instructor tried to get me to change my mind.  At the last minute, I forced the stick to the side and watched the plane immediately veer of course.  Gone was the view of strip lights or any landing facilities. Instead, the darkness of water below came into view and at a thirty degree angle, the enormous commercial plane crashed into the ocean. 

The instructor, not as shaken as I thought he should be, reinforced what I had suspected.  “Well, you just crashed a 747 and killed three hundred and twenty-eight people.”  He told me the cost of the plane, but my mind has blocked out the figure over the years.  I, as a pilot, was a failure.  To be fair, it was my first lesson.  And I was only a junior high student.

There were other students who had landed just fine.  They had a few bumps, but at least they had gotten the tires to touch the tarmac.  My crash was by far the most spectacular, though I couldn’t bring myself to brag about my failure.  The instructor tried to give me some post-flight advice, but I was done being a pilot.  He flipped a few switches and the simulator began to adjust itself.  I stepped out of the large white box and watched as the massive hydraulics reset and repositioned the replicated cockpit back to its default setting.  I’d like to think that I would do better now that I’m older and wiser, but I have never been back to the Boeing Factory.  That one junior high field trip was enough flight experience for me.  I’m sure the three hundred and twenty-eight imaginary passengers and their loved ones are relieved that their lives are no longer in my hands.

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