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Where tall tales, real and imagined, absurd and compelling, are served with a smile
Excerpt from The Vanishing Point, an original work by Jeff Moore
THERE IS AN EARNESTNESS about a plane taking flight. It is as if the entire collection of metal and wire and moving parts knows that it is defying more than gravity. That it is somehow a fraud, always on guard against the ultimate exposure. When I am actually awake and observing the initial ascent of an airliner, I often find myself anxiously rooting for it to achieve a zenith that will allow it to stop holding its breath and cruise closer to normal. I imagine that as it gains altitude, it looks back over its shoulder and realizes how commitment defines it and desperation drives it to not fail its flock, the passengers. Or that it, too, is terrified at the thought of dropping out of the sky. A self-contradicting aviophobist.
Thoughts like these – coupled with the dreams – make it fair to presume that I don’t like to fly. That is not the case, however. I don’t mind flying at all. The process is a system, no more, no less. Millions of things in a day to day existence are founded upon the integrity of systems. Sure, the system may fail. But agonizing over that statistically minute possibility wasn’t going to help keep the plane aloft.
The reality was that I love to drive. Particularly alone. I’ve gone on trips into remote areas of the country and south of the border where it truly feels as if the map reached a point in the rearview mirror and stayed behind while I carried on. That kind of road-bound unknown is very liberating. I see things and people that ninety-nine point nine percent of the earth’s population never will if only because there really is no reason to. For me, that makes those sights special – the fact that they only are what they are, nothing more. There will be times when I’ll find myself rolling down the macadam without seeing another car or other sign of life for hours. What freedom. Just me and the smooth hum of rubber on asphalt while a veritable time warp is traversed. Be it desert, mountain, forest… At times like those there are no voices for miles. But the terrain itself is speaking to me like Shakespeare.
The drive to Sedona, Arizona – place of my birth – from southern California wasn’t much different from the familiar one to Flagstaff – place of my youth. It just added an extra half hour or so of driving on a county road that paralleled Interstate 17. It was a drive I had done before. Growing up in the high-altitude, semi-desert of Flagstaff and its surroundings, I had developed an early affinity for outdoor pursuits like mountain biking and rock climbing. The red rock formations and endless biking trails around Sedona at the northern end of the Verde Valley were fertile grounds for my recreational passions. I had been to and through Sedona countless times. Little did I know that my life had originated there.
Once I was more or less kicked upon my way by Iron Mike after The Gasser incident back in California, my first step was the performance of some advance work. For starters, where was the house that I spent my first two-plus years in? That was easy enough to dig up using public records and armed with the names of my parents. But beyond that, there was little information to be found remotely. I had to remind myself that the crash which had taken my parents’ lives, sparing me by the grace of God, had happened in the eighties. It was a pre-internet/cell phone/and just about every other modern advance era. One that will in the near future likely be dubbed something evocative of an age where people rode around on the backs of dinosaurs and cooked their food over open fires at the mouth of the cave. Bottom line: I was going to have to do it the old fashioned way. As such, my pursuit began at the former residence of Samuel and Astrid Lake.
The house was in south Sedona, on a road that ended in a cul de sac. The cluster of homes was slightly elevated with an expansive though unspectacular view overlooking, ironically, the Sedona Regional Airport. As I was to learn, it was the same airport that my father had flown out of the day of the crash. I imagine it was probably his regular airport prior to that as well.
I looked at the modest, single family home out the side window of my truck and wondered what I should be feeling. Nostalgia, I guess. But really, there was nothing, which made sense considering the fact that at the time I had only been two or three years old, likely running recklessly in circles unaware that very soon it would all be gone. Yet I was still saddened because fate had taken away the opportunity to attach real emotion to the structure before me. Realizing that I was gawking at a stranger’s house in a strange truck with out of state plates, I made my exit. Fact was, I was not much more than a newborn the last time I had been there. What did I expect to feel? It sure wasn’t nostalgia.
My next stop was the Sedona Public Library on White Bear Road. It was grunt work time. I spent the next two hours sorting through archived newspapers that had been digitized. It took some digging but slowly and surely items involving Samuel and Astrid Lake began to trickle in. By the nature of the news clips I discovered, it was clear that they were a colorful pair, as philanthropic as they were anti-establishment. If they weren’t holding court in front of a crowd of docile-looking protesters, they were taking part in a ribbon cutting ceremony for some new facility built to champion some old cause.
It was in the fifth such piece I came upon that a picture was included. I was looking at my parents. While technically it was not the first time – that being about eleven thousand days ago in a delivery room as some ham-fisted doctor cracked me in the back to kickstart respiration – it was the first real look I had ever had. The photo was taken at a gallery opening in town. My father was clearly drunk and possibly stoned but he was also incredibly happy, by the looks of things. He wore a funny looking polyester jacket over an orange, crew neck shirt out of which tufts of unruly hair sprung. He held a flute of champagne in his hand and his eyes were alive, dancing above an unabashed smile that jumped out of the still. His left arm was draped over the shoulders of my mother. She was almost the same height as her husband and just as alive with energy. Her dark hair was silky smooth and hanging simply down around her beaming face. The dress she wore was form-fitting, revealing a slim and well-proportioned figure. Her eyes turned down slightly at the corners but her cheeks were graceful, flush with the happiness of the moment. Happiness. They exuded happiness. Without knowing it I found that I too was smiling. These ridiculous-looking people were my parents.
– from The Vanishing Point by Jeff Moore