Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

21 May 2008

Warren and Me

I don't think I've ever told you about my friend, Warren. I grew up in the Bronx (as if I expect you all to know exactly where that is), and when I was young I had a friend named Warren Lincoln. He was an only child, and lived with his parents in a tiny apartment near ours. My parents had yanked me out of parochial school by that time, but Warren's family and mine attended the same church on Sunday. Warren was a couple of months older than me, which is a huge amount of time when you're twelve. He was blond and handsome and daring (much more so than I) and worldly and he seemed so much older and of course I idolized him. We became best buds as soon as we met.

We were going to be pilots, Warren and me. He had an unfair advantage: An uncle who owned a plane in Prince Edward Island, Canada where Warren spent two weeks every summer. So even though my dad had been a pilot, once, it was Warren who was getting to fly while I was stuck on the ground. The bastard! I was so jealous.

We used to cut school and trek out to LaGuardia Airport, back when the outside observation decks were open. We just stand and watch the airliners come and go. Then we'd arrogantly roam around the cavernous general aviation hangar as if we owned the place, unchallenged because people incorrectly assumed we were the children of some important customer. I was scared and cautious and fearful of being found out and thrown out, but Warren would readily climb into the cockpit of any of the numerous business jets and wag the ailerons and rudder at me. He was cocky, that boy, I'll give him that.

When LaGuardia was using runway 31 and sending planes out to the northwest, which was, like, all of the time, they'd come right over our Fordham Hill neighborhood. On warm summer days, Warren and I would lie on the grass in a nearby park, staring up at the sky and the endless parade of jets and prop-planes, as well as helicopters traversing up and down the Harlem and Hudson Rivers. With his aviation-band portable radio by our ears, we'd listen to the conversations of the pilots as they passed overhead. We quickly got so we could tell a Boeing 727-100 from a dash-200, with much eye-rolling and sarcastic comments from our normal friends who really could not have cared less about this Air Canada DC-9 or that Eastern Airlines Lockheed Electra.

Teenage years can be tough, and they certainly were for Warren. It was with him that I got drunk the first time, on Boone's Farm Apple Wine, which to this day just mentioning it can make me nauseous. And it was with him I smoked my first joint. Neither of these were first times for him. I never really did get into drugs. For one thing I didn't smoke cigarettes and pot is unimaginably harsh, even through a bong. Other drugs, well...the control-freak in me could never embrace the letting-go necessary to really enjoy the high. I did learn to enjoy a bit o' the drink tho! And to be honest with you, all these years later I'm not sure which is worse.

Anyway, back to my teens. Warren got much more into drinking and drugs than I did, and somewhere along the line he lost sight of the prize. We drifted apart in high school, preferring to hang with different crowds. Long story short, he died of a drug/alcohol overdose at age 22, his potential unfulfilled.

I did grow up to be a pilot, eventually flying sightseers in helicopters around New York City. Occasionally, some big-spenders would spring for an extra-long trip that completely circled the island of Manhattan and took me up over the old Bronx neighborhood. I used to look down and think about the two innocent, carefree kids with big dreams lying down there on the grass, enviously watching the planes fly over. No worries and big dreams. It was incredibly sad. And I used to wonder how and why it is that some kids let themselves be so distracted...let their dreams get derailed and let their lives get screwed up by drugs? I'd ask myself other questions too, mostly the unanswerable kind about the meaning of life and stuff that nobody can explain. Was I just lucky and Warren not? Did his parents not pray for him as hard as mind did for me?


Leaving New York this past Monday, the Delta Airlines 757 departed from LaGuardia's runway 31 and climbed out into a clear blue sky over the South Bronx. I looked down and sure enough, again I could see the old neighborhood...the apartment house we lived in adjacent to New York University...the places Warren and I hung out and watch jets such as this one fly over. It doesn't seem like that long ago but indeed forty years have passed. I pondered my own childhood, and at the same time thought about an 18 year-old nephew who is currently going through a similar rough period as Warren. Time marches on; nothing changes. I'm not sure what, if anything, I can do to influence the outcome this time, but I just hope it ends up better than last.

9 comments:

Hal Johnson said...

Wow. I believe the word is evocative.

Rodolfo said...

Very thoughtful post. Consider yourself lucky. No amount of praying could predict the outcome of our destiny.

Sh*t happens I guess. We want it all to make sense. But as I get older the more I realize that the world is random and the only reason we're here is to propagate our genes. I don't know why God designed it that way but I guess it's for future generations to figure it all out.

Bob Barbanes said...

Thanks, Hal. But you know, when I first read your comment I thought to myself, Did I misspell it? I don't even remember using a big word like that.

Rodolfo, I dearly hope that the only reason we're here is *not* to propagate our genes - or I'm in big trouble.

And I'm not sure I agree with you on the power of prayer. I do believe in it (long story), but then again when a child dies early many people say that it was "God's plan" so you're right in that to them no amount of praying would have altered the inevitable. I just don't know.

True, life *is* random. And, as I told my nephew, it is not always fair and sometimes it sucks big time. I don't think this information cheered him up or gave him any new hope. And it's probably why my relatives try to keep me from talking to their kids.

The only thing I know for a fact is that we cannot control the lives of others. Hell, we can barely control our own lives. If life is a plane and I am supposed to be the pilot, I am performing big loop-de-loops in a thick fog, unsure if the controls are actually hooked up and doing anything.

Redlefty said...

Great post, Bob.

I'd be very interested to read your thoughts on prayer. My wife and I talked about that for three hours while driving last weekend.

Rodolfo said...

It'd be interesting to read about your thoughts on prayer. The utility argument (soothes your fears, lowers blood pressure, etc) for prayer is certainly indisputable. I just don't think it works the way its advertised to actually do. Performing simple experiments can prove this. In spite of that I still pray occasionally. Not in the orthodox sense of course. Some people say praying builds on your relationship with the divine. Some even say it's simply self-conscious realization. I've actually wondered about extreme forms of prayer like hours long meditations/retreats/exercises. I'm sure it's a lot tougher than it looks. But praying in the orthodox sense (praying to a judeo-christian-muslim deity) doesn't work. If by praying you mean to speak to this form of anthropomorphical deity then I would say (respectfully) that's a form of delusion.

It's discomforting when I see people who don't take the time to ponder the universe and our very existence. But in my opinion life is all about survival. Not necessarily survival of the fittest because that implies some form of twisted social-Darwinism. The constant pattern that I see in life is our struggle to exist. Our evolution has been shaped by our genes insistence that we eat, sh*t, drink, propagate, or die. We make choices (good and bad) based on our (and our genes) need to survive. All these other things we enjoy doing like surfing, dining out, flying, etc. is just incentive to make the struggle bearable. With respect to aeronautical and space flying its actually imperative that humans conquer these areas to ensure our continued survival (existence). Our destiny is in the stars. Even if the whole world decides to go *green* next year overpopulation and dwindling resources on our planet is bound to catch up to our species and unfortunately we've run out of continents to run away to.

But ultimately we're here so future generations can build on the knowledge their ancestors built. We all play a part with or without children. Your ability to communicate knowledge/information via your blog is helping random people make choices (good or bad) for their career/future and ultimately survival. What else is there?

R1tamer said...

Great Post,

I've been a God fearing man for 33 years since I was seven years old. But increasingly recently I'm beginning to wonder if prayer isn't just a coping mechanism in hard times drilled into us especially as kids. I've been doing an awful lot of praying recently coincidentally around a helicopter career that just won't get off the ground. Like you I had flying dreams as a child. As a child I also held tightly to the potential of prayer. As I get older and see less and less success with both despite increasing effort I'm really not sure anymore.

R1tamer - your friend in the UK

Bob Barbanes said...

Yes, I'll agree that the power of prayer seems...oh...random, or intermittent enough to render our trust in it something less than incomplete. To wit: If it works sometimes, why doesn't it work all of the time? And why can't I pray for myself a million dollars? Good questions.

At this point I'm unclear on exactly how, but I do know that prayer does work. It's a complicated enough subject that it probably requires its own blogpost. And so it shall have one.

Gene said...

Awesome story. Thanks for sharing it.
People need to stay away from drugs. If you have a problem get help, don't be scared.

Guanaja Sharon said...

A deeply moving post, Bob. My heart went out to you when you disclosed that your best friend had died at such an early age. No one can know why some people are able to resist the power of drugs/alcohol while others stumble blindly on thinking it will solve their problems. Why did he take to it and you did not when you both, supposedly, had the same dreams. I can only think that you wanted that dream more than he did. I won't get into the prayer thing having anything to do with the outcome of your life vs. his except to say that people, I believe, pray for the wrong things....winning a football game, getting a better paying job, asking for help in a crisis when they hardly ever said prayers before and very seldom thanked the Almighty for what they did have.
Losing someone close is always hard and even years later, we think of them and wonder where they would be now. It is important that we remember them for how else can they live on in our memory and/or lives?