So there we was, blasting through the Canadian Stratosphere in our 50 million dollar MadDog at 657 Miles an hour, 7 miles above the earth, just doing our job, minding our own business, not bothering nobody. Young Joe, my 31 year old co-pilot was over there in the right seat, a bass fishing almanac spread open on his lap, yet his head was slunk akimbo over the headrest, his eyes were shut, and he was snoring like a steam shovel. (If the FAA’s reading this however we were both wide awake as Gypsy’s).
Former Bush pilots are expert at falling asleep, and young Joe having built his hours as a Bush pilot in trash haulers toKotzebue and Nome etc, he could narcolepse with the best of them. En-route to Chicago we were this day, a fun crew just whizzing along fat dumb, and happy.
I had been reading a book on the founding of the Science of Geology, and every once in a while I’d glance out the cockpit to observe the thousand mile long scars the retreating ice sheets of 20,000 years ago had carved in the North Canadian landscape. Then I’d take another sip of Diet Pepsi from my ice filled styrofoam cup, chuckle at Joseph, then return to my book: “The MapThat Changed The World”, Simon Winchester, 2001.
It’s a decent read about an English coal miner from the 1790′s, who figured out that all those layers of dirt and clay and mud he’dbeen passing through whilst slithering down to subterranean coal veins could be made sense of if you considered them as different layers of strata, deposited over the eons, due to shifts in sea levels, mountain formations, or other geological processes he couldn’t yet fathom. 100 pages on he figured out how to link those deposits across large areas of England by creating the first topographical map of Britain, and the Science of Geology is off and running.
Unfortunately he gets thrown into Debtor’s Prison for a decade, due to extravagant spendthrift proclivities of wife and in-laws, which then hampers his ability to continue to build a reputation in the science in those first exciting formative years that ushered in Geology.
Anyhow, after another glance out the cockpit at the Agassizian Striations of the Upper Tertiary, I was startled awake by thefollowing sentence on page 53:
“Avuncular Parsimony was nearly the boy’s undoing.”
Avuncular Parsimony? What the hell was that? Suddenly, out of a clear blue sky, I had been slapped in the face by “AvuncularParsimony”, and it was way, way more mysterious to me than the geologic creation of the world. What was it? How did he get it? And why the heck would an author cavalierly throw in such an inscrutable cacophony of unintelligible syllables, knowing someguy might be whizzing along at 35,000 feet for hours and hours and hours with no thesaurus within a thousand miles.
All these and other questions raced through my mind, and from then on I was one disturbed character. “Son of a bitch” I angrily cursed author Winchester, whoever the hell he was.
When Joe awoke he proved next to useless. I let him read the sentence,…then the paragraph,…then the page, but he couldn’t make hide nor hair of it. Could’t even pronounce it—hell, at least I could do that. “A-fricking-vuncular Parsimony!” Son uv abitch!” It was like having a piece of meat stuck between your teeth, and no toothpick, aggravating to the point of distraction, yet this was a piece of meat stuck in the middle of my mind. “Avuncular Parsimony, Avuncular Parsimony, Avuncular Parsimony”..sayit a dozen times and see if it don’t drive you nuts as well. From then on, my day was ruin’t.
Shortly thereafter Chicago’s weather went hideous from thunderbumpers and lightning etc, so after 2 hours of 100 mile off track ATC vectors and boring big massive donuts in the sky, we ran out of gas, bingo’d into Minneapolis, and shut down. We saton deck 3 hours there after gassing up, waiting for Chicago’s weather to break, and for ATC to give us another time-slot to join the circular stack of aircraft hovering miles highover Lake Michigan. Worse than all that, not a single deck-ape, fueler or wrench-turner there on the tarmac at Minny had clue one what “Avuncular Parsimony” was, and I caught many a glance askance for bringing the subject up. Whatever, some several hours later me and Joe limped into the O’Hare pattern, requesting the veryconvenient Runway 27 Left, only to be barked at to go to the right side Runway, as “27Left was covered with debris.” We complied, took an hour taxiing in past the firetrucks squirting retardant on whoever ‘debrised’ 27Left, then shut down, tired andornery, and probably with a good case of the ‘avunculars’ ourselves.
Since we had blown our schedule all to heck, the company modified us and sent us to an airport hotel nearby, wherein Joeand I debriefed our ordeal and discovered that not a single bartender, waitress, or hat check gal at the O’Hare Howard Johnson’sknows squat about A. P. (Avuncular Parsimony). There was a Gideon’s in the hotel room if one was of that bent, but this night Iwas so damn bent I was singularly uninterested and wished only for any dictionary other than one for Scrabble.
About Guinnessnumber 3 in the HoJo lounge I had some humorous little daydream of Eliza Doolittle in Picadilly Square pointing at me and saying in some butchered cockney accent, “Avunc’lar pars’mony most done ‘im in it ‘as”, while Professor “Enry Iggin’s is standing by gleefully asiding to Colonel Pickering, “Ooh, they’re both so deliciously low.”
Next morning, 6 am, we hustled to the Lobby, cabbed to the terminal, and then waited 4 hours for a delayed American Flight to pax to Minneapolis. We had been rescheduled to layover there a day, then drive home. Many hours later, after checking into the downtown hotel in Minneapolis, Joe and I arranged to rendezvous in the Lobby. Entered the Elevator heading down and discovered I was surrounded by Church guys with those white collars on. Turned out they were Episcopalian Ministers, and this was the day some big National Anglican Conference was going on to determine the Lesbian Priestess business and if the Episcopal Church in America was going to schism. Earlier while showering and changing I had flipped on CNN and there was some lurid story just breaking about some gay Priest in New Hampshire doing something lurid, so the elevator ride down was somewhat charged and electric, as I later figured out that proponents of both sides were inside the crowded elevator. (If onlythey’d have been that tight lipped and short of chit chat during all those sermons I suffered through as I kid, wishing I could getthe heck out of Saint Andrew’s in DC and hustle home to catch the RedSkin’s by halftime, but no.)
Regardless, Minneapolis in summer is a very fun city, with a great downtown set of streets just loaded with fun outdoor pubs, jazz-bands etc. The Nicolette Mall section being my favorite, Joe and I headed to The Local, a curbside Irish joint of excellent grog and chow. Our waitress likewise had no idea what Avuncular Parsimony was, (I hadn’t bothered asking the elevator Priests since they seemed like a bunch of stingy uncles) so when she expressed bafflement at A. P., Joe and I both laughed loudly over our fine pints of Guinness, took her recommendation for the corned beef, and that’s the last time I asked about “Avuncular Parsimony.” I have now come to peace with my ignorance, and having realized that no other human on the planet knows what it means besides this clunky author spoutin’ sesquipedalian stinkery, I can now spit it out at any instant, in any company, and it’s other folks who’ll consider themselves intellectual incompetents, not me.
That out of the way, I now began to simply relax and join Joe in looking around. The place was clobbered with white collared Priests, hundreds of ‘em, strolling up and down the avenue, either grim-faced or jovial but little in between. There were ones in blue shirts, green shirts, even purple shirts, as well as tons of the old familiar black ones of Bing Crosby, but unlike him and Ingrid Bergman, the only Nuns I saw were 2 green and white garbed ladies, 2 tables over, jovially nursing pints of lager. That was pleasant to behold. The plethora of multicolored Reverends were surrounded by more pant-suited elder gal’s than you could shack a stick at, and it suddenly struck me that I would not have been surprised if my Mom had suddenly walked up, plopped down next to the 2 of us, ordered a high ball, and then proceeded to tell us all about “Avuncular Parsimony” and what it meant in both Latin and French, much less English. Anyhow, that daydream vanished quickly, as there being not a singlebingo card or golf club within sight, these folks were certainly serious.
A gaggle of grim looking, stern-visaged matrons had now walked up, leaned over the sidewalk grate metal railing, and were talking with their confederates at the next table over. One had a large, quite visible handbag, emblazoned with very large letters: “JUSTICE IS ORTHODOX THEOLOGY.”
Whoa. This startled Joe and he requested explanation which I fumblingly provided over the next few rounds. In periodic trips to the toilet CNN was now blaring that the lurid announcement that had earlier broken that evening may have been orchestrated as a well timed, late coming low blow, and that a pending vote of some consequence at this conference was now delayed indefinitely as a result. Then we staggered homeward, urinated on Mary Tyler Moore’s Statue outside the Target store, (just kidding—only Joe did that) and went to bed. And the next day he fell asleep looking at pictures of Halibut.