Francis Meyrick

Of Helicopters and Humans (41) “The Fame Gallopers “

Posted on August 7, 2015

Of Helicopters and Humans

(part 41) “The Fame Gallopers”

A topmost peak
lacks any people
Higher. The west wind pierces
All night: chillier. You ride the snow
To pass a hanging cliff,
Cross a cloud to watch
The torrent spew.

The fame gallopers. It’s hard
For them to find the road
Among blue
Pao Hsien (9th century Buddhist hermit)

It’s a quiet night, and I am at home, sitting outside on the porch, relaxing under the emerging stars. A cool Guinness has hit the spot, and I am mellow, full of dreams, and silent thought. I have been pondering a simple question…

How much apple pie can you eat?

Isn’t life “more than money”? Filthy lucre? Doesn’t there come a point you’ve had enough? Or at least a sufficiency? Our Modern World seems to create people who never -ever- have enough. They crave more. And more. Constantly. Not just money. They want fame, and power, and to remembered in the History Books. To “cement their legacy…” To what??
Will they ever be happy? Content? When is enough – ENOUGH?
And what is fame? It’s an illusion…

On freezing nights
You arrange to meet me often
Silent talk beyond
Human space.

Silent talk, beyond human space? What’s that?
I don’t know, I’m just a chopper jockey, but I can guess. And my mind, flying down ancient airwaves in my mind, crossing ridges, and cautiously testing canyons (wires, my friend, watch the wires), sees old shadows, old flames, and old loves. Writing/scribbling is good. But it should be just a modest side show. Something done gently, with feeling, but also with a simple humility. There are more important things in Life. Much more important. Silent talk. Beyond human space. The essence of a Man trying to understand his little place. Trying to relate. Comprehend. The unfathomable.
I read the same guys on the forum that feel they are absolutely OWED to be paid 6+ figures to be a Helicopter Pilot. Others are happy to have a stable job and work hard to do a good job. They mean well by their employers. They are thrilled with the position of trust their company puts them in. And they know more money would be nice, very nice, but profit margins can be tight, rainy days might be coming, and no helicopter company makes a small fortune. That only works if you start with a huge one. And besides, for every pilot steadily employed, how many thousand resumes are stacked on the H.R. desk? How many guys are driving trucks, working in offices, and would give anything -just anything- to start at a fraction of my salary?
A quiet Guinness has passed my lips, smoothly, and I gaze at the stars, and reflect on ‘Silent talk’, ‘beyond human space’. And my mind takes me, logically or not, at warp speed, back to a small, seemingly primitive and undoubtedly impoverished village in Papua New Guinea. And myself, standing there, tongue hanging out. Desperate. Craving. I-want-it-so-bad-I-can-taste-it.
I remember sighing. The stylish couple, Rolex-and-Gucci, had beaten me to it.
The object of my affections? Of my unbridled lust? A crocodile…
Yes. It’s an ancient native ritual in remote parts of Papua new Guinea. To be initiated, you have to sleep with a pubescent female To-oro Ma’ori crocodile.
No, I’m just kidding.

It had all started some months earlier, when a brother pilot had shown me this absolutely drop-dead gorgeous wooden crocodile. Hand carved. Open mouth, teeth, “I’m hungry” scowl, and all. He told me where he had bought it. In a small, native village, a few miles from one of our regular ports of call. I had to wait a month, but then, full of fish, our boat put into that exact same port. Awesome. I spent that night at the local hotel, and the following morning, I got a ride out to the village concerned. No dice. Either the wood carver was out of village, or he was sold out. No crocodiles. Rats. I would have to wait until we next docked here again.
Months went by. Our next offloading took place elsewhere, to my frustration, and thus it was multiple months before I landed at this port again. Same routine. Spend the night at the local hotel, have a good steak, and chin-wag with any tourists wishing to engage me.
It was in this manner, that the hobo helicopter captain (straggly beard, sawn off shorts, exhausted once-white T-shirt, white socks and sneakers) met Mr and Mrs Rolex-and-Gucci. Tourists. Gracing the locale with their distinguished apparitions.
That, admittedly, was not their real name. Their real names I have long since forgotten, but I formed the impression they were Italian. Suave, sophisticated, immaculately presented, Rolex-and-Gucci, and dining at the table next to me. How we struck up a conversation I don’t know, but I can guess. I probably knocked a beer glass over, and drew their sympathy. Or else I just hollered across, the way I do: “Bongiurno! You are liking Papua New Guinea?”
We then got engrossed, and he-with-the-Rolex lectured me about a variety of subjects. That was kind of him, ‘cos I’ll take all the heducation I can get. I need it. And I know he had strong views of the local populace. In particular, when it came to haggling prices, he was quietly adamant that they were all thieves and crooks, and you just had to beat them down mercilessly. Her-with-the-Gucci nodded grave assent. Thieves and crooks. Something about his prosperous, well oiled exterior told me that he had a lot of experience haggling for every last Lira. It emerged that they were going shopping the next day, targeting local arts and crafts. I mentioned I was doing the same, and that drew a further exhortation from him to be sure to haggle tenaciously. I promised I would haggle like I was fisting my last Dollar.
The next morning, I was up early, ate a hurried breakfast, hired an old jalopy taxicab, no brakes, no air conditioning, no suspension, driven by a sixteen year old maniac, and set off purposefully on the Great Expedition. To retrieve -hopefully- a fine pubescent female To-oro Ma’ori wooden crocodile. I couldn’t wait. The countryside sped by, my crazy driver would honk like crazy going through villages, chickens would squawk and scatter, and Life was good. I was bound to bag me a crocodile. Even his blood red, betel nut juice spit, fired carelessly out the window, from whence it would blow back all over the side of the car, was unable to dampen my spirits. That’s why the sidewalks in PNG are all stained red. Chewed betel nut. A mild narcotic.
We arrived at the village of my quest, and I legged it over to the shop. Such as it was. Several plastic sheets staked to the ground, and all sorts of amazing stuff spread out for sale.
Including… one wooden crocodile!
But… bummer! Oh, no. Mister and Missus Bongiurno Rolex-and-Gucci had beaten me to it. And Signor Rolex, even now, haughtily, was haggling over the price for the crocodile. My heart sank.
He was offering twenty-five dollars. (twenty-five?) (Is that ALL?)
The saleswoman, an older, large lady, (all that coconut milk, they say) with a quiet dignity, was countering with sixty dollars. Down from Sixty-five. (Sixty-five? Is that ALL?)
Twenty-six, from Rolex.
Sixty, from Mrs Coconot.
Twenty-eight, from Rolex.
Fifty-eight, from Mrs Coconut.
Minutes went by. I was pretending to look at everything else. But I was afraid my tongue was making slobbering noises. I wanted that crocodile, so bad.
More minutes went by. Rolex was up to thirty-three, and Mrs Gucci was frowning, thin lips, shaking her head, as if she was saying that was FAR too much.
Fifty-five, from Mrs Coconut. She seemed tired. We were the only customers. Maybe she had not enjoyed a good day. They were kind of way off the beaten track.
Daddy Rolex would make as if he was moving away, and I would take a hidden deep breath, ready to pounce like a Muslim on a Bacon Cheeseburger. After Ramadan.
Nope. He would move back a bit, fiddle-faddle about, and come up one measly dollar.
To my way of thinking, it was absurd. The crocodile, 28 inches of him, was beautifully carved. The detail was outstanding, and it must have taken some local craftsman weeks. The cash income of many families was about a hundred dollars a YEAR. They survived in a subsistence style agrarian way. Hand-to-mouth. Some chickens and goats. Coconuts and berries. That crocodile represented somebody’s dedicated work, a very important source of income, and was worth every cent of sixty-five bucks. Besides, he was mine. If Signor Rolex would budge over just one more foot…


His mistake. Finally. He stepped aside just a smidgeon of a butterfly’s wing, to look at something else. He would have stepped back a bifurcated, dissected second later. And bid another measly buck.

Too late, Spaghetti…

Quick as a flash, like an Irishman hearing the siren call, the song of the Ages, the ultimate poetry, i.e. the statement “I’m buying”, I pounced. I almost shoulder butted him, as he tried to step back. He’d maybe already figured I was hovering…
“How much for the crocodile?”, I asked, breathlessly, as if I didn’t already know.
“Sixty-five dollar!”, the mature, nice lady spoke, amusement in her wise eyes. She hadn’t missed much either.
“Deal!”, I spoke. Pulling out four twenties. The fastest negotiation & haggling session ever.
Beside me, I sensed laser hot eyes of loathing and contempt burning into me. If I had been flying at night, Signor Rolex would have dazzled the cockpit. Good thing I wasn’t on NVG’s.
I handed her the four twenties, and she started counting out the change.
“I think he’s beautiful!”, I said, clutching my newly acquired, hand carved Papua new Guinean crocodile. And then, on an impulse, I added: “Keep the change!” She stared in surprise, then her tired but dignified face lit up. Beside me, I sensed the laser burning, cockpit dazzling intensity go up another magnitude of Lumens.
She nodded and smiled, and then she said:
“Here! Please, you take this as well!”
And she handed me some carvings.
“Here! Please, you take this as well!”
And she handed me some sea shell beads. And more carvings. A statue. A shield. More stuff. And more. And yet more.
“Oh, no”, I gasped, delighted but embarrassed all at the same time. “I can’t possibly take all that!”
But she politely insisted, with dignity, and, laden down, arms full of good stuff I wasn’t remotely expecting, I suddenly realized she too, was making a statement. For the benefit of Rolex-and-Gucci. I realized that somehow, her quiet pride was coming to the fore here. Her matriarch standing was in evidence. I guessed she packed a wallop back in the village. And I guessed she was fed up with the likes of Rolex-and-Gucci.
Her statement? With which I totally agree?
Money is just a tool. A necessary convenience. That’s all. It should never be the be-all and end-all. A religion. An obsession. How much apple pie can you eat? Eh? Dumb ass…
Life is simply NOT all about fighting and clawing for that last, measly, hard scrabble, dirty dollar.
Filthy lucre…
Rolex and Gucci had plenty. Expensively dressed, dripping gold. Oozing self satisfaction and pretentious ooh-la-la. But they would always want more. They would never, ever be satisfied. And they would never, ever take any of it with them. That mature and thoughtful lady from the jungle of Papua new Guinea knew and saw all that. She wanted just enough for her family to live on for the next few days. They had no running water, no indoor plumbing, primitive electrical infrastructure. They lacked all the mod cons that Rolex-and-Gucci took for granted, as theirs by (alleged/assumed) superior birth right. But the Matriarch had pride. And insight. And I think she liked me. The bearded galoot, with the tattered shorts, the worn sneakers and the dirty big grin.
Amen, ma’am. I applaud you. I concur with your sentiments. I like you too.
Thank you for Isaac, my crocodile.
He occupies, all these years later, a place of honor in my sitting room.

In fact, here he is…

Francis Meyrick

Isaac, in all his furious glory

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