Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Heavenly Saturday Haul

This afternoon, Dad came through the front door with a long arm of packages from the mailman (along with the mail), using his chin to make sure the stack didn't fly out in all directions. It turned out that between two packages, he had been carrying well over 1,400 pages. And all of what he was carrying was for me.

Earlier this week, I had a yen to reread the Tales of the City books by Armistead Maupin, but I didn't want to pay for each one, cheap as they can be found at The two omnibuses, 28 Barbary Lane and Back to Barbary Lane would have to do. They came today, big and thick, and I can't wait. Well, I am excited, but they have been waiting, because other priorities took hold.

There was also Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan, which I'm reading right now. And A Cook's Tour and The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain, which will follow. But Trucker by Jane Stern, published in 1975, may come before them. The full title is Trucker: A Portrait of the last American Cowboy, and I'm really curious about this one. This was before Jane and Michael Stern became known for traveling the entire U.S. in search of great food.

Also in the haul was Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor (I listened to a few broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companion last year, and those stories from Lake Wobegon have always stuck, so I wanted to see what those stories were like in print), Seconds of Pleasure by Neil LaBute, and Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett.

I rushed through those last two titles because of a book that was immediately more important to me than any of the others. It's why Lost in Translation by Nicole Mones, her first novel, remains still at page 46. It's Trust Me: A Memoir by George Kennedy. That George Kennedy. The George Kennedy whose Joe Patroni in the Airport movies made me even more enthusiastic about aviation after I had turned 11 and was deeply into it. It was because of Patroni that I had begun to seriously consider a career in aviation, maybe in the Air Force (The first job I thought of was a mechanic for Air Force One), maybe as an NTSB investigator.

Those considerations are long gone in favor of hopefully a full-time career as a middle school campus supervisor so I can have plenty of time to read and write, which I need in order to write the so-far seven books and many, many plays I have in mind. But Patroni remains, that unending love for aviation, that vastly intelligent troubleshooting mind that knew exactly what was necessary at the crucial moment.

I had hoped that Kennedy would devote many pages to his role in those movies, but there was only less than a page about them, and yet I wasn't disappointed because what he had given me was something I'd absolutely never known about him, and a piece of trivia that fits in with all the movie trivia I love. I love those stray facts that are utterly fascinating, what's worth repeating because you can't quite believe that it was possible, and yet it happened.

First, from page 107, the first paragraph of what Kennedy offers:

"In the four Airport movies, I played a guy named Joe Patroni. Over the years, more people have told me stories about him (and what he did and said) than about anyone else. I was coming back from New York to LA in a jumbo, and it was pretty quiet. There was a bing-bong and a voice: "This is your captain speaking. Everything is fine, and we'll be a little early. Should anything go wrong, however, Joe Patroni is sitting with you, and we'll get him up here." I got a round of applause, and in my head I genuflected in the direction of Lloyd Nolan. He was right."

Kennedy describes Patroni perfectly. He is a guy. An average guy, with immense talent. He'll get along with anyone, but does not like anyone that does wrong by him, such as the pilot with a sneering sort of attitude in Airport who says that nothing can be done about the stuck 707 until the chief pilot for Trans Global is contacted. Burt Lancaster, as airport manager Mel Bakersfeld, tells the pilot that they can't wait, that the plane is blocking a runway and they need to do whatever they have to to get this plane out of the snow. "Joe here is licensed to taxi, so he'll take over," says Bakersfeld. And that's exactly right. Joe will get it done and he'll make sure to get it done right.

The bit about Lloyd Nolan is about what Nolan, one of Kennedy's childhood heroes, told him on the set of Airport, about admirers that will come to tell him about their favorite movie of his and describe what they loved about it and how it touched them, and to always pay attention to that. Nolan says, "Ours is a business of 'touching' people, and sometimes they tell you in such unexpected ways you just don't know what to do or say . . . but when you recall it, years later, it'll warm you all over again. People can really 'touch' back."

This next paragraph is partly what I never knew about Kennedy until now, and a remarkable piece of movie trivia, especially since the Concorde remains one of my favorite aircraft, even in retirement:

"I took flying lessons during the film and got my license on time, and later, multi-engine and instrument upgrades. I owned a lot of planes, single and twin, but the Cessna 182 was my favorite, and the Beech A36 is a close second. In the last Airport, I got to taxi the Concorde from the copilot's seat at Le Bourget in Paris. Quite a thrill. Universal rented it for forty thousand dollars an hour."

Kennedy not only played Joe Patroni, he was Joe Patroni in a sense. And I never expected that being part of the budget for The Concorde: Airport '79. Certainly the Concorde was used to a great extent (And as it turns out, the Concorde used in the movie was the one that crashed in 2000, killing everyone on board), but I thought that perhaps the budget for the original Airport had been higher. I do wonder for how many hours the Concorde was used at that rental fee. I wonder, and I think there's something there for me to explore further, what with how many times I watched all four Airport movies all throughout my teens.

I started reading Trust Me after I organized the other books, and finished it about an hour ago. When I really want to read something, I don't wait. And this was worth it, especially because it was as genial as Kennedy was as Joe Patroni and in other roles as well.

I hope the rest of the weekend will be equally worthwhile, especially with all these books around.