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Effortlessly Average

Sort of half-heartedly leading the charge into mediocrity since, oh, let's say around 1987 or so.

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Location: Roaming (additional charges may apply), Argentina

Proof that with internet access and a powerful laxative, even insipid people will blog; the place where your excellence and my mediocrity collide; where my Karma whips ass on your dogma.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

DING! DING! SWITCH PEOPLE -or- How I Got My Callsign

I come from a Navy family of sorts. Most every guy, at some point, joins and serves; not always with distinction, but hey, that's not a requirement. So I've always fancied myself something of a quasi-military kinda guy. More accurately, I did when I was younger. I even had me a flight jacket with the patches all over it, a la Tom Cruise in Top Gun.

Back then the Navy had what was called a Tiger Cruise, whereby any sailor who could find an empty bunk could invite a civilian onto the ship for a taste of what Navy life is like. My older brother was stationed on the USS Nimitz, which was, at the time, the carrier flagship.

At the time I was toying with the idea of signing up, but there was no way in hell I was going to enter as enlisted. After spending time on that cruise, especially. The officers live WAY better than the grunts, let me tell ya. During the cruise the Navy performed displays of capability from the ship, including a lottery in which the winners could take a jump on an actual F-14 Tomcat. Since I'd seen Top Gun and had the jacket, I felt qualified and entered the lottery.

I won.

And I was S-T-O-K-E-D stoked. If a recruiter had slid a contract in front of me right at that moment I'd have sold my left nut to the US Armed Services.

I was also looking forward to the assignment of my callsign; something cool like "Boomer" or "Street" (in reference to the fact that I was studying Finance in college at the time). I was so wound up in anticipation you would't be able to pull an needle out of my butt with a tractor.

Now people, someday you too may be invited to fly in the back-seat of one of your country's most powerful fighter jets. If you get this opportunity, let me urge you, move to Guam. Change your name. Fake your own death! Whatever you do, don't go!

I should've known it wasn't going to end well when they told me my pilot would be Chip (Biff) King, of Fighter Squadron 213. The "Black Lions." Whatever you're thinking a Top Gun named Chip (Biff) King looks like, triple it.

He was about six-foot, tan, ice-blue eyes, wavy surfer hair, finger-crippling handshake -- the kind of man who wrestles dyspeptic alligators in his leisure time and likely one of the only men strong enough to pry a dollar from a Republican's fist. Biff King was born to fly. His father, Jack King, was for years the voice of NASA missions ("T-minus 15 seconds and counting .." Remember? yeah, that guy).

Biff was to fly me in an F-14D Tomcat, a ridiculously powerful $60 million weapon with nearly as much thrust as weight, not unlike myself. I was worried about getting airsick, so the night before the flight I asked Biff if there was something I should eat the next morning.

"Bananas," he said.

"Why, for the potassium?" I asked.

"No," Biff said, "because they taste about the same coming up as they do going down."

The next morning, out on the tarmac, I had on my flight suit with my name sewn over the left breast. (No call sign -- but still, very cool.) I carried my helmet in the crook of my arm, as Biff had instructed. If ever in my life I had a chance to nail Nell McAndrew, this was it.

A fighter pilot named "Psycho" gave me a safety briefing and then fastened me into my ejection seat, which he said, if activated, would "egress" me out of the plane at such a velocity that I would be immediately knocked unconscious. Just as I was thinking about aborting the flight, the canopy closed over me, and Biff gave the ground crew a thumbs-up. Three minutes later I was trying not to swallow my tongue as we rocketed off the deck and into the sky at 600 mph. We leveled out and then canopy-rolled over another F-14. Those 20 minutes were the rush of my life.

Unfortunately, the ride lasted 80.

It was like being on the biggest roller coaster at Six Flags Over Hell. Only without rails. We did barrel rolls, snap rolls, loops, yanks and banks. We dived, rose and dived again, sometimes with a vertical velocity of 10,000 feet per second. I swear if something went wrong and we hit the ground, our sheer velocity would create an impact crater so huge that the material ejected would spark the next ice age.

We chased another F-14, and it chased us.

We broke the speed of sound. Sea was sky and sky was sea. Flying at 200 feet we did 90-degree turns at 550 mph, creating a G-force of 6.5, which is to say I felt as if 6.5 times my body weight was smashing against me, thereby approximating life as Mrs. Anyone Married to Me.

And I egressed the bananas.

And I egressed the pizza from the night before.

And the lunch before that.

I egressed a box of Milk Duds from the sixth grade.

I made Linda Blair look polite. Because of the G's, I was egressing stuff that never thought would be egressed. I egressed stuff I never even ate! I went through not one airsick bag, but two. Biff said I passed out. Twice. I was coated in sweat. At one point, as we were coming in upside down in a banked curve on a mock bombing target, the G's flattening me like a tortilla, and I was in and out of consciousness, I realized I was the first person in history to "throw down." Having broken the sound barrier, puking meant that I could see the projectile vomit a split second before I could hear it.

I used to know 'cool'. Cool was Aikman throwing a touchdown pass, or that guy who always had the chicks in my fraternity. But now I really know 'cool.' Cool is guys like Biff, men with cast-iron stomachs and freon nerves. By the time we landed, I swore I wouldn't go up there again for Gene Simmons' black book, but I'm glad Biff did; every day.

A week later, when the spins finally stopped, Biff called. He said he and the fighters had the perfect call sign for me. He said he'd send it on a patch for my bitchin' fighter jacket.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Two Bags."

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