Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Flat Jackson

Sometimes it really helps to have seen a child or two through to young adulthood. Like several weeks ago when my sister called thinking her school had just come up with about the silliest thing she'd ever heard of and that I was going to think her next request just nuts. Any of you who have ever received or overseen the sending off of a Flat Stanley will know what I mean and laugh. The challenge is remembering back to the first time you ever encountered such a thing. A couple of kids and at least a couple of Flat Stanley's later, you're an old hat at the world of two-dimensional tourism.

So when she started describing the black construction paper cutout, labeled Flat Jackson, with an accompanying story describing the cutout as my nephew Jackson's shadow, it took only a moment to recognize the slight twist on the standard Flat Stanley story.

What I didn't tell her was that I didn't have the greatest record with them. When friends in California sent one some seven years ago, I lost it after taking the first few pictures. Never found it. I did though, send one back, a straighter, trimmer version, with an elaborate story about how the time at the USAF Academy had changed Stanley into one sharp troop--so sharp his own mother might not recognize him. Stanley turned in his standard clothes for a cadet uniform and a military haircut. A new man. Literally.

This time around, I was determined not to let that happen. But . . . my house is for sale. And every now and then, everything gets put away to prep it for a showing. Sometimes it all comes back out later that day. Sometimes, not for a few days. Sometimes, things are never seen again until you unpack in the next house. (I've been through this a few times.) So it was that midway through Flat Jackson's visit, I began to sweat. Then to wring my hands. Then to actively consider pulling my retirement and taking that deployment to Afghanistan again after all. But finally, Flat Jackson returned, with incredible stories of his trek home through the snow after escaping a radical two dimensional cult from Trinidad who had intended to take him there, remake him into Flat Stella, and install formerly-him-now-her as the queen (in multiple senses) of their two-dimensionally androgynous culture. Shadows you see, are wise beyond the years of their corporeal sources, and so can tell stories beyond the ken of their youthful progenitors, like the two dimensional characters of a Disney film, who are, frankly, rather famous for that trick.

Anyway, during his visit here, Flat Jackson kept a journal of sorts, the bulk of which is reproduced below. (I excised the parts about Trinidad, partially because I think the journal is going to be shared in three-dimensional Jackson's class of five-year-olds, but mostly because the contract I brokered on Flat Jackson's behalf with the Fox Network for the made-for-TV movie of that little adventure prohibits advance release of any significant details until after FJ's first appearance on Jerry Springer.)

Monday, 14 Jan 08: Arrived in Colorado Springs. So cold here I almost broke into a third dimension just to have goosebumps. The first thing my uncle did was take me off to dance class. I could see right away why he's learning West Coast Swing and Night Club Two Step where he is. Check out my photo with the instructor, a four-time world champion. I had a hard time imagining how the visit was going to get better than this.
Wednesday, 16 Jan 08 -- Friday, 18 Jan 08: But it did. On the morning of the 16th, once the blizzard conditions had let up enough to see the runway, the hangar doors opened at Peterson AFB, CO, Colorado and we taxied out to take off for a seven-hour flight in an Air Force UV-18B "Twin Otter" bound for Montgomery, Alabama. The eight guys on board, four jumpers (including my uncle), two ground controllers, and two pilots had invited me to come along to see a class of newly minted second lieutenants graduate from Officer Training School at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery. One of those new lieutenants was a former staff member with the Wings of Blue Parachute Team, thus the reason for the demo jump at the graduation ceremony. In the end, we spent two days flying around over the parade grounds, frustrated by a cloud deck at just the wrong altitude for the jump. Still, it was fun to fly in the airplane. I especially liked riding in the cockpit with the pilots and looking out the jump door at the clouds as we flew along above them. For flying around with the jump team and being willing to jump with them, they made me an honorary parachutist and pinned a set of jump wings on my chest.
Sunday, 20 Jan 08: This was the day of my uncle's open house. Everything was fine until the Flat "Family" from Trinidad, Colorado, came through to see the house. I don't remember a lot from the next 10 days, but my uncle promises that what I do remember has the makings of a major television mini-series he's working to debut on Fox next fall.
Thursday, 31 Jan 08: This was the day search crews found me sunbathing on a snow bank and returned me to my uncle. Since he needed to hurry me home to Jackson, we did the whirlwind tour of the US Air Force Academy, getting pictures in his office, by displays in the cadet library, and on the terrazzo with the chapel in the background. And this was the day I got a prop and wings pinned to my chest as an honorary member of the class of 2011.
After that, there wasn't really anything left to do but climb into an envelope and head back to North Carolina where the weather's warmer and the wind doesn't blow so hard. Without pockets to fill with rocks, a stiff 40mph wind can be a little bit of a problem. I was just glad to be home. --Flat Jackson