Lost Aviators, 5

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

Mr. Eric Dudgeon, of Morristown, New Jersey, the celebrated maker of hydraulic jacks. Mr. Dudgeon participates in a yearly re-enactment of the decisive battles of the Revolutionary War fought in or near Morristown, New Jersey; every November fifteenth you may find him walking back and forth within the enclosure of Washington’s Fort dressed in a coat as blue as the day and breeches which from the whiteness of them you would say had fallen from the clouds with the first flakes of November snow, and had not yet been sullied by the New Jersey woods. Mr. Dudgeon wears a powdered periwig and rouges his cheeks for the occasion; the effect is a whisper girlish but no mind. When the lobsterbacks see him coming with a long-bore musket (surplus in real life from the Civil War) they throw their for the occasion British hands into the air and run, year after blessed year. Mr. Dudgeon feels an inarticulate sympathy for the British, for the Americans who have volunteered to play the British. There’s something patriotic about supplying the nation with a not-too-tough enemy, some actual courage which is different in kind as well as in degree from the small enthusiasm which gets Mr. Dudgeon out of bed at four am every November fifteenth, into the periwig and aforementioned blue coat. Every year Mr. Dudgeon thinks, next year I’ll be a Brit, but when the time comes to choose sides he always takes the American, for reasons which, to him, are as elusive as those flakes of November snow which are lost almost at once in the thick of the woods. The war, to take sides in the war… What Mr. Dudgeon might say, if he could catch one of those snowflake-thoughts on his tongue: the War is never pretend. Even though we are pretending it it is real, for as long as we play at it. Therefore he would no more play a Brit than he would, say, walk into a meeting with the suppliers of the parts of his hydraulic jacks in a pink tulle skirt and suggest that they dance the minuet, although—here’s another snowflake—Mr. Dudgeon has, in fact, imagined putting on a pink tulle skirt and going into a meeting and taking the hand of the man who supplies the valves of his hydraulic jacks and putting a cylinder in the phonograph he ordered from his neighbor Mr. Thomas Edison of Menlo Park, New Jersey, cranking the phonograph and spinning with the supplier of valves, faster and faster, to the recorded thump of a German orchestra which, when it was last a gathering of actual, human bodies, presided over the marriage of someone named Fleischmann to someone named Gespenst. And when the phonograph wound down, spinning, slowly, what a revolution then, eh, boys? The world of hydraulic jacks would be forever transformed. Or so he imagines. Never actually having done it. What would it change? The war is fought to the same end every year and even the pretend is weighty and the springs which keep it turning aren’t as strong as they were in Washington’s day.

Mr. Dudgeon’s contribution to aviation: like his neighbor, Mr. Edison, he “tested the lifting effect of various forms of screws when rotated by steam power, and, like Mr. Edison, he stopped in disgust when he found how small was the lift in proportion to the power expended.”

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