Gad Meets Godot

“Where I live, I can not speak of it. It takes too long to say its name. Who I love, same thing.”

He goes on. “So they ask us here,” he says, “Look at that.” He points. “‘No Words As Long As This,’ the sign says. And it gives a long list of long words. It is like they want a tall, short thing. Or a short but tall one. How can I fill this for them?”

“We,” I say to him. “We.”

“Right, kid. You and I. How can we give them this? This thing they ask. It is so tough. And it is close to the time we leave.”

“I have no right to tell you what to do.”

“But.”

“But. We can wait. There is a new day and it comes next.”

“Next?”

“To this day.”

“But why ask us to do this? Like this?”

“This? Oh.” They look at the sign and read out loud:

“The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 8 asks, ‘Today, write a post about the topic of your choice—using only one-syllable words.'”

“There is one word there that I do not like.”

“What is it?”

“Syllable.”

“Oh.” They do not move.

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Guilty of White

The lottery that I won at 6:37 p.m. on November 18, 1968, was not the product of any hard work on my part. It was not a reward for playing fairly or for especially clean living, nor was it awarded to me for playing by the rules and earning my way.

It was a scratch-off ticket, generated at random, and someone else could have gotten it just as easily as I did. Like the service at a lottery counter in a gas station, life is a first-come, first-served proposition. It was a scratch-off, and, my gosh, did I win a nice jackpot.

If reincarnation existed, one could say that someone else may have deserved this life more than I did or do, and one could certainly argue that someone else might have done a better job with it than I have so far, but it is mine. It is the golden ticket.

The lottery that I won paid off immediately: I am white in a country that treats this minor genetic condition like it is something one diligently worked for and earned. And I am male. I am heterosexual. This world and this country rewards the bearers of those accidental tickets pretty generously, too. When I was a child, my family was middle class in income if not status in a country and at a time when being in the middle of middle-class life in America meant one was living more comfortably than three-fifths of the residents of the rest of the world. And citizens in this country treat that privilege like a victory over immediate enemies rather than the several-generation accumulation of incidents that it is.

Education? Paid for through high school by virtue of being born where I was. By which I do not mean the Spackenkill school district. Nor Poughkeepsie. Not even New York State. Being born in America in 1968 meant an education. (The states were not yet privatizing education or dictating their own local test-versions of education, so I benefited from learning when the dinosaurs existed and the one main reason for the Civil War.) Thanks to my parents, my mom especially, I do not remember the experience of learning how to read or count, because I was taught before my earliest memory (age two and a half) is time-stamped.

Perhaps it is a bit of speculative science fiction to offer the idea that none of these matters are in and of themselves good, righteous, holy, or even earned things. I could have been born in a country that does not privilege the pink pigment of white skin. Or I could have been born in this country but not white. We could have lived in a country where money did not provide some piece of status and “our type” might have been punished at random moments. My mother was born and raised in America, but she had cousins in “the old country” (near Minsk) who were exterminated. They had money.

So I know that I am racist, sexist, whatever-ist. By virtue of being born white, male, and middle class in America in the late 1960s, how could I not be? The day that I walk through (every damn day) is a different day than any woman, black person, gay person—any member of a minority group randomly pre-selected according to these criteria by society—walks through. And the sad, simple fact is that it is a luxury for me to even type that sentence or play with that thought. I do not need to consider what life is like for me, what my day is like, because no power group makes me aware of it.

Oh, sure, it’s society’s rules and some people seem to know how to play by them. “If you don’t commit any crimes, what do you have to worry about?” And that is the thing: I don’t. Simply because I am guilty of white, guilty as charged of male. I am a born member of the power elite, me with my $11,000 annual disability income.

Why does anyone march? Or protest? Or agitate? Or riot, finally? Because if you told me that I had “earned” the genetic anomaly that is taking my legs away, which I did not, not any more than I earned being white or heterosexual, I would attack you with my cane, with every fiber of my being.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 7 asks us to reflect on the word “Protest.”

The WordPress Daily Prompt for March 2, 2016, asks us to reflect on the word “divide.”

The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 4, 2015, asks, “Link to an item in the news you’ve been thinking about lately, and write the op-ed you’d like to see published on the topic.” Today is the 47th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 2, 2014, asks, “‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. When was the last time that sentence accurately described your life?”

Visit “Occupy Daily Prompt,” the DP Alternative.

No Man Is an Island

Daniel Defoe is officially credited as the author of 28 titles, but it is likely that he was the author of twice that, if one counts the pamphlets, essays, and other works he published under pseudonyms.

One of his titles keeps his name famous almost three centuries after he published it: “Robinson Crusoe.” Its full title on publication in 1719 was longer (ahem): “The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.”

Defoe did not attach his name to the book; after that long title a single line of type is set aside with a dark line above and one below and “Written by himself” between.

Thus, from the birth of the novel in English, one of its creators started toying with the basic concept of fiction. It is the truest conceit of all fiction writing and it is there from the beginning: “This is a true story, I swear.” (“A guy told it to me once,” provided the next variation.)

Defoe was no castaway, although more than once in his life he might have desired a desert island life away from creditors and the crown. A dissenter, he was once put in the pillory and sent to Newgate Prison for writing a satirical pamphlet; a lifelong merchant who was sometimes on the unscrupulous side of unscrupulous deals, he spent time in debtors’ sanctuaries and on the run. He even died on the run, aged 70 or so. (His birth date, even the year, was not recorded.) He added the Francophilic “de” to his plain-sounding birth name of “Foe” to give himself a name redolent with upper-classiness.

And he wrote what many consider the first novel in English.

Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur” was written and published more than two centuries before “Robinson Crusoe” and is a work of prose fiction that was popular enough to have been read by Defoe and his contemporaries, but its tales are interlocked, not interwoven. It is a collection of semi-separate tales. “Robinson Crusoe” is a first-person account of events that never happened to someone who never existed written by someone who was not that (fake) person. It is an adventure and it is a novel.

Within two decades, other types of novel were added to the fiction shelves: Samuel Richardson’s “Clarissa” and “Pamela” (picture for yourself modern-day romance novels with Fabio on the cover), Henry Fielding’s “Joseph Andrews” and “Tom Jones” (endless, convoluted plots and comic characters), and Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy” (a story about how impossible it is to tell a straight story), and most of the elements that make the novel as we still read it to this day were in place. (The mystery novel and police procedural came along later and complete the picture.)

By 1719, ships had been sailing between the Old World and the New for more than two centuries. The Caribbean was well-mapped, America was colonized by multiple countries, and the South Pacific was being explored, but the idea of a ship running aground on a previously unknown island was no mere fantasy: it was a reality and the story of a shipwrecked sailor long thought dead returning home would have been a familiar one to 18th Century readers.

One such sailor had returned home to London in 1711 after spending the years 1704–1709 alone on an island off the coast of Chile. His name was Alexander Selkirk, and while literary scholars still debate whether Defoe was writing a version of Selkirk’s story or that of one of the many other shipwrecked European sailors, it appears most likely that Robinson Crusoe’s tale is an amalgam of Selkirk’s remarkable story and the others. Crusoe was shipwrecked in the Caribbean and Selkirk had been marooned by his own request in the South Pacific; Crusoe made a friend of a local cannibal and named him Friday, and Selkirk spent more than four years utterly alone. (Why was Selkirk marooned by his own request? Rather than sail any further on what he considered a compromised and not seaworthy ship, he asked to be let off. His request was complied with, and, indeed, the ship sank further on.)

After his return to London, Selkirk was the subject of many books and gazetteer articles about his life alone far from home, but he quickly returned to his pre-maroon life of continuous bar fights interrupted by brief jail stays and took to the sea again, where he died of yellow fever in 1721. In 1966, the government of Chile renamed the island on which Selkirk had resided, Isla Más a Tierra, Robinson Crusoe Island and one of its companion islands, Isla Más Afuera, as Alejandro Selkirk Island.

The imagined life of a solitary shipwrecked sailor, far from the madding crowd and free to read his Bible (as Selkirk said he spent his days), retains its hold on readers, almost three centuries after Defoe fictionalized what was already a remarkable tale.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 1 asks, “We’ve all been asked what five objects we’d take with us to a desert island. Now it’s your best friend’s (or close relative’s) turn to be stranded: what five objects would you send him/her off with?”

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November Thank-yous

This is the 30th post for the month of November 2014 on this website. I have not written something every day, but there have been a couple two-a-days, one “in memoriam” poster, and some reruns (yesterday). All adding up to a very special 30-for-30 episode.

I am beginning to feel like a host at a party with this project, and sometimes I want one reader who posts comments to meet another one (where can we all hang out for lunch?); then sometimes I will read a third person’s columns and see that those two faces have clicked “Like” on that other person’s work. “Ah, I see you two have met. Good.”

In December, The Gad About Town will be one year old on WordPress. I started this in the fall of 2013, on another blog-hosting site, and there it still sits: The Gad About Town. I might have acquired readers beyond my immediate family and immediate friends as I proceeded with the website there, but readers other than my immediate family and immediate friends started to respond to this site right here right from the start, hitting “Like,” or subscribing, or commenting. I did not know what I did not know when I moved to WordPress: That my need for instant gratification, my addiction to numbers, would be met here.

Anyway, it sometimes seemed that most of my page views on that service came from spam-generating sources (anything called “vampire” anything is not something that I feel happy about seeing visit my website fifty times in one short hour).

In the month of November, this site has been visited 1677 times so far (by real people), at a rate of 57 visits each day. Neither of those are big numbers; I am certain that many of the blogs I read every day get thousands of visits per day. There were 38 new followers, which is a term that I have decided I do not like. “Subscribers,” okay; “followers”? No. There was one award from a fellow blogger, Aruna, who writes every day at Ripples N Reflections.

A Facebook page was launched here: The Gad About Town. You can find me on Twitter over here: Mark Aldrich. There are some very supportive Twitterers who Tweet my columns to other Tweeting people. (That’s how that works, I think.) I also have Ello invites if you want one.

All of these numbers have increased dramatically since I started participating in the Daily Prompt exercise in August. Before then, I was publishing once or twice a week and approximately one person (other than my mom or girlfriend) would hit the “Like” button each post. Thank you, Susanne Leist; she is the author of “The Dead Game,” and more than once seeing her face pop up on something that I wrote cajoled me into writing a next one. That is the effect a blogging community can have: We egg each other on.

Here are some more thank yous: Judy at Lifelessons, my fellow spoonie Mary at A Body of Hope, Willow at Willow’s Corner, Leigh at Leigh’s Wordsmithery, Melissa at This, Right Now, Rebecca at Genusrosa, Dixie Copeland, The Reluctant Baptist, Lydia at A Lot from Lydia, Swoosieque at Cancer Isn’t Pink, Mark at Joatmon14, Rose Red at Gelatinous, Ina Vukic at Croatia, The War and the Future. There are other thank yous, but this list is some of the people who communicated with me in November.

In December (wait! that’s tomorrow!) I will start playing around with a new layout and, more important, get my big book co-writing project moving towards the door marked “Publish.” Thank you to all the future purchasers of that future book.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 30 asks, “What’s the longest stretch you’ve ever pulled off of posting daily to your blog? What did you learn about blogging through that achievement, and what made you break the streak?”

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The Mother of Thanksgiving

In most of her portraits, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, the reason we celebrate Thanksgiving, looks stern. Gentle, but stern. She was an editor, but befitting a woman of her era, she employed the term, “editress.” From age 33 until her death at age 90, she wore black, to designate her as a widow in mourning from the day her husband died until the day she was to join him.

hale

Sarah Hale

Hale was the editor (“editress”) of Godey’s Lady’s Book, a pre-Civil War monthly magazine that sometimes topped 100,000 in circulation. She held the job for forty years, retiring in 1877 when she was almost 90. Her legacy as editor is a mixed one: she wrote and published articles in favor of advanced education and employment opportunities for women but her publication (and she) did not support women voting.

Gentle, but stern; she was anti-slavery and pro-North and pro-Union (she was a New Englander) but anti-war. Her point of view was that women writers wrote for women and for children.

Sarah Hale, 1831

Sarah Hale, 1831

Indeed, earlier in her career she wrote poetry for children, and one of her poems is a work so famous that it is surprising to learn that a human being wrote it: “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Around that time, her portrait was painted by James Lambdin (no relation to Mary’s pet), an artist who painted two U.S. Presidents who were also among the first photographed. The verisimilitude of his portraits is borne out by the photos, so his portrait of young Sarah Hale, already in mourning black, must be true to life as well. Gentle, but serious.

When the idea of a campaign for a national Thanksgiving holiday came to her, she became relentless about it and marshaled all her resources. She was already a successful fundraiser and had organized supporters to see the Bunker Hill Monument completed. She was one of the founders of Vassar College. As with those causes and campaigns, Hale knew that persistence would win, eventually.

Thanksgiving days and harvest days are common around the world, but it was always a grab-bag and a movable feast in America. The Spanish settlers in St. Augustine, Florida, are believed to have held a celebration feast with the local Native Americans in September 1565. Up the coast, the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in 1621, or later, was probably in September, also.

There is no way to separate fact from legend about the Pilgrim Thanksgiving, the one said to have been celebrated by Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621 at Plymouth Plantation, but it is known that by 1630 Massachusetts Bay Colony was celebrating its own Thanksgiving. (The Pilgrims and the Puritans who were building Massachusetts Bay Colony were not friends, even though both groups were made of Calvinists who did not find the Anglican Church strict enough.)

(The Pilgrim William Bradford’s famous journal, “Of Plymouth Plantation,” which covers the years from around 1630 to 1650, recounts that first Thanksgiving and is a source of imagery for our collective cultural memory of that day, but it vanished during the Revolutionary War and was not found or generally known about until 1897. It is essentially a twentieth century document re-affirming what we were telling ourselves about ourselves.)

During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress proclaimed several Thanksgiving Days, usually after a military victory, and various colonies created their own traditions. In some years, the first few presidents (but not Jefferson) issued national proclamations of a Thanksgiving day, but in some years they did not. Various states created their own traditions. Many of the states in the American South did not.

For two decades, Sarah Josepha Hale wrote letters advocating a national Thanksgiving Day. It is her work in this matter that gives us our annual tradition. Her letters reached five presidents: Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and Lincoln. (The letter to Lincoln is shown at top.) Finally Lincoln’s administration saw the brilliance of having a national day of thanksgiving: The Civil War was going to end sooner or later and the nation, north and south or only the north alone, was going to need unifying sentiments, a healing reminder of gratitude, even a new national holiday that was not of the north or the south in its mythology but newly created for the more strongly united United States of America.

The first modern Thanksgiving was proclaimed for that year, 1863, and it has been a national holiday since. Hale was 74 years old.

Lincoln’s proclamation, dated October 3, 1863, reads:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Stern, but gentle.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 27 asks, “Is there a person you should’ve thanked, but never had the chance? Is there someone who helped you along the way without even realizing it? Here’s your chance to express your belated gratitude.”

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Off the Table

Cooking is not something that I—what’s the word?—ah, yes: “Do.”

I am 46, so I have eaten a thing or two most of my born days, and I have even prepared a meal or a couple in order to live this long. One does not live to be 46 without some food here and there. And I was not left to forage in the woods beside our house when I was growing up; my mom is an excellent and health-conscious cook. Thanks to her early adoption of a low- and sometimes no-salt kitchen, my heart will probably continue beating long after the rest of me has permanently let all my subscriptions lapse.

This is not to say that I do not remember eating or cooking; oh, I do. My cooking is not memorable, though, in either direction: tasty treat or sublime sludge. I almost envy the good writers who are bad cooks (not as much as I envy the non-writers who are good cooks) because at least something interesting comes from their culinary assaults on taste and decency.

My worst work in the kitchen is memorable in how completely unmemorable it is. The problem is so is my best work.

I do not even have many or any interesting kitchen mishap tales: I am a physically cautious person—I was cautious before my walking difficulties rendered me a unique danger with knives, pots of boiling water, or even a tray of sporks—so I do not have zany anecdotes about near-terrible, “Mom, the first thing you need to know is everyone’s safe,” kitchen survival stories. I have burned my hands exactly twice: once in a seventh grade Home Ec class when I forgot to put an oven mitt on my hand before removing a cooking tray of snickerdoodles from the oven, and the second time, eight seconds later, when I moved that same tray so it would not fall from the spot on which I had dropped it.

(Many years later, a friend asked me if I remembered so-and-so, my seventh grade Home Ec teacher. By name, no, I did not, but we established that her friend and my junior high teacher were the same person. My name had come up and the teacher had asked my friend if my hand was okay. Apparently my lack of a reaction—I said, blandly, “That’s hot,” instead of yell—had stuck with her. There are no scars, but I remember that healing from even the weakest of minor burns hurts like nothing I want to entertain experiencing again.)

I have not had a snickerdoodle in the thirty-plus years since. It isn’t their fault, those cute-named little flour-and-sugar bombs. But they know.

So what I will bring to the Thanksgiving table tomorrow afternoon at my girlfriend’s family’s house is a deep appreciation for the work and love that went into preparing it all, and a big appetite: I haven’t eaten yet today.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 26 asks, “What’s the most elaborate, complicated meal you’ve ever cooked? Was it a triumph for the ages, or a colossal fiasco? Give us the behind-the-scenes story (pictures are welcome, of course).”

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Gratitude Week

Many countries have thanksgiving days or harvest days or days of providence, often in the autumn. America’s is not unique, but it is uniquely American.

The American Thanksgiving, celebrated on the final Thursday every November, is older than the country itself. There is no way to separate fact from legend about the first American Thanksgiving, the one said to have been celebrated by Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621 at Plymouth Plantation, but it is known that by 1630 Massachusetts Bay Colony was celebrating its own Thanksgiving. (The Pilgrims and the Puritans who were building Massachusetts Bay Colony were not friends, even though both groups were made of Calvinists who did not find the Anglican Church strict enough.)

(The Pilgrim William Bradford’s famous journal, “Of Plymouth Plantation,” which covers the years from around 1630 to 1650, recounts that first Thanksgiving, and is a source of imagery for our cultural memory of our first Thanksgiving, vanished during the Revolutionary War and was not found or generally known about until 1897. It is essentially a twentieth century document re-affirming what we were telling ourselves about ourselves.)

During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress proclaimed several Thanksgiving Days, usually after a military victory, and various colonies created their own traditions. In some years, the first few presidents (not Jefferson) issued national proclamations of a Thanksgiving day and in some years they did not. Various states created their own traditions. Many of the states in the American South did not.

That is how things stood until 1863.

For two decades, a writer and editor named Sarah Josepha Hale wrote letters advocating a national Thanksgiving Day. It is her work in this matter that gives us our annual tradition. Hale would be famous regardless, as she wrote one poem that almost every English speaker knows: “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Her letters reached five presidents, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and Lincoln, and finally Lincoln’s administration saw the brilliance of having a national day of thanksgiving: The Civil War was going to end sooner or later and the nation, north and south or north alone, was going to need unifying sentiments, a healing reminder of gratitude, even a new national holiday that was not of the north or the south in its mythology but newly created for the more strongly united United States of America.

The first modern Thanksgiving was proclaimed for that year, 1863, and it has been a national holiday since.

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I am grateful for the friends who help me through the difficult situations in life. Here are three who I have written about in 2014:

Requiem for a Sponsor
Matt Coleman, Some Memories
In Support of a Good Friend

I am grateful for the support and readership that has come into my life in 2014 (this blog is a little over a year old now); several of you write to me regularly and you always make me feel like my work here is something you have welcomed into your own lives and that stuns me whenever I think about it.

And thank you to Aruna of Ripples N Reflections for her “Very Inspiring Blogger” award.

http://ripplesnreflectiontimes.wordpress.com/2014/11/22/awards-and-rewards/

It is a Happy Thanksgiving at The Gad’s home, and it is because a few years ago I stopped trying to sort things out alone and asked for help. I hope it will be a happy and safe Thanksgiving for all the readers and fellow writers I met through this project so far in 2014.

Yours, Mark Aldrich

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 25 asks, “Have you ever faced a difficult situation when you had to choose between sorting it out yourself, or asking someone else for an easy fix? What did you choose—and would you make the same choice today?”

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The Wall Flower, or, I Am Not D.B. Cooper

The only unsolved hijacking of an American plane took place on November 24, 1971. A person who may or may not have been named “Dan Cooper” hijacked a plane over the Pacific Northwest and demanded $200,000 and several parachutes. His demands were met, and he then demanded a flight toward Mexico City at a low altitude and slow rate of speed.

About forty-five minutes into the flight toward Mexico, somewhere over Washington state, at night, during a rainstorm, the man jumped. He and most of the money have not been found. The case remains an unsolved mystery. Because of a news media error, his name was reported as “D.B. Cooper,” and so the daring unknown hijacker has remained known by that mistaken moniker.

In 2007, an FBI Special Agent named Larry Carr opened the case files to the public to regenerate interest in the cold case and develop any new leads, if any could be developed almost four decades later. With no government funding, a team of investigators, called “Citizen Sleuths,” donated time and effort to study the case for three years and concluded nothing concrete but outlined the dozen or so most important lines of inquiry and debate.

Forty-three years on, the Cooper skyjacking remains unique in American crime annals.

cooperticket

“Dan Cooper,” not “D.B. Cooper.”

On Thanksgiving Eve, 1971, a man bought a one-way airline ticket from Portland to Seattle. In that pre-TSA era, no photo ID was copied and the passenger simply gave his name and the ticket sales clerk wrote it down: “Dan Cooper.” It was a twenty-dollar ticket and he paid cash. He boarded the plane, a Boeing 727. There were about forty people on board, passengers, crew, and Dan Cooper. He was wearing a dark suit, loafers, and a light, businessman’s raincoat. He carried a briefcase.

Cooper lit a cigarette, ordered a drink, and handed a note to the stewardess. She took it, but did not read it immediately. He got her attention again and bade her to read the note, which stated that he had a bomb and was hijacking the plane. He showed her the inside of his briefcase, and it had wires and looked like a bomb.

The stewardess conveyed the message to the pilot and he contacted the ground. In 1971, airline hijackings were surprisingly frequent: several dozen took place each year and the federal Sky Marshal program was brand-new. After the Cooper incident, passengers and their parcels began to be scrutinized regularly. Hijackings became a thing of the past until a later, more famous incident a few decades later.

The airline ordered that his demands be met. The demands: $200,000 in “negotiable American currency,” four parachutes, and that the plane be refueled in Seattle. None of the members of the crew who dealt with the man reported that he had a foreign accent, but “negotiable American currency” has perplexed everyone who has investigated the story. Who says that?

Foreign or not, he was polite. He remained in his seat, ordered and consumed a second drink, paid his tab, and offered to buy meals for the crew when they landed, for their trouble. On the ground, the money was delivered, the other passengers released, the nonessential crew released. Ten-thousand twenty-dollar bills had been assembled in several bundles of 100 bills each inside a knapsack, but each bill had been photographed, too. The plane was refueled and took off on a route towards Mexico City, the hijacker’s stated destination.

But he also had requested parachutes and that the plane be flown at the lowest altitude and slowest speed to maintain flight; he also wanted the cabin depressurized. He was to be left alone in the cabin and the aft stairs (at the back) were to be left down. (Since the Cooper incident, most commercial jets no longer have a aft set of stairs.) Told that such a configuration would be difficult to fly, he replied that he knew it would be safe, but would allow the flight to take off with the staircase in a stowed position. He would figure out how to open it himself.

About twenty minutes into the second flight, the crew detected a whoosh of air: the aft door had been opened. When they radioed to him to offer assistance, he refused any help, and that is the last anyone ever heard from the hijacker. Several minutes later, the tail of the plane bounced, indicating that he had jumped.

It was night, it was November, and it was raining. The air temperature outside the plane at its low flying altitude has been estimated as a −70°F wind chill. The hijacker did not change clothes from his dark suit, raincoat, and loafers, but he did take off his tie and leave it on the plane. So a man in dress-casual attire jumped from a 727 at night from 10,000 feet over a lot of forest. In that pre-GPS world, it is not known what land the plane was over when he jumped or when he pulled the ripcord, if he did. The plane, which was being trailed by military jets—but not for the entire trip, and not at this precise moment—landed in Reno.

The search started immediately, and in its own way, continues. The flight route has been scoured thoroughly, both on land and in the bodies of water he might have fallen into. Only two items have been found to date, and both were found years after the incident: the plane’s instruction card for lowering the back stairs, and a small portion (290 bills) of the money. None of the serial numbers have ever turned up in currency, so the money has not yet been spent. No one, not in Canada or America, neither a family nor an employer, reported a missing person in that time period who matched or came close to the description.

Anything written about the hijacker’s life before the incident is speculation, even if it is from detailed forensic analysis. For instance, it is now understood that his tie had DNA evidence on it and also bore minute particles of pure titanium, which is as curious as that sounds.

Several bundles of the cash turned up in 1980, but not quite where Cooper might have landed; they were heavily weathered, but still in rubber bands, which should have deteriorated between 1971 and 1980. Further, the area had been searched previously, and the bundles had not been found at that time. They were not complete bundles, either, as one was missing ten bills, but not from the top or bottom, the outside of the bundles. The missing bills were missing from the inside.

If Cooper was killed in the jump, nothing has turned up—no body, no items of clothing, no bones, and none of the money—in terrain that would not thoroughly absorb a human being’s existence. Except it did.

Whoever D.B. Cooper was, he probably never knew that he became an outlaw folk hero. Many novels, songs, movies and TV show episodes have offered fantasies about the case and about the outlaw who got away. In the TV show “Twin Peaks,” Kyle MacLachlan’s FBI agent character is named Dale Bartholomew Cooper, and the show is set in the Pacific Northwest. No characters comment on this, but when you think about it, it is as if Agent Cooper “parachuted into” the community.

Special Agent Carr’s conclusion on the Citizen Sleuths website sums up the infamous case:

For Cooper Sleuths, keep an eye out for a suspect from Canada, with military experience in airplanes. He would have come to this country to work in or around titanium metal fabrication. He was a gentleman, well dressed and smoked cigarettes. He was not the type to shy away from medication and knew his way around machinery, as well as the woods. Most notably, he probably lived a normal life and had one big problem that required about 200K in cash to solve.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 24 asks, “When was the last time you took a risk (big or small), and pushed your own boundaries—socially, professionally, or otherwise? Were you satisfied with the outcome?”

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