Chapter 14 - Dreamliner
Posted on 2011-10-06
New Year's Day 2013, Palm Beach, Florida
Even with the obligatory round of entertaining that comes with visiting Father, we still make it back to our hotel in time to ring in the New Year, just Fred and me; I guess this is testimony to the geriatric nature of Father's social circle. Not that I'm complaining, though; I'd much rather have it this way than any other. In line with all the downsizing that's going on at ELMSCO, Father's New Year bash has been unusually subdued this year; instead of a big ballroom-style party at his country club, he's chosen to host a party of about ten "closer" acquaintances to a relatively intimate dinner instead.
"Thanks, Fred." He didn't need to deflect the question when Colonel Wallis had Father caught short by asking point-blank about the state of ELMSCO; but no matter how little he'd wanted to, he'd still helped by diverting the conversation towards the US military involvement in the Middle East anyway. "For saving Father's face tonight; if you hadn't changed the subject when you did, I guess Father would be hard pressed to explain the sale of the Saginaw plant. I'm not sure if he can keep up that façade of ELMSCO 'doing all right' for very long, but you just saved him a ton of embarrassment."
The only reply I get from Fred is a grunt and a nonchalant look; Father is still "Walter" to him and I can't say their relationship has warmed any from the last time we came down, but he's resigned himself to the reality that Father is going to be family, technically at least. And as family, whatever our differences may be, we don't embarrass each other in public. Even Father knows it'd be beneath him to disparage Fred openly to his guests; it'd be a compromise to his impenetrable shell of Elliot dignity.
"Are you going to talk to him about it tomorrow?" asks Fred, changing the subject yet again. I'm going to speak to Father about my involvement in ELMSCO in a strictly one-to-one setting; we both felt that having Fred as an onlooker to that discussion would be awkward, to say the least. "About selling Kellynch?"
"I don't know," I admit. In my book, and Fred's too, Kellynch is undoubtedly the first thing that has to go - hanging on to a rickety propeller plane just for the sake of being an aircraft owner in name isn't the strongest rationale for the amount of money that's been bleeding into fuel, maintenance and crew; especially when Father and Liz, cosseted as they like to be, would much rather fly business class on a commercial jet than to step into their noisy, shaky 20-year-old airplane anyway. And we're lucky to be in a position for a rare window of opportunity - the US Air Force, being short of unmanned drones, is buying up used King Air planes for surveillance and recon purposes, so we'd be able to get a much better price than usual for her. But Kellynch has always been something of a sacred cow with Father; whichever one of us who ends up mentioning it to him should best be prepared with a suit of armor.
"I could help manage the sale transaction, I guess," Fred offers. "Those summers I was working at FBOs1, I learned a thing or two about private aircraft sales; once in a while, I'd have to pitch in to help take care of customers, and there's quite a bit you can pick up just by keeping your eyes and ears open. But I'd imagine there won't be much to do in this case; they'll probably just take the aircraft as is, since they'd have to get rid of most of the fancy detailing anyway.
"But maybe that could wait - there's something else, something more urgent, that we'll need to discuss with Walter; he'll need to choose where we'll be holding our wedding."
"I guess," I sigh resignedly. "I'd like to think we had the liberty to decide on that, but as long as Father's around, I suppose there's no way to get out of it, not if we hope to maintain some cordiality with him at least."
"Well, in a way, we do get to decide," declares Fred with a satisfied smirk. "If I read you correctly, I know you won't want our wedding to be in Florida. So before we came out here, I made enquiries with two churches: mine in Plymouth, and the one in Grosse Pointe you went to as a child. By giving Walter a chance to choose between the two, we'll let him feel as if he's making the final decision, when we've actually narrowed it down to what we want already."
"Great," I laugh. "But how did you find out which church I used to go to?"
"That was easy. Mary. And another thing - I'll be picking up the tab for the wedding ceremony. I guess after you're done talking with him, I could come by and tell him about that."
"Pay for the wedding? You shouldn't! That's the responsibility of the bride's family, and I couldn't disregard convention like that. It wouldn't be proper for me to dump the cost of the wedding onto you." It's really sweet and kind of him, and sure, I am very touched by the offer; but still, it just feels wrong to let Father impose on Fred like that. Not to mention, I'll bet Father would probably blow his top if we dared to drop even the slightest hint insinuating that he can't pay for the wedding expenses.
"But that's exactly why I'm offering," Fred insists. "If we go by convention, Walter's supposed to pay, and then it'll probably end up coming from your pocket anyway, which just doesn't sound right to me. I can't leave you to pay for your own wedding, so it seems like the only fair arrangement would be for me to cover it instead."
"Do you really think Father would let you do that?" I argue. "He'll have too much pride to ever give anyone reason to suspect he can't pay for his daughter's wedding; I guess even if he does pass the cost on to me in the end, that just can't be helped. Besides, since we're getting married, does it really matter whether it's my pocket or yours? It'll still be the same pocket eventually, whichever way you look at it."
"Still, I'd feel better if you pass any bills you can over to me on the back end." Fred still won't back down; he's apparently determined to dig his heels in on this one. "As a man, it's the least I could do to help. And knowing Walter, the wedding reception will have to be of a certain standard to meet his expectations; I've anticipated it and set a budget aside for that already."
"Well, especially if you're paying, I'll see to it that the expenses don't get too far out of hand. Neither of us ever believed in splurging around just for appearance's sake, and you don't need to do this because you think I want it that way, because I don't. I'd be just as happy as you to have a plain and simple wedding." It's true; I might be an Elliot daughter, but there's no need to throw away unnecessary money to satisfy any notions of the Elliot pride for my sake, when all along I've never wanted any part of it.
"And any other time, I'd agree with you," acknowledges Fred, before continuing, "But I really don't think we've got much of a choice in this matter. You've always wanted us to get married respectably, with the blessing of our families; to achieve that, the ceremony will have to be something that's presentable to Walter. I know face is the most important thing in his life, and on the day he gives his daughter away in marriage in front of all his guests, he's got to feel that I'm giving him a proper amount of face too.
"Don't worry too much about the expense; it's a once-off event anyway, and I've found a way to keep a lid on our costs. You see, I could rig my schedule to tie things in on a date where we've already committed ourselves for the evening; that way, we'd only have to cater for a church ceremony and a reception afterward, and it'd eliminate any need for fancy dinner entertainment."
"Eminem at Comerica Park," I'm seriously impressed when Fred tells me the date he's got in mind; I couldn't have thought of a more brilliant or elegant way to lock everything in. "Fred, you're a real genius."
Fred has grown up for sure; Father may be just as difficult as ever, but I'd never expected Fred to move from resentment to acceptance this quickly, grudging and tentative though that acceptance may be. It took me years - actually, over a decade - to realize that the adult way to handle Father would be to work around him while engaging him on his terms, instead of keeping a deliberate distance from him as I'd been doing all this while; but Fred's come to the same realization about Father in just three short months since we've been engaged this time around.
Well, it's New Year's Day, and Father's generously allowed us to keep one of the bottles gifted by his guests in our honor. This is a time to celebrate, and I reach out to pop the cork on the champagne we've brought back with us. Here's a toast to 2013, the year when we'll finally be joined in marriage and become a family for real.
"Happy New Year, Father," I can't help feeling as if I'm fourteen years old again every time I step into Father's home; the stately, formal way in which he receives me never fails to transport me back to a time when he used to sit at the head of the table, always ramrod straight the way he is now, and I'd eat my dinners in perpetual fear of dropping or spilling anything by accident, while surreptitiously sliding my Brussels sprouts and green peas into the folds of the starched linen napkin lying on my lap.
"Well, well. It's good to see that you've kept your manners, even after getting yourself involved with that upstart from Detroit," observes Father. "I see he hasn't deigned to join you in paying your respects this morning."
"Father, Frederick is coming." Even though I know I've got to maintain the appearance of neutrality if I want to get Father on my side, my voice can't help betraying just a trace of how indignant I feel. "He just wanted to give us a little privacy before he comes in, because there's something I wanted to discuss with you; it's about keeping the Elliot pride."
"The Elliot pride?" I guess I can't blame Father for his incredulity, when I've always made it clear, silently but emphatically, that I never agreed with the Elliot sense of superiority. "Since when have you ever cared one whit about the Elliot pride, Anne?"
"Father. Dad." This time around, I'm a little more successful in keeping my cool. All my life, I've prided myself on keeping an unwavering sense of integrity; but, I tell myself, this isn't stooping to deviousness; I'm just trying to reach out to Father and relate to him, because there's no way he will meet me on my terms unless I meet him on his first. "I do care about the Elliot name; I always have. This is my family, after all, and I'll still be your daughter even after I'm married. When we handed our Saginaw plant over to Mr. Liu, I was every bit as devastated as you and Liz were. It hurts me, just as it hurts you, to see our family being reduced to this state; and that's why I want to do something to help ELMSCO."
"To help ELMSCO," remarks Father; though he's still skeptical, the derisiveness in his tone has given way slightly to contemplation. "You say you want to help ELMSCO, but you've never made any move to cultivate any business relationships that could be beneficial to us; instead, you insist on marrying that pilot of yours. So how exactly do you think you're going to be of any use to the business?"
"Dad, marriage isn't the only way for me to contribute to ELMSCO," I say, biting back the impulse to come up with a more direct retort. "I've got my education, my work experience, and my skills to offer too. In the past ten years, I've seen through many operational projects at Northwest and Delta; and the merger has given me exposure to much more complex issues than I'd ever have a chance to handle if I'd been working at a smaller, simpler company instead.
"Even though my formal training is in aviation, I've still been watching the trends in the auto industry all this while; how could I not, when I'm living under the Musgroves' roof and I was born and bred in an auto family? So I've got some ideas about what we could do to keep ELMSCO alive, and hopefully, to get us back on track.
"We might've sold off Saginaw, but we've still got a couple of secondary plants left. And it might not make sense right now to buy new technology or equipment, but we could still build on our traditional strength, which is that we're a good old-fashioned manufacturing company, and we always can be counted on to produce reliable mechanical auto parts. We just need to know where our main market is and to focus on it; and that means scrapping our business with the auto manufacturers and remaking ourselves purely as an aftermarket parts supplier. Our technology might not be cutting-edge at the moment, and our margins may be tight; but if we strengthen our partnerships with the Musgroves and other repair garages, there's a chance we could build a niche for ourselves and come out as a leaner, meaner ELMSCO.
"Dad, for this idea to be successful, you and me, we've got to work together as a family. You're on the ELMSCO board, and as the only member of the immediate founding family there, your word holds more sway than anyone else's. If you'd drive the company strategy from the top down, I'd be happy to support you from the bottom up. I know there'll be some staff retirements in operations this year; and when the vacancies open up, I'll apply to get myself hired by ELMSCO, fair and square. When I'm on the ground, I can look for ways to keep our costs in better check, and I can build up support from the ranks, if only you would give us the mandate to make the cuts we need to get ELMSCO back in the black."
"Good intentions to be sure, but my dear girl, you've got a lot to learn." As Father - I mean, Dad - speaks, I tell myself that I've been through so many times when he's been more patronizing than this; yet, such a thought is cold comfort when I've never been this committed to convincing him of anything, nor have the stakes ever been this high before. "As Elliots, we always think big; the small fish are for other people to fry. One thing about you, Anne, is that you're forever setting goals for yourself that are far below the level expected of the Elliot family. Making cuts, indeed! After three generations of building up ELMSCO to the size it is today, surely you could aim for something more ambitious than that. You say you understand the Elliot pride now; you should learn to do more justice to our name, at least."
"Dad, I am doing justice to the Elliot name," I say, quietly but resolutely, "The day the Lius bought over our plant, I swore to myself that I'd never wish the Elliot family to suffer such an indignity ever again, and I thought long and hard about what it takes for us to hold our heads up, to be able to face the world with the Elliot pride intact.
"I do want to think big, and there's nothing I want more badly than for ELMSCO to become even better than before. But if we want ELMSCO to survive long enough to get there, we can't afford to sustain the kind of losses we're making these days. We've got to find a way to regain our profits, and if it means making ELMSCO leaner in the short run, it doesn't matter as long as we're building a stronger company too; a company that can then grow on its own steam. Because with that experience behind us, I've learned something: in order to hold our heads high, we can't be beholden to anybody. It's got to be that way, because if we owe somebody something, we know and they know too; and then we can't hold up our heads to face them until we've repaid our debts in full."
The exquisite irony of the moment isn't lost on me; this is the most calculated, disingenuous thing I've ever done, and yet the very success of my mission lies in my ability to convey the utmost sincerity in my face and manner with my next words.
"And so I've made up my mind that from now on, every bit of money I spend will be strictly within the limits of what I earn; it won't be easy with a home of my own to support, but it's just one little contribution I can make, as a member of the Elliot family, to uphold our pride. It may be just a baby step, but we can make this bigger if we build on it; if we can practice the principle of not being beholden at a personal level and together as a family, we'll be setting an example that everybody else in the company can see. That's our responsibility as the leaders and founders of ELMSCO; and we'll be giving the Elliot pride its greatest glory when we fulfill this role."
"Well," Dad is still sizing me up, but for the first time in a long while, there's something like approval in his expression and his tone. "Before, you used to say you wanted to make your mark on your own; to test your capability to survive without taking advantage of the Elliot name. Your grandma would always say that you were just being young and idealistic, and you would come back to your roots when you got older and took some knocks in life. I suppose you've learnt your lesson; now it's your turn to prove your worth within the Elliot family. Truth to tell, I've decided to leave it up to the young people to run the company a long time ago; if you have any new-fangled ideas, far be it from me to stand in your way as long as your cousin William approves."
"Yes, Dad, I am older now; and I've learned quite a number of things in the past few years," There's a double meaning in everything I'm saying, but I doubt Dad will notice. "I've discovered that family is the most important thing in my life, and that familial duty must always be my first priority." I can say this with a completely straight face because I'm telling the absolute truth, now that "family" no longer means just the Elliot side of the house; anything and everything I do for Fred's sake is also an integral part of my family duty too.
"And," I continue, "there's something else we would like to seek your advice about, Dad. If you'll allow, I'll ask Frederick to come in now. He told me he wants to consult your opinion about our wedding arrangements, so that we can make our plans in accordance with your wishes."
"Very well," says Dad. "He may come. It's been a long time since there was a wedding in the Elliot family, and this must be in every way an occasion befitting the Elliot traditions."
Getting into Dad's shoes and consciously trying to appeal to his reasoning is highly tiring; I can't help letting out a tiny sigh of relief as I start keying in the text to Fred that'll be his cue to knock on the door. With just three short words, I'm able to convey to him the gist of everything that's transpired: "Mission #1 done".
I'm in the Seattle area doing simulator training for the Dreamliner, and Anne has come out here to visit me for the weekend. Lorin gives us a ride to SeaTac Airport on Sunday, and we drop into the REI flagship store in Seattle along the way to see if we can pick up some good deals on gear for the cross-country ski trip we're planning this winter. See, Anne and I just made one adult pact to top off all the little pacts we used to make when we were college kids - and that's to find things on our bucket lists that we can do and then set aside some time for them once in a while, no matter how busy our normal schedules may be.
We're browsing through the racks of ski clothing, or at least that's what I think we're supposed to be doing, when Lorin and Anne start drifting away and I start hearing the word "isn't this cute" popping up here and there. True enough, they're not looking at ski wear, or even anything remotely functional, any more; they've flitted across to those racks of ladies' clothing, and Lorin's looking admiringly at a patterned sundress she's holding up against Anne.
"I didn't know you all were gonna look at women's clothes," I protest, earning a baleful look from both of the ladies. "If that's what you're doing, I'm going downstairs to look at the skis and bikes; you can search for me over there when you're done."
"Oh no, you're not," says Lorin firmly. "This dress is so Anne, and you've just got to stay and see her in it. Anne, you'll try it out, won't you?"
I balk, of course, but when Anne comes out of the fitting room, it's as if a light bulb came on in my head, the way it strikes me just how far she's come from the girl I knew in college; in a good way, I mean. Back in our college days, Anne wouldn't be caught dead wearing a dress if we weren't going to one of my ROTC functions or similar; she had her own edgy kind of style which was cute in its own right, but as far from traditionally feminine as you could possibly get. I guess all along, she was trying to stake her claim on a unique identity and establish herself as the opposite of Elizabeth, after so many years of walking in her sister's shadow.
And then the Anne I saw when I moved back to Detroit was just a shadow of the girl I used to know; she'd had the air of someone who didn't have the time, energy or will to care one whit about her appearance. It puzzled me at first, but not for long; the deeper I got myself entangled with the Musgrove family, the more obvious it became to me that Anne was completely in over her head trying to juggle being the perfect employee at work and being the perfect caregiver at home. After we got back on talking terms again, I tried suggesting to her once or twice that she needed to reduce her workload for the sake of her health, if not for any other reason; but she stubbornly insisted that she was coping just fine as she was. So instead of arguing any more about it, I just made it a point to take the two little boys off her hands as often as I could. I was dead right, of course; it was plain for anyone to see how she gradually improved once she had some sanity time for herself, putting some weight back on and looking more rested in general. But I don't have to spell out to her how right I turned out to be when it's gratifying enough that I was able to do something concrete to help make her life easier, even if it's just a tiny, insignificant gesture actually.
This Anne is comfortable in her own skin, and she's no longer afraid to show the world how much of a lady she can be. I always knew she could be beautiful, both in looks and in character; but she used to deny it, telling me that she'd never be able to match up to her sister in the looks department, so why try? Well, the answer is here - because in the big scheme of things, it really doesn't matter what Anne is in relation to Elizabeth; all on her own, she's able to turn heads and take my breath away, and I bet I can't possibly be the only guy in the world who says that.
I'd have thought Anne wouldn't be able to pass on a dress like that, not when she looks so absolutely ravishing in it, but she does; after getting back into her old street clothes, she hangs it on a nearby rack and resolutely walks away.
"Aren't you going to buy it, Anne?" Lorin asks. "It's such a waste if you don't, when you look like such a knockout in it."
"But it's not on sale," says Anne. "And I'm sure I could get a dress like that for less if I shop elsewhere, something without a brand name, and that'd be better value for money. After all, I'd just be paying for the Patagonia label -"
They carry on browsing, and I do go downstairs to look at skis after all; but before I go, I sneak the dress off the rack and buy it for her. After all, we'd scrimped and saved so relentlessly throughout our college years; don't we deserve to indulge ourselves once in a while now that we can?
Well, with our wedding coming up, there'll be plenty of shopping for women's clothes to be done, and I guess I'll just have to put up with it. After all, it's once in a lifetime, isn't it? And, I suppose, when she walks down the aisle looking just like a queen, it'll all be worthwhile. That's what I have to tell myself at least, to make it all bearable to me; and would I know, it's actually true.
Working on Cousin William turns out to be relatively easy after I've worked on Dad; the key to winning someone over to your point of view, I've figured out, is to find out what makes them tick and appeal to them from that premise. With Dad, it was pride, and with William, it's money. And it doesn't take much effort to impress upon William that even if it isn't clear exactly who will be inheriting Dad's equity in ELMSCO, hastening the demise of the company won't be doing any favors to him financially either.
"I heard from Walter that you're trying to join the company," says William to me a little warily; he invites me out to lunch to size me up as soon as he hears of my interest in ELMSCO. "That's news, an Elliot girl showing interest and aptitude for the auto business; I always thought none of you girls ever wanted to bother your pretty heads about gasoline and grease. And what's in it for you, anyway, if you come in? Thinking you can sweet-talk Daddy into giving you a bigger share of the pie?"
"Yes, I will be applying for a job with ELMSCO," I acknowledge matter-of-factly. "But if I do come in, I'm coming through the front door, fair and square. It'll be completely above board, and I won't accept any arrangement that even suggests otherwise.
"And there is a possibility there won't be anything in ELMSCO for any of us, if the company ends up going bankrupt. I may be relatively new to the affairs of ELMSCO, but to me, that possibility is very real, especially after we've been forced to sell Saginaw. In fact, you could say the sale was the wake-up call that brought me to this point.
"But I shouldn't be the only person saying all this; as the CEO of ELMSCO, the stakes in keeping ELMSCO alive are higher for you than for anyone else. You're not only getting your salary from there; there's also the equity stake that Dad put in your name when he made you in charge of the company. And who's to say he won't give you a bigger stake if you succeed in making ELMSCO profitable again? You'll still be the CEO, and I'll be just a normal employee. The only advantage I think I can bring in with me is my experience working in a company that's gone into bankruptcy and subsequently been acquired. And even then, I can't pretend to be an expert in any other area than operations; I don't have any ambitions to take over as the CEO.
"I'm just doing this as a matter of conscience, really; if ELMSCO were to go down without my even trying to help, I won't be able to sleep at night as an Elliot daughter. And if I help, it'll only be in a very small way, to identify the areas where we could cut down on our operating costs. How we turn the rest of the business around will still be all up to you."
When I do come on board, I seriously doubt if I really am being hired fair and square after all; especially when my new office is a room instead of a cubicle and I have a secretary of my own. But even if I don't think I fully deserve the seniority I'm being given, it does come in handy when I drop a note to William to suggest that maybe, just maybe, the first cost-cutting measure we could implement is to cut back on the corporate plane.
William bites readily enough, because it's been a sore point with him all along that even though Kellynch is technically an ELMSCO asset, her main purpose is actually to ferry Father and Liz around when they fly within the Midwest. Or, I should say, that was the case before they moved to Florida, at least; in the years since, our plane has just been sitting pretty, only because it'd be beneath the Elliot pride to allow her to rust.
So it's William who heads to Palm Beach, sans armor, to talk Dad into selling Kellynch; he invites me to fly down with him, but I tell him I'll be fine joining in the discussion over Skype instead. Fred insists on my smuggling him into my office to watch the action; it's a little discomfiting, actually, just how entertaining he's finding this entire business to be.
"Mr. Elliot, sir, how would you like to consider an opportunity for ELMSCO to become a pioneer in patriotism?" says Cousin William unctuously; for all his posturing back in the office, Dad is never "Walter" or even "Uncle Walter" when William addresses him in person. Oh no, God forbid that he'd ever be as familiar as that; he'll always butter Dad by calling him "Sir" whenever he can.
"Patriotism? William, I never expected to get a lesson in that from you, of all people; don't you know ELMSCO has been the very model of American patriotism ever since we first opened for business? We were right there in the founding generation of big auto; how many companies do you know of who can make that claim?" I turn around and flash Fred an amused grin; apparently, even the lofty CEO of ELMSCO isn't above getting a dressing-down from Walter Elliot, never mind that I can't quite figure out how being there in the days of the Model T Ford has anything to do with patriotism in the first place.
"Ah yes," William coughs discreetly and changes his tack. "Of course. But this is another matter altogether; it's about showing the world that ELMSCO is right there at the forefront of the latest trends. As you probably know, the US military is looking for reconnaissance airplanes, and we happen to have the very model that they need. If we sell our good ship Kellynch to the US Air Force, that'll be an invaluable piece of positive publicity for us; it'll show how we're actively supporting the war effort, not to mention that we'll be getting a good price for the plane while we're at it."
Dad mulls it over, sitting in his leather chair and stroking his chin; meanwhile, Fred gives me a poke from behind and mouths the word "delusional" as I put a warning finger to my lips; he'd better not say anything out loud, especially when they're not supposed to know he's there. But he's right, of course; the Air Force's interest in acquiring King Airs came out in the news long ago, and there's no way ELMSCO selling the aircraft could possibly generate even a tiny ripple of media interest.
"Well, yes. Indeed," Dad finally speaks. "I believe you have a valuable idea there, after all; it's imperative that ELMSCO must be seen to be keeping up with the times. With corporate social responsibility being all the rage these days, contributing our company plane to support the war effort is a perfect way to showcase our dedication to the American cause. And besides, it won't do for us to be flying an old plane like that when our competitors have the latest jets. No, no; you're right; we've got to keep up. So you may proceed. Sell it. Anne, what do you think?"
"Dad," It's an uphill task to maintain a straight face with Fred smirking and snickering behind me, "I absolutely agree. These days, companies don't keep corporate jets on their books anymore; it's a lot more convenient and economical to just charter a jet whenever you need it, and it gives you much greater flexibility to hire different types of airplanes for different trips, depending on the size of your party. I honestly believe this is the way to go, if we want ELMSCO to stay relevant with the times."
I've barely gotten off Skype before Fred and I burst into laughter at my little piece of equivocation; if I have it my way, nobody in ELMSCO is going to charter a private jet anytime in the foreseeable future. With all our plants clustered within the state of Michigan, there's hardly a need to fly for business purposes; and while I'm at it, I'm going to drop a hint to William that it'd give the bottom line a little boost if he'd just consider flying coach for his jaunts to Florida. The Emperor's New Clothes, anyone?
Fred's the one at the controls when we fly Kellynch out for the final transaction; in his zeal to cut costs and improve the bottom line, William gave the go-ahead to let go of our pilot as soon as we'd made the decision to sell the plane.
"I'd forgotten just how noisy a turboprop can be," he says afterward, rubbing his temples as if he's got the biggest headache in the world. "It's been a really long time since I last flew one."
It isn't only about the noise, I know, because an F-16 isn't exactly an inner sanctum of Zen and tranquility by any standards. In the end, it all boils down to this - Fred will never quite see eye to eye with the Elliot pride, and to be honest, I probably won't either. But learning to co-exist with Father and Liz, albeit from a distance, is part and parcel of our duty as a family; and that's what we're learning to do, one little step at a time.
Have you ever dreamed about your own wedding as a little girl? I remember the times when Liz, Mary and I used to play with Mom's old clothes that Grandma kept in a trunk; Liz would always be the bride, tottering around in ridiculously high adult stilettos and sporting a make-believe veil cut off from an old tablecloth, while I'd be the bridesmaid dutifully holding up her train. Naturally, Mary was the flower girl; every now and then, we'd sneak into the garden and pick real flowers, so she could pull off the petals and scatter them around on the floor.
Never in all those years could I have imagined the situation to be reversed; that I'd be standing here, at this very church in Grosse Pointe that Liz used to daydream about being married at, with Liz as my maid of honor instead of the other way around. I can barely believe I'm standing here, swathed in white silk ornately decorated with beads, lace and brocade, with a tiara holding the veil to my head. In our family, I was never the one who had any delusions of wanting to be royalty; those kinds of pretensions were reserved for Dad and Liz alone. And it's Dad who insisted that I must be decked out in the most magnificent regalia he can afford; I suppose it's his way of living his dreams of grandeur vicariously through my wedding. The entire setup today is the picture of Elliot hospitality at its grandest; but whatever I said to Dad about our taking pride in not being beholden must've got through to him after all, because he hasn't passed me a single bill or invoice for the wedding expenses. I have noticed, though, that he hasn't bought a single new designer suit in the past months leading up to my wedding, and that Liz has stopped pestering me about buying new handbags and shoes too; the tux he's wearing today, though expensive, is an old one made over, and I know it came from the days when Mom was alive; I just don't know exactly when, until he tells me.
"Elizabeth would've been so happy to see her little girl getting married at last," Dad says to me in a rare bout of sentimentality as he prepares to take my arm for the walk down the aisle. "And by wearing the outfit I married her in, maybe I can bring a part of your mother here to be with us after all."
Everyone else in the Elliot family may choose to remember this as the day of my grand wedding, when Frederick and I could well have been a prince and princess for a day. But for me, I'd rather remember this day as something else; no matter what differences we may have amongst each other in the future, I want to cling on to the memory of this day as a celebration of our family ties at their very best: father and daughter, sister and sister, husband and wife.
It's a relief to change out of our formal garb and head to Comerica Park after all the pomp and circumstance at Grosse Pointe; now, we can finally be ourselves at last. The last time I attended any of Eminem's live performances before this was way back in the summer of '99, and look how far I've come since then. I'm watching, for the first time, a "home" performance by Eminem in Detroit and I've built a comfortable home of my own here too; I've attained the success and stability I hoped for in my career; and the crowning glory of it all is that I've finally brought some permanence into my relationship with Anne.
I still remember being in Atlanta in the summer of '99, and how I'd gotten myself into the front row, so close that I could practically touch the stage. It was so exhilarating, thinking of the whole crowd of people who'd turned out to see a kid like me, a scraggy kid from Detroit in a ripped T-shirt and baggy jeans. It was mesmerizing, watching a kid like that being on the verge of becoming the next big thing, just as I hoped I was standing on the threshold of success too, albeit on a much smaller scale.
What's my name?
Atlanta, what's my name?
Hi! My name is… what?
My name is… who?
My name is…
The crowd that day hadn't been as warmed up as I'd wished them to be; after all, this was still the raw Eminem, still a relative unknown who was only just starting out. But I yelled "Slim SHA-DY!" right on cue every time, right at the top of my voice. Shady, I guess I was crazy about you back then; only my name's Fred and I ain't Stan.
Eminem's music has gotten much more polished over the years; the lyrics are slicker, the delivery is slicker, the moves are slicker, and the MTVs are also slicker. Some people say his songs have become mainstream and commercialized, but I've still found new songs that ring true to me, if only because they reflect a more mature viewpoint that's wiser in the ways of the world, just as I am. Like this one, which sums up the story of my life before Anne and I got back together, hitting all the little nuances so precisely that I couldn't have said it better myself.
I'm just so… depressed
I just can't seem to get out this slump
If I could just get over this hump
But I need something to pull me out this dump
I took my bruises, took my lumps
Fell down and I got right back up…
… I don't know how or why or when
I ended up being in this position I'm in
I'm starting to feel dissing again…
… so hard to swallow
But I can't just sit back and wallow
In my own sorrow but I know one fact
I'll be one tough act to follow
One tough act to follow
I'll be one tough act to follow
Here today, gone tomorrow
But you'd have to walk a thousand miles
In my shoes, just to see
What it's like to be me
I'll be you, let's trade shoes
Just to see what it'd be like to
Feel your pain, you feel mine
Go inside each other's minds
Just to see what we'd find
Look … through each other's eyes…
…I'm not looking for extra attention
I just wanna be just like you
Blend in with the rest of the room
Maybe just point me to the closest restroom…
… "Ha! Marshall you're so funny man
You should be a comedian, god damn!"
Unfortunately I am
I just hide behind the tears of a clown
So why don't you all sit down
Listen to the tale I'm about to tell
Hell, we don't gotta trade our shoes
And you ain't gotta walk no thousand miles
In my shoes, just to see
What it's like to be me
I'll be you, let's trade shoes
Just to see what it'd be like to
Feel your pain, you feel mine
Go inside each other's minds
Just to see what we'd find
Look … through each other's eyes…
… Nobody asked for life to deal us
With these … hands we're dealt
We gotta take these cards ourselves
And flip 'em, don't expect no help
Now, I could've either just sat …
And … moaned
Or take this situation in which I'm placed in
And get up and get my own…
… I just wanted to fit in
At every single place, every school I went
I dreamed of being that cool kid
Even if it meant acting stupid …
… But I already told you my whole life story
Not just based on my description
Because where you see it, from where you're sitting
It's probably 110% different
I guess we would have to walk a mile in each other's shoes at least
What size you wear? I wear 10's
Let's see if you can fit your feet
In my shoes, just to see
What it's like to be me
I'll be you, let's trade shoes
Just to see what it'd be like to
Feel your pain, you feel mine
Go inside each other's minds
Just to see what we'd find
Look … through each other's eyes
Beautiful is all about me, because it's a song that celebrates resilience. For the same reasons, Beautiful is all about Detroit, and Beautiful is all about Anne, too. And the chorus says exactly the words that I've always wanted to say to her:
Don't let 'em say you ain't beautiful… just stay true to you…
This song's something worth my staying for, definitely; in fact, the entire concert's something worth my staying for. It doesn't stop me from anticipating what's coming after, though; it is our wedding night after all, and if that doesn't top Eminem, well, there'd definitely be something wrong with me.
Disclaimer: The songs "My Name Is" and "Beautiful" belong to Eminem. I've also made a nod to Eminem's song "Stan" in this chapter.
1 An FBO (Fixed Base Operator) is a facility that caters to the needs of private aircraft owners. While most FBOs in the US are centred on the provision of fuel, they also have amenities such as lounge, concierge and conference facilities for private jet owners, and private jet sales transactions are sometimes conducted at FBO facilities. At FBOs where maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations are also situated, newly-purchased second hand jets may also be brought there for retrofitting of the interior to the new owner's tastes and requirements.
Chapter Afternote: The Eminem concert in this chapter has several layers of symbolism and significance: (i) the "Beautiful" MTV features the decay of several Detroit landmarks, including the Tiger Stadium, but the act of watching Eminem perform at Comerica Park, the stadium that replaced the demolished Tiger Stadium, is a symbol of resurgence; (ii) the presence of a concert that is "something worth [Frederick] staying for" is a link to the concert in canon; (iii) the development of Eminem's music is a parallel to Frederick's growth and maturation over the years; and (iv) the lyrics of "Beautiful" are a direct allusion to what we're doing in this story - looking at life through Frederick's (and Anne's) eyes and empathising with them.
Chapter 15 - Flying Pig Squadron
Posted on 2011-10-06
Dad's finally decided to call it a day at ELMSCO; he's stepping down from the Board, and he'll be formally appointing me as his successor at the Board meeting today. And after the meeting, we'll be hosting a cocktail reception at a little urban farm sponsored by our company; the farm was my idea, my way of helping to put some life back into inner-city Detroit. To me, this little project goes beyond the veneer of corporate social responsibility, because I've got a strong personal interest in it too; it is, after all, a place where Fred spent some of the formative years of his life.
"Anne, you've done the Elliot name proud," he'd said when he told me of his decision. It was the first time he ever said anything like this to me, and I was completely unprepared for the way I melted inside when I heard it. For years - decades - I'd been telling myself that the Elliot name wasn't important to me; that what really mattered were my own values of fairness and integrity. But at that point, it dawned on me that my values and the Elliot name weren't at odds after all; I'd developed my own definition of what it means to be an Elliot, and my own particular brand of the Elliot pride. Pride doesn't have to be arrogance, necessarily. It can be couched in dignity - dignity, restraint and a certain sense of refinement. That's what the Elliot name means to me now, and I'm proud to be a part of the Elliot family at this very moment. Bringing ELMSCO back to its full former glory took seven years of long, hard work; but this year we've finally managed to clear the company's debt, and we can face the world with our heads held high again. And at ELMSCO, I've been able to recapture a little of the magic that drew me to aviation so many years ago; the euphoria of rolling out a brand-new airplane that I'd always dreamed about. Because that magic is the same when you see any project of your own conception come into being; and for me, I experienced it whenever ELMSCO came up with a new product line, or when we launched our very own supply chain management software, a brainchild of mine that brought our customer service to a new level.
Today, I'm going to become an ELMSCO Board member. The prospect is as scary as it is exhilarating; when I look at myself in the mirror, with a curling iron in one hand and a can of hairspray in the other, trying to get those Thatcher-esque curls just right, I wonder if I really have grown big enough to fill those lofty shoes.
"Fred, I wish I had more credibility," I say to my computer screen. I'm video-conferencing with Fred to pysch myself up; he's in London right now, and he'll spend the night there before his return flight.
"Anne, you've always had a lot of credibility. Once you open your mouth, nobody would ever doubt that. In fact, you already had credibility when I first got to know you, back when we were just eighteen going on nineteen. And you've gained a lot of maturity since then. Believe me - you've only been getting better and better."
"I don't just mean that kind of credibility," I say, putting the curling iron and the hairspray down in frustration; somehow, no matter what I do, my hair just won't curl the way I want it to. And the straight-haired girl - I mean lady - in the mirror looks much too young to be sitting on the ELMSCO Board. "I want people to take me seriously the minute they look at me, and I'm going to be a Board member now. That makes things different. Board members are supposed to be formidable."
"You're formidable all right; at least, you're formidable to me, and I'm sure our kids will agree," Fred says with a chuckle. "OK. Enough of joking, I'm dead serious now. I don't think you need to look like a tiger lady to be respected or successful at work; aren't you getting a lot of respect already? Sometimes, it's good to keep that little touch of femininity… that's exactly what I love about you."
The lady I see in the mirror, the one Fred sees on his computer screen, is exactly the same straight-haired girl of five minutes ago, but I see her with different eyes now. And I reach for the hairbrush instead of the curling iron, because I realize that I don't have to force myself to look like Thatcher, or anyone else, to be the dignified dame that I want to be. Frederick was absolutely right; I, Anne Elliot Wentworth, am that lady already just the way I am.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Frederick Wentworth, your captain speaking. In a few minutes, we will be commencing our descent into Detroit Metropolitan Airport…"
Being Captain Wentworth isn't exactly glamorous; not when the vessel I'm captaining is a Boeing 787 Dreamliner on scheduled service. But amongst all the standard procedures I go through on every flight, this is the one I'll never get tired of, because every time I say those words, I'm welcoming my passengers to a place that's very special to me; what I'm really telling them is, "Welcome to my home."
It's been a long time since I was part of an Air Force squadron; and now, I'm still working towards a place in a squadron of a completely different kind - the Flying Pig Squadron of the Cincinnati Marathon. See, everything started with a flying pig, so Anne and I thought it'd be fun to celebrate our being together by going to the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon every year. You become part of the squadron when you've completed ten full marathons, and I've been doing this for seven years already, so I'm more than halfway there by now. Anne's always there to cheer me on but she doesn't run marathons anymore, not after our sons Marshall and Lionel were born; she's been taking it easy, running for fitness and leisure instead. I guess our priorities just have to change as we move on to different stages of our lives.
Back when I was Captain Wentworth and then Major Wentworth in the Air Force, I never thought there'd be a possibility I could be happier outside the military than in it. I'd probably have felt very differently if I'd been deployed to war for the entire ten years, but luckily for me, I wasn't. I still have some very good memories of my Air Force days: the camaraderie I experienced during UPT; my stints as a test pilot where I got a chance to exercise my mind as well as my reflexes, while allowing me to collaborate closely with Harville again in his position at Lockheed; and of course, that year I performed with the Thunderbirds and felt like a rock star.
If there's one part of my history as a fighter pilot that I'd like to change, though, it's that I wish I'd never had to go to war in the first place. War is a very grey concept - at the beginning, I felt patriotic thinking about what 9-11 had done to us and our country, thinking I was going out there to right a big, huge, gigantic wrong. But then when I was out there, seeing the kind of devastation I was causing, it didn't seem to be so right anymore. To be successful as a soldier, you've got to desensitize yourself, though, and so that's exactly what I did, just to carry on and survive. Like all soldiers, I did get nightmares too, only I learned how to live through them. I learned to toughen myself up so that I'd be virtually invulnerable; I was Captain Wentworth after all.
I might've believed myself to be invulnerable as long as I was Captain Wentworth in the US Air Force; but when my service obligation ended and Sophia begged me to move back to Detroit, I felt more vulnerable than ever before. You see, the military was the only life I'd known up till then, and I guess I could've gotten drunk off my success. In the Air Force, I was a hero; but civilian life, family life, that was entirely alien to me. I'd had a shot at reaching out for a proper family life once, when I proposed to Anne, and I'd failed miserably in that attempt.
But now, with 20/20 hindsight of course, I know I couldn't possibly have chosen a better path in life, because I'm much happier being the Captain Wentworth I am now than the Captain Wentworth I used to be in the past. I'm no longer a nomad, a roving vagabond; I've got stability, permanence and a wonderful family to live for. I'm not sure if I could still pass for being a dashing military hero today; I try my very best to keep the middle-age spread at bay, but I know that at my age, I'd have been grounded for good long ago even if I'd stayed put in the Air Force. When my family's there, though, it doesn't matter whether I'm at the helm of a fighter jet or an airliner; I'm still a hero to them just the same. Sophia and Tiffany did me the best favor of my life the day they brought me back to Detroit, and I guess Anne has too, when she married me and we set up our home together. They've humanized me.
This is Frederick Wentworth, your captain speaking. On behalf of all my crew aboard Delta Air Lines Flight DL5 from London to Detroit, it has been a pleasure serving you and we hope you have enjoyed the flight. We will be commencing our descent into Detroit Metropolitan Airport shortly, and the estimated time of arrival at our gate will be 2:05 pm local time. The weather is partly cloudy, and the ground temperature is approximately 45 degrees Fahrenheit. If Detroit is your final destination, we wish you a warm welcome home; and if you are continuing onto another flight, we wish you a pleasant onward journey to your final destination. Cabin crew, to your landing stations please.
Marshall (as dictated to Anne)
Hi. My name's Marshall. Marshall Wentworth. I'm five years old, and I'm in kindergarten. I brought Flat Daddy to school for Show and Tell today. Daddy's a Captain and he flies a big airplane. He flies a lot, but he always comes back because he loves us very much. Mommy loves us, too. She's like an angel. She's good like an angel, and she's pretty like an angel. And she sings like an angel too. And I've got a little brother, his name's Lionel. But we always call him Leo. He's three years old. Sometimes he's cute, but sometimes he makes me real mad. But I love him anyway. And then there's Aunt Sophie, and Aunt Mary, and Uncle Charles, and Great-Uncle Henry, and Great-Aunt Lucy, and my cousins. I've got three cousins: their names are Charlie, Wally and Tiffany. There's also Uncle Ed in England, we talk to him on the computer on Saturdays. And Mommy says there's Grandpa Walter and Aunt Liz too, but they don't see us very much. We live in Detroit. This is my home, and this is my family. And I love them. All of them.
Today has to be the worst day of my life ever, because Tiger Kelly stuffed me into a locker at school. Yup, that's right; he STUFFED ME IN A LOCKER. I just couldn't stand it, you know, the way he was chatting up Tiffany and all. She's gotten to be real pretty now, and I guess that's why all the guys at school are going after her, but I hate the sight of her hanging out with a kid like Tiger, and that's why I butted in to tell him not to talk to her again. That's when Tiger tossed me in.
"Go back to where you belong, Charlie Brown," he'd said.
The worst part of it was this - the locker door couldn't close properly with me in it, and when I pushed myself back out, everyone was there watching the show. I've never felt so embarrassed before.
And Mom wasn't any help at all, just like I expected. She just kept going on and on about how crummy the school system is, and how she should've homeschooled me and Wally instead. I wouldn't want that, for sure; being stuck at home with Mom all day is just as bad as any of the teasing I get at school. As for Grandpa and Grandma, they said that all this is part and parcel of life, and that I'd get over it. I wouldn't expect them to understand, because they keep telling us kids about how they had it so hard growing up right after World War II, and how we got it so good compared to them. Wally just laughed, until I told him if he didn't stop, I'd stuff him in a locker to show him what it was like.
So nobody at home has any idea about how crummy I feel, and that's why I'm walking over to Uncle Fred and Aunt Anne's house. I'm sure Aunt Anne will know exactly what to say to make me feel better; she always does. Only thing is, when I get there, it turns out Uncle Fred's the one who's at home today; I guess this must be one of those days he isn't flying.
"Where's Aunt Anne?" I ask. "I wanna talk to her."
"She hasn't come home from the office yet," Uncle Fred says. "What is it, Charles?"
He's been calling me "Charles" since I was ten; he'd said I was growing into a man, and so he'd start treating me like one. But everyone else still calls me "Charlie", and Mom still hugs and kisses me in public, even though I've told her not to do it so many times. Most of the time I like it that Uncle Fred treats me like I'm grown up, but today, I just want someone to baby me and give me some sympathy, and I know that's not what I'm going to get from Uncle Fred.
I don't really want to tell him, but I don't have a choice, do I?
"Let's go over there to talk," I say, pointing to the farthest corner of the living room, away from where Marshall and Leo are playing. It's bad enough that Wally knows already, and this is one of the things I hope my little cousins will never get to hear about. "It's private."
"Your grandpa's right," says Uncle Fred after he hears my sad story. "Such things happen all the time and you'll have to learn how to deal with this, and worse, as you grow older. I should know - I've been thrown into a locker before, and I was miserable about it just the way you are, but a lot of worse things have happened to me before and after that incident, and I still survived. I'm still in one piece, aren't I?"
"You're kidding me," I scoff. Uncle Fred used to make up all kinds of tall tales to make me and Wally laugh when we were little kids, and I'm pretty sure this is yet another one of them. "You're Captain Wentworth. You're a hero. And I've always wanted to be just like you when I grow up. Nobody would ever stuff you into a locker; they wouldn't dare. And besides, you wouldn't fit into one. I don't, and I'm only thirteen."
"No, I'm not kidding; I'm as serious as I could possibly get. These kinds of things happen to everybody, and it just happened that you were the unlucky kid who got bullied today. It happened to me too, when I was the new kid changing schools right in the middle of seventh grade. And when I was thirteen, I was scrawny. I was barely tall enough for my BMX bike, and people thought I was a fifth grader. Next time, they'll move on to somebody else and forget about you. That's exactly how transient these things are, so you shouldn't let it get you down."
It never occurred to me before that anyone would ever bully Uncle Fred; to me, he's always been larger than life. But even though this new thought makes me feel just a little bit better, I still wish somebody would fuss over me in the way they used to do when I was younger.
"But, Uncle Fred, don't you even feel just a little bit sorry for me?" I plead. "If Aunt Anne was at home, I'm sure she'd give me more sympathy than that."
"Charles." He musses my hair up affectionately. "One of the most important things I've ever learned is that life is full of problems and difficulties, and things will never get any better if you just let yourself wallow every time you hit a rough patch. Your Aunt Anne was already my girlfriend way back in college, did you know that? But she broke up with me after her grandma got cancer, making a sacrifice because she thought I wouldn't be able to carry on with my career in the Air Force if she stayed with me. I didn't understand her reasons at that time, so when that happened, I was devastated and for many years, I did nothing about it except feel sorry for myself. And I would never have gotten back together with her if I hadn't snapped out of my self-pity."
He goes on to tell me, for the first time, the whole story of how he met Aunt Anne, lost her, and then got back together with her again. And boy, what a story it is.The End
Disclaimer: The character Tiger Kelly is from the "Ginger Meggs" comics. I believe we all know where Charlie Brown comes from!