Read Old Man Scanlon

Flying Lessons

Trapps vulture

22 July 2016

I spend most of my time in the air like a hover-fly—as you will gather from its name, hovering—motionless, observing, in the moment. Vicious accelerators, hover-flies do not so much fly as teleport. Although the Syrphidae aren’t classified as birds in any taxonomy that I’m aware of, I prefer to think of them as micro-hummingbirds.

I fly standing. Unlike Superman, I don’t need to fly prone to optimize against air resistance. My superpower is that gravity, wind, and time defer to me. Paradoxically, to fly I have to let go of the want or need to fly; the power can’t be forced. I have flown for as long as I can remember; I fly for trivial reasons and with mediocre competence.

Perennially the freshman, I skim through the halls of my high school swallow-like, just above the floor, willing myself around corners with aerobatic precision. I search for a boys’ room; their locations are dynamic, as if I were in Hogwarts. I need to find one that isn’t frequented by the high-school underworld, ever on the prowl for easy pickings and a safe place to smoke, and I need to find one that hasn’t been vandalized into a plumber’s nightmare, as I am barefoot.

Or I am cruising a corporate cubicle warren at a somewhat more relaxed airspeed, dodging the security department badge-checkers, acutely aware of my lack of badge, looking for my office. It wasn’t where I expected to find it, and these hallways, too, do not stay put. When I find the office, somebody I don’t know occupies it and my computer has been taken away, or worse, replaced with a Windows machine.

Outdoors I fly to escape crowds. Launching myself upward on a thermal welling from a hot asphalt parking lot, I soar like a vulture above a milling press of humanity. I feel relief tempered by a nagging impression that showing people I can fly lets a cat out of the bag that I shouldn’t. Even when I’m airborne I seem to spend most of my time trying to gain altitude to avoid power lines.

My avian masters—nectar-sippers , insectivores, carrion-searchers—fly in styles that are perfectly congruent with the ways they must earn their continued existence. They teach me by example but I can’t quite get the hang of it. I am disappointed that I can’t make more impressive use of my power.