I ran into Whinkla this morning at the post office. He was picking up several packages of books he had purchased and I was mailing two I had managed to sell. “Larry,” he called, as I was getting out of the Honda, “what a coincidence. I was thinking of dropping by but wasn’t sure you’d be home.”
“I’m home more than I’m not these days Whinkla, so your chances were pretty good.”
“Yes, but you never know, and I am traveling shanks’ mare these days.”
“Well let me get these in the mail and I’ll treat you to coffee, or tea.”
I posted the books and walked with Whinkla to the only café in town. There, over two cups of Earl Gray, he unwrapped his latest acquisitions for my perusal.
“Ah,” he beamed, opening one of the boxes, “it’s the Chaim Soutine, and Campbell’s A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake. The candles will burn late tonight.”
“Chaim Soutine?” I said.
“Yep,” Whinkla said, “I just finished a biography of Modigliani and the references to Soutine pricked my curiosity. “
“Yes, how unfortunately true. Seems there’s always more and more books I want to read. So many imponderables I’ve yet to challenge. And unfortunately, so few years ahead.”
“Seems you do all right Whinkla.”
“I suppose. Larry. . . .I have to ask, do you have any comments on Blimp?”
“Not yet, but a lot of strange stray thoughts have been swirling around in the gray matter. One thing that puzzled me from the start is why you call it Blimp when just about everyone who reads it will know damn well it was a dirigible, not a blimp?”
“You’re right, and a damn big dirigible, or zeppelin it was. Well, at the time I was piloting the Heidelberg, which by the way makes the infamous Hindenburg zeppelin. of Lakehurst, New Jersey fame, look like a maquette, my children were very young and had a hard time saying dirigible, but Blimp was well within their capabilities. So I told them I flew a blimp. Remember, I did fly blimps as well, out of Tillamook, Oregon, at the end of the war. Have you ever flown in a blimp, or dirigible Larry?”
“Never had the chance.
You wouldn’t believe how enthralling it is. No sounds save the wind. A state of dreaming; a suspension of time. Sometimes, on those mystically quiet days I actually thought I might descend into an unknown country, a land not unlike OZ. If you ever get the opportunity, rare these days, don’t hesitate.”
“Your book doesn’t begin that way.”
“No, no, blimps, well blimps and zeppelins, or dirigibles, do have their problems, and high, unpredictable winds are one of them. I was never afraid of the wind, even when it reached hurricane force. Yes, it might blow me off course, if I had one, but there’s little to bump into once you’re off the ground. But I was afraid of debris sucked up from the surface; afraid an errant stalk of corn or roof shingle from a farm in Kansas might rip open one or more of the gasbags. Fortunately it never happened, though we did have minor leaks occasionally, but for other reasons.”
“Well Whinkla I haven’t had a chance to read more than the first few pages. I did take it along on a trip to the coast last week thinking I might have an opportunity, but the weather was beautiful and we spent most of the day hiking the shoreline, or deep in the old growth forest. At night, after a glass or two of Merlot, well. . .”
“I understand Larry and please don’t feel you have to read it, yours is an extra copy. I just thought it might provide a little amusement during the coming winter days.”
“You mean like today?”
“Tis a trifle dreary outside, but we’ll adjust, like we always do.”
“I don’t know Whinkla, every year it gets a little harder. I’m getting old, and there are a great many things I’d rather do these days than shovel snow; and those interminable inversions where the fog never lifts for weeks at a time. If I could afford it I’d spend half the year in northern New Mexico or Arizona, and you know which half.”
Whinkla nodded and smiled but said nothing. He carefully rewrapped the books and stood up. “I’ve books to tend to Larry, but I hope we see each other again before too long. There’s a warm fire, and I’ve laid in a new selection of wines for the winter should you venture out that far. And let me know if you manage a few more pages of Blimp.”
I bused the empty cups to a plastic tub and when I turned around Whinkla had disappeared