Navy pilot finds new way to fly

Posted Feb. 01, 2009, at 8:27 p.m.

I have discussed before how my husband, Dustin, while highly trained as a Navy pilot with an engineering degree from the Naval Academy, is not without his Clark W. Griswald moments. In fact, it has been my experience that the smarter a man gets in his profession, the more likely he is to fall off a ladder at home, drive away with his coffee cup still on the roof of the car or set fire to the kitchen.

Why do successful men have trouble functioning at home? I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with them not being able to multitask. Or maybe they use up all their smart energy at work. These are only guesses.

Just the other day, Dustin was doing what he calls the “car carousel,” when one car in the driveway blocks another and he has to put the back one forward, and vice versa. His only task was to move the cars. It seemed like he could handle it. When I passed by the front window with a pile of clothes, however, I saw him step out of one car — now “parked” at the front curb — and run to the next one in the driveway. Only, he hadn’t put the first car in park yet. Soon he was chasing it down the street and, I’m sure, cursing as he went. Once the crisis had been averted, Dustin looked up to see if I had witnessed it. I had. I gave him a smile and a thumbs up out the window. He spent an extra long time outside after that, presumably because he didn’t want to come in and hear about it from me.

To be fair, however, men also tend to cause problems for themselves, no matter how or where they’ve spent their smart energy. This seems to be part of their design. Their need to do all things fast, rough and with power tools only makes matters worse. And when two or more of these men get together, well, all kinds of trouble ensue.

When my family visited over Christmas, we went to a nearby hill to go sledding. The boys had just gotten brand-new, state-of-the-art foam “sleds” that actually look more like the boogie boards I was used to in Florida. But Dustin still insisted on bringing our old Radio Flyers, the ones I used when I was a child and are made en-tirely of wood and now-rusty metal.

The hill had a handmade ramp on it that had already helped many people catch serious air. The slope was also slick with ice. Still, this wasn’t enough danger for Dustin. No, he decided that going down the biggest hill — the one with the ramp — with the Radio Flyer was the way to go.

Off he went in his ski pants from 10 years ago that are about 3 inches too short, two sizes too small and flatten his rear end like a pancake. He had on a full face mask, too. Dustin wasn’t joking around.

At first, despite a running start and awkward belly-flop technique to mount the sled, Dustin didn’t go fast. His ride started painfully slow. Then the sled hit a patch of ice and picked up speed. Dustin was going down the hill like an arrow, his body covering the child-sized sled like an elephant standing on a beach ball. Everyone at the top of the hill turned to look. “Is that an old Radio Flyer?” someone asked. I pretended not to know my husband.

When Dustin hit the ramp, he was catapulted into the air and did somersaults over the sled. All I could see was a ball of twisted navy-blue ski pants tumbling faster through the snow. At the bottom of the hill, Dustin pierced the snowbank like a splinter. Only his feet and his too-short snow pants were visible. The crowd made a collective “Ohhhhh,” then “Ouch” and “Oh, no.”

But Dustin looked pleased with himself when he finally stood up and shook off the snow. I felt an urge to make apologies for him, to defend him to onlookers. “Really, my husband is usually very safe and smart … except for that time he left the keys in the car that wasn’t in park … he probably looks smarter when he flies … maybe …”

Turns out, apologies and explanations wouldn’t be necessary. For all of the shock expressed by people on the hill about this grown man about to go down the slope on an old Radio Flyer made for children, when Dustin got to the top again, a few men nearby asked, “Dude, can I have a turn now?”

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Sarah Smiley’s new book, “I’m Just Saying …,” is available wherever books are sold. She may be reached at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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