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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hero Worship

A long time ago, I wrote a post about my heroes. It was on the Pudd'nhead Nathan blog, and I could go trolling through the forever closed (to you) archives and search insanely to dig it up like a rabid terrier, but I'm far too lazy for that.

I'd much rather reinvent the wheel. That's how I roll.

Whoa-- Annoying Pun Alert: sounded.

The recent and regrettable Air France Flight 447 crash has reminded me of two of my heroes, one of whom perished in an incident aboard a plane, one of whom prevented an air disaster. Thinking about these two men fills me with admiration and pride, and it has motivated me to consider some other heroes of mine.

All boys have heroes. When we're little boys, we make our parents buy us posters of them that we put up in our bedrooms so that, when we fall asleep, we can dream about one day becoming a fraction of what they were. When we grow older, we blog about them. And we know that we will never attain even a fraction of their greatness, because we're older, wiser, and fatter than we were as children. Well, you are. I'm still 98% lean body tissue, in spite of a steady diet of cheese and hog ass.

I know that a therapist would take a look at my list of heroes and draw some pretty sobering conclusions about what this particular group of individuals means about me as a person but, you know what? Therapists are gay.

The one I went to in college certainly was: snowflake sweaters and all.

So, without further ado and obfuscation, here are my heroes. I'll start with the two airplane-related ones, since that's kind of how this got started:

Stan Rogers

You might not think that a 6'4" leviathan with the middle name "Allison" who sported a bald head, and a beard minus a mustache could be anyone's hero, but you'd be a very naughty blog-reader to make such an assumption based on appearances. Stan Rogers is better judged by his voice, the likes of which you have probably never heard before, unless you're familiar with the music of his brother, Garnet, or his son, Nathan-- both men sound hauntingly like Stan. Listen to this recording of "The Flowers of Bermuda" and you'll hear a voice that commands respect, and you will willingly give it, again and again.

While alive, Stan enjoyed a respectable following, mostly amongst Canadians, but he was only approaching fame when he died in 1983 at age 33 aboard Air Canada Flight 797. A small fire broke out in the plane's rear lavatory in-flight and the pilots made a delayed decision to make an emergency landing. The NTSB found that their delayed decision contributed to the deaths of 23 passengers, who perished from smoke inhalation and burns during the evacuation process on the runway. It is widely believed that Stan would have survived the incident if he had not returned to the plane to help passengers exit safely. One survivor reported that Stan stood by the emergency exit calling out, "Follow my voice! Follow my voice!" to guide passengers to the exit through the blinding, choking smoke before he was overcome.

It is an honor to be one of the many, many fans who follow Stan's voice, even though years have passed since his untimely demise.

Alastair Atchison

If I had enough money to hire myself a private jet, you can bet your ass that this man would be my pilot on every flight-- puddle-jumper or trans-Atlantic. If I could have him chauffeur my car, I would. I would trust him with my family's life, and mine. I would sky-dive with him attached to me, I would parasail if he were my teacher and, if he put a bullet-proof vest on me told me to shoot myself in the stomach, I would do it. This man was Chesley Sullenberger before Facebook existed to make him the hero he deserves to be. If someone ever asked me to "Become a Fan of Alastair Atchison," even though I think those things totally suck, I'd do it.

On June 10th, 1990, British Airways Flight 5390 took off from England and was en-route to Spain when, at 17,300 feet, the windshield in front of the pilot blew out, sucking pilot Tim Lancaster halfway out the window. The only thing that prevented him from totally eating cloud was the fact that his knees got jammed underneath the instrument panel. To further complicate things, the cockpit door blew off its hinges and slammed against the instrument panel, preventing co-pilot Atchison from, um, doing... anything. Steward Nigel Ogden grabbed Lancaster's lower half and held on. Meanwhile, the top half of Lancaster's body was outside the airplane getting cooled in freezing temperatures while his head and torso were getting slammed repeatedly against the outside of the airplane. As freezing cold air and papers and tea were flying all around the cockpit, Atchison was trying to fly the fucking plane.

He repeatedly called in distress signals to Air Traffic Control, but they couldn't hear him over the wind. And he couldn't hear them. Finally, he somehow heard that he received clearance to land at Southampton Airport. He could barely see and had to be talked down the whole way by Air Traffic Control, but he did it. And, miraculously, pilot Tim Lancaster lived, suffering only frostbite, bruising, shock, and some relatively minor fractures. Six months later, was flying again.

Sullenberger: you ain't the first sky-angel, baby.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

To call this guy a hero is like calling sitting on a machete "uncomfortable." Of course he's a fucking hero. Jesus. Professor at Bowdoin College. Fluent in 9 languages (including Syriac-- are you fluent in Syriac?) Volunteered to serve in the Civil War-- was given the colonelcy of the 20th Maine, but turned it down, preferring to "learn the business of war" before being a full colonel-- accepting the Lt. Colonel's position instead. Was wounded in battle 6 times. Had 6 horses shot out from under him. Saved the day at Gettysburg with valiant and uncommon tenacity, bravery and quick thinking. Commanded the ceremony at Appomattox Courthouse with grace, dignity and respect for the losing side, prompting General John B. Gordon of the Confederacy to remember Chamberlain as "one of the knightliest soldiers of the Federal Army." Went on to become President of Bowdoin College and Governor of Maine for four terms. AND he maintained his excellent looks well into old age.

Was this guy a fucking robot or what? Nope. Just a hero. You can share him with me.

Sam Clemens

The world knows him better as Mark Twain, but I more admire Sam Clemens. I've never read Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer, so I think I'd be kind of blowing smoke up your skirt if I said that I admired Mark Twain. Mark Twain was the guy in the white suit. I admire the guy who wore black suits. I don't so much admire the witty, charming, effervescent Mark Twain, who joked about everything from drunkenness to travelling in Egypt-- I admire Sam Clemens, the untameable social critic who railed against anti-Semitism, racism, inequality and slavery. I admire the man who stumbled upon a young African American male who wanted to go to Harvard Law School but couldn't afford it, and paid his way through law school. I admire the man who said,

"In many countries, we have chained the savage and starved him to death. In more than one country, we have hunted the savage and his little children and their mother with dogs and guns, through the woods for an afternoon's sport. In many countries we have taken the savage's land from him and made him our slave and lashed him every day and broken his pride and made death his only friend and worked him till he'd drop in his tracks.

There are many humorous things in the world, among them is the white man's notion that he is somehow less savage than the other savages."

And we bloggers like to think we "tell it like it is."

Winston J. Rawlins

Next time you get that mysterious 20something itch to bash "the police," I want you to think about the name Winston J. Rawlins.

On March 29th, 1982, Houston, Texas Police Officer Winston J. Rawlins pulled over a car for a minor traffic infraction. A gasoline truck was barreling down the road and its driver hit the brakes when it saw traffic backing up as a result of the traffic stop. As Officer Rawlins was talking to the motorist he had pulled over on the side of the road, he saw that the gasoline truck was heading straight toward them. Thinking only of the safety of others, he pushed the motorist out of the path of the truck, which ended up slamming into a gravel truck. Both trucks exploded in a hellacious fireball, and Officer Rawlins was killed.

He was 23.

23 is the age I was when I entered the police academy, the academy I left after two days. Rawlins had two years of policing under his belt by the time he died. When I think about what I was doing at his age, all I can do is shake my head. A lot of masturbating and head-up-my-ass-ness. About the only thing I did of value at age 23 was fall in love. Which brings me quite neatly to my last hero, the only female on this list.

My wife

My wife and I fell in love online. I was living in the Philadelphia area. She was living in Pittsburgh. After only knowing me for a few months, and after only a handful of cross-Commonwealth "weekend dates," she made the bold decision to move 311 miles away from Pittsburgh to give our burgeoning relationship its best possible shot. She could have insisted that we both move 150 miles, to make things fair, but then we'd be living in Altoona or some fucking hick-ass place, and I don't think either of us would have been thrilled with that. I admire and will be forever grateful for the heroism involved in making that decision to risk so much, for, um, a life with me.

Not long after moving here, through a series of unfortunate events that will have to wait for another blog entry, my wife was faced with what should be everyone's worst nightmare-- if people even think to have this be a nightmare: brain surgery. On June 22, 2004, neurosurgeons at the University of Pennsylvania hospital cut open Mrs. Apron's head like a baked potato and, for over nine hours, went poking and cutting and snipping away at her precious brain. When she woke up, her left arm looked like the claw machine you see in the waiting area of Friendly's restaurants and video arcades, and her mouth was downturned on one side. Time, PT, OT and swelling reduction has eased all those ailments, but I always know when my wife is about to cry, because the left side of her lip curls downward, and it cuts me like a scalpel, every time.

When she and I first discussed the options that her neurosurgeon presented us with, which were few, there was crying and holding and the inevitable asking of the unanswerable "why?" but that's to be expected. The dignity, humor, rationality and steadiness my wife exhibited in her terrifying odyssey towards the scariest of unknowns is truly just about all the heroism I can stand.

I told you it was kind of an unusual collection of peeps, but I think about them each and every day, and I'm prouder than proud to call them my heroes. I doubt anyone will ever call me their hero, but I have people who call me "son," "brother," "friend," and "husband." One day, a psychologically-troubled, near-sighted, allergy-besmirched young boy or girl will call me "Daddy." And I guess that will just have to do. I guess that will just have to do pretty nicely.


  1. You forgot that Chamberlain had to wear a catheter from 1864 till his death in 1914.

    Now that's something to inspire respect/admiration/urination.

  2. I love that your wife is listed here. You and she have a wonderful story! My husband and I met online too - way back before meeting people online was cool.

  3. Quite the smattering of heroes, Apron. The last story is best of all, but that's only because I'm a romantic fool at heart. Mrs. Apron sounds like a truly courageous woman.

  4. That is a truly awesome list. Especially the last one.

  5. Very touching post sir.
    My dad was my hero.

    Is it primarily men that have heroes?
    I'd love to hear from your harem of female subscribers.

  6. Excellent Post Mr Apron.
    I liked the Sam Clemons one but the last one was the best. I found out about your blog reading a bit about your wife somewhere else. I have to say this though, I am sure you are your wife's hero too! A person of weaker character may have said I am outta here, but not you! You stood by her side and probably was the highlight of her day as she recuperated! Anyways with regards to what the pair of you went through you are both heroes to me!
    John.. My mum was my hero! She was a fantastic Mum and the rock in our family. She was the definition of unconditional love and had a grace about her that I have never seen since...Ever..
    So I am the first female to respond with a hero.
    Anyone else?

  7. I saw a program on Atchinson. How anybody survived that ordeal is beyond me. He's not just a hero - he's Superman!

    And your wife? Amazing. I'm giving her an air-five right now.

  8. This really puts my hero post on the inventor of the salad bar to shame. Balls.

  9. Stan Rogers. What a voice, what a hero.
    Inspiring post, makes me think about those to whom we really should be looking up these days (vs. the people to whom we seem to be paying the most attention).

  10. i love the sweet things you say about your wife. from what i've heard here i know you two are in a + relationship (that's + for positive!). and i knew who samuel clemens was!


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