Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mike's Story Part 62 - Lessons from Los Angeles

By Jenna Orkin

October 11, 2007
On the plane to LA
    "See out there on the back of the wing?" Mike said. "Those are the flaps and the helions. When the plane takes off, they're down. You have more air passing over the plane than under it to increase lift on takeoff."
    I had a flashback-by-proxy to a talk that must have once taken place between Mike and his father. Only now Mike himself was Dad and I was little Mike.
    "See that jet of water?" A stream arced from the front of the wing. "That's the [I missed the term.] I'm talking a lot because my thumb is hurting again. I don't want to take another pill yet."
    He closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing, like a student in a Lamaze class.
    A couple of hours later:
    "Those look like the Rockies. My father had a memorable way of explaining things. Once I asked him, 'Daddy, what's the Continental Divide?' He took out his penis and started peeing. 'If I pee on one side of the Continental Divide, it goes into the Pacific. On the other side, it goes into the Atlantic.'"
    We did whatever people do to pass the time in the air until we reached California.
    "We're probably approaching from the south," Mike said, looking out the window.
    "I thought planes that went from New York to L.A. went in a straight line."
    "There are thousands of flights at any given moment. Remember in my book, on 9/11 they had to ground thirteen thousand flights? Pilots have check points. They have to report when they get to each one."
    "Oh. I thought it was like a highway; they just left a certain space between. Anyway, if there are thousands of flights and we're looking out for dozens of miles, how come we can't see any planes?"
    "No; they track them. They go like this." He made little crooked motions with his hand.
    "This is what cops and body guards learn and people who have to drive defensively: Make sure you can see the wheels of the car in front of you when you stop. That way you can get out without having to back up."
    A great teacher, so long as the subject was not related to his investigative reporting. For that, you had to glean whatever you could from FTW itself. Rice Farmer and I understood that which was one reason why we'd lasted as the main behind-the-scenes researchers.
    But even without that most coveted information, there were still Things You Could Only Learn from Mike Ruppert, such as, How to Mess Up a Polygraph: "Every time you answer a question yes or no, clench your asshole."  Perhaps the ploy also works for Computer Voice Stress Analyzer tests because his own in the sexual harassment lawsuit came back "inconclusive."
Los Angeles
   We drove to the home of Mike's best friend from LAPD and his wife. After all the travel, as soon as I tumbled out of the car, I threw up on the lawn. Fortunately, I hadn't eaten anything so the result was invisible. If Mike's friend noticed the indelicacy as he came out of the house, he was too polite to mention it even when I greeted him from a nearly prone position on the grass.
    "He's a cop," said Michael Kane when I described the scene to him later. "He's seen people toss their cookies."

Day Two
    We were about to have the grand tour of LA but not the usual rubber-necking of movie star estates; this was Mike's memory lane.
    There was not enough time for brunch so we headed for Sunset Boulevard, doing a detour to Rodeo Drive, the 57th Street/Champs Elysees of Los Angeles, featuring the same names: Tiffany's, Armani, Hermes. The main difference was there were no pedestrians; no delivery guys, secretaries or commuters heading somewhere else. The few people we saw looked as though they belonged there; that was where they'd gotten their $1000 sandals.
    In a Bentley directly ahead of us, the profile of an expressionless woman with a platinum blonde ponytail looked to the right. She could have been played by, or playing, Grace Kelly.
    "Probably married to an executive," said Mike.
   The light changed and she drove out of frame. Cut.
    That's another thing: No one there, at least none of the women, was over fifty. By that time, they're probably divorced or staying home like Arab wives, not daring to show their faces, at least, not unless they've "had some work done."
    At Malibu Beach, two thousand crosses stood in the sand, symbolizing the American casualties in Iraq. An explanatory sign added the number of Iraqi dead: 655,000 to date. If they had placed a cross for each Iraqi as well, the exhibit would have taken up the entire beach.
    From there to the Gump Shrimp Company, named for Forrest Gump who "founded it with his Vietnam buddy...
    'This is the boathouse where I sang after I left LAPD."
    At Venice Beach he said, "Ah! Now you see why we didn't have brunch? I've been holding out for a cheeseburger at Hinano's.
    'This is where I got your T-Shirt." He had gotten me three on a previous trip: One said, "Ashland;" another, with an embroidered shark, "Bite me;" but the one to which he was referring read, "What part of [fearsome passage of piano music] don't you understand?"
    We visited a freak show in front of which a hawker stood on the boardwalk holding a live two-headed turtle that craned out of its shell in both directions like some sort of Hindu god. Inside were jars containing the preserved remains of a six-legged pig, a similarly afflicted squirrel, a two-headed fox and pictures of the wretched employees of P.T. Barnum.
    Back outside, I bought bird- and tongue whistles for our hosts as well as my nieces and took a picture of Mike with a man in a suit who had painted his skin silver.
    The passing overhead of a putter of helicopters (if there's a term for a group of helicopters, wiki-answers doesn't have it) prompted the next chapter in my aerospace education:
    "Lumination is measured in candle strength. The search lights on those helicopters are a million candles. If they were on the ground pointing at you and you were fifteen feet away, they'd set your pants on fire."
    Thence to the original FTW headquarters.
    "This is where it all began. I wrote FTW here for the first six years. I moved my mother across the street so I could take care of her three times a month. Then when she died, I moved into her apartment."
    His mother's apartment was in the old Oliver Hardy estate, he said, which now housed retired actors. I envisioned forgotten movie stars - the victims of scurrilous accountants - mingling with down and out actors who'd never made it above U-5 (under five lines, which allowed them to be paid at a lower rate.)
    "After taking care of my mother and then my father, I got tired of all the old people."
    As he drove on, he expounded on the sights: "All this used to be wetlands but Steven Spielberg built it up...
    'We're in the heart of the airline industry." He nodded towards the headquarters of Lockheed Martin, Howard Hughes' former estate, after which we drove on Military Intelligence Memorial Highway.
    "I didn't know it had died," I said.
    He said that Sepulveda is the longest street in the US - thirty miles long; he pointed out where the Pacific Rim meets the Continental US fault line - "That's why there are hot springs," - and mentioned a town which was at the exact midpoint between San Francisco and Seattle.
    My notes continue with unrelated conversation fragments as I remembered them later:
    "I can kiss my own ass." He had gotten a skin graft from his butt to his arm because of second and third degree burns. "They peel it off like a cheese."
    He said Lincoln may have been assassinated because he had pissed off the Seward banking family.
    Ahead, Mt. Shasta was sticking up through the clouds. We'd just emerged from the San Joaquin Valley which was completely flat. It used to be a lake bed, Mike said, continuing that California and Florida together supply half the country's citrus fruit. The implications of water shortages here were intensifying exponentially by the minute. I resolved to reread Joan Didion's Holy Water and watch Chinatown again.
    He said he wanted to call his sustainable house Out of the Way as in: When the shit hits the fan, you get out of the way.
    What a different person he was when in his element: expansive, generous with information, not interested in putting down the other guy even when that other guy was at her most abjectly ignorant.
    And surely, somewhere he was conscious of telling me all this because he knew that one day I'd be writing about it.

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