The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair

Dan Kohn (
Sun, 7 Jun 1998 13:09:13 -0700

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This is a great story.

- dan

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=0A= =0A= =0A= American Chronicles: The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair=0A= =0A= =0A= =0A= =0A= These pages brought to you by:

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=0A= The New Yorker
=0A= 6/1/98
=0A= American Chronicles: The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair
=0A= George Plimpton
=0A= What follows is an excerpt from "American Chronicles: The Man in = the Flying Lawn Chair," by George Plimpton. It appears in the June 1, = 1998, issue of The New Yorker.=0A=

=0A= Copyright 1998 All Rights Reserved.=0A=

=0A= American Chronicles
=0A= The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair
=0A= By George Plimpton

=0A= One summer day, a Vietnam vet took to the skies with an air pistol, = forty-two balloons, and a chair from Sears. =0A=

=0A= The back yard was much smaller than I remembered--barely ten yards by = thirty. The birdbath, stark white on its pedestal, was still there, = under a pine tree, just as it had been during my last visit, more than = ten years before. Beyond the roofs of the neighboring houses I could = see the distant gaunt cranes of the Long Beach naval facility, now = idle. =0A=

=0A= "Mrs. Van Deusen, wasn't there a strawberry patch over here?" I called = out.=0A=

=0A= I winced. Margaret Van Deusen has been blind since last August--first = in one eye, then in the other. Her daughter, Carol, was leading her = down the steps of the back porch, guiding her step by step. Mrs. Van = Deusen was worried about her cat, Precious, who had fled into the = innards of a standup organ upon my arrival: "Where's Precious? She = didn't get out, did she?"=0A=

=0A= Carol calmed her fears, and my question about the strawberry patch hung = in the air. Both women wore T-shirts with cat motifs on the front; Mrs. = Van Deusen's had a cat head on hers, with ruby eyes and a leather = tongue.=0A=

=0A= We had lunch in a fast-food restaurant in San Pedro, a couple of miles = down the hill. Mrs. Van Deusen ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and = French fries. "I can't believe Larry's flight happened out of such a = small space," I said.=0A=

=0A= Mrs. Van Deusen stirred. "Two weeks before, Larry came to me and said = he was going to take off from my back yard. I said no way. Illegal. I = didn't want to be stuck with a big fine. So the idea was he was going = to take off from the desert. He couldn't get all his equipment out = there, so he pulls a sneaker on me. He turns up at the house and says, = 'Tomorrow I'm going to take off from your back yard.' " =0A=

=0A= "I was terrified, but I wanted to be with him," said Carol, who was = Larry's girlfriend at the time.=0A=

=0A= "And sit on his lap?" I asked incredulously. =0A=

=0A= "Two chairs, side by side," Carol said. "But it meant more equipment = than we had. I know one thing--that if I'd gone up with him we would = have come down sooner." =0A=

=0A= "What happened to the chair?" I asked.=0A=

=0A= Carol talked in a rush of words. "He gave it away to some kid on the = street where he landed, about ten miles from here. That chair should be = in the Smithsonian. Larry always felt just terrible about that." =0A=

=0A= "And the balloons?"=0A=

=0A= "You remember, Mom? The firemen tied some of the balloons to the end of = their truck, and they went off with these things waving in the air as = if they were coming from a birthday party."=0A=

=0A= "Where are my fries?"=0A=

=0A= "They're in front of you, Mom," Carol said. She guided her mother's = hand to the sticks of French fries in a cardboard container.=0A=

=0A= Mrs. Van Deusen said, "Larry knocked some prominent person off the = front page of the L.A. Times, didn't he, Carol? Who was the prominent = person he knocked off?"=0A=

=0A= Carol shook her head. "I don't know. But that Times cartoonist Paul = Conrad did one of Ronald Reagan in a lawn chair, with some sort of = caption like 'Another nut from California.' Larry's mother was upset by = this and wrote a letter to the Times. You know how mothers are."=0A=

=0A= I asked Mrs. Van Deusen, "What do you remember best about the = flight?"=0A=

=0A= She paused, and then said she remembered hearing afterward about her = five-year-old granddaughter, Julie Pine, standing in her front yard in = Long Beach and waving gaily as Larry took off. "Yes. She kept waving = until Larry and his chair were barely a dot in the sky."=0A=

=0A= It was in all the papers at the time--how on Friday, July 2, 1982, a = young man named Larry Walters, who had served as an Army cook in = Vietnam, had settled himself into a Sears, Roebuck lawn chair to which = were attached four clusters of helium-filled weather balloons, = forty-two of them in all. His intent was to drift northeast in the = prevailing winds over the San Gabriel Mountains to the Mojave Desert. = With him he carried an air pistol, with which to pop the balloons and = thus regulate his altitude. It was an ingenious solution, but in a gust = of wind, three miles up, the chair tipped, horrifyingly, and the gun = fell out of his lap to the ground, far below. Larry, in his chair, = coasted to a height of sixteen thousand five hundred feet. He was = spotted by Delta and T.W.A. pilots taking off from Los Angeles Airport. = One of them was reported to have radioed to the traffic controllers, = "This is T.W.A. 231, level at sixteen thousand feet. We have a man in a = chair attached to balloons in our ten-o'clock position, range five = miles." Subsequently, I read that Walters had been fined fifteen = hundred dollars by the Federal Aviation Administration for flying an = "un-airworthy machine."=0A=

=0A= The preceding table of contents and article excerpt are the copyrighted = property of The New Yorker Magazine, Inc. All rights are reserved. = Copying is prohibited. No part or portion of the magazine may be = downloaded, posted or otherwise appropriated and transmitted. = Distribution of this material by any means (including, but not limited = to, photocopying, posting, E-mail, faxing, archiving or any other = process or technology, or in any form, format, or manner) is strictly = forbidden. The New Yorker maintains a Subscription Office = (1-800-825-2510), a Back Issues Department (212-880-2172), and a = Reprints & Permissions Department (212-536-5780).=0A=





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