If you have not read Don Quixote, I get it. Forget the windmills and the countless other La Mancha cliches we’ve grown up with. Edith Grossman’s recent translation makes it pretty easy to digest. I am in the middle of my second reading in two years. It just strikes a cord like nothing else. But I am halfway through and have decided to take a break to read something “lighter”. The great thing about Don Quixote is that you can walk away at any point and come back weeks later to reconnect without much difficulty.
The “lighter fare” is “Gunship Pilot”, $2.99 at the Amazon Kindle store! I bought it because it’s cheap, not for the reviews (which are mostly good actually). The book might well be garbage. But good or bad I will read just about any first-hand accounts from the helicopter war in Vietnam and find something to keep my attention. I was contemplating this new realization about myself and made a somewhat sad connection.
Don Quixote lived most of his life as a respected landed gentleman named “Alonso”. He became ever more obsessed with stories from the age a chivalry—ancient even then. His library was filled with books of knighthood. What once started as an amusing past-time drove him mad. Or not. One could make the argument that he trolled all of Spain as he sallied about picking fights, getting his butt kicked and compelling complete strangers to tell their stories, some the most beautiful ever told. The novel changed history. It inspired a lost work by Shakespeare. It even added a word to English (and probably many other languages) which describes a delusional, hopelessly optimistic pursuit (quixotic). He sets off on his adventures after constructing a ridiculous suit of armor from paper-mache and old parts and enlisting as his squire a peasant, Sancho Panza, the most interesting character I have ever come to know in literature.
I have lived most of my life as Eric, a middle class husband and father. But I have a fantasy self I call “Smokin’ Hole”. As “Smokin’” I am a pilot-errant. As “Smokin’” I pick fights I rarely win. This alter-ego is one I take so seriously that it has begun to mold how I live my life. I have learned to fly a helicopter. That itself is a quixotic pursuit unless one plans to make a living pulling for power. Flying them privately is expensive and unexplainable. When I mention helicopters to my fellow pilots I am met with confusion and eye-rolls, even from those who flew helicopters formerly! I have committed to building (or at least attempting to build) my own helicopter, an A600 turbo. Go on Reddit and you will find plenty of scorn for it, almost resorting to accusing the latest of the Rotorway lineage of being assembled from paper-mache and old parts!
Mudspike is my Sancho. It both encourages me to see this fantasy world as just another reality while also raising the BS flag when I seem to have taken it too far (see my Machmell short story—or don’t). There is a Don Quixote in all of us. I hope you all have found yours. If you have, please consider sharing it here.