Vitamins, Supplements, Sport Nutrition

CHAPTER TWO. The Pilot

I left home at sixteen, looking for me.

There was no pressure on me to leave, although I wasn’t happy. The situation on my dual home front hadn’t changed. Dad still wanted to win Mom back and Mom didn’t want to be won. Dad was still using me as a mediator in his second courtship of Mom, and she continued to resent his casting me in the role of Cupid. I disliked it myself. Mom had graduated from dental technician’s school and was working for a Larchmont dentist. She seemed satisfied with her new, independent life.

I had no plans to run away. But every time Dad put on his postal clerk’s uniform and drove off to work in his old car, I’d feel depressed. I couldn’t forget how he used to wear Louis Roth suits and drive big expensive cars.

One June morning of 1964,1 woke up and knew it was time to go. Some remote corner of the world seemed to be whispering, «Come.» So I went.

I didn’t say good-bye to anyone. I didn’t leave any notes behind. I had $200 in a checking account at the Westchester branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank, an account Dad had set up for me a year before and which I’d never used. I dug out my checkbook, packed my best clothes in a single suitcase and caught a train for New York City. It wasn’t exactly a remote corner of the globe, but I thought it would make a good jumping-off place.

If I’d been some runaway from Kansas or Nebraska, New York, with its subway bedlam, awesome skyscrapers, chaotic streams of noisy traffic and endless treadmills of people, might have sent me scurrying back to the prairies. But the Big Apple was my turf. Or so I thought.

I wasn’t off the train an hour when I met a boy my own age and conned him into taking me home with him. I told his parents that I was from upstate New York, that both my mother and father were dead, that I was trying to make it on my own and that I needed a place to stay until I got a job. They told me I could stay in their home as long as I wanted.

I had no intentions of abusing their hospitality. I was eager to make a stake and leave New York, although I had no ideas at the moment as to where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do.

I did have a definite goal. I was going to be a success in some field. I was going to make it to the top of some mountain. And once there, no one or nothing was going to dislodge me from the peak. I wasn’t going to make the mistakes my dad had made. I was determined on that point.

The Big Apple quickly proved less than juicy, even for a native son. I had no problem finding a job. I’d worked for my father as a stock clerk and delivery boy and was experienced in the operation of a stationery store. I started calling on large stationery firms, presenting myself in a truthful light. I was only sixteen, I said, and I was a high school dropout, but I was well versed in the stationery business. The manager of the third firm I visited hired me at $1.50 an hour. I was naive enough to think it an adequate salary.

I was disillusioned within the week. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to live in New York on $60 a week, even if I stayed in the shabbiest hotel and ate at the Automats. Even more disheartening, I was reduced to the role of spectator in the dating game. To the girls I’d met so far, a stroll in Central Park and a hot dog from a street vendor’s cart would not qualify as an enchanted evening. I wasn’t too enchanted with such a dalliance myself. Hot dogs make me belch.

I analyzed the situation and arrived at this conclusion: I wasn’t being paid lowly wages because I was a high school dropout but because I was only sixteen. A boy simply wasn’t worth a man’s wages.

So I aged ten years overnight. It had always surprised people, especially women, to learn I was still a teen-ager. I decided that since I appeared older, I might as well be older. I had excelled in graphic arts in school. I did a credible job of altering the birth date on my driver’s license from 1948 to 1938. Then I went out to test the job market as a twenty-six-year-old high school dropout, with proof of my age in my wallet.

I learned the pay scale for a man without a high school diploma wasn’t something that would embarrass the creators of the Minimum Wage Act. No one questioned my new age, but the best offer made me was $2.75 an hour as a truck driver’s helper. Some prospective employers bluntly told me that it wasn’t age that determined a worker’s salary, but education. The more education he had, the more he was paid. I ruefully concluded that a high school dropout was like a three-legged wolf in the wilderness.

He might survive, but he’d survive on less. It did not occur to me until later that diplomas, like birth dates, are also easily faked.

I could have survived on $110 a week, but I couldn’t live on that amount. I was too enamored of the ladies, and any horse player can tell you that the surest way to stay broke is playing the fillies. The girls I was romancing were all running fillies, and they were costing me a bundle.

I started writing checks on my $200 account whenever I was low on fun funds.

It was a reserve I hadn’t wanted to tap, and I tried to be conservative. I’d cash a check for only $10, or at most $20, and at first I conducted all my check transactions in a branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank. Then I learned that stores, hotels, grocery markets and other business firms would also cash personal checks, provided the amount wasn’t overly large and proper identification was presented. I found my altered driver’s license was considered suitable identification, and I started dropping in at the handiest hotel or department store whenever I needed to cash a $20 or $25 check. No one asked me any questions. No one checked with the bank to see if the check was good. I’d simply present my jazzed-up driver’s license with my check and the driver’s license would be handed back with the cash.

It was easy. Too easy. Within a few days I knew I was overdrawn on my account and the checks I was writing were no good. However, I continued to cash a check whenever I needed money to supplement my paycheck or to finance a gourmet evening with some beautiful chick. Since my paycheck seemed always in need of a subsidy, and because New York has more beautiful chicks than a poultry farm, I was soon writing two or three bad checks daily.

I rationalized my actions. Dad would take care of the insufficient checks, I told myself. Or I’d assuage my conscience with con man’s salve: if people were stupid enough to cash a check without verifying its validity, they deserved to be swindled.

I also consoled myself with the fact that I was a juvenile. Even if I were caught, it was unlikely that I’d receive any stern punishment, considering the softness of New York’s juvenile laws and the leniency of the city’s juvenile judges. As a first offender, I’d probably be released to my parents. I probably wouldn’t even have to make restitution.

My scruples fortified by such nebulous defenses, I quit my job and began to support myself on the proceeds of my spurious checks. I didn’t keep track of the number of bum checks I passed, but my standard of living improved remarkably. So did my standard of loving.

After two months of cranking out worthless checks, however, I faced myself with some unpleasant truths. I was a crook. Nothing more, nothing less. In the parlance of the streets, I had become a professional paperhanger. That didn’t bother me too much, for I was a successful paperhanger, and at the moment to be a success at anything was the most important factor in the world to me.

What did bother me were the occupational hazards involved in being a check swindler. I knew my father had reported my absence to the police. Generally, the cops don’t spend a lot of time looking for a missing sixteen-year-old, unless foul play is suspected. However, my case was undoubtedly an exception, for I had provided plenty of foul play with my scores of bad checks. The police, I knew, were looking for me as a thief, not a runaway. Every merchant and businessman I’d bilked was also on the alert for me, I speculated.

In short, I was hot. I knew I could elude the cops for a while yet, but I also knew I’d eventually be caught if I stayed in New York and continued to litter cash drawers with useless chits.

The alternative was to leave New York, and the prospect frightened me. That still-remote corner of the world suddenly seemed chill and friendless. In Manhattan, despite my brash show of independence, I’d always clutched a security blanket. Mom and Dad were just a phone call or a short train ride away. I knew they’d be loyal, no matter my misdeeds. The outlook appeared decidedly gloomy if I fled to Chicago, Miami, Washington or some other distant metropolis.

I was practiced in only one art, writing fraudulent checks. I didn’t even contemplate any other source of income, and to me that was a matter of prime concern. Could I flimflam merchants in another city as easily as I had swindled New Yorkers? In New York I had an actual, if valueless, checking account, and a valid, if ten years off, driver’s license, which together allowed me to work my nefarious trade in a lucrative manner. Both my stack of personalized checks (the name was real, only the funds were fictional) and my tinseled driver’s license would be useless in any other city. I’d have to change my name, acquire bogus identification and set up a bank account under my alias before I could operate. It all seemed complex and danger-ridden to me. I was a successful crook. I wasn’t yet a confident crook.

I was still wrestling with the perplexities of my situation several days later while walking along Forty-second Street when the revolving doors of the Commodore Hotel disgorged the solution to my quandary.

As I drew near the hotel entrance, an Eastern Airlines flight crew emerged: a captain, co-pilot, flight engineer and four stewardesses. They were all laughing and animated, caught up in a joie de vivre of their own. The men were all lean and handsome, and their gold-piped uniforms lent them a buccaneerish air. The girls were all trim and lovely, as graceful and colorful as butterflies abroad in a meadow. I stopped and watched as they boarded a crew bus, and I thought I had never seen such a splendid group of people.

I walked on, still enmeshed in the net of their glamour, and suddenly I was seized with an idea so daring in scope, so dazzling in design, that I whelmed myself.

What if I were a pilot? Not an actual pilot, of course. I had no heart for the grueling years of study, training, flight schooling, work and other mundane toils that fit a man for a jet liner’s cockpit. But what if I had the uniform and the trappings of an airline pilot? Why, I thought, I could walk into any hotel, bank or business in the country and cash a check. Airline pilots are men to be admired and respected. Men to be trusted. Men of means. And you don’t expect an airline pilot to be a local resident. Or a check swindler.

I shook off the spell. The idea was too ludicrous, too ridiculous to consider. Challenging, yes, but foolish.

Then I was at Forty-second and Park Avenue and the Pan American World Airways Building loomed over me. I looked up at the soaring office building, and I didn’t see a structure of steel, stone and glass. I saw a mountain to be climbed.

The executives of the famed carrier were unaware of the fact, but then and there Pan Am acquired its most costly jet jockey. And one who couldn’t fly, at that. But what the hell. It’s a scientific fact that the bumblebee can’t fly, either. But he does, and makes a lot of honey on the side.

And that’s all I intended to be. A bumblebee in Pan Am’s honey hive.

I sat up all night, cogitating, and fell asleep just before dawn with a tentative plan in mind. It was one I’d have to play by ear, I felt, but isn’t that the basis of all knowledge? You listen and you learn.

I awoke shortly after 1 p.m., grabbed the Yellow Pages and looked up Pan Am’s number. I dialed the main switchboard number and asked to speak to someone in the purchasing department. I was connected promptly.

«This is Johnson, can I help you?»

Like Caesar at the Rubicon, I cast the die. «Yes,» I said.

«My name is Robert Black and I’m a co-pilot with Pan American, based in Los Angeles.» I paused for his reaction, my heart thumping.

«Yes, what can I do for you, Mr. Black?» He was courteous and matter-of-fact and I plunged ahead.

«We flew a trip in here at eight o’clock this morning, and I’m due out of here this evening at seven,» I said. I plucked the flight times from thin air and hoped he wasn’t familiar with Pan Am’s schedules. I certainly wasn’t.

«Now, I don’t know how this happened,» I continued, trying to sound chagrined. «I’ve been with the company seven years and never had anything like this happen. The thing is, someone -has stolen my uniform, or at least it’s missing, and the only replacement uniform I have is in my home in Los Angeles. Now, I have to fly this trip out tonight and I’m almost sure I can’t do it in civilian clothes.... Do you know where I can pick up a uniform here, a supplier or whatever, or borrow one, just till we work this trip?»

Johnson chuckled. «Well, it’s not that big a problem,» he replied. «Have you got a pencil and paper?»

I said I did, and he continued. «Go down to the Weil-Built Uniform Company and ask for Mr. Rosen. He’ll fix you up. I’ll call him and tell him you’re coming down. What’s your name again?»

«Robert Black,» I replied, and hoped he was asking simply because he’d forgotten. His final words reassured me.

«Don’t worry, Mr. Black. Rosen will take good care of you,» Johnson said cheerfully. He sounded like a Boy Scout who’d just performed his good deed for the day, and he had.

Less than an hour later I walked into the Well-Built Uniform Company. Rosen was a wispy, dour little man with a phlegmatic manner, a tailor’s tape dangling on his chest. «You Officer Black?» he asked in a reedy voice and, when I said I was, he crooked a finger. «Come on back I followed him through a maze of clothing racks boasting a variety of uniforms, apparently for several different airlines, until he stopped beside a display of dark blue suits.

«What’s your rank?» Rosen asked, sifting through a row of jackets.

I knew none of the airline terminology. «Co-pilot,» I said, and hoped that was the right answer.

«First officer, huh?» he said, and began handing me jackets and trousers to try on for size. Finally, Rosen was satisfied. «This isn’t a perfect fit, but I don’t have time to make alterations. If 11 get you by until you can find time to get a proper fitting.» He took the jacket to a sewing machine and deftly and swiftly tacked three gold stripes on each sleeve cuff. Then he fitted me with a visored cap.

I suddenly noticed the uniform jacket and cap each lacked something. «Where’s the Pan Am wings and the Pan Am emblem?» I asked.

Rosen regarded me quizzically and I tensed. I blew it, I thought. Then Rosen shrugged. «Oh, we don’t carry those. We just manufacture uniforms. You’re talking about hardware. Hardware comes directly from Pan Am, at least here in New York. You’ll have to get the wings and the emblem from Pan Am’s stores department.»

«Oh, okay,» I said, smiling. «In L.A. the same people who supply our uniforms supply the emblems. How much do I owe you for this uniform? I’ll write you a check.» I was reaching for my checkbook when it dawned on me that my checks bore the name Frank Abagnale, Jr., and almost certainly would expose my charade.

Rosen himself staved off disaster. «It’s $289, but I can’t take a check.» I acted disappointed. «Well, gosh, Mr. Rosen, I’ll have to go cash a check then and bring you the cash.»

Rosen shook his head. «Can’t take cash, either,» he said. "I’m going to have to bill this back to your employee account number and it’ll be deducted from your uniform allowance or taken out of your paycheck. That’s the way

^.".**? ~C,,----_ _...._ 1------1-

we do it here." Rosen was a veritable fount of airline operations information and I was grateful.

He handed me a form in triplicate and I commenced to fill in the required information. Opposite the space for my name were five small connected boxes, and I assumed rightly that they were for an employee’s payroll account number. Five boxes. Five digits. I filled in the boxes with the first five numbers that came to mind, signed the form and pushed it back to Rosen. He snapped off the bottom copy, handed it to me.

«Thank you very much, Mr. Rosen,» I said, and left, carrying the lovely uniform. If Rosen answered, I didn’t hear him.

I went back to my room and dialed the Pan Am switchboard again. «Excuse me, but I was referred to the stores department,» I said, acting confused. «What is that, please? I’m not with the company, and I have to make a delivery there.»

The switchboard girl was most helpful. «Stores is our employee commissary,» she said. «It’s in Hangar Fourteen at Kennedy Airport. Do you need directions?»

I said I didn’t and thanked her. I took an airport bus to Kennedy and was dismayed when the driver let me off in front of Hangar 14. Whatever stores Pan Am kept in Hangar 14, they had to be valuable. The hangar was a fortress, surrounded by a tall cyclone fence topped with strands of barbed wire and its entrances guarded by armed sentries. A sign on the guard shack at each entrance warned «employees only.»

A dozen or more pilots, stewardesses and civilians entered the compound while I reconnoitered from the bus stop. I noticed the civilians stopped and displayed identification to the guards, but most of the uniformed personnel, pilots and stewardesses, merely strolled through the gate, some without even a glance at the guard. Then one turned back to say something to a sentry and I noticed he had an ID card clipped to his breast pocket below his wings.

It was a day that threatened rain. I had brought a raincoat along, a black one similar to the ones some of the pilots had draped over their arms. I had my newly acquired pilot’s uniform in a small duffle bag. I felt a little like Custer must have felt when he chanced upon Sitting Bull’s Sioux.

I reacted just like Custer. I charged. I went into one of the airport toilets and changed into the uniform, stuffing my civies into the duffle bag. Then I left the terminal and walked directly toward Hangar 14’s nearest entrance.

The guard was in his shack, his back toward me. As I neared the gate, I flipped the raincoat over my left shoulder, concealing the entire left side of my jacket, and swept off my hat. When the guard turned to confront me, I was combing my hair with my fingers, my hat in my left hand.

I didn’t break stride. I smiled and said crisply, «Good evening.» He made no effort to stop me, although he returned my greeting. A moment later I was inside Hangar 14. It was, indeed, a hangar. A gleaming 707, parked at the rear of the building, dominated the interior. But Hangar 14 was also an immense compartmented office structure containing the offices of the chief pilot and chief stewardess, the firm’s meteorology offices and dozens of other cubicles that I presumed accommodated other Pan Am functions or personnel. The place was teeming with human traffic. There seemed to be dozens of pilots, scores of stewardesses and innumerable civilians milling around. I presumed the latter were clerks, ticket agents, mechanics and other nonflying personnel.

I hesitated in the lobby, suddenly apprehensive. Abruptly I felt like a sixteen-year-old and I was sure that anyone who looked at me would realize I was too young to be a pilot and would summon the nearest cop.

I didn’t turn a head. Those who did glance at me displayed no curiosity or interest. There was a large placard on a facing wall listing various departments and with arrows pointing the way. Stores was down a corridor to my left, and proved to be a military-like cubicle with a myriad of box-holding shelves. A lanky youth with his name embroidered on the right side of his shirt rose from a chair in front of a large desk as I stopped at the counter.

«Can I he’p ya?» he asked in molasses tones. It was the first real southern drawl I’d ever heard. I liked it.

«Yes,» I said and attempted a rueful grin. «I need a pair of wings and a hat emblem. My two-year-old took mine off my uniform last night and he won’t, or can’t, tell me what he did with them.»

The storekeeper laughed. «We got mo» wings on kids «n gals „n we got on pilots, I «spect,» he said drolly. «We shore replace a lot of „em, anyway. Here you are. Gimme yore name and employee number.“ He took a form from a file slot on his desk and laid it on the counter with a pair of golden wings and a Pan Am cap badge and stood, pen poised.

„Robert Black, first officer, 35099,“ I said, affixing the hat emblem and pinning the wings on my tunic. „I’m out of Los Angeles. You need an address there?“

He grinned. „Nah, damned computers don’t need noth-in“ but numbers,» he replied, handing me a copy of the purchase form.

I loitered leaving the building, trying to mingle unobtrusively with the crowd.

I wanted to pick up as much information as possible on airline pilots and airline operations, and this seemed a good opportunity to glean a few tidbits. Despite the number of pilots and other aircrewmen in the building, they all seemed to be strangers to one another. I was especially interested in the plastic-enclosed cards, obviously identification of some sort, that most of the pilots sported on their breasts. The stewardesses, I observed, had similar ID cards but had them clipped to their purse straps.

A couple of pilots were scanning notices tacked on a large bulletin board in the lobby. I stopped and pretended to look at some of the notices, FAA or Pan Am memos mostly, and was afforded a close-up view of one pilot’s ID card. It was slightly larger than a driver’s license and similar to the one in my pocket, save for a passport-sized color photograph of the man in the upper right-hand corner and Pan American’s firm name and logo across the top in the company’s colors.

Obviously/ I reflected as I left the building, I was going to need more than a uniform if I was to be successful in my role of Pan Am pilot. I would need an ID card and a great deal more knowledge of Pan Am’s operations than I possessed at the moment. I put the uniform away in my closet and started haunting the public library and canvassing bookstores, studying all the material available on pilots, flying and airlines. One small volume I encountered proved especially valuable. It was the reminiscences of a veteran Pan American flight captain, replete with scores of photographs, and containing a wealth of airline terminology. It was not until later I learned that the pilot’s phraseology was somewhat dated.

A lot of the things I felt I ought to know, however, were not in the books or magazines I read. So I got back on the pipe with Pan Am. «I’d like to speak to a pilot, please,» I told the switchboard operator. «I’m a reporter for my high school newspaper, and I’d like to do a story on pilots» lives-you know, where they fly, how they’re trained and that sort of stuff. Do you think a pilot would talk to me?“

Pan Am has the nicest people. „Well, I can put you through to operations, the crew lounge,“ said the woman. „There might be someone sitting around there that might answer some of your questions.“

There was a captain who was happy to oblige. He was delighted that young people showed an interest in making a career in the airline field. I introduced myself as Bobby Black, and after some innocuous queries, I started to feed him the questions I wanted answered.

„What’s the age of the youngest pilot flying for Pan Am?“

„Well, that depends,“ he answered. „We have some

flight engineers who’re probably no older than twenty-three or twenty-four. Our youngest co-pilot is probably up in his late twenties. Your average captain is close to forty or in his forties, probably.“

„I see,“ I said. „Well, would it be impossible for a copilot to be twenty-six, or even younger?“

„Oh, no,“ he answered quickly. „I don’t know that we have that many in that age bracket, but some of the other airlines do have a lot of younger co-pilots, I’ve noticed. A lot depends, of course, on the type of plane he’s flying and his seniority. Everything is based on seniority, that is, how long a pilot has been with a company.“

I was finding a lot of nuggets for my poke. „When do you hire people; I mean, at what age can a pilot go to work for an airline, say Pan Am?“

„If I remember correctly, you can come on the payroll at twenty as a flight engineer,“ said the captain, who had an excellent memory.

„Then feasibly, with six or eight years“ service, you could become a co-pilot?» I pressed.

«If s possible,» he conceded. «In fact, I’d say it wouldn’t be unusual at all for a capable man to make co-pilot in six or eight years, less even.»

«Are you allowed to tell me how much pilots earn?» I asked.

«Well, again, that depends on seniority, the route he flies, the number of hours he flies each week and other factors,» said the captain. «I would say the maximum salary for a co-pilot would be $32,000, a captain’s salary around $50,000.»

«How many pilots does Pan Am have?» I asked.

The captain chuckled. «Son, that’s a tough one. I don’t know the exact number. But eighteen hundred would probably be a fair estimate. You can get better figures from the personnel manager.»

«No, that’s okay,» I said. «How many places are these pilots?»

«You’re talking about bases,» he replied. «We have five bases in the United States: San Francisco, Washington D.C., Chicago, Miami and New York. Those are cities where our aircrews live. They report to work in that city, San Francisco, say, fly out of that city and eventually terminate a flight in that city. It might help you to know that we are not a domestic carrier, that is, we don’t fly from city to city in this country. We’re strictly an international carrier, serving foreign destinations.»

The information helped me a lot. «This may sound strange to you, Captain, and it’s more curiosity than anything else, but would it be possible for me to be a co-pilot based in New York City, and you to be a co-pilot also based in New York, and me never to meet you?»

«Very possible, even more so with co-pilots, for you and I would never fly together in the same plane,» said the talkative captain. «Unless we met at a company meeting or some social function, which is improbable, we might never encounter one another. You’d be more apt to know more captains and more flight engineers than co-pilots. You might fly with different captains or different flight engineers and run into them again if you’re transferred, but you’d never fly with another co-pilot. There’s only one to a plane.

«There’re so many pilots in the system, in fact, that no one pilot would know all the others. I’ve been with the company eighteen years, and I don’t think I know more than sixty or seventy of the other pilots.»

The captain’s verbal pinballs were lighting up all the lights in my little head.

«I’ve heard that pilots can fly free, I mean as a passenger, not as a pilot. Is that true?» I prompted.

«Yes,» said the captain. «But we’re talking about two things, now. We have pass privileges. That is, me and my family can travel somewhere by air on a stand-by basis. That is, if there’s room, we can occupy seats, and our only cost is the tax on the tickets. We pay that.

«Then there’s deadheading. For example, if my boss told me tonight that he wanted me in L.A. tomorrow to fly a trip out of there, I might fly out there on Delta, Eastern, TWA or any other carrier connecting with Los Angeles that could get me there on time. I would either occupy an empty passenger seat or, more likely, ride in the jump seat. That’s a little fold-down seat in the cockpit, generally used by deadheading pilots, VIPs or FAA check riders.»

«Would you have to help fly the plane?» I quizzed.

«Oh, no,» he replied. «I’d be on another company’s carrier, you see. You might be offered a control seat as a courtesy, but I always decline. We fly on each other’s planes to get somewhere, not to work.» He laughed.

«How do you go about that, deadheading, I mean?» I was really enthused. And the captain was patient. He must have liked kids.

«You want to know it all, don’t you?» he said amiably, and proceeded to answer my question.

«Well, it’s done on what we call a pink slip. It works this way. Say I want to go to Miami on Delta. I go down to Delta operations, show them my Pan Am ID card and I fill out a Delta pink slip, stating my destination and giving my position with Pan Am, my employee number and my FAA pilot’s license number. I get a copy of the form and that’s my „jump/ I give that copy to the stewardess when I board, and that’s how I get to ride in the jump seat.“

I wasn’t through, and he didn’t seem to mind my continuing. „What’s a pilot’s license look like?“ I asked. „Is it a certificate that you can hang on the wall, or like a driver’s license, or what?“

He laughed. „No, if s not a certificate you hang on the wall. If s kind of hard to describe, really. If s about the size of a driver’s license, but there’s no picture attached. It’s just a white card with black printing on it.“

I decided it was time to let the nice man go back to his comfortable seat. „Gee, Captain, I sure thank you,“ I said. „You’ve been really super.“

„Glad to have helped you, son,“ he said. „I hope you get those pilot’s wings, if that’s what you want.“

I already had the wings. What I needed was an ID card and an FAA pilot’s license. I wasn’t too concerned about the ID card. The pilot’s license had me stumped. The FAA was not exactly a mail-order house.

I let my fingers do the walking in my search for a suitable ID card. I looked in the Yellow Pages under identification, picked a firm on Madison Avenue (any ID company with a Madison Avenue address had to have class, I thought) and went to the firm dressed in a business suit.

It was a prestigious office suite with a receptionist to screen the walk-in trade. „Can I help you?“ she asked in efficient tones.

„I’d like to see one of your sales representatives, please,“ I replied in equally businesslike inflections.

The sales representative had the assured air and manner of a man who would disdain talking about a single ID card, so I hit him with what I thought would best get his attention and win his affection, the prospect of a big account.

„My name is Frank Williams, and I represent Carib Air of Puerto Rico,“ I said crisply. „As you probably know, we are expanding service to the continental United States, and we presently have two hundred people in our facilities at Kennedy. Right now we’re using only a temporary ID card made of paper, and we want to go to a formal, laminated, plastic-enclosed card with a color photograph and the company logo, similar to what the other airlines use here. We want a quality card, and I understand you people deal only in quality products.“

If he knew that Carib Air existed and was expanding to the United States, he knew more than I did. But he was not a man to let the facts stand in the way of a juicy sale.

„Oh, yes, Mr. Williams. Let me show you what we have along that line,“ he said enthusiastically, leading me to his office. He pulled down a huge, leather-bound sample catalogue from a shelf, leafed through the contents, which ranged from vellum to beautifully watermarked bond, and displayed a whole page of various identification forms.

„Now, most of the airlines we serve use this card here,“ he said, pointing out one that seemed a duplicate of Pan Am’s ID cards. „It has employee number, base, position, description, photograph and, if you wish, a company logo. I think it would do very nicely.“

I nodded in complete agreement. „Yes, I think this is the card we want,“ I said. It was certainly the card I wanted. He gave me a complete cost rundown, including all the variables.

„Can you give me a sample?“ I asked on impulse. „I’d like to show it to our top people, since they’re the ones who’ll have the final say.“

The salesman obliged in a matter of minutes. I studied the card. „This is fine, but it’s blank,“ I said. „Tell you what. Why don’t we fix this up, so they’ll have an idea of what the finished product looks like? We can use me as the subject.“

„That’s an excellent suggestion,“ said the salesman, and led me to an ID camera that produced ID-sized mug shots within minutes.

He took several photographs, we selected one (he graciously gave me the culls) and he affixed it to the space on the card, trimming it neatly. He then filled in my phony name, adopted rank (co-pilot), fictitious employee number, height, weight, coloring, age and sex in the appropriate blanks. He then sealed it in a clear, tough plastic and handed it to me with his business card.

„I’m sure we can do a good job for you, Mr. Williams,“ he said, ushering me out.

He already had done a good job for me, save for one detail. The lovely ID card lacked Pan Am’s distinctive logo and firm name. I was wondering how to resolve the problem when a display in the window of a hobby shop caught my eye. There, poised on gracefully curved mounts, was an array of model planes, among them several commercial airliners. And among them a beautiful Pan Am jet, the firm’s famed logo on its tail, and the company legend, in the copyrighted lettering used by the airline, on the fuselage and wings.

The model came in several sizes. I bought the smallest, for $2.49, in an unassembled state, and hurried back to my room. I threw the plane parts away. Following instructions in the kit, I soaked the decal and lettering in water until they separated from their holding base. Both the logo and the company name were of microscopically thin plastic. I laid the Pan Am logo on the upper left-hand corner of the ID card and carefully arranged the firm legend across the top of the card. The clear decals, when they dried, appeared to have been printed on the card.

It was perfect. An exact duplicate of a Pan Am identification card. It would have required an examination with a spectroscope to reveal that the decals were actually on the outside of the plastic seal. I could have clipped the ID card on my breast pocket and passed muster at a Pan Am board meeting.

As a fake pilot, however, I was still grounded. I recalled the words of the captain I’d interviewed under false pretenses: „Your license is the most important thing. You’ve got to have it on your person at all times when operating an aircraft. I carry mine in a folder that also contains my ID. You’ll be asked to show your license as often as you’re asked for your ID.“

I mulled the issue over for days, but could think of no solution short of working my way through commercial aviation school. I started frequenting bookstores again, thumbing through the various flying publications. I wasn’t sure of what I was looking for, but I found it.

There it was, a small display ad in the back of one of the books placed by a plaque-making firm in Milwaukee that catered to professional people. The firm offered to duplicate any pilot’s license, engraved in silver and mounted on a handsome eight-by-eleven-inch hardwood plaque, for only $35. The company used the standard, precut license die used by the FAA. All a pilot had to do was supply the pertinent information, including his FAA license number and ratings, and the firm would return a silver replica of his license, suitable for display anywhere. The FAA did have a mail-order branch, it appeared.

I wanted one of the plaques, naturally. I felt there had to be a way, plaque in hand, to reduce it to the proper size on appropriate paper. And I’d have my pilot’s license!

I was feverish with the idea. I didn’t write the firm; I called their offices in Milwaukee. I told the salesman I wanted one of the plaques and asked if the transaction could be handled by telephone.

He expressed no curiosity as to why I was in such a hurry. „Well, you can give me all the necessary information over the telephone, but we’ll have to have a check or money order before we actually make up the plaque,“ said the man. „In the meantime, we can start roughing it out and we’ll treat it as a special order. It’ll be $37.50, including postage and special handling.“

I didn’t quibble. I gave him my alias, Frank Williams. I gave him my spurious age and my correct weight, height, color of hair and eyes and social security number. A pilot’s license or certificate number is always the same as his social security number. I gave myself the highest rating a pilot can attain, an air transport rating. I told the man I was checked out on DC—9s, 727s and 707s. I gave him my address in care of general delivery, New York City (not unusual for commercial pilots who spend a lot of time in transit), and told him I’d have a money order in the mail that same day. I had the money order in the mail within an hour, in fact. It was the only valid draft I’d given in several weeks.

The plaque arrived within a week. It was gorgeous. Not only was I certified as a pilot in sterling, but the license replica even boasted the signature of the head of the Fed eral Aviation Agency.

I took the plaque to a hole-in-the-wall print shop in Brooklyn and sought out the head printer. „Look, I’d like to get my license reduced down so I can carry it in my wallet, you know, like you would a diploma. Can it be done?“ I asked.

The printer studied the plaque admiringly. „Geez, I didn’t know pilots got this sort of thing when they learned to fly,“ he said. „It’s fancier’n a college diploma.“

„Well, an actual license is a certificate, but it’s back at my home in L.A.,“ I said. „This is something my girl gave me as a gift. But I’ll be based here for several months and I would like to have a wallet-sized copy of my license. Can you do it with this or will I have to send for the certificate?“

„Nah, I can do it from this,“ he said, and, using a special camera, he reduced it to actual size, printed it on heavy white stock, cut it out and handed it to me. The whole process took less than thirty minutes and cost me five bucks. I laminated it with two pieces of plastic myself. I’d never seen a real pilot’s license, but this sure as hell looked like one.

I put on my pilot’s uniform, which I had had altered to a perfect fit, tilted my cap at a rakish angle and caught a bus to La Guardia Airport.

I was ready for flight duty. Provided someone else flew the plane.