L.B.: Buck deplanes

L.B.: Buck deplanes March 31, 2004

Left Behind, pp. 41-43

While we the readers were busy turning the page to the beginning of Chapter 3, Rayford Steele was making a risky and precarious landing on the narrow, smoke-filled runways of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. I’m sure it was terribly exciting, but LaHaye and Jenkins felt it was best not to let us read about it.

As Chapter 3 begins, they pick up where they left off — with an exciting discussion of airport logistics:

Hattie Durham and what was left of her crew encouraged passengers …

… what was left of the passengers …

… to study the safety cards in their seat pockets. Many feared they would be unable to jump and slide down the chutes, especially with their carry-on luggage. They were instructed to remove their shoes and to jump seatfirst onto the chute. Then crew members would toss down their shoes and bags. …

I know what you’re thinking: Millions of people worldwide have disappeared. Every child and infant on the planet is gone. Death and destruction litter the landscape. So how will these passengers get their checked baggage?

… They were advised not to wait in the terminal for their checked baggage. That, they were promised, would eventually be delivered to their homes. No guarantees when.

So you see, the situation is serious. Now let’s watch as Buck Williams puts the moves on Hattie:

Buck Williams gave Hattie his card and got her phone number, “just in case I get through to your people before you do.”

“You’re with Global Weekly?” she said. “I had no idea.”

“And you were going to send me to my room for tampering with the phone.”

Even amidst the post-apocalyptic chaos, chicks dig guys who work for newsweeklies. (I’ve read that Joe Klein has to beat ’em off with a stick.) Buck secures the digits.

Now Buck says his farewells to Harold’s wife. The reader, like Buck, never learns her name:

When he opened the bin to pull down his leather bag, he found the old man’s hat and jacket still perched atop it. Harold’s wife sat staring at Buck, her eyes full, jaw set. “Ma’am,” he said quietly, “would you want these?”

The grieving woman gratefully gathered in the hat and coat, and crushed them against her chest as if she would never let them go. She said something Buck couldn’t hear. He asked her to repeat it. “I can’t jump out of any airplane,” she said.

Even poor Harold’s wife is obsessed with logistics. You might think that some of the people on the plane whose loved ones had vanished would refuse to leave. They might want to stick around to see if they reappeared as inexplicably as they had gone. You might also expect that at least one of them would have gone into shock, or perhaps a crazed parent snapping, tearing the plane apart in a mad frenzy to find their lost child. But no, just like our heroes, they’re mainly concerned with getting from point A to point B.

Buck carefully laid his laptop and case in among his clothes. With his bag zipped, he hurried to the front of the line, eager to show others how easy it was …

Another cool thing about working for a major newsweekly magazine is that you get to cut to the front of the line. Chicks dig that too. It shows them that you know you’re special.

Over the last two pages, Buck has come across as a bit of a pushy, swollen-headed jerk. That’s what makes the next little scene so surprising. What happens next was so unexpected to me that I’m almost inclined to say I liked it:

… he clutched his bag across his chest, took a quick step and threw his feet out in front of him.

A bit enthusiastic, he landed not on his seat but on his shoulders, which threw his feet over the top of his head. He picked up speed and hit the bottom with his weight shifting forward. The buggy-whip centripetal force slammed his stockinged feet to the ground and brought his torso up and over in a somersault that barely missed planting his face on the concrete.

It’s slapstick, but I like slapstick. The scene loses a bit of its comic, Blake Edwardsian kick when Buck ends up slamming the back of his head on the concrete and jumps up, his hair “already matted with blood.” (In general, slapstick should avoid profuse bleeding.* A big lump on the back of his head would’ve been funnier than sticky gore.)

He quickly retrieved his shoes and began jogging toward the terminal …

He may be injured, but he’s still Buck Williams. He’s got places to go.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* Some exceptions that come to mind are a handful of Monty Python sketches, that SNL bit with Dan Ackroyd as Julia Child, and Itchy and Scratchy. From these examples we can perhaps discern a corollary rule: If you’re going to have blood in your slapstick, make sure you’ve got a lot of blood.

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