Aug 22, 2023, 07:16AM

Jules Dreamed of Becoming the Next Saul Bellow

Remembering a 1968 Philadelphia-Seattle Pan Am flight.

Img 0233.jpeg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Jules dozed off during Double Jeopardy. The category was “Airlines.” He’d put his feet up on the sofa and seconds later, despite his mostly empty stomach, he started snoring. After drifting for a few minutes, the airline trivia drifting into his ears activated Jules’ memory of a Pan-Am flight.

July, 1968. Jules was headed to Seattle to visit his college roommate, Leonard, who’d just moved to the northwest. Leonard was a brilliant photographer. One of Jules’ favorite photos, framed on his mantle, was a picture Leonard had taken of the two of them during their senior year at Drexel.

They were out at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Long before these “selfies,” probably 1963 or 1964. Leonard’s Nikon had a 12-second timer, so he’d set it up on a tripod and then they’d get in position. They’d driven out from Philly on an uncommonly warm Friday morning in early October. Leonard learned about color film in college. Even though Kodak didn’t sell it yet, his camera had a roll of color in it that day. The picture, which Jules smiled at more than once a week throughout his entire life, showed the two shirtless 22-year-olds leaning back on the sand, feet buried, both with curly hair flying all over their heads in the wind. There was something so genuine about Leonard’s smile that brought out a relaxed version of Jules. Before life got so damn complicated. If only he could have found that version of tranquility once a day for the rest of his life.

Jules dreamed of that cross-country Pan-American flight from Philadelphia to Seattle. Back when flying was a big deal and everyone thought being on a plane meant you'd won the lottery. As the cabin doors closed, a striking young woman breezed onto the plane and took the only open seat, which happened to be across the aisle from him. She was discombobulated and out of breath. When she took off her hat, he discovered she was gorgeous. This was three years before Jules married Lisa. Four years before Reva was born.

About half-way into the flight, somewhere over Illinois maybe, Jules gathered his courage thanks in part to his second Heineken, and introduced himself. Her name was Sula. Sula was a painter and social worker, mainly supporting survivors of domestic abuse. Back when American society barely seemed to notice when men brutalized their girlfriends and wives. Jules was enamored with Sula’s power. Her steadfast conviction. Jules had been writing a novel then, when he still dreamed of becoming the next Saul Bellow. They talked about art and the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King that April and Robert F. Kennedy that June. How America was a boiling, not a melting pot, and how the overdue reckoning and seeming revolution would or wouldn’t be televised.

As they’d talked, Jules couldn’t help but fantasize about a future with this electric lady. Her golden brown tone. Her huge round eyes. Her curvy figure. Was she the polar opposite of his mother? Fiery, furious and funny. As the plane headed west, Jules began to feel an imagined future slipping away. She was out of his league. She would probably date Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison. She might never marry.

The plane descended over the Emerald City. Jules could see the newly built Space Needle. As the plane landed, Jules remembered Sula held out her hand. Getting in a plane was a big deal and for most, landing was an adventure. As they clutched hands, the plane hit the tarmac, took that little bounce that sometimes forces your stomach up into your throat, and then slammed the brakes as the passengers cheered. They’d made it to Seattle. Sula gave him a peck on the cheek, then sauntered up the aisle, leaving him in a daze.

He was awoken by his phone ringing. Last he’d heard she was due in an hour, heading north from Ventura. He stirred, but didn’t pick it up in time. The message went to voicemail. Jules wished he still had an answering machine. Having to call a number just to hear your voicemail always seemed ridiculous.

There was his granddaughter’s frazzled voice: “Sorry, Grandpa! Some sort of accident up ahead, another 20-minute delay. Don’t wait for me to eat! I’ll be there in about 45 minutes!”

Jules texted Becca a reply, “Don’t worry, honey. I’m here.”

He shook off the cobwebs and shuffled over to the bathroom, splashed some cold water on his face and sighed. Jules barely recognized the sagging face that gazed back at him in the mirror. He went back into the kitchen and found a box of Ritz crackers. He opened the fridge and took out a block of Gouda cheese. He cut off a few chunks of the cheese, and grabbed a can of lime seltzer.

Damn traffic. He was ready to be with his granddaughter and eat sandwiches.


Register or Login to leave a comment