Here we see a real go-getter, a man who knows what he wants and how to get it, dressed in a black suit and black raincoat (a little pearl pin in his tie…), carrying a black attache case, eyes set maybe a little too far apart, hairline maybe a little too far back, but certainly the model of a middle-aged businessman, a man sitting in his native environment, the airport waiting room (in this case, the Portland International Airport, PDX), so confident in his situation and abilities that he doesn't need to look around or open his eyes or even…well, let's not sugarcoat it, stay awake.
Who am I? I'm nobody, more or less.
It is the day before Thanksgiving, 1971. It is 1:13 PM. There is a bomb in the attache case, or so he claims. The stage is set. By 8:15 PM, this man will be rich, notorious, and dead.
The name on the plane ticket is "Dan Cooper," though it will be corrupted through media error and a frankly ludicrous amount of serendipity into "D. B. Cooper," short for Donner Bartram Cooper, the man's actual legal name. This is all a lot to get through, I know. He was 39 when I met him, and still 39 when he died, 124 years later. Time, time, time….
I'm sure you understand by now. We meet in the winter of 1847. He is a member of the Donner Party, a lonely traveler among the families—the 88th man. The name is another coincidence. I am an ox, at first, then a plant when the oxen start to die, then a rock, then a bullet, then a man. Many of my peers are there as well. One is the bullet that kills William Pike in a tragic accident, another breaks an axle, another is starvation, another hate. We see how things happen, how they play out, and we perform them, like an actor reading a script, or a player piano chewing through a roll. But D. B. Cooper survives with me. There is no talk of "must;" it just is. Before the infamous final mountain crossing he breaks with the group, takes a horse and tries to go on ahead—to beat the snow, he says, but really because of quarrels. Infighting. He is convinced that the West will be the land of milk and honey. He is slightly off on that count.
He is about halfway over the mountains when the snows start. Say what you will, but he certainly has thrasos. I come to him at the top of a pass. All is still. A shot rings out. His horse bucks; he falls backwards into the snow. By the time he emerges sputtering, his horse is gone, and he is alone in white. He walks, for a while. He is cold, very cold. I follow, smeared across the trees. He cannot see me, even as I fly ahead and behind. Eventually, he comes to a clearing, a small one, and collapses. I appear to him then. It is always best to appear on mountains; the world is so much thinner up here.
He asks me who I am. He is scared. I tell him my name, and he is still scared. I speak a little more, but I can tell he is not listening. A real go-getter. I sigh and place my hand on his forehead and show him decades into the future; the golden land, the gilded age. His eyes go wide as saucers. All I need, I say, is to—to be. All of it can be his, so long as he agrees.
He says yes.
And then I am him, and am not him; it is a formality, yes, but one that is always observed. I fly him out of the snow. I fly him West. There, a war is being fought to rip more, more out of America. He is not interested in any of it; I cannot even pretend to care. What is, is.
He is a child for the first time. He sees the wealthy walking down the street, dandied up in their finest straight-coats, nostrils facing the sky…he knows, deep in his heart, that he will be like that one day. That is what his life becomes.
Now he is older. He is a blacksmith, despite the name; first an apprentice, then a journeyman. He does acceptable work, and does acceptable business. He is still not rich, and especially not happy. When people started heading west he followed, first to outfit the brave pioneers closer and closer to frontier, then out into the wilderness, into the promised land of milk and honey (hah!). I take him the rest of the way, to San Francisco and beyond, all up and down the coast, through the wild fresh years, just like I promise. And not one iota more.
I do not ask what he wants, and I do not need to ask. He tells me in a hotel room in Missoula in 1924 how he has never had to ask me what he wants, how I always hear before he asks. "You really know," he says, "how to live the American Dream." Well, I'd certainly hope so.
We live these days like sand, watching food money and life drip through our fingers. I keep him flush with life's luxuries: he walks into a bar and drinks out their entire supply; he throws parties, eating his way into mountains of food; he fucks his way through whole towns (all with my help, of course)…all of this passes through him like water, or liquid gold; in one end and out the other, not so much money, per se, not the pursuit of money, but the pursuit of…well….
I carry him through good times and bad: through booms and busts, through depressions and mania, through illness and sickness and poverty and death. Nothing touches him. He is happy, or at least content.
There must be an end to all things. As the world degrades, so do his fortunes. The day Kennedy is killed, the first signs of syphilis. For every bombing and protest and riot, gout and loss and pain. He begins to panic: screams at me, asking why, why, why would I begin to fail him now, I was his lucky charm, his north star, his guide, his confidant, his leader, his friend…I tell him it is a sign of the times. I cozy up close to him and tell him I have an idea: one big score. The one that will revitalize all our fortunes. He stares up at me with a look in his eyes so pitiful and hopeful I almost look away in shame.
It will be a plane hijacking, I tell him. Pretend to have a bomb in your attache case. Ransom the plane. Jump out in the wilderness and hitchhike your way back. It will work out; things always do.
Well. The details hardly need to be considered. The hijacking can work, almost works, should have worked—but there is a storm tonight, a bad one, and he is not, alas, as good a parachutist as he thinks. He never does end up in the land of milk and honey, though he does find his way to the next best thing.
Imagine the scene: windy rainy and dark and cold. He jumps from the plane, water lashing at his face, terror deep in his gut. He pulls the parachute; it opens. He breathes a sigh of relief. The storm blows at him, but he has his money. The wind blows him some more. He sees a dark mass in the land below, something that does not look quite right. He starts to steer away from it. The wind does not cooperate; it blows him closer and closer. He begins to panic, though he does not know why. No matter which way he turns, there is the wind, aiming him inexorably towards that blob. Rationally, he knows he should not be scared. It will work out. It always works out. But he is scared nonetheless, scared beyond all rational perception. He is almost upon it now. He still cannot see what it is—nothing but a mass of indiscriminate brown. His legs touch it. It is soft and gelatinous, and he begins to sink in. He starts to struggle. The case with the money opens up; some flies out. He sinks deeper. He is hopelessly entangled. He sinks to his chest, then to his chin. Some gets in his mouth. It tastes sweet; it is molasses. An eternal neverending blob carving its way across America, westbound and down. He is encased now. He is sealed right in. No longer will things pass by him, pass through him. Trapped in amber. An infinite day. I see this all and I feel, I feel for it all; for what is, and what is, and what is; the days exist and subside, and they are all so much the same; I see and I feel, and there is nothing else that can be done. I am.