Summer means fun . . .
It also means being closer to the kids, and for longer
than perhaps any other time of year.
Our older daughter Florence, (left to right in 1991
with parents and siblings, Emily and Ralph; and today with dad, Geoffrey)
who graciously edits Air Cargo News FlyingTypers (thereby making
this journal a more intelligent read), is in real life a writer.
When she was barely 18, The Scholastic Art & Writing
Awards named Flossie among the best writers in America. (Scholastic Magazine
is distributed to grade schools across the USA, and the Scholastic Corporation
owns the lucrative Harry Potter franchise)
In any case, Scholastic gave Flossie her first job out
of college, overseeing the same awards each year that she had won in 1998.
Flossie won for writing about her brother, Geoffrey
Arend II, who is now an accomplished actor and currently starring in CBS’s
But when Geoff was little (nowhere near six-foot-four,
or the great physical health he now enjoys) he was sickly and had trouble
Flossie captured this and became briefly famous for
putting a part of her life experience, while growing up, to poetry.
Then she moved into adulthood, graduated from college,
and went to work just as it happens to everyone else.
Recently, she began writing again.
This week she woke up bright and early one morning and
hammered out this piece about the Marine Air Terminal at nearby LaGuardia
So as we near Independence Day in the United States,
we also ready ourselves for a little break.
You can read more of Flossie’s writing at here,
and at www.flossiewrites.com,
and follow her adventures in knitting at www.flossieknits.com.
Maybe we can encourage her to write some more things
about air cargo.
Perhaps a tome with a title like, “The Ballet
of the Forklift Trucks.”
grew up at the Marine Air Terminal in New York City. At the time I was
unaware of the unique perspective it afforded me—how few children
gestated in the belly of a great, round terminal, nourished by ephemera
and the hollow, high-topped sound of cavernous spaces carved in marble.
I was a wild thing in a civilized cave, hiding behind wooden benches my father salvaged
and meticulously arranged. He recognized their beauty and
inherent historical value, and saved them from the garbage heap. Each
had a steel propeller inlaid in its sides, as if at some miracle moment
the propellers would thrust outward from the wood, rotate frontwise, and
the benches would steal away in flight. They lined the rounded walls of
the Marine Air Terminal’s atrium, which pumped the people in from
the streets and fed them to their flights down ventricular hallways. My
father had also placed four benches in the center of the room, facing
outward, their sides aligned so each propeller had a mirror image in its
neighbor. The negative space created behind them—a small square
of Marine Air Terminal real estate—was my island, and I comforted
myself by lying on my back and looking straight up at the
round ceiling, which was tiered with concentric circles leading up to
a circular skylight, like some great windowed eye staring at the sky.
The iris of that eye was the mural my father saved from obscurity. The
great WPA-artist James Brooks painted his earth-toned “Flight”
along the upper walls of my cave—it was my very first picture book.
If you stood in the center of the MAT and rotated slowly, the story of
man’s ascension to the clouds was depicted in vivid detail.
I suppose it was through the
great eye of the Marine Air Terminal that I first saw the world.
The sound. The sound of the Marine Air Terminal
is most visceral to me. I’m sure it had a smell, too, something
of lemon-waxed floors and ocean salt, tinged by the oily residue of Jet
A. But the sounds stay with me, even now, as sonorous and forlorn as tolling
bells. The clack of hard-heeled shoes traversing the marble floors, the
rumble of space-diluted conversations hovering in the air like
vapor, the distant sound of Glen Miller’s Moonlight Serenade
permeating every corner. My father had outfitted the rotunda with speakers
fed directly from his office, and so his music was everyone’s music.
It played in the background like a halo of sound descended from on high,
out of reach but always there, as if it were the sound the environment
naturally generated in its relaxed state—a law of nature.
My father’s office. Carefully curated,
beautifully preserved, it encompassed three impeccable rooms overlooking
the road leading to the Marine Air Terminal. The first room held his secret
sound system, housed behind a wall—the same sound system that gave
the Marine Air Terminal its voice. His desk faced the door, as if he were
always readying himself for a visit. The room to the left of his desk
was like a mini living room, complete with a couch, a small TV, and a
mini-fridge. He had an autographed picture of Mickey Mantle on a shelf,
which I remember quite distinctly. If you asked me what else was on the
shelf I couldn’t tell you, but I can clearly remember the photo
and its signature. The mini-fridge held M&Ms and sodas, and—my
favorite—Planter’s Cheese Balls, which no longer exist. If
I told you I felt melancholy about the satisfying crunch of biting into
a chilled Planter’s Cheese Ball I would understand, but could not
align myself, with your confusion.
The room to the right of
his desk housed a small cabinet with toys belonging to myself and my older
brother, Geoff, and a spiral staircase that ended with a door to the Pan
Am Shuttle. The wall showcased a large piece of art created by my father—a
magnesium stencil silhouette of birds in flight, hung behind glass panels
and backlit by white light. Another of his salvage pieces, my father rescued
the birds from Building
One at Newark Airport. The birds had once flown above the arrivals/departures
doorway, but my father discovered them in the trash while delivering editions
of Air Cargo News to Newark Airport. Building One at Newark was another
of my father’s preservation pet projects. While the Port Authority
had initially sanctioned renovations on the historic terminal—and
in the process, destroyed much of the art and architecture of the place,
despite a book my father published in 1978 in dedication to the building—later,
in 1981, my father was able to halt further destruction with the help
of Port Authority’s new aviation director, Robert J. Aaronson.
Geoff and I often raided the fridge for
icy M&Ms and cheese balls and sat in front of the toy cabinet, sliding
open its doors to remove our toys. We played on the spiral staircase and
at its bottom, opening the door to peek out at the other side of the airport.
I remember thinking it was my Narnia, and the spiral staircase the equivalent
to Lewis’ famous Wardrobe. Our favorite thing to do, however, was
to open the office door and chase each other down the hallway, which was
circular and closed—a loop that slanted slightly inward and felt
dizzying to run on. Whoever made it back to my father’s door first
was the winner. This was a wonderful game for me, but must have been torture
for my asthmatic brother. Next door to my father’s office was the
office of the North Beach Club, which had been furnished with the remnants
of several First Class Lounges. Bathed in warm browns and rich, deep burgundies,
the space felt shuttered and dark, so unlike the bright, filtered white
light and steely greys of my father’s Bauhaus-inspired office. If
Geoff and I were very good, my father would open his office window and
we would stick our heads out—the windows being tall and wide, like
the windows of a factory—and watch the planes come roaring overhead.
In 1986 at the Marine AirTerminal, rededication ceremony for the
restored mural, "Flight" are from left to right: Geoffrey
Arend II (in bowtie), Geoffrey Arend, artist James Brooks, Curator
William Lieberman, Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum
of Art and Lufthansa Manager North America, Hans-Dieter Altmann.
I was an airport brat. I thought
Rocco’s Yankee Clipper café was my extended kitchen, and
the MAT was my living room. I got free gum at the newspaper stand and
raced at top speed down every corridor, and when my father lost his office
at the MAT—how quickly this world forgets those people who work,
tirelessly and often thanklessly, to preserve its legacies—I felt
like I had lost a dear, old friend.
I don’t know what music they’re
playing in the Marine Air Terminal anymore. I wonder what they’ve
done to my father’s office, and whether anyone truly knows everything
he did to breath life back into an Art Deco Grande Dame no one wanted
anymore. I look at pictures of the MAT’s interior online and feel
wistful for those times when I felt ruddy-kneed and free to roam, quiet
in my thoughts among the cacophonous sounds of the airport. My father
saved the Marine Air Terminal for everyone, but I can’t properly
quantify how thoroughly it saved me.
I’m an airport kid. You wouldn’t