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   Vol. 19 No. 78
Thursday December 31, 2020
I am an Airport kid

Marine Air Terminal

Marine Air Terminal benches     I 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 salvaged and meticulously arranged by my father, who 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 they created behind them—a small square of Marine Air Terminal real estate—was my island, and I comforted myself by lying on my back on the floor 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.

Marine Air Terminal Mural

     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 conversations diluted by space and 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.

Geoffrey with Magnesium birds

     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.

Geoff II, Geoffrey, James Brooks, William Lieberman and Hans Dieter Altmann
In 1986 at the Marine Air Terminal, 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.

Flossie Arend     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 understand.

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Vol. 19 No. 75
Air Cargo Future Full of Presents
Chuckles for December 14, 2020

Vol. 19 No. 76
A Christmas Story
Chuckles for December 24, 2020
Take A Laugh Break

Vol. 19 No. 77
The Year That Changed Our World
2020 In Pictures

Publisher-Geoffrey Arend • Managing Editor-Flossie Arend •
Film Editor-Ralph Arend • Special Assignments-Sabiha Arend, Emily Arend • Advertising Sales-Judy Miller

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