Claire Clarified

I wrote about Claire back in March of 2010.  Hmm . . . with my steadily shrinking attention span, it's hard to imagine myself nursing this blog along for all those years. Anyway, I wrote about her in a post titled: "The First Time." Claire was one of my most memorable characters from the Big Time days. Sharp, witty, self confident and knowledgeable; she became one of the most well respected controllers in the facility. She was also quite easy on the eye and happily married to a guy who flew jets for a living. Still; there were issues. 

Some facts, such as Claire's extraordinary skills, may stand out some people's memory. Others may remember Claire for the fact she was the best looking woman in the facility. Okay; so there were only two in a staff of nearly ninety controllers. After all, it was the Seventies; back when "diversity" was just another nine letter word. The whole concept was lost among a workforce made up largely of WWII, Korean and Vietnam War veterans. They were a staunch, stubborn and profane bunch. Those guys put their headsets on like crash helmets, bent rules with their bare hands, pushed limits, pulled off incredible maneuvers with their traffic and did whatever else it took to keep things moving. To many of them, women in the control room were just a misplaced novelty. Some would call them a distraction and some would go a bit further; stirring up a riptide of rumors.

Claire was training in the radar room when I first arrived at Big Time so, as a lowly tower trainee, I didn't see much of her. The guys downstairs, however, got to see a lot more of Claire; especially during our Summer season. Here's why.

The climate in Big Time's 'Truman era' tower and radar room was controlled by a series of ancient air ducts. Their insides were thick with the accumulated scum left by the recirculation of various body odors, cigarette and cigar smoke, aircraft engine exhaust and seasonal humidity. Our Summertime TRACON was a calescent environment, made even warmer by constant complaining and the ceaseless heat emanating from our cathode ray tubes. A tired air conditioning system strained and rattled in some distant utility room; pumping barely enough cool air into the TRACON to keep us all from bursting into flames. We wore anything we could get away with to beat the heat. Tee shirts were frowned on by our Assistant Chief. Funny thing though; he never complained about Claire's low-cut cotton blouses. Neither did the battle-worn boys who ruled the airspace around Big Time. Instead, some of them let their imaginations run away from reality

When it was hot, Clair might sign onto her shift wearing something low-cut and cool. As I said; she was easy on the eye and it seemed the more some guys saw of her, the "easier" she appeared to be. In time, rumors she was sleeping her way to her radar certification began spreading like an oil spill and would be nearly as hard to clean up. Now, to accuse Clair of such a thing would be akin to accusing her of under-inflating the balls at her local bowling alley - a ridiculous assertion but well within the parameters of believability to a few bowling pin-heads. What was being said about Claire was equally absurd and no less believable to some. These were the same fools who believed PATCO when, in 1981, the union told them "They can't fire all of us." In the language of bowling, what happened next is called a strike. You know; when they all fall down.

The malicious rumors eventually made their way to Clair's radar instructor then on to Claire. A bright girl and never one to duck controversy, she quickly figured out which of the tower's gossipmongers had started the rumor. When she did, there was a very loud and quite public confrontation in the break room at shift change. Till then, no one knew Claire could go off like a pipe bomb.

We never had to watch our language around her. Claire knew the four-letter lingo of the control room and could speak it as fluently as the rest of us. She spoke it a lot that day. It was a delicate situation though. Trainees generally knew better than to take on any of the journeyman controllers. Doing so could adversely affect the quality and quantity of training they'd receive and possibly even their reputation in the facility. I worried that Claire's protesting might come off sounding like petty bitching or whining, with a response like; "What's the matter? Can't take a joke?" She had some unexpected help though. A few of the more senior controllers, who didn't particularly like the guy who started this mess, quickly spoke in her defense.

By far, her biggest advocate was Claire's main radar instructor; Teddy. Teddy was the biggest, in more than one way. He bellowed and berated the guy; using the words "horse shit" to withering effect. Teddy, at about 300 pounds, was also physically huge, which, when he stood up and pointed a fat finger at his target, added fierce emphasis to his words.

There was plenty of denial of course but it came off sounding like our air conditioning system; weak and ineffectual. Righteously blamed and shamed; he stood up, left the breakroom and no one spoke of it again. Claire threw her headset into her locker, slammed the door and went home.

Fortunately, the source of this synthetic scandal was not on our team or there would undoubtedly have been many awkward moments in our future. You needed to trust your teammates and it was even better if you also liked them. As it was; we only saw this guy at shift change or if he worked an overtime shift with our team. I did see him fairly regularly on the picket lines during the mass hypnosis that was PATCO's 1981 job action. Rumor had it he became a "dot-com" millionaire a few years after being fired but you know how rumors can be. Like the one he started about Claire, they're often quite the opposite of reality. She clarified that one for several people, a long time ago - back in my Big Time days.

I never again worried about Clair's ability to defend herself. She easily held her ground in the testosterone rich environment she worked in. I was always concerned over Teddy though, and could never understand how, with all the extra weight, he managed to pass his annual flight physical. Big and getting bigger; I worried that he would one day grow too fat to fit into his own future. That would have been a sad passing. Teddy was truly one of the good guys. He transferred out of Big Time a year or so after the strike and I never heard of him again. I don't know what ever became of Claire either but I don't worry.

© NLA Factor, 2016