I’ve paid the optimism tax more than a few times in my life, the first as a youngster when I sent home via an acquaintance and his vehicle a couple of sleeping bags, some clothes, and a ton of flight school photos. He, and they, never arrived.
Don, the flight-school acquaintance, had been just another Canadian who went down to enroll in the U.S. Army in order that he might learn to fly helicopters. He swallowed the recruiting station hook complete with its line and sinker, and ended up sitting on an airport fire truck at a domestic Army field somewhere in the southeast. Not satisfied, he jumped ship and hightailed it back to Canada where he saved his cash and subsequently ended up with some of us at the same flight school.
Of course, we didn’t learn any of this until one night when we piled into Sok’s Chevy and shuffled off to Buffalo, the land of cheap beer and friendly women, for a little R&R. While we were watering down a wall framing one of the more cheaply financed sections of Buffalo (there were many at the time), a cruiser pulled up and we were confronted by a couple of Buffalo’s finest who took some exception to our need for public urination.
Fortunately for all of us, a radio call ended up dispatching the officers to a more pressing matter of a break and enter, and we thankfully piled back into Sok’s car to head north where we belonged. During all of this, Don had been quietly shitting his pants at the prospect of being caught out as a draft dodger and ending up in an American jail.
It was during the ride home that Don regaled us with his tales of bitter disappointment in the U.S. Army and his subsequent jump from active duty to Canadian reservist, so to speak. It had never occurred to him that perhaps he shouldn’t have shuffled off across the line with the rest of us.
If anything, that should have told me all I needed to know about Don.
Ten years later, I ran into Don while we were both flying on large fires in northern Canada. He was still shifty-eyed. Needless to say, while we were in the fire camp we never spent any time together reminiscing about the good old days.
Occasionally, I will still pay the optimism tax when someone takes advantage of my good nature, but there’s no point in worrying about it. It’s simply not worth it, although I must admit that I still miss those photos and the accompanying negatives.
I’ve never missed Don, and the sleeping bags and the clothes were all replaced.
Sok (Marty) was a local from St. Catharines. When returning from our Buffalo missions he would never pull over to the side of the road to let us take a piss once we had crossed the border and were back in Canada. He was adamant that doing so was a red flag for the police to stop our vehicle and give whoever was driving the drunk test.
After all that beer-drinking in Buffalo, on occasion some of us needed relief. To that end Sok kept a huge pickle jar in the back seat. Those with the weaker bladders were doomed to the embarrassment of the piss jar.