How a Banking Crisis Built an Airplane
All politics may be local, but not all incentives are perverse
One autumn afternoon in 2000, a Zenair CH 601 HDS strained upward from the Morehead-Rowan County Airport near Morehead, Kentucky. My father, the pilot, expressed genuine concern that we might not clear the rapidly-approaching treetops due to my exceptionally heavy bags; several stories in the air, it was an unsettling prospect ultimately rendered obsolete by a safe landing on a runway pressed into a flat expanse of central Ohio.
As a high school senior, dad’s home-built aircraft offered the only viable method of visiting a friend who had begun college surrounded by Appalachian mountains. At once cautionary and provocative, the word EXPERIMENTAL shouted its presence in black sans-serif letters from the inside of each door, seeming to offer both pilot and passenger one last chance to demur.
Why not categorize the aircraft as “amateur built” or even the more pejorative “non-professional”? I’ve always had difficulty equating experimental with non-commercial or amateur despite the miscellany of state and federal statutes and regulations making it so. Experimental connotes the hesitant nature of an experiment, of course; but in the phrase experimental knowledge, it indicates something “based on or derived from experience,” like the plane itself.
On Friday, July 28, 2000, 69-year-old Donald E. “Buz” Lukens, former U.S. representative and Ohio senator, must’ve embraced the soggy Beaumont, Texas heat as he stepped into freedom from the low-security federal prison that had confined him for the last two and a half years. Buz’s tarnished name surely had faded from public memory, but without his influence in another experiment a decade and a half earlier, a political one, dad might never have taken flying lessons, and this experimental plane, the winsome avocation that would permeate my family’s collective memory, wouldn’t have accomplished its designated purposes — to transport; to amuse — hundreds, possibly thousands, of times.
On Tuesday, March 5, 1985, an article titled “Securities Company Ordered Shut Down” appeared in the bottom right-hand corner of the first page of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The first paragraph stated that ESM Government Securities, based in Fort Lauderdale, had been closed the day before, leaving 38 institutional and governmental customers with potential losses of up to $300 million (well over $700 million today).
“There’s no way that [depositors] can lose their money,” said Donald Hunsche, executive vice president of the Ohio Deposit Guarantee Fund, the private entity with the government-ish name.
Ronald Ewton, ESM co-founder, resigned in February, and no one knew where he was. A weekend audit revealed that ESM was “unable to meet its financial obligations as they mature to its customers,” prompting administrative actions to be filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Florida Comptroller.
The next day, readers of the Cincinnati Enquirer found this front-page headline: “Cincinnati Savings & Loan Facing Loss” with its disquieting drophead: “Home State Borrowed From Now-Closed Florida Securities Dealer.” Spooked depositors began to withdraw their money in what would escalate into a four-day run on deposits that forced the closure of Home State on March 9 after withdrawals of more than $154 million.
“There’s no way that [depositors] can lose their money,” said Donald Hunsche, executive vice president of the Ohio Deposit Guarantee Fund, the private entity with the government-ish name. Depositors “shouldn’t be reacting this way,” said David Schiebel, president of Home State.
Runs on other Cincinnati area privately-insured banks resulted in the largest bank holiday since the Great Depression. On Friday, March 15, 1985, Ohio Governor Richard F. Celeste issued an executive order closing the remaining 69 savings and loans insured by the Ohio Deposit Guarantee Fund. At a press conference the following Sunday, Celeste said he wasn’t sure when they would reopen.
Post-traumatic growth is said to occur when an event is powerful enough to shatter a person’s core beliefs about the safety, predictability, and controllability of the world. In the first empirical investigation of the relationship between post-traumatic growth and creativity, psychologist Marie J. C. Forgeard of the University of Pennsylvania found that, generally, the more distressing the experience, the larger the increase in reported creativity, suggesting that creativity may be part of the healing process.
Construction began in our home basement; a camphoraceous, piney scent, almost identical to that of dry gin, drifted upward into the kitchen. Thin slices of plexiglass were shaped in our oven by heating them over glass applesauce jars; I can imagine dad sharing this example during an airworthiness inspection not to boast of his own ingenuity, but to point out the jar’s perfection for such a task.
Dad didn’t buy a new airplane, and he didn’t buy a pre-owned airplane. As someone who retrieved discarded chairs from neighbors’ trash to refurbish and use, the latter option seemed likelier. Instead, he chose the best, and perhaps the most arduous, of both worlds by purchasing a collection of pieces that accomplished nothing individually and would only become a functioning thing of value as a result of his own efforts. At one time, I understood the percentage of kit airplane purchasers who actually finish their projects to be in the single digits, a statistic that may no longer stand due to company modifications that make assembly easier.
About 60 miles north of Cincinnati, the high bay lights blazed over the gymnasium of Dayton’s Sinclair Community College at 7:00 p.m. on the evening of Monday, March 18, 1985. A scoreboard to the left of an American flag declared that this was the HOME OF THE TARTANS, but the motley assemblage of about 2,500 in coats, jackets, and sweatshirts consisted mostly of middle aged and elderly people who weren’t there to make use of the basketball courts. Once no more room was available in the bleachers, they sat or crouched on the floor or stood behind Fred Kaufmann and three others seated at a table covered with notebooks and loose papers. Kaufmann wasn’t a celebrity; rather, he was a Home State depositor who had placed a classified ad in both Dayton newspapers calling for this meeting for the purpose of organizing and forming a single voice with which to lobby for depositors’ interests.
“I don’t know anything about finances,” Kaufmann said into the microphone, “except I put my money in the bank and I’d like to draw it out.” The resulting applause was loud enough to damage the hearing of everyone in attendance.
Some were living paycheck to paycheck; others weren’t surprised by Home State’s beleagueredness. Mary Nicholas said, “It’s my mad money, and I’m mad.”
Far from a slush fund, my parents had deposited about $30,000 (roughly $72,000 today) at a Columbus branch about 80 miles to the northeast. This was everything they had saved over 13 years of marriage. Not bad for two people who, when they got married, couldn’t list a television among their possessions.
Savings and loans, which are specialized banks, typically offered higher rates. Add the sky-high inflation of the 1980s and, in the early part of the decade, my parents were earning as much as 18 percent APY (annual percentage yield) on their certificates of deposit — safe, reliable investments that essentially trap your money for a period of time but lock in a certain rate of return.
They must’ve thought they had the best of both worlds: little risk and relatively large reward. And, like Fred Kaufmann, they expected to be able to withdraw their initial expenditure, and then some, at the appropriate time: a contract of sorts. Until, that is, what was indisputably theirs became absolutely irretrievable.
The aphorism, “losses loom larger than gains,” nicely expresses the concept of loss aversion, a well-known human tendency to prefer the avoidance of loss over the prospect of gain. Dan Held, of the Family Service Association, a United Way agency that provided counseling, said, “I don’t know that we’re seeing anybody out there on the ledges. I don’t think it’s 1929 yet.”
Before dad decided not to buy but to build his own airplane, he co-owned a loud, white Cessna 172 with hunter green stripes. As a small child under its umbriferous wings, I used the wheel pants to propel myself into the cabin that always smelled like hot metal, as though perpetually baked in the sun, a tang very similar to that of the WWII-era fans and band saws shuffled to a new basement or garage from generation to generation, the ones that predate plastic and safety standards. I would usually fall asleep in the tiny backseat.
Before liability concerns stopped the practice, dad would occasionally take a single passenger. After one landing — an emergency, I later learned — I stood in the bright sun, watching a semi-truck pass slowly on the highway some distance away.
“Dad, I smell cheese!” I yelled, picking up on the butyric acid; our guest had vomited into his map. In each recounting of this story, dad would remark on the man’s profound embarrassment, something completely outside of my grasp at the time.
Swirling among retellings of this anecdote and others was a leitmotif involving Buz Lukens, the politician who prevented my parents from losing their life savings, a portion of which went toward flying lessons once the state of Ohio made them whole.
Older and experimental planes usually aren’t equipped with stall warning devices; a pilot must rely on sight, sound, and feel to recognize an impending stall unless, of course, a stall is the objective.
I always assumed that dad was turning off the engine and allowing the hapless plane to drift — no, plunge — toward the earth. Contrary to my childhood misunderstanding, a stall isn’t necessarily a maneuver designed to thrill. Rather, it’s an “undesired aircraft state” or “aerodynamic condition” from which the most valuable lesson acquired is the ability to recover.
I sat in the backseat as the plane slowed considerably in midair; blue sky and clouds replaced the horizon as its nose was elevated briefly before pitching downward by itself, thus beginning our descent toward the earth.
Imagine a cross section of an airplane wing with an acute angle superimposed. The lower arm represents the relative wind, or the wind opposite your flight path; the upper arm is called the chord line, an imaginary line traveling from the leading edge of the wing to the trailing edge. The angle in between is the angle of attack (AOA).
A low AOA allows air to flow over the top of (and beneath) the wing smoothly, producing lift with minimal drag. As the angle increases, lift anddrag increase, but once a wing’s “critical AOA” is exceeded (usually greater than 18 to 20 degrees), the air no longer flows smoothly over the upper surface of the wing, reducing lift and increasing drag. As speed decreases, buffeting or vibrations may be felt, and there could be a change in the sound of the air flowing along the plane’s outer surface.
To perform what I believe is called a power-off stall, dad reduced the power to idle and increased our pitch to induce the stall. Put differently, I sat in the backseat as the plane slowed considerably in midair; blue sky and clouds replaced the horizon as its nose was elevated briefly before pitching downward by itself (a signal that you’re in a full stall), thus beginning our descent toward the earth. Dad undoubtedly performed a number of other critical steps that allowed him to maintain control, but by the time the feeling of falling seized my stomach at the beginning of the roughly 200-foot descent, the only thing I would notice next was the welcome sound of the engine, which seemed to rejoin us at just the right moment to level off our fall and eventually restore our desired elevation.
Did dad realize that these acts of aerodynamic defiance symbolized the financial crisis that drove him to become a pilot?
On their march to the statehouse in Columbus on March 20, 1985, about 100 depositors-cum-protestors (about 0.1 percent of the more than 90,000 Ohioans affected) passed a Home State branch bearing a sign that read, incredulously, “All deposits guaranteed in full.” One woman held a sign that said simply, “We want our money back!” in bubble letters. William and Lony Smith’s message was more incisive; expressionless, they stood on the statehouse steps with its Bunyanesque limestone columns towering behind them, holding a sign that read, “Governor, if you had your money in Home State, would you act more quickly?” Celeste did meet with about five of them, but the rest remained outside to wave their signs and checkbooks under the clouds overhead.
It’s easy to understand the apoplexy of those who didn’t join in on the bank runs. State officials and Home State itself had assured them that their money was safe. On March 13, the state created a fund to support all savings and loans except Home State (one reason for its exclusion was that it was up for sale; another was that it was a failed bank). By March 25, most of the other savings and loans had reopened in a diminished capacity until they could be federally insured. On April 5, the nonprofit Savings and Loan Assurance Corporation was created to distribute $60 million in state loans to 25 savings and loans still closed for full service and uninvolved in out-of-state purchases. What about Home State and its depositors?
Home State needed a buyer, but Ohio law prohibited its sale to an out-of-state bank. As of April 5, Chemical Bank of New York was the only potential suitor. Six days later, the Ohio legislature had the beginnings of a “legislative package” (House Bill 492) that would, among other stipulations and allowances, provide a significant commitment of state funds, as much as $100 million, to help to absorb some of the losses and also to keep Chemical interested — a bailout.
Buz Lukens, chairman of the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, whose ubiquitous sobriquet derived from his trademark crew cut, called it “insulting” because of Chemical’s demand for public money; he maintained that alternatives existed to reopen Home State and to restore “100 cents on the dollar” for depositors while costing the state little to nothing, up to and including a state acquisition of Home State.
In July 1963, 32-year-old Buz, newly-elected head of the Young Republican National Federation and minority clerk of the federal House Rules Committee, sat down with United Press International reporters for an interview. Who was this multilingual karate black belt and uber-bachelor who looked at you under thick, dark eyebrows and easily remembered seemingly everyone he met?
Later described as a “youthful spellbinder,” the Harveysburg, Ohio native and Air Force veteran with the Hollywood visage endorsed Goldwater for president and predicted defeat for Kennedy. He favored withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and wanted to repeal the personal income tax. When asked where the federal government would get its money, Buz indicated there were “20 different ways” and proceeded to name two: reduce federal spending to a minimum and push more social welfare spending to the states. I don’t know if Buz actually had 20 unique ideas, but I can’t help but notice the familiarity of his approach. Perhaps this is what politicians purport to be: incubators of solutions for all of our botherations, whether plainly stated or hitherto unbreathed.
Buz stretched across the couch in his Ohio statehouse office in early April 1985, its walls punctuated with autographed photos of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
“I’m tired; I could go to sleep right now. With these drugs you could go a mile a minute and never notice it. I guess being sick has made me a little more detached and maybe a little more mean,” he told journalist Phil Porter.
He spoke quickly in installments, then he’d pause to allow his meaning to be absorbed, a flash of recognition given in the form of a smile before proceeding.
The two had been interrupted three times by calls from Cincinnati radio stations inquiring about the sale of Home State. “Men are supposed to be macho and not reveal their emotions, but I’m not afraid to say I love you anymore,” Buz said, likely appending his statement with an epiphonema, such as “I’m not.”
“The governor is pushing hard for a sale to an out-of-state institution. Up till now, we’ve given everything he’s asked for and we’ve rushed everything. But my committee is not going to go ahead with that until we know we’ve got the best deal for depositors.”
Although he was a non-smoker, Buz had been diagnosed with “smoker’s cancer” in 1984, believed to be the result of years of politicking in rooms choked with secondhand smoke.
“Why do you continue to drag yourself out of bed and fight the political battles?” Porter wondered.
“I used to think my function was to kill legislation, but now more than ever I think there is a need for creative legislation.”
This is where Buz might have removed his glasses, something he tended to do near the end of a speaking engagement, as if to amplify his sincerity or to signal an all-important summary. “I don’t want [cancer] to run my life. I want to keep as involved as possible and manage it.”
The Senate bell rang for an afternoon session. Shaking hands was painful, so he and Porter quickly touched fingers before Buz rushed down the hall to attend another debate.
What is it about the prospect of financial loss that motivates us to spend what we narrowly avoided losing? I suspect it has something to do with loss of trust in financial institutions, but it also must force an examination of one’s long-held priorities.
A highly uncertain future impels the resolution of ambiguity; we grasp for something stable and, by extension, reclaim control. It’s why San Francisco broke its own record for the number of weddings in a single month following the April 1906 earthquake, and it’s behind the uptick in marriages and divorces (and babies) in Charleston, South Carolina following Hurricane Hugo in September 1989.
Psychologist Miriam Tatzel proposed a typology of “money worlds”: consumer styles determined by individual materialism and disposition and further contoured by outside influences. A person may occupy one world most of the time while visiting others; my hypothesis is that dad had two allegorical “addresses”: one in Non-Spender and another in Experiencer.
According to Tatzel, a Non-Spender is, among other things, “immune to the lures of consumer culture [and] less sensitive than most people to social approval and what others think.” I believe the very real possibility of losing his savings arrested dad on the path of a “simple liver” who “live[s] poor but die[s] rich.” While there are certainly many positives to the Non-Spender lifestyle, financial aspirations could’ve limited his primary objective in life to the accumulation of wealth — arguably unlikely to lead to happiness or fulfillment.
Enter the metaphorical purchase of a second residence in the money world of the Experiencer: these are people who “spend money to enhance lived experience.” Still non-materialistic, they spend on things yet obtain the most value from the enjoyment of using them.
Classified ads worked for Fred Kaufmann, and he was at it again. Surrounded by ads for wet T-shirt contests, abortion, weight loss, and friendship, one directed at Home State depositors — URGENT — was listed first under Personal Notices on April 11 in the Dayton Daily News. In the measured language of someone paying by the line, the announcement pleaded cryptically, “If you are for you, sign letter supporting takeover by Chem Bank at any Home State Bank Branch on Thurs. or Fri., Apr. 11 or 12, noon to 7 pm.”
“Are there any Home Staters out there? Are you a Home Stater?” Kaufmann called out to the lunch crowd at Third and Main in downtown Dayton. Those who answered negatively may have heard him tease, “Chicken!”
Depositor Pauline Batson signed Kaufmann’s letter of intent to maintain a banking relationship in the event that Chemical purchased Home State. Fifty-six years old and legally blind, she was a health and human services student at Sinclair Community College who got by on supplemental Social Security Income (SSI). Every dollar she had was frozen.
Home State mortgage holders with Home State checking accounts, like Batson, had been the only depositors with access to their money. Batson said she’d continue to bank at Chemical because she had “as much confidence in them as anyone else.”
“I can’t be in a worse situation than I am now,” she said.
Kaufmann had already sent one letter to Chemical declaring most depositors’ intent to stay after reopening, but he wanted to fortify it with signatures. For all of his efforts, Kaufmann was one of nine depositors appointed by Celeste to an advisory board whose function was to liaise between depositors and state officials.
On April 26, Home State stopped accepting its own checks.
While Buz lay in a hospital bed, a chemotherapy agent, probably cisplatin or methotrexate, traveled into his right arm by way of an intravenous line. He would receive this treatment five consecutive days per month throughout most of the first quarter of 1985 and into the second.
Although chemotherapy entailed the loss of much, namely memory, appetite, and vitality, he still chuckled. One of the hundreds of notes and letters he had received from students at McKinley Elementary in Middletown, Ohio professed encouragement along with the jab, “I did not vote for you.”
The year 1983 brought divorce; 1984, a second cancer diagnosis. Not yet halfway over, 1985 had revealed a financial metastasis with which Buz’s name was quickly becoming synonymous.
Following chemotherapy, Buz expected to undergo six to eight weeks of radiation directed at the tumor at the base of his tongue. Asked if he had a message for cancer sufferers, he said, “I really don’t have one until I survive.”
In late April 1985, 22-year-old David Keefer, head teller of the Home State branch protestors had marched past the previous month, worked with another teller three days a week. “Mostly, we take turns manning the telephone and letting people in for their safety deposit boxes,” he said. Of the nine Columbus offices, his was only one of two with safety deposit boxes, which is to say that it was one of two still open.
Not a single dollar bill rested in the drawers; the Ohio Department of Commerce had emptied and sealed the vaults, and mail was forwarded to the Cincinnati headquarters.
Phone calls had slowed from up to 60 per day to as few as 15, thanks to increased news coverage. Before the collapse, Keefer had never heard of ESM. “We’ve had a lot of people accuse the tellers of lying or giving out misinformation when we told people that everything was all right and to wait it out. We tried to give them what we felt was the truth. If it had looked bad, I would have told the depositors…the last thing we wanted to do was to tie up their money.”
Keefer was a customer, too. The money he and his fiancée had saved for a house remained inaccessible in a Home State account.
On Thursday, May 2, 1985, the Home State bill passed the House 61–33, and Buz’s Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee held the first hearing in the Senate. Kaufmann was pleased with the House-passed version, but he acknowledged “a good, long uphill fight ahead of us.”
Meanwhile, interest continued to accrue; Home State was losing about $60,000 a day.
Billie Sowers sat in the Dayton Convention Center on Sunday, May 5, 1985. She held no sign, but her large, white earrings said it all under her dark hair: VICTIM OF HOME STATE! HOSTAGE OF STATE OF OHIO!
“You’ve been victimized, but you’re not helpless,” said Robert Wanke, one of the leaders of the Home State Depositors Association, to the 4,000 in attendance. At least two Republican votes would be needed to pass the bill in the Senate, he said. Another leader, Mark Stachler, implored depositors to write to all 33 senators.
“It gives you more of a zeal to go out and work and get something done about it,” said depositor Eugene Storie. “We think our group will eventually get 100 percent of our money, with interest. Without this group, we would have gone down the drain.” Storie was among those planning another trip to the statehouse.
Charles Haun’s $47,000 was intended for the care of his 30-year-old son, who had been blinded and paralyzed in a car accident. Haun needed to access his savings soon, but he was smiling as he left the meeting.
Everett Slone wasn’t expecting the letter from the Internal Revenue Service that arrived on Monday, May 6, 1985. It demanded that he pay his federal income taxes, plus interest, within ten days.
Home State depositors had been offered a special arrangement allowing them to defer payment until the bank reopened. Slone, 60 years old and retired from Frigidaire, supported his wife and himself with his retirement and Social Security income. He had followed all instructions: he filed his return by April 15 and included a letter explaining that his money was frozen in Home State and, therefore, he couldn’t pay his taxes; he even included a copy of his latest statement.
Slone called the IRS. “[The information specialist] asked me if I had any way to get the money, and I said only if I borrowed it. He said, ‘I advise you to borrow the money and pay it, but don’t send the interest part. Send a letter and say the interest is unfair. You might get away with that.’”
After nearly two hours of contentious debate on the afternoon of Thursday, May 9, 1985, the overcast day’s high of 76 had been reached, and the Ohio Senate was poised to vote on its version of the Home State bill.
Depositors filled the pew-like seats in the gallery. When Buz’s name was called, he wasn’t there. He had stepped out to take medication; when he returned, he had to wait for his colleagues to cast their votes. When it was his turn again, the tally was 16–16, otherwise a failure; his would be the deciding vote.
The Senate clerk announced that the bill had passed 17–16, but after the depositors’ applause faded, an uncertain future began to crystallize. Most notably, the bill’s $90 million in state funds wouldn’t meet Chemical’s demand for $125 million. The only path to reconciliation would be through a compromise bill drafted by a six-member conference committee to which Buz was appointed. The proverbial plane continued its descent, but Buz was going to be the corrective.
Had Senator Oakley Collins been present on Friday, May 17, 1985, the outcome might have been much different.
Like Collins, Buz voted for the compromise bill the previous week. But on this particular day, Buz voted against it. Senate President Paul Gillmor cast the 16th vote, leading to a 16–16 tie. Failure. Shouts and insults rose in an indecipherable cloud; plainclothes Highway Patrol officers moved into position.
Senator Neal Zimmers, Jr. jumped to a microphone to attempt to compel Collins’ attendance, but Gillmor refused to send the sergeant-at-arms to look for him.
“You can only dehumanize these people for so long,” said Mark Stachler. “You’re going to start these depositors acting the way these legislators have been treating them — like animals.”
“Home State is very much alive,” Buz said into the telephone later. He said he had “a better offer” to be revealed the following week during hearings on Republican alternatives.
I wonder if the nightly commute, and any moment when work wasn’t a welcome distraction, allowed uncertainty, an opportunistic interloper, to creep in like smoke under the door, his agreement with Home State still in the fumbling hands of the state or, more specifically, a capricious politician.
Carol Oram, co-organizer of the Home State Depositors Emergency Support Group, received innumerable phone calls, some callers threatening violence toward legislators.
“I tell them it’s not over yet,” Oram said.
As someone who tended to avoid social situations due to a congenital partial hearing loss, dad would’ve had no interest in any of the support groups, even if he knew of their existence. This must have been a lonely, isolated time full of contradictions.
During the day, dad worked in a windowless basement as a computer programmer for the state of Ohio; except for the lack of natural sunlight, it was a job he loved so much at the time that Friday brought a sense of melancholy. In addition to his day job, dad had a side business providing computer programming services to individuals and small businesses.
I wonder if the nightly commute, and any moment when work wasn’t a welcome distraction, allowed uncertainty, an opportunistic interloper, to creep in like smoke under the door, his agreement with Home State still in the fumbling hands of the state or, more specifically, a capricious politician. I wonder at what point uncertainty began its inevitable declension into something like despair.
The following Monday, the Dayton Daily News published this front-page headline: “Lukens Changes Mind About Plan.” Buz canceled his committee’s hearings.
“We impugn none but we trust none,” Kaufmann said. Over the course of the day, depositors took about $2 million in credit card withdrawals out of Ohio State Bank, Huntington National Bank, and others in an effort to “impede business.” The largest march to date, involving up to 5,000 people, was expected the following day. As Kaufmann said, the “emotional seesaw” was fostering “an atmosphere of tragedy.”
“I will support the bill with as little enthusiasm as possible,” Buz said. After comparing it to several alternate plans over the weekend, he concluded the Home State bill was “the only alternative that can make it.” In other words, it was the only bill with enough support to become law.
For the bill to be reconsidered, one of its 16 opponents would have to move for a second vote within the next two legislative days. Buz would be that movant.
Outside the statehouse on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 21, 1985, hundreds of depositors chanted, “Yes, yes, yes.”
You know what they say about those who like laws and sausage. “Neither should see how either is made,” Buz said from the Senate floor, a statement likely intended for the depositors once again filling the gallery and for the overflow crowd occupying the statehouse rotunda. “It’s a bloody mess.”
Once the 17–16 vote was announced, cacophonous applause, vociferation, and tintinnabulation (cowbells or handbells or possibly both) resounded throughout the ten-story rotunda. Depositors embraced fearlessly in awkward entanglements, kissed, cried, and danced. One man shouted, “I’ve got cold beer in my cooler. Let’s go!” A woman responded, “I don’t even drink, and I want a cold beer. It sounds good.”
The trajectory of Buz’s life and career, especially after Home State, closely resembles that of a stall — one that never recovered.
Buz announced his remission in late June 1985 and then returned to the U.S. House in 1986 and 1988, a considerable uplift. But on the evening of Sunday, November 6, 1988, he opened the door of his Columbus apartment wearing only boxers; 16-year-old Rosie Coffman and a friend stepped inside. Convicted of a misdemeanor but labeled a sex offender by Franklin County Juvenile Court Judge Ronald Solove, the nose dropped, and the descent accelerated with the arrival of lickerish allegations involving an elevator operator. Rather than face an investigation, Buz resigned from Congress in 1990.
Received in 1996, his 30-month federal prison sentence originating in a bribery scandal might have represented a fiery collision with the earth in our aviatic metaphor. After an unsuccessful appeal, Buz arrived at the Beaumont facility on January 28, 1998. The worst possible scenario in a stall is the loss of control; this might also be true of a political career. Buz’s name was relatively absent from the headlines until recurring cancer declared a final victory on Saturday, May 22, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.
I was standing in my parents’ driveway over three decades after the Home State crisis when dad relayed his decision not to pursue conventional treatment and to enjoy the time he had left. Unexpectedly, the revelation I found uniquely distressing was his decision to disassemble his airplane. I understood the desire to preclude any possible liability unfairly assigned to mom after he was gone; what I had trouble with was the dismantling of an object whose permanence I never stopped taking for granted, an object whose destruction threatened to reify death.
Could the specter of liability only have been part of the story? The disassembly of a dream, like the demolition of a meticulously-crafted, useful building, must be excruciating, but what about an unknowable future? Might that be intolerable?
Buz’s dream — politics — largely brought him pain, yet he persevered and, emblematically, experienced countless “stalls” throughout his life; some were successfully resolved, others weren’t. His dream and, more specifically, one particular decision as an Ohio senator, directly led to dad’s pursuit of his own dream, whose untimely end placed a somber denouement on a positive, even generative, pursuit.
The most significant elements, including the propeller and the vertical stabilizer on which the registration number is displayed, were divided among family members like a cremated loved one’s remains.
Originally published as “Stalled,” at https://vesselartsmag.com on June 1, 2020.