Tao of Yeager

I finally get it. And in fact, I owe my dad an apology. For years, my dad has called Tom Cruise a little piss ant. Not in any relation to what has gone on as of late, but stemming back specifically to the Top Gun years.

As a kid, I was always on the defensive, annoyed and dismissive of his anti-Cruise rants. “What??? Are you kidding me? Tom Cruise? Jesus, never mind”. Which would then inevitably be followed by my mom’s take, “Ooh he’s so cute. I like him.” My dad would shake his head in disbelief and wisely would abort the conversation, seeing the futility in going further with this audience. For some reason, he didn’t grasp the studliness of 80’s Cruise. Somehow he thought he was a bit of a sissy boy.

What the hell did he know? He idolized actors like Henry Fonda. I sure as hell couldn’t see the old decrepit man from On Golden Pond stepping/crawling/his withered body being removed with giant pinchers from his cockpit after a simulated dogfight with Jester. Top Gun was THE movie at the time, and Tom Cruise being Maverick, was pretty much the epitome of cool. That was it. That was that. Go on Dad. Go do your stretches. Make Fonda proud.

Last night, roughly twenty years later, I’m watching The Right Stuff at our family cabin. I’ve never seen it before. Skipped for obvious reasons as a kid being that the movie is over three hours long. Anything over ninety minutes at that age was nothing short of a Roots biopic, Ben Hur, or some other slow moving, educational, action-siphoned-out, drag out, drag of a movie.

But I’m older now. No more patient. Still not willing to sit and watch the Roots biopic, nor Ben Hur, or any other slow moving, albeit I’m sure, incredibly well done, four star movie, but willing now to attempt something like the Right Stuff. And as it turns out…it is one hell of a movie. Go see it if you’ve never watched it.

What I was struck with most in this movie was Sam Shepherd’s portrayal of the naval aviator, Chuck Yeager. The dude was the man. A true man’s man. A heroic son of a bitch. Lived life on his own terms. Fearless. Tough. In the simplest terms -the quintessential bad ass. Oh…and his woman in this film. My God. Blows the doors, trunk, and windshield off the questionably, very questionably attractive Kelly McGillis. Wild. Firey. Integrity filled, realistically gorgeous woman. And she’s older. Early 40’s I’d guess, and I still totally, totally dig her.

So I’m watching this movie and thinking, damn this Yeager guy is the man. I need to Yeager up a bit. Take a shot of Yeager, you know? Maybe approach tomorrow with a bit more swagger. Classic swagger. Achronistic swagger. The best type. Then it dawns on me. It all comes back in a flash. My dad’s rant from decades past.

My eyes momentarily drift from the TV screen and an image of midgety little Tom Cruise, in his not quite reached manhood voice, fist raised, balls somewhere in mid dissention shouting to…shit she ain’t really attractive is she? McGillis… “I’ll have you know, that my men and my plane come first!” Then with a look of constipation, he grabs the much larger…shit, she’s not ugly but she’s sure as hell ain’t good looking, McGillis, gets on his tiptoes or pulls her down to size and lays one on her. The scene was actually shot right outside…well a block away from my old apartment in San Diego, which is pretty cool.

But the comparison, you know? Yeager, or Shepherd’s version of Yeager. Whatever. You look at Yeager, you pause; then you look at Cruise, and well, you got to say to yourself, “What a little piss ant.”

Sorry Dad.


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