Morgan’s world: A thousand feet up
Flying at 30,000 feet in a Boeing 737 is one thing. Lots of company. A movie, perhaps. The soothing susurrus of the jet engines. A sense of detachment from the world below. A person could relax.
Flying at 1,000 feet? Flying in the world of Morgan Kaolian? Well, that’s a whole different matter.
In the week since he died, Kaolian has been perfectly described by his friends and those who dealt with him throughout his life: generous, hilarious, imaginative, an ardent environmentalist — advocating for Long Island Sound in particular — pilot and photographer.
I knew him best as a guy who would call me, the newspaper’s managing editor at the time, most any time he was going up in the air to ask if we needed anything. He wasn’t an employee. We never paid him a nickel. We’d run a “Morgan Kaolian/Aeropix” credit under the photos we used, photos he’d take, I had to imagine, banking his plane with his knees on the steering wheel — or whatever you call it — and shooting out the window.
One day, he invited me, my wife and my daughter Kate to join him in his world. My wife and daughter were thrilled.
We took off from Sikorsky Memorial Airport in a plane the size of a Volkswagen. We wore headphones so we could talk over the deafening clatter of the lone — only, sole, one — engine, Morgan and I in front, Sharon and Kate in back, knees to chests.
Good company, indeed. But that sense of detachment from the ground some 1,000 feet below — not so much. The plane seemed to be standing still. I wanted to punch my feet through the floorboards, like in a cartoon, and push with my feet.
The door I squeezed against seemed so flimsy, its one little metal latch so inadequate. When we landed, I got out, got down on my knees and kissed the tarmac.
The three of them thought it was very funny. No. The kiss came from the depths of my heart. (Some time later, Kate and one of her friends went up with Morgan in his bi-plane — his open-cockpit bi-plane. They wore leather helmets and said the experience was awesome. The only thing I found more incomprehensible was that the guy who eventually bought the bi-plane from Morgan flew it to California.)
For health reasons, Morgan had to give up his pilot’s license. He’d still stop at the newspaper, though, just to chat. The conversations became more repetitive and circuitous.
I ran into his son, Kit, a few months ago in downtown Bridgeport.
“How’s he doing?” I asked.
He smiled. “Good days, bad days,” he said.
“Would he enjoy a visit, or no?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah, sure,” he said.
“I’ll call,” and recited the number off the top of my head. “Amazing, right? I can’t remember the last time I called, but it’s like tattooed in my brain.”
Well, I didn’t call. You know how things go. So many important things to do.
My friend and longtime colleague, Ned Gerard, photo editor of Hearst Connecticut Media, has a photo exhibit at Bridgeport’s City Lights Gallery, 265 Golden Hill St. Ned and Morgan were also good pals.
At the opening party for Ned on Jan. 24, I bumped into Kit again. The news about his father was not so good. “Would he like a visit?” I asked again. “Yes,” he said.
I called Saturday morning and spoke with Anfrieda King, one of Morgan’s caregivers. “Would it be OK to come over?” I asked her. “Of course,” she replied, “just don’t come too late.”
I phoned Ned and told him I was going to see Morgan at noon. It was a cold but sunny day. The noon sun glistened on Long Island Sound, just a few doors down on York Street in Lordship.
Morgan was in bed, gaunt. Awake but mostly silent. Ned and I sat at the head of the bed where he could see us. There would be no conversation, as such. So I talked to him — and to Kit and Ned — about the past, about John P. “Reggie” Kelly, newspaperman extraordinaire, a mentor to me and the man who introduced me to Morgan some 40 years ago, about Bridgeport and its rogues and about kissing the tarmac that day.
I thought I saw flickers of recognition dance over his face. Kit sent an e-mail at 7:30 Sunday morning with the news that Morgan had died.
He’s soaring freely now.
Michael J. Daly is retired editor of the editorial page of the Connecticut Post. Email: Mike.Daly@hearstmediact.com.