By the Book: ‘Unmeasured Strength,’ ‘Fallen Flower Child’ and ‘Tales From the Tarmac’

Unmeasured Strength by Lauren Manning
Unmeasured Strength by Lauren Manning

Most of the anecdotes in Tales From the Tarmac ( are not from the macadam but from other areas and from the memory banks of airport colleagues. Subtitled “An astonishing behind the scenes anthology of true cases about passengers and ground staff at airports worldwide,” Claudia Helena Oxee’s collection proves in the autobiographical first part to be eye-opening, funny and sardonic. Part II, short essays that largely pay homage to an Iranian colleague who flew for the Shah, then Khoumeni, then escaped to the West, also contains memorable moments contributed by others. Nothing, however, can match Okee’s own accounts of the lunacy she observed and experienced in her 13 years as an airline supervisor. These include discovering a humming dildo in a suitcase, confronting an arrogant, lying doctor who forgot his passport and dealing with difficult “paxes” (passengers), among them an unclaimed mentally-challenged, odoriferous woman, a young boy whose parents forgot to pick him up, an elderly Italian immigrant left abandoned in a wheelchair and a first-time flying Pennsylvania teen whose nervous mother had called for TLC but who turned out to be a Gucci-clad “Lolita of Lancaster,” soon to be airport lush.

The gutsy, straight-talking author, who lives in Mattituck, is a former fur model who had a “lavish life style,” but she followed her dream of wanting to fly and worked her way up from gopher to Station Manager at JFK for a German-based international airline. A seasoned traveler, with life experience that included teaching middle-school in Vienna and raising a daughter on her own, Okee had an upbeat attitude that sustained her in the face of weirdo paxes, the occasional nasty superior and tragedy. Hardly on the job, she found herself challenged when assigned to handle families of those who died in the bombing of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie. For sure, readers will come away from Tales from the Tarmac with a new appreciation of airline personnel and of all the work that precedes take off, particularly at the gate. Not to mention admiration for Okee’s compassion, cool and comic sense in the face of difficult encounters.

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Although the intriguing cover of Hampton Bays author Robert J. Lovett’s novel Fallen Flower Child (Kindle, iBook) shows a white silhouetted woman reclining on black under an arc of colorful pinwheel daisies, the tale, subtitled “A 60’s Mystery of Passion & Murder,” belongs to the 64-year old narrator, a former Wall Street stock broker who is making a deathbed confession of having done something horrible “for love” 45 years earlier, in the “freewheeling, amoral Sixties.” It gives nothing away—because the protagonist himself mentions it early on—to note that Sandy was then a homosexual virgin (the term “gay” was not yet current), a Park Avenue preppie starting his first year of college with his gorgeous best “gal pal” Annabelle Lee Davies, or “Bel,” his beloved childhood friend, whom he has used over the years as a confidant and beard to attract guys.

Lovett’s debut fiction gains interest as it moves toward its inevitable conclusion, although the reader anticipates the complications that will ensue between Sandy and the Grecian-god quarterback “J” he falls desperately in love with on arriving at college. Older gays particularly may appreciate Sandy’s passion and the novel’s graphic description of his and J’s sexual encounters where gender roles prevail. And ‘60s music fans will recognize the various lines used as chapter heads that have to do with the theme of what we do for love. Unfortunately, the two strands are not persuasively interwoven.

Moreover, it’s not clear for whom Sandy’s confession is intended other than “the world,” or why, because the “dear Reader,” also called  “Fellow Pilgrim” in the Prologue, is both courted to be “Judge and Jury” and also dismissed (“I truly do not care how you judge me”). Unlike Lovett’s literary hero, Edgar Allan Poe, the master of ratiocinative insanity, Sandy was neither mad nor culturally determined by the “swinging” and “groovy” `60s at the time he committed his heinous act (no flower child, he). Although Lovett’s prose rarely rises above predictable expressions, and the reader remains unmoved by Sandy’s crime and punishment, the book has a resonant paen to the unspoiled Hamptons of decades past and some admirable scenes on the horrors of hazing and on the agony and ecstasy of young love.

September Mini

Back just a week from her Bridgehampton beach house and arriving for work at Cantor Fitzgerald on that fateful September 11, 2001 day, Lauren Manning was moving across the lobby in Tower One, when the elevator doors suddenly opened and she was sucked into an exploding vortex of flame. Over 80% of her body was burned and all around her people lay on the floor, screaming, dying. She saw her skin peel away, but despite the unbearable pain, she somehow got out before the building collapsed. Doctors gave her at best an 18% chance of making it.

In time for the 10th memorial of 9/11, Manning has come out with Unmeasured Strength, a memoir of what she learned from others and remembers about her excruciating surgeries and therapies. It’s also a celebration of her formative childhood years and a renewed appreciation of her husband and siblings for their sustaining love. She knows she’s lucky—she came from a life of privilege and accomplishment and was able to get the best medical care that money and connections could buy—but she’s also deeply grateful for the thousands of comforting letters she received from well wishers around the globe, and she hopes that her continuing fortitude—her measured strength—may prove inspirational for burn victims everywhere.

On September 4 at 4 p.m., Lauren Manning will be reading from her book at BookHampton in Sag Harbor.


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