Okay, gang, buckle in for my next guest, Tony Damascus, who has taken time away from his book to be grilled—er, interviewed by me. Thanks to author Luanne Oleas for giving him some time off to stop in. Let’s find out a bit about Luanne, and then we’ll dive into the interview.
Luanne Oleas was born in Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley, the setting for her novel, Flying Blind: A Cropduster’s Story. For several years, she worked as a reporter, features writer, and weekly columnist at the Salinas Californian newspaper with reprints in publications such as Reader’s Digest. After moving to the Silicon Valley, she turned her talents to technical writing, finishing her career at HP. She left high tech in 2017 to write novels full-time.
Her first novel, A Primrose In November, is a family saga set in England and France. It’s a story about loving, losing, and learning to love again.
When she isn’t publicizing Flying Blind, Luanne works on her upcoming novel, tentatively titled When Alice Played The Lottery. It’s the story of a 50-year-old widowed receptionist who starts a lottery pool with nine multi-cultural coworkers at a failing Silicon Valley startup. Just as the layoffs start, the coworkers win the big jackpot and go on to star in their own reality TV show. It takes place in the Silicon Valley where Luanne lives with her husband and Blackberry the cat.
Betty: How would you describe your childhood?
Tony: Fractured. My name is Tony Damascus and my life began normally enough with Mom and Dad, but it split wide open before I turned two. Mom died, Dad took off, and I entered the foster care system. Care is a loose term. Maybe I wasn’t the easiest kid to have around but locking me in a closet didn’t help. I spent a lot of time drawing airplanes and staring out the window.
Betty: What kind of schooling did you have? Did you enjoy it?
Tony: I attended public school—occasionally. It was good to get away from my foster family, but it was hard to stay out of trouble. By high school, I visited my classes off and on—enough to graduate. I spent more time at the airport than I did in any after-school activities. I did like getting to know the girls though, but I wasn’t always the guy parents wanted to see coming up the walk.
Betty: When did you have your first kiss and with who? How did it go?
Tony: It’s hard to remember exactly, but I want to say I was four. It was with my foster mother. You might think that doesn’t count, but trust me, if you had kissed her, you’d be counting it. My foster father counted it. I mean, she may have been a slut, but in my situation, I took what affection I could get.
Betty: What do you think is your greatest achievement? Why?
Tony: Easy question. Becoming a pilot was my greatest achievement. It wasn’t easy, flying for 15 minutes at a time and trying to build up the hours needed for my private and commercial licenses. Of course, the flying I dig the most is ag flying. Cropdusting. The hard part is eventually, you have to land. But being alone in the cockpit, with the earth below looking well-ordered, is a trip.
Betty: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?
Tony: Whoa. . . It’s hard to narrow it down to just one embarrassing incident. Getting caught with the boss’s wife is up there. It’s even worse when he fires you. Then, starts shooting at you. I did get caught using the spray plane to waterski on the Salinas River. That was kind of a bummer. Getting caught, I mean. Making rooster tails with the landing gear was great. I accidentally shot a hole through the neighbor’s bathroom window. That was embarrassing. It didn’t do much for our relationship either. The guy never let me borrow his lawnmower again.
Betty: If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be and why?
Tony: Just one? I suppose I should have stopped drinking sooner. Of course, it was fun for a long time, until it wasn’t. Oddly enough, it didn’t really seem to affect my flying, but it effed up more than one relationship. Of course, it inspired most of them, based on what I was drinking—and how much—when I met a woman. It ruined several marriages, but only one that mattered.
Betty: What’s your greatest fear? Who else knows about it?
Tony: Falling in love. Things were humming along just fine until that happened. Before that, I was partying like there was no tomorrow and having a grand time. I could tell you stories about a masseuse I dated but we’ll keep this PG. I suppose the only one who knew my fear, or let me know he knew, was my best friend, Bill. He was one of those stable guys with a library card and morals. It’s a little odd that we became best friends. Flying connected us. It’s probably a good thing we became friends. The dude saved my life. No B.S. He really did.
Betty: How much of your true self do you share with others?
Tony: Oh, everyone pretty much gets all of me. How long they stick around and tolerate it is another story. I don’t hold back. Like when I had to teach that priest how to fly. Huge mistake putting me in as his instructor. Especially when I was describing how flying fast and low was like making love with a beautiful woman. He didn’t know what I was talking about. When he asked me if it was like praying, I didn’t know what he was talking about.
Betty: Are you close to your family? Do you wish your relationship with them was different in any way? If so, how?
Tony: Are we close? Ha-ha-ha, very funny. I would have to say we are about as close as a group of porcupines. How do I wish my relationship was different? Well, with my foster family, I wish I didn’t know ’em. Especially my foster brothers. My wife invited them to the wedding. One shot up heroin and the other stole the maid of honor’s purse. As far as my real parents, I wish they had stuck around longer. Especially my mom.
Betty: What characteristics are you looking for in a potential lover/spouse?
Tony: Well, being good in bed matters. In fact, that used to be my only requirement until I met Angela. Don’t tell anyone, but I didn’t even get her in bed for a few months. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t cook. Finally, someone looked beyond how screwed-up I was and just got me. I never thought of myself as a provider. Hell, I could barely take care of a dog. But with Angela, I found I wanted to protect her.
Betty: How do you like to relax? What kind of entertainment do you enjoy?
Tony: I like women, guns, and yellow airplanes, not necessarily in that order. Flying relaxes me. It also turns me on. Listening to music definitely helps. My favorite tune is “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye. Anything by the Rolling Stones works for me. Listening to music AND flying at the same time rocks. I did try duck hunting once, but my leg was in a cast at the time, and it got stuck in the mud. I had a motorcycle for a while. That was cool. I had to get rid of it to collect the insurance when I lost my job. I miss that old Hog.
Betty: If you could change yourself in some way, what change would you make? Why?
Tony: You know, giving that priest flying lessons made me wonder if there was more to life than sex and flying. I’m not talking about getting saved, but when your plane goes down and it looks like you might die, you wonder about whether there’s more to life than you know. I guess I wish I was willing to believe that faith crap. I think it might make me a better person.
Betty: What do you think you’re good at? Bad at?
Tony: I’m awesome at flying. I think I’m good in bed, too. I can fix an engine. Any engine. They used to call me the piano tuner because I fixed them by sound. Even with my lousy hearing. What am I bad at? You name it. Making a relationship work. Staying employed. Staying sober. I’m horrible with money. If I have it, I spend it.
Betty: What items do you carry in your pockets or handbag?
Tony: In my pocket right now, I have a lighter with a Great Lakes biplane on it. Don’t tell Angela—I wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings—but that masseuse gave it to me as a birthday present. That gal was fun to hang out with—until she got divorced from her long-haul trucker husband. Then she started rubbing me the wrong way, if you get my meaning. She started hounding me to settle down. What a drag! I also used to have a beer opener that looked like a naked lady, but it fell out of my pocket at the airstrip one day.
Betty: What foods and beverages do you routinely have in your refrigerator?
Tony: Beer. And more beer. Once I had this gal as a maid (she thought she was my girlfriend, but she was really just a housekeeper with benefits. I was the benefit.) Anyway, she used to make this great pineapple upside-down cake. It went well with screwdrivers. I like barbequing steaks, too. Great big ones.
Tony flees Texas at the point of a shotgun and finds himself unemployed. Taking a temporary job as a flight instructor, he demonstrates flying spray runs to his worst student, Father Roberto. Imagine the Great Waldo Pepper teaching Mother Theresa to fly in Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley in 1972.
An ace in the air, but a mess on the ground, Tony needs to tame his inner demons. Can he stay alive long enough to do that? Is flying fast and low really like making love to a beautiful woman?
Wow, Tony, you’ve had quite a life. I hope things work out for you in the best way possible. Thanks again, Luanne, for letting Tony stop by and talk to us.
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