An improvised tweet sequence about ballooning with Dolly Parton. I’m afraid I have no idea.
Ah, these evenings. One thinks of the vanished summers, of the receding glories of youth. Like the time I went ballooning with Dolly Parton.
Yes, I still think of it with tenderness. I was a keyboard roadie for Jean-Michel Jarre, and Ms Parton’s LearJet was grounded in Biarritz.
I suppose that sounds terribly glamorous, but Jean-Michel, in those days, had 87 keyboard roadies and a substantial flotilla of balloons.
In fact, I rarely glimpsed the great man. My job was mostly lugging Moogs and keeping the condensation off while crossing the Alps.
Thus it was that I came to be casting disconsolately about for Mah Jongg partners in the foyer of the Hôtel du Palais.
Jean-Michel was unveiling a fourteen-hour concerto for laser glockenspiel at a local festival and I had finished my Danielle Steel novel.
There I was, then. Alone with my Mah Jongg set and my pistachio habit, a figure hardly likely to trespass upon the sphere of a goddess.
‘Why, honey,’ said a voice from within a nimbus of Chanel and zirconia, ‘if that ain’t the loneliest Mah Jongg table I ever did see.’
I stood, scattering pistachio shells and lurid paperbacks.
‘Ms…Ms Parton? Do you–?’
‘Play? Oh, surely. Well, normally leastways.’
‘Ah,’ I said. ‘So, you wouldn’t care to–no, I’m sorry, I’m sure you’re–‘
‘Aw hush. Like I said, sugar. Normally, I would in a heartbeat.’
At this point, Ms Parton sank morosely into the armchair opposite, a reproduction Louis XV.
‘Can I offer you–perhaps a little–?’
‘That’s sweet of you, darling, but–ain’t they dinky, these little Barbie chairs? I’m afraid I’m a little preoccupied, as you might say.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘Yup. Having myself a regular off night. But what am I doing, unburdening myself on a strange gentleman?’
I was momentarily dizzied by Ms Parton’s turn of phrase.
‘No, please,’ I said, recovering. ‘Feel free to–I’d be happy to help with your burdens.’
Ms Parton put down her handbag. It was mesmerising. Like a diamond-encrusted badger.
‘Well, the thing of it is, darling, I’m grounded.’
‘Grounded. Old Tertius, you see, my LearJet pilot–‘
‘Tertius Culvert. He’s from Tampa. You know him?’
‘I don’t think–‘
‘His daddy worked for 3M, I think it was. Invented some kind of shorthand robot. Fine people.’
‘I’ve heard of 3M.’
‘You have? Well, bless you. Anyway, Tertius had himself a big old aneurysm and he ain’t exactly airworthy.’
‘That’s terrible. Is he–?’
‘Oh, he’s going to be fine. But the doctors say he can’t go above giraffe altitude for six weeks.’
‘Not high enough?’
‘Well, honey, I got to get to Trondheim by morning, and you can’t do that at giraffe altitude without hurting a bunch of folks.’
The next moment was one I still look back on in wonder. I stood, and with awkward ceremony, I offered her my elbow.
‘Ms Part–Dolly. Your balloon to Trondheim awaits.’
She regarded me unreadably. Then she slapped her hip.
‘Why not, gosh darn it? Chocks away!’
As we crossed the foyer, a dowager countess and her Pomeranian entered, admitting a breeze. Dolly’s hair stirred.
Such nights as those are given to us only once. Over Luxembourg, Dolly offered to jettison her Fabergé cardigan as excess ballast.
‘I won’t hear of it,’ I bellowed, dumping pieces of synthesiser overboard. ‘This is the spare Moog Modular. He’s never even played it.’
Of course, there were things I might have done differently. No one chooses to behead a pregnant zebra with Frenchman’s keyboard amplifier.
But those were different times. We were over Hamburg and there was no GPS in those days. I thought it was an S&M theme park, not a zoo.
Over the North Sea, we warmed ourselves around a promotional sparkler. I attempted ‘Jolene’, may God forgive me. Dolly giggled benignly.
As we neared Jutland, Dolly retired for the evening, bedding down without complaint among the propane canisters and the flight cases.
‘I do have a show tomorrow,’ she said sleepily. ‘But y’all carry on. I like it.’
And I did. I carried on. Softly but resolutely, I sang.
I sang to the sea, to the cold that only gulls know. I sang to the oil rigs, to the scattered birthday of flames in all that mortal grey.