Book Reports on Books You’ll Never Read #1:
On the night before Thanksgiving, 1971, a man who became known in the press as D.B. Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 flying out of Portland. Claiming he had a bomb, he demanded $200,000 and four parachutes. Receiving them, he let all the passengers disembark, and with the pilot unable to view the passenger area, somewhere over the vast stretch of forest in the Pacific Northwest, D.B. Cooper jumped out of the plane and was never seen again.
Cooper planned details perfectly. The 727 was the only commercial plane with a rear exit far enough from the engines that a jumper would not be sucked in or burned. The 727 was also the only commercial plane that could fly slow enough to jump out of. $200,000 in $20’s fit in a duffel bag perfectly. Cooper was an average looking, middle-class white man physically lacking enough distinction for witnesses to agree on his exact features.
And throughout the country people were glad he got away with it.
“D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened” is a bullshit book written by bullshit author Max Gunther. He claims that years later, after Cooper died of natural causes, the woman who helped him escape contacted the writer to reveal the story. Gunther posits that Cooper was a timid man whose bold life decisions were a testament to the thrilling tales in True magazine, for which Gunther used to write. Gunther even claims that it was a specific article he wrote more than ten years before the hijacking that inspired Cooper.
What Gunther claimed, and based his book on, was that Cooper vanished years before the hijacking to escape an unhappy marriage. He stole a stranger’s identity and drifted around the country taking odd jobs before his scheme.
Gunther’s story lacks the subtlety of the greatest hoaxes, but while other stories get their truth in the characters, he gets his in the readers.
My at-rest heartbeat scares me sometimes. I’ve been divorced. I used to work crazy hours at awful jobs while going to school full time and hating all of it. I eat mostly sugar and fried foods and I barely exercise. I have seemingly insurmountable credit card debt. I’m not special; millions are like me. People drink or smoke or shop or kill themselves to deal with it.
But living isn’t the opposite of killing yourself, disappearing is.
In my head I’ve always wanted to vanish. To start a new life in a cabin in Alaska surrounded by guns and canned food. To an urban anonymity in a city where I don’t know anyone. To some ridiculously cliche hobo world of train yards and burning barrels. And every man I’ve ever talked to has had the same dreams. We make plans of how to fake our own death or get lost in South America or what jobs we could get without a social security number.
D.B. Cooper jumped from a plane with bag of money and that’s the end of the facts. Everything else is conjecture. Twenty years afterwards three bundles totaling $16,000 was found with serial numbers matching the bills given Cooper. They found no body or parachute. No one came forward and said their husband or brother or son disappeared the day of the hijacking. D.B. Cooper must have lived a life where people wouldn’t realize he was gone. Either he walked out of the woods with the rest of the money or he died. If he died no one realized their husband or brother or son was dead or gone and no body has been found in almost forty years. If he walked back to a former life he did it rich, but no other ransom bills have ever been found in circulation
D.B. Cooper became a folk hero. For vanishing. For committing the perfect crime. For an unrivaled daring. And the book about him probably isn’t true. It’s a guessed explanation for a magic trick. The author reverse-engineers the actions, emotions, and motivations of a hijacker. He’s stuck with the facts the way I’m stuck with two jobs and a racing heart. And when the facts don’t fit in a way that won’t overwhelm you, all you can do is pretend to drown on a family vacation. Or eat all of your meals from vending machines in bus stations along I-90. Or play guitar on the street for change. Or work day labor jobs in the hot sun. But if you’re brave enough to quit everything and disappear, that’s probably ok with you.