The Schwabl

Many, many years ago, in the early 1960s, I dated a young woman whose older brother was something of a legend. While a student at a college that shall remain nameless (RPI), a member of an anonymous (Delta Tau Delta) campus fraternity, he was awakened one Saturday morning by a model airplane enthusiast flying his plane in a nearby parking lot. It was about 8 a.m., much too early for the rising and falling sound of a metallic mosquito. Had it been you or I, perhaps we might have shouted out the window, or pulled on our clothes and walked outside to ask the young aviator to desist. Peter, however, went to his closet, took out a .22 rifle, opened the window, lined up the plane, led it just a touch, and with one shot blew it out of the sky. The bang of the shot and the explosion of the airplane seemed simultaneous. In the parking lot, a stunned young man held a slackening length of wire that suddenly led to nothing.

Witnesses dwelt on the lad’s face, how waves of loss, disbelief and bewilderment played across his features, and the contrasting calm of Peter’s expression as he returned the rifle to the closet and himself to bed, to sleep until noon. Shortly afterward, a small trophy that Peter had won for racing (he liked to go fast, when awake), was dubbed The Schwabl, and given to fraternity brothers who did something remarkable. Although no one could top the inaugural event.

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