It is with heavy hearts that we inform you of the passing of one of our longtime contributors, Benjamin C. Dingleberry. On Saturday morning NASA scientists confirmed that the hot air balloon he was piloting flew directly into the surface of the sun. There were no survivors.
Benjamin, or “Balloon Benny,” as he was known to the staff of our magazine, was a true comic’s comic, beloved by writers and readers alike for his unique brand of off-kilter dirigible-based humor. A particular favorite, shared amongst staff after we learned of his passing, is “The Wicked Witch of the East,” in which he describes an extended fantasy of setting down his Lindstrand HiFlyer on top of his mother, crushing her so that only her feet stick out from underneath the wicker basket while his siblings, all “short people,” dance and sing.
He was also known for “December 24: A True Story,” in which he imagines dressing as Santa Claus, landing a small pleasure craft on suburban rooftops, and descending down chimneys to drop coal in unsuspecting children’s stockings before being being shot in the leg with a hunting arrow by an overzealous homeowner.
Despite a number of chronic injuries that hampered his productivity following the publication of “12/24,” Benny returned for perhaps his most uproarious work of fiction yet, “Vehicular Homicides,” in which he lists more creative mechanisms of murder than simply hitting a pedestrian with an automobile.
May 3: I lure a drifter into my balloon and ascend for several hours. When he falls asleep, I tie a lead belt to his waist. I wake him up by screaming that the craft is too heavy and one of us has to jump out if we’re ever going to land. When he protests that I weigh more than him, I respond, “Oh yeah? Then why are you wearing a lead belt?” Then I throw him into Lake Michigan.
June 7: I spike a cop’s shake shack order. When he passes out, I load him into my hot air balloon and ascend for several hours. Once we’re high enough, I throw him into Lake Michigan.
August 13: My parole officer drops into Joe’s Upper Peninsula Sky Tours to make sure work is going well. I offer him a complementary ride. When we’re above the center of the lake, I throw him out.
Though we are devastated by Benny’s death, we are honored to posthumously share with you the last piece he wrote. This experimental story, entitled “Final Transmission” and shared with our editor as an extended series of voicemail messages only hours before he was reported missing, is classic Benny: he brilliantly captures the delicate humor of a man trapped on an ascending hot air balloon, resigned to his fate and sharing his last thoughts between the regular “pfft, pfft” of a stuck gas canister lifting him to his unfortunate end. We’ll let him have the last word, but let us just say: fly ever higher, sweet prince. We’ll miss you.
I’ve never been this high before, James -- I’m really flying! You wouldn’t believe the view up here. Wish you could be here with me.
James? This is Benny. Please pick up. The gas canister on my HiFlyer is stuck and I can’t stop climbing.
10,000 feet. 20,000 feet. This isn’t good, James. Please send help. I don’t know what to do.
I tried taking all my clothes off to reduce weight but once I threw them overboard I realized that too little weight was actually the problem. Now I’m climbing even faster. I’m not joking. Oh, God!
I’m naked and cold, James. And hungry. And maybe a little horny.
James, I can see Mercury. It can’t be long now. This is not a bit. I think it’s getting warmer.
Please, James, just tell Marissa I love her. And apologize to that drifter’s family -- he was actually a pretty nice guy.