What's a Halusian Gulp?
September 25, 2008 7:49 PM   Subscribe

What's a Halusian Gulp? And what does it have to do with fighter pilots?

The phrase appears in this passage from Tom Wolfe's Right Stuff (quoted in a political discussion about McCain):
Being a fighter pilot... presented a man, on a perfectly sunny day, with more ways to get himself killed than his wife and children could imagine in their wildest fears. If he was barreling down the runway at two hundred miles an hour, completing the takeoff run, and the board started lighting up red, should he (A) abort the takeoff (and try to wrestle the monster, which was gorged with jet fuel, out in the sand beyond the end of the runway) or (B) eject (and hope that the goddamned human cannonball trick works at zero altitude and he doesn't shatter an elbow or a kneecap on the way out) or (C) continue the takeoff and deal with the problem aloft (knowing full well that the ship may be on fire and therefore seconds away from exploding)?...

Sometimes at Edwards they used to play the tapes of pilots going into the final dive, the one that killed them, and the man would be tumbling, going end over end in a fifteen-ton length of pipe, and he knew it, and he would be screaming into the microphone, but not for Mother or for God or the nameless spirit of Ahor, but for one last hopeless crumb of information about the loop: "I've tried A! I've tried B! I've tried C! I've tried D! Tell me what else I can try!" And then that truly spooky click on the machine. What do I do next? (In this moment when the Halusian Gulp is opening?) And everybody around the table would look at one another and nod ever so slightly, and the unspoken message was: Too bad! There was a man with the right stuff.
bonus points for explaining the "nameless spirit of Ahor"...
posted by blahblahblah to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I did some in depth Googling and I think Tom Wolfe made up the term. Though I wasn't a pilot, I worked in Air Force flight operations years ago and never heard of this.
posted by crapmatic at 8:24 PM on September 25, 2008

Googling around on the term "halus" seems to suggest that it has something to do with death in certain cultures. You have to remember that Tom Wolfe was an Important Writer who also did lots of drugs.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:42 PM on September 25, 2008

Ahor is the Sefirotic Back in Kabbalah mysticism. When you move from one world to the other, you can be said to move from Anpin (the face of the world) to Ahor, the back/underside/hidden part of it). So a 'spirit of Ahor' would be someone you'd be meeting or greeting when changing between worlds, planes, the life-death gap. That's so appropriate here that I can't believe he means anything else.

I'm less certain of "Halusian Gulp", but my guess is that it's a reference to the Siege of Halus, when Phalaecus (really, that's his name) was so eager to finally reach the peace promised by the Treaty of Athens that he did not go around Halus, currently under seige for unrelated reasons, but instead marched right through that attacking army after quickly gaining the permission of the commanders to pass. So he was rushing so headlong into peace that he decided to drive right through the middle of a war rather than find some way around it.

That's how I interpreted it, anyway, and how I remember the story. I checked the names but otherwise that's from ages ago half-memories, so I might be off on the details.

I think Wolfe coined the gap part, sure, but I believe that's the reference. The Halusian Gulp, then, would that moment when you decide to drive quickly through the heart of a scary, dangerous problem in the hope of arriving peacefully on the other side. Gulp. It's a gut check.

Why he was so deliberately obscure, who knows. He's Tom Wolfe.
posted by rokusan at 8:43 PM on September 25, 2008 [6 favorites]

(Gulp, not gap, obviously.)
posted by rokusan at 8:44 PM on September 25, 2008

Also, what Dahlia said. :)
posted by rokusan at 8:44 PM on September 25, 2008

Given rokusan's post, I wonder if it's actually "Halusian Gulf" (an eggcorn or a play on words or something)? No Google hits for that phrase either, though.
posted by hattifattener at 11:25 PM on September 25, 2008

Don't forget that a former spelling of "gulf" is "gulph". A classical allusion to the Halusian Gulph and overzealous proofing would result in a Halusian gulp.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:53 PM on September 25, 2008

I was a Naval Aviator until a couple of years ago. Throughout flight school and years of flying, I've never heard of a "Halusian Gulp".

Either he made it up, or it's some service or platform specific lore.
posted by matty at 11:30 AM on September 26, 2008

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