To The Moon

Posted on July 16th, 2019 in Personal | No Comments »

As I type this, today is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 liftoff. The first moon landing holds a special place in my heart, as I grew up only a few miles from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. My uncle worked at the Cape, and many of my classmates had family who also worked there. Indeed, the main reason many of us were even there in the first place was due to the space program.

It was an exciting time, being a young boy in the heart of such an amazing location – warm, sunny Florida with astronauts and launches on a regular basis. I had many models of the Saturn V and the lunar module. I knew the details of the flight, the steps required from launch to splashdown. And now we were on the edge of the big one – the real landing.

I never had any doubts; with the total faith of childhood, I knew everything was going to be fine and soon the landing would be a reality. It was another hot, bright day; we were in the house, watching Walter Cronkite prepare us for liftoff. As with previous launches, the plan was to watch until the rocket cleared the tower, then rush outside and wait for it to come up over the trees. And that’s exactly what happened. I remember quite clearly, standing on the driveway beside my house, watching the white-hot point of light moving steadily upwards into the sky. After a minute or two, the contrail would change, the light would flicker; first-stage separation and second-stage ignition.

I stood there, a little boy watching a moment in history, and I remember saying to myself, “I must not forget this.”

The weight of a half-century has nibbled away at that memory, but the core of it remains. I was there. I saw the launch with my own eyes. When it finally faded away from view, one would take a moment to look at the exhaust plume rising up from over the horizon, slowing being pulled apart by the winds, then rush back inside to let Cronkite guide us through the rest of the launch, now invisible to the naked eye (but not quite the long-range camera view).

A few days later, the go-ahead was given and down Armstrong and Aldrin went, to a rendezvous with history. When Eagle touched down on the Sea of Tranquility, we were there, along with most of the rest of the world. I was impatient, and didn’t quite understand the delay. We’re down, open the hatch and let’s get going! But it took several hours to go through the checklist, get suited up, and all the other requirements we couldn’t see.

Finally, the external camera was deployed, and we could switch from the CBS simulation (a man in a suit crawling out of a mockup LM) to a live transmission from the moon. The fuzzy black and white image that is now so well known began to take shape. Neil made his way down the ladder, spoke to Houston, then announced he was going to step off the LM now.

And thus, we all passed into a new age. I got to stay up late that night and watch all of it. I don’t remember going to bed, but I must have been very tired. I do remember thinking how sorry I felt for everyone who would be born afterwards, how they missed this epic moment.

Many years later on another Apollo anniversary, the three astronauts came back to Florida and were in a motorcade. My aunt and I went to the mall and stood alongside the road watching as they drove past, each one being driven in their own convertible, smiling and waving yet again at the assembled throng. It was the first time I had ever seen any of them in the flesh, and as Armstrong rolled by, I yelled “Neil” so loudly that he turned and looked in my direction, still smiling and waving. But directly at me.

A few years after that, I was on my way home from work one afternoon when I heard on the radio that Buzz was in town, signing copies of his science-fiction novel. The bookstore was only one or two blocks from where I screamed at Armstrong several years before. I immediately drove to the bookstore and purchased a copy just to get a signature. Who would turn down a chance to meet Columbus or Magellan?

I waited in line and when my turn came, Mr. Aldrin asked my name. He signed and I extended my hand, which he graciously shook. Then he returned the book to me and that was it. I still have it. Between my name and his own, he wrote “Ad Astra” – To the stars.

Now of course, it is a half-century later since that one small step. Half the people who were in the room with me that night are gone, including my aunt. Walter Cronkite and Neil Armstrong are gone as well. My own wife and child were born into a world in which man has always been to the moon. I am part of the last generation to have experienced a time before that ever happened. It’s like looking in old encyclopedias at artist’s depictions of the planets, whereas now we’ve photographed them all (even Pluto!).

When I watch the old footage, the tears well up; I’m not only watching a defining moment for the Human species, I’m watching my own past. I can see a little boy who could look up at the moon before it ever had a footprint upon it. Time rolls on in its relentless way, but it can’t change the fact that I was there the night it all changed forever.

Christmas Is Killing Me

Posted on December 21st, 2011 in Personal | No Comments »

Every year I consider writing about Christmas, but put it off until it’s too late. This year I seem to be rolling along a little farther down the path. Let’s see how far I can get.

As a child, whenever I would see some reworking of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I would always wonder about the spirit of Christmas Future. The other two ghosts who come to visit Scrooge are obvious enough. The ghost of Christmas Past is shown as an angelic figure (male or female), and Christmas Present looks a lot like Bacchus, the God of Wine.

But the ghost of Christmas Future (or Christmas Yet To Come) is a black-robed grim reaper-like figure. Why should this be so? True, he does show Scrooge a possible vision of the future that foresees his own death, but are there other reasons? I think so.

Leaving aside the blatantly obvious faces of Xmas (birth of Christ, Saturnalia, the economic boost, etc.), Christmas is about death. Set only days after the beginning of Winter and the longest night of the year, the holidays are a solemn reminder of the transience of Man. Many of us can remember particular Christmas events, even when most of the rest of the year fades into a blur. It’s a time to stop and mark time, especially as one gets older. With more than a half-century of Christmas Days under my belt, I can easily recall specific ones – particular gifts, funny memories, sad times, etc.

While children revel in the materialistic aspects of the day, older adults look back and recall family members who are no longer around. When I was growing up, it seemed my family would last forever. But of course, eventually the child becomes the adult and leaves to start a new family. The older members pass on, and the cycle continues anew. I’ve lost more than one member of my family in December as well, which makes the absence at this festive time of year particularly difficult at times. I continue to mourn their loss, and a portion of my childhood is gone with them forever.

One of the most memorable aspect of Christmas to me has always been the music. The happy-go-lucky fun of Jingle Bells, the quasi-Medieval feel of We Three Kings of Orient Are, or the Victorian blunderbuss of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, I love ’em all. But it wasn’t until I heard a version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by a New York City Gay Men’s Choir, that I really understood it:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on,
our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

Some day soon
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow
(Hang a shining star upon the highest bough).
And have yourself A merry little Christmas now.

I realized that the choir were singing about friends lost to AIDS. It’s a sad little song about loss and loneliness. The shining stars are the people you love who are gone, and they are terribly missed. It never fails to make me cry now, because it’s a stark reminder of those I’ve lost.

And that’s why the ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is a figure of death. I still love the holidays, the music, the decorating, the presents. It’s one small moment every year when the ideas of peace and family and goodwill are at least given lip service, which is more than they see any other day. A day to share with family and loved ones, to grow those fond memories for the next generation. While the religious value of Xmas fades away, it’s still an important day, and must always be so.

But as individuals, as we age, it’s also a day to stop and take a look back. To hang that shining star on the highest bough. To remember.

Have yourself a Merry little Christmas now.

Is School Out Forever?

Posted on May 29th, 2008 in Personal | 1 Comment »

My high school class is celebrating a reunion this year, so I’ve been getting the nonsense in the mail from the “reunion committee”, which I picture as several ditzy girls from my class sitting around a folding table, sending reminders to all and sundry. The image has balloons and confetti too, for some reason.

Anyway, I filled out a bio for the ‘Memory book’, but as usual have no plans to attend. I’m too far away, even if I really wanted to go. But for the first time in a long while, it made me curious about how the rest of my classmates have been doing the past (blank) years. So I went to one of those ‘alumni’ sites where you can sign up and read or email ghosts from the past. I paid my $10.00 fee (and am still getting email reminders to join up and show my ‘alumni pride’), and went exploring. The problem is that these sites don’t have everybody. There’s always that strange guy, or that cute girl, or someone that you’d really like to know about (that is, make sure they’re not doing better than you!). But I read what they had, and it was very depressing.

Most of my class seems to be married with kids, living ordinary lives. And that was what bothered me – weren’t we going to be the ones who were going to change the world? Sure, every class says that, but we were special! What happened to all those hopes and dreams from graduation? Life, I suppose. It also bothered me that a lot of them have kids who are now older than they were the last time I saw them. This group of 17- and 18-year olds now have children in their twenties. Huh? It’s hard not to feel that as a group, we’ve been lapped, and are now out of the race.

I actually wrote to one girl (girl; a middle-aged woman with two kids, 18 & 13) I knew. We shared quite a few classrooms together, but never spoke much or became more than just vaguely aware of each other. Of course this girl (let’s call her ‘Beth’) was in a higher ‘caste’ than I was all throughout our school years together. She was also pretty smart, and I always considered her a real mental rival. She could spell ‘gymnasium’ in fifth grade, which was impressive at the time. So I sent Beth a friendly email, saying hi after all this time, I remember this and that, read your bio on the site, here’s what’s up with me. She wrote back the next day with a very bland ‘Oh I enjoy hearing from anyone from our class, I’m this that, yada yada’. This girl who was such a genius all through elementary school, middle school, high school… is a dental hygienist. Not that it’s not a good and important job, but somehow I expected more from her. I wrote her again with more memories, and a thought that while we were never in any sense of the word ‘friends’ in school, now that so much time has gone by, maybe we could email each other once in a while and say hi, here’s the latest, and so on.

My feeling on that is as time goes by, we all grow ever more distant from the people and events that shaped us. It would be nice to be in touch with someone who remembers the same teachers, the same faces, the same culture. I’m finding as I get older that to my great surprise, I miss that more and more over the years. Beth and I spent many years of our childhood together but separate in the same classrooms. It would be nice to put aside the childish feelings that kept us from being pals and enjoy the common experiences we had in those rooms so many years ago.

I guess to nobody’s great amazement, Beth never wrote back. Maybe she felt I was trying to hit on her, or set myself up for being the stalker she’s never wanted. Maybe I thought after all this time, we could move beyond playground resentments or superior feelings. Once more I was too naive for my own good. I haven’t written anyone else.

Last night I dreamt I was back at high school, on the last day, and we were getting our yearbooks. The books seemed full of pages about various people, with several of them getting a multi-page layout. Finally I found a page with a grid that filled almost all the space, showing what events or activities everyone was involved with. On the far right side of the page was a column of photographs of the students. It seemed to be more important to note what everyone was doing than what they looked like, or who they actually were. In the dream I felt all the loneliness and futility that high school was. The feeling that I missed something important. I woke up somewhat depressed, and was in a funk most of the morning.

Is it any wonder I don’t go to the reunions?

Where have all the flowers gone?

Posted on April 16th, 2007 in Personal | No Comments »

I’m a 60’s child. I was born in the Sixties, grew up in the Sixties, I remember the first moon landing. The music of that era still resonates in my bones. You’d be hard pressed to find a non-Beatles song that best sums it up like Scott Mackenzie’s When You Go To San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair). Written, by the way, by the late great John Phillips of Mamas & the Papas fame.

Anyway, I was musing the other day about the people of my generation. What the hell happened to us? As we are now rapidly approaching the deep end of ‘middle age’, it seems we have somehow lost our way. Or perhaps never really got started. It seems that so many people I went to school with never really ‘became’ anything. We just grew up and started getting old. What about our dreams? We were going to do so much, and now we’re stuck with a moron in the White House, the world is labouring under the illusion of the ‘war on terror’, and most of us are content to watch American Idol. Huh?

Not everyone fell through the cracks – I have a very good friend who became an accountant. While not the most glamorous job title, he works for a very large and well-known company. They pay him pretty @#$% well, and he’s constantly traveling around to look at client’s books. Said clients will wine and dine him, and he makes a pretty comfortable living. But he’s an exception. Too many others just twiddle away their time. Me too, I guess. Another fellow I know has lived on both coasts pursuing an acting career. Except for a few shots as “guy leaning on bar in background” on some tv shows, he seems to spend most of his time partying (and lying about his age). A girl I used to date is living alone now that her daughter is in college. She looks like a Grandmother. I saw a recent picture and didn’t recognize her. Another is singing with a tired looking band in a bar in Georgia.

Maybe this happens to every generation – they come out ready to rock the world, and in the end just whimper away to eke out an existence until death mercifully claims them. Maybe I’m indignant because it’s finally happening to us. Maybe I’m frustrated because I recall all those idyllic summer days and know we’re getting a bit short on those. Maybe I should have been an accountant.