Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Another Time

The exact TV model I watched the moon landing on.

THE END OF MANNED FLIGHT. After mistakenly reporting the death of Neil Young this weekend, NBC News corrected itself and announced the death of Neil Armstrong (Who he? uh, first man to set foot on the moon? Oh.) It was a stark reminder of a post from just a few days ago:

We're all reduced to championing voices that are those of precocious children. There's an awareness of Shakespeare, certainly, and a genuflection, but the minds at work have been shaped by other forces. Forces usually no older than the nearest strip mall. Smart is great. But it's not enough.

When people speak of searing dates, moments when everyone remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when they learned the news, people usually cite the assassination of John F. Kennedy and 9/11. But this is another one of those. The good one.

My own recollections are not much different from thousands, maybe millions, of others. But my focus for the purpose of this post probably is. Yeah, we got up in the middle of the night to watch, it was just ten days after my 16th birthday, and, yeah,  we all kept exclaiming, "I can't believe it. It's really happening." There was also a huge dollop of "They DID it! WE did it! Unbelievable!"

But I still have the ability to put myself in that room on that night. Since technology has been such a large part of my life, I can suppress the fact that it was the family library in which I'd read so many books. What stands out now is the state of the technology in that room on July 20, 1969. There was a rattling air-conditioner. Air-conditioners still rattle. No big deal. It's the multimedia communication technology I'd draw the attention of today's youngsters (including NBC flacks) to.

The newest, most impressive thing was the Magnavox tabletop stereo my dad had bought years before after much agonizing and unnecessary guilt. He had stereo LPs but had never owned an actual stereo. It cost $150. My mother talked him into it. When I heard his records playying on it for the first time, I realized I'd never heard music before. By the time of the moon landing, of course, it was old hat. I'd already heard the Doors on a far better stereo. But there it sat, on the counter in front of the air-conditioner.

Where I heard all the jazz that sank a harpoon in me.

About a yard to the right was the plug-in AM/FM radio, much older, on which I'd heard all those Sinatra songs over the years. It was an ugly plastic design, but we'd all stopped seeing it. It was the just the Friday/Sunday radio.

This lowly carcass is synomymous to me with dreams.
How Sid Mark ended every Sinatra broadcast.

Okay, not in the room per se, but still in the room because I had just turned 16 was the used car my dad had just bought because the cost of his children's education commanded an end to his Brit sportscar vanity. So, as I watched the moon landing, I had a dwarfish epiphany about Detroit and its decades of "space age" styling. I realized I could live with driving the Dodge Polara for my road test, which was still a year away.

I learned only later that it had a 383 V-8 which would bewitch me for life.

Sorry. Back to the library and the moon landing. The TV we watched it on. Apart from books, the oldest thing in the room, usually concealed behind a cabinet door. Everybody else had color TV. Everybody I knew. We had this ancient Bakelite (pre-plastic but denser) black and white dinosaur. It had vaccuum tubes and took long minutes to warm up.

Where American technology was at the time of Sputnik.
You guys will never get it, will you? Americans do miracles.

I hated it then, but now I'm thinking where else and under what different circumstances would I have wanted to see the moon landing?


Here's a fnal irony. Before setting foot on the moon Buzz Aldrin took Communion. He had brought a tiny vial of wine and a wafer. Consider this in the context of Bill Maher's hateful comments about Republicans and science:

The grown-up answer to our massive national problems is “Identify them scientifically and prioritize.” The Republican answer is “There isn’t a problem, and anyone who tells you different is a liar who hates America. We don’t have to make hard choices. We just have to ignore science and math. That’s why God gave us values.

As I said. It was another time. NBC forgot who Neil Armstrong was because he eschewed celebrity altogether. He was the kind of hero who really was a hero. Those days are now officially gone.

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