Friday, July 17, 2009

Where Were You . . .

. . . when man first walked on the moon? Were you impressed? Did you feel a burst of pride at being an American? Provided, of course, that you are American. If you’re not, did you feel a sudden acceleration of admiration for the United States, that shining castle on the hill?

My friends and I had been thoroughly alienated by the shining castle long before Neil Armstrong blew his line upon taking the first ever human step on a celestial orb other than our own. (The line was, “one small step for A MAN . . ,” not one small step for man. The way the line was actually delivered, it was redundant.)

Some of us were gathered at the home of a young woman whose name escapes me, but whose nickname was “the Weasel.” Her parents were not at home, nor expected until several days later. I would be married within a couple of weeks, my wife-to-be was present. It was a party, or at least, a bunch of us were partying. The TV was on, a typically shitty black and white of the time, probably with the rabbit ears antenna and all. Nobody was paying much attention. We were in the kitchen concentrating on job one, which was getting loaded. Most of the time, the only one of us that was in the living room with the TV was my friend R.B., nickname F., who was laying on the couch enjoying the effects of about fifteen Seconals. Earlier in the evening, I remember him waking up long enough to notice one of the red capsules falling out of his hair and saying, wow! before tossing it into his mouth and swallowing it out of hand. He had so mastered the art of swallowing medicine that he didn’t need no stinking glass of water anymore.

The rest of us were sitting around the kitchen table smoking reefer and/or drinking, wine, beer or vodka according to our want. There was some music on, but I forget the source, probably the radio. FM rock was a new media phenomenon at that time, and it was a real treat after the dictatorship of top-forty radio.

I remember going into the living room once in a while, not to check the moon routine, but rather to check if R.B., nickname F., was still alive. He only lived another year or so before dying in a fire, star-crossed, that one.

Are you shocked by our failure to be impressed? Are you offended by our blasé disregard for this great accomplishment? Consider our background:

JFK, our president, ours, had been shot dead in suspicious circumstances. Immediately thereafter, the nuclear standoff went into high gear, spawning new generations of missiles for about 100,000 armed, deliverable nuclear devices, counting all sides, and giving rise to movies like “Fail Safe,” and “Dr. Strangelove,” and endless threat-mongering media coverage. Also immediately after the JFK elimination, a little thing called the Vietnam War went into high gear. This was our reality, our Sixties, along with the great music, the fast cars, and the girls. It was wild, frightening and deeply confusing.

A couple of those present at the Weasel’s house had already been in the armed forces, myself included. Beyond threatening us personally with horrible deaths, and threatening entire populations across the world with even more horrible deaths, the only things that the American government could think of to do were: 1) go to the moon; and 2) try to put us all in prison for getting loaded.

So no, we weren’t particularly impressed. Except with the reefer, which was Columbian, and superb; the beer, which was imported; and the vodka, which if I recall was a brand made from potatoes and distilled in Poland.

Hidden Message Alert: Now that I think of it, does anyone else think it’s strange that within one year of JFK’s “mysterious” assassination: 1) the number of targeted, deliverable nuclear missiles in America’s arsenal grew by a factor of about ten; and 2) Vietnam went from a vaguely annoying subject of obscure articles in the National Geographic Magazine to a full blown national tragedy?

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