July 2009

Houston, Tranquility base here. The eagle has landed.

These would be the first words heard as man touched down on the moon on July 20, 1969 at 4:17 PM Eastern Daylight Time, forty years ago this month. “That’s one small step for (a) man…” would not be heard until some six and a half hours later, when 528,000,000 people around the globe would watch a ghostly apparition of Neil Armstrong, place the first footprint on the lunar surface. (No one would remember that the second man on the moon Buzz Aldrin, described it as “Beautiful, just beautiful; a magnificent desolation.”)

This clearly was one of those “Where-were-you” moments. So exactly where in the world were you?

First off, there is a better than even chance you weren’t even born yet, as 60% of the U.S. population today is under 40. But if you were us, you were not only born, but married and holed up in a studio apartment in Queens, having gotten an eleventh hour draft deferment the previous July. The war in Nam would have to continue raging on without us.

If you were a group-minded type and living in New York City, there is a chance you might have wandered over to Central Park to view the event on one of the giant TV screens that were set up in the Sheep Meadow. A venue mostly known at the time for its war protests, “be-ins” and concerts, it would now ironically enough, serve as a setting for this “establishment” moment of triumph.

If you were Ted Kennedy, you were in Edgartown Massachusetts trying to explain to the authorities how you could have driven a car into a tidal channel on Chappaquiddick Island two days ago. And how in so doing, caused the death of a young girl named Mary Jo Kopechne. She would be 68 today.

Here was the last of the Kennedy brothers, copping a plea on a day he might have been in Washington as a surrogate for the JFK legacy. That being, the reestablishment of American pride and prestige through a stunning come-from-behind victory in the space race.

And while Chappaquiddick would still be page-two news in the New York tabloids on the day of the landing, it had now been relegated to page 19 in The New York Times, where two stories were headlined: Kennedy To Face Charge In Crash For Leaving The Site and Kennedy’s Career Feared Imperiled.

If you were a black leader or activist, a Jesse Jackson, a Charles Evers or Eldridge Cleaver, you were predictably deriding this phenomenal scientific and political achievement, as a project whose funds could have better been spent on the disenfranchised and the rebuilding of inner cities.

If you were Sammy Davis Jr. however, you were in the Old City of Jerusalem at The Wailing Wall, head bowed in prayer. No joke.

“It means nothing to me. I have no opinion about it and I don’t care,” is what you would say if you were Pablo Picasso and in possession of so massive an ego—all genius aside.

If you were a scientist or say a science writer for The Times, you might now be forgiven, if in a moment of ecstasy you began gushing things like “…I believe that we will use nuclear rocket engines to build a shuttle system…(to travel) between earth and the moon and eventually the planets. I foresee this taking place by the end of the 1970’s (underline, ours). Oops!

Ah, but it was a great day to be a poet. There right on the front page of The New York Times, was a poem by Archibald McLeish. (Not to be confused with Cary Grant who was born Archibald Alec Leach). And then even more verse on the inside, by more “names” such as Anthony Burgess and Anne Sexton (who would commit suicide ala Sylvia Plath, just five years later).

And finally, while perusing the yellowed newspapers taken from our closet with this upcoming 40th anniversary in mind— we could not help but notice one particularly incongruous attempt by an advertiser, to cash in on all the hoopla.

Purex Industries, the makers of Brillo soap pads at the time, offered a free map of the moon with two Brillo proof-of-purchase box tops (and 15¢ to cover postage and handling). Might we suppose that with all the lunar dust being kicked up in the landing, the metallic surface of the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) might be in need of a good scrubbing? Though by extension, the laugh might be on us as well. We were literally working on Madison Avenue at the time, for an ad agency—speaking of the pot calling the kettle black.

We tend to take note of these seemingly disparate bits of history and culture, for we have always believed in the need for context. Events, both historical and personal, do not happen in a vacuum.

In reflecting on that first lunar landing— with the aid of these ancient newspaper accounts— we are reminded of a line we had written in a poem that had to do with the value of keeping a journal in lieu of keepsakes:

I do this to remind me not so much of where I’ve been
but what was on my mind while I was there.

We went to the moon. But what was on our minds while we were there? The answers to which might explain, why forty years later, we have yet to return.


The Hunt

Once I was in the hunt
all decked out

in a coat of course courage
brash buttons
mettle of irony

tight in an English saddle—
my mount
in full canter
the corporal tones
of the French horn announcing
that the men and I were coming through.

The scent of the fox
strong in my nostrils
every move within touch
the catch was certain
coming when it must.

Then the sweaty retreat to lick the froth
of victory
oozing down
the tapered glass
to recount the moments
that led to our greatness
to toast the times
in which we lived.

The day on which
the revelry stopped
the chase called off
the raiment of sport
stripped and laid aside
for the next rank of huntsmen—
that day?

I can’t quite recall.

Nor what has become
Of the trophies won
That once we had
So proudly hung;
The songs we sung
And damn the key!

It goes on without me now
the saga of the hunt,
in labyrinthine forests beyond my realm
and I wonder:
how sweet the victories
the measure by which they are tallied
and how the thorny bushes along the path
are negotiated in
this thicket of times so uncertain.


We Write Religiously

We were asked to write a piece for the church faithful of St. Monica’s (in Santa Monica) for the parish weekly news letter. The purpose of which was to coincide with a couple of upcoming fund raisers for an orphanage in Tijuana. Oh, and “if you don’t mind, can you hint ‘sharing the light’ somewhere in the article… that would be great (it is our parish's theme for the year).”

We offer what we submitted for publication this coming July 12th, recognizing that while the readers at this site don’t all believe in Christianity, or even in any God for that matter, most of us do believe in children.


Sharing the Light that is El Hogar

Having heard the sounds of their angelic voices, not only in prayer and the singing of hymns, but in their renditions of pop tunes, folks songs and rock—I am no longer surprised.

Having heard them make music on their keyboards, flutes, piano, guitar—not only in sacred song, but in Beethoven, Broadway and jazz—I am no longer surprised.

Having seen creativity flow from their fertile minds in startling colors, produced and applied by their diligent hands—to eggs at Easter time, T-Shirts at summer, pumpkins in the Fall— while still in awe of these children… I am no longer surprised.

For these are the children of El Hogar, an orphanage in Tijuana with which St. Monica’s parish has been affiliated for the past twenty-two years. As I once noted on these pages: “We bring them much needed goods, supplies, assorted gifts and donations. They in turn provide us with a unique chance to experience the presence of God and a sense of life’s great purpose. Not a bad deal!”

As a published poet, I was also inspired to put it another way upon looking at a picture we had taken on one of our trips, and remembering Jesus’ words imploring his disciples to suffer the little children to come unto Me…for of such is the kingdom of God (Mark: 10:13-14).

Frankly, I had not known what to expect en route there my first time, some two years ago. The very word orphanage for me, had always conjured up something out of Dickens. Something dark and drear; kids moping about in despair. But at El Hogar, one finds hope and love. One sees not darkness, but light. Light not only in a literal sense (the place sits atop a hill and is quite sunny), but most importantly, in a spiritual sense. Again one is reminded of the words of Jesus: …I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12).

Having shared that light in Christ through the kids of El Hogar, it has often sent me back to my desk to take pen to paper:

If there is any downside for those of us who make these quarterly trips, it concerns the element of time. The time we spend with these children goes by far too quickly.

Yet the space between us is but a two-hour bus ride. We invite you to hop on board the next time, to share the light that is El Hogar.


On a Scale of Eccentricity… Michael Jackson in White Face

That his talent became overshadowed by his increasingly bizarre behavior, was a theme well resounded by the wall-to-wall media coverage upon his sudden death. No doubt Michael Jackson was eccentric in the purest sense of the definition: a deviation from an established or usual pattern or style.

But there is deviation, and then there is deviation. There is the eccentricity of say an Andy Warhol— benevolent and fully embraceable. On the other end of the scale, we have the malevolence and the abhorrence of a Charles Manson. And then again, there is the benign eccentricity of a J.D. Salinger that sits squarely in the middle, affecting us in neither way. Where on such a scale might Michael Jackson fit?

His eccentricity was always disturbing for us. The eeriness in his behavior, always undermined the legitimacy of the Peter Pan persona we were expected to embrace. And while over the years the face became a kabuki mask, one might have been able to write it off as a matter of personal style. Icky…but a style. But it was the holding of his infant child over a fourth-floor balcony railing at a hotel, that totally lost us. We don’t suggest a malevolence in his intent. But it raised a question as to at what point does eccentricity become insanity.

Of course all this assessment would be totally beside the point for the hordes of fans that descended on our neighborhood to pay homage at the foot of his father’s house; a place here in Encino where Michael Jackson once lived. Even after he became Michael Jackson.

And so for a while, we will have to deal with the inconvenience of having to drive around our main barricaded street, to get to the local supermarket or Starbucks. A Super Star has died. Died young. Attention must be paid. Only then might he rest in a peace.


Palindrome-of-the-Month Club

The poet Anne Sexton’s favorite palindrome was said to be:

Rats live on no evil star.

A palindrome is a word, phrase or number that reads the same backward or forward; the word comes from the Greek palindromos, which means “running back again.” The first palindromic sentences in English were printed in 1614. (Source: Never Odd or Even: Palindromes, Anagrams, & Other Tricks Words Can Do by O. V. Michaelsen)

Our favorite is:

Do geese see God?

Although this one resonates with the dirty old man in us:

“Ron, I’m a minor.”

We thought about trying to construct our own, and this possible exchange in a Chinese restaurant, immediately struck us:

“Wonton?” “Not now.”

“Say good night Gracie.”


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