Category Archives: My Diary

The Beautiful Farewell to Star Trek

You ever stumble across something really stupid that, nevertheless somehow manages to fill up a hole inside you that you never knew was there?
 
It’s no secret I don’t like Star Trek, and the reason is obviously that I loved it once, as a kid. I’ve considered all subsequent Treks to be disappointing or flat out awful, and I abandoned the franchise somewhere around 1993 or 4. I like amateur films and videos and things, so my only exposure to Trek in the 21st century was through Fan Films, which primarily had nostalgia value, and mostly suck. Eventually there were just too many of these, and they were all too awful, and I drifted away from them.
 
Fan Films have always been illegal (Copyright infringement) but generally not prosecuted. A year or so ago, Paramount decided to start enforcing their rights, and now they’re verbotten. Nobody’s making ’em anymore. Nor will they.
 
Now, the slickest bunch making ’em was a semi-pro outfit out of California called “Star Trek Continues.” Despite the actors not looking much like their TOS originals, and some occasionally dodgy production values, it *felt* like Trek. It was really good, but I lost interest. Over 5 years they made about 10 episodes. Their final episode was said to be the last one of the golden age of fan films, the last one anyone could get away with, which just squeaked by under the wire. I decided, ‘what the heck, I’ll give it a shot.’
 
Now, when I was 10, 11, 12, I adored Trek. Obviously I wanted more, but like everyone else of my generation I really wanted “Seasons 4 and 5” more than movies, or spinoffs or whatever, right? Even still, I long ago made peace with the fact that it wasn’t gonna happen. And love TOS like I did, even as a kid I was aware that it had a lot of problems. I wasn’t blind.
 
But you know what I wanted? The thing that was secretly buried in my heart all this time? A hole in me that I never even noticed was empty? To my surprise, it wasn’t *more* Trek, nor more TOS.
 
I wanted a conclusion.
 
I wanted a solid end to the original show. Not a reunion movie, or anything like that. I wanted the Final Voyage of the Starship Enterprise at the end of its Five Year Mission.
 
And I got it. Holy crap, did I get it!
 
“To Boldly Go…” is a two-part episode. Without spoiling it, the Enterprise’ mission is complete, and it’s heading back to earth when it gets called aside to investigate strange goings on. It bookends the entire series, revisiting some of the circumstances of the “Where No Man Has Gone Before…” and there’s an extended callback to “The Enterprise Incident” that works really well, but the story is all new. Those elements simply serve to bring things full circle, to give a very well-earned sense of completion.
 
The sets are flawless, as are the costumes, the script hits all the right ’60s beats (Though with some modern flourishes, and with some ’60s narrative flaws that I think have to be intentional), the soundtrack (Mostly culled from old episodes) is perfect. It is a bang-on production, and honestly I had no difficulty believing this was the final episode of TOS (Which presumably would have aired in the spring of 1971)
 
At some point, about a third of the way through, the continents shifted inside me and this stopped being a fan film, and *became* TOS. It wasn’t about nostalgia, it was about an end to the epic and the epoch that had been dangling and incomplete in my mind these last 40 years. I never noticed, presumably because shows didn’t have finales in those days. They just *stopped.*
 
This, though, more important than ‘more Trek,’ this was the conclusion I’d never known I was missing. At some point, perhaps halfway through, my ten-year-old self showed up, and we watched it together, me remembering what it was like to be that young, and the other me forgetting what it was like to have grown so crusty and cynical about something I’d once loved.
 
So we watched it, and neither of me can say whether it was really objectively all that good. Both of us thought it was, but both of us were far too close to it emotionally to really be sure. In a way it didn’t really matter if it was good or not (Though, again, I think it was very good), rather it was about fixing that leak inside me. It was about closing that door that had been banging in the wind all these decades, and doing it with a sense of contentment and finality.
 
The final scenes set up ST:TMP, but I don’t care about that kind of continuity. It’s well done, but I don’t need it. What I do need is Kirk, Spock, and McCoy standing alone, talking about what happens next.
 
What I needed was Kirk requesting a desk job because he can still see the faces, and remember the names of all 78 people who died while he was captain, and he just can’t throw people’s lives away like that.
 
What I needed was was Bones retiring because “I’ve seen too much death, and I haven’t seen my daughter in five years.”
 
What I needed was a heartbroken Spock retiring to Vulcan because he’s been tainted by human emotion to the point that he just can’t take it anymore.
 
What I needed was these three guys having been *changed* by their voyage, saying goodbye to the people they were when they started, and moving on to the next stages in their lives.
 
What I needed was them coming home. What I needed was me coming home.
 
Trek is done for me now. There is no more. It ended here, now, last night, on Youtube. None of the subsequent stuff exists. This is all I ever wanted without knowing it, all I never knew I needed. It’s done.
 
The episode ended, and rather than the usual music playing over the closing credits they just played the normal background bridge noises. Then that ended, too.
 
Then I sat there in the darkness, staring at the screen in bittersweet silence for a long time, feeling something I hadn’t felt in 30 years, and smiling all the way through, body, mind, and soul. 
 
And then the ten-year-old version of me got up, walked out of the house, and quietly closed and locked the door behind him.

MY DIARY: Day 18,542: “Innocence.”

I’ve been thinking about my dad a little bit lately.

He suffered a traumatic brain injury on Christmas Eve, 2011, and died the day before New Years Eve, so it’s not surprising, I guess.

I never got to grieve for him. My mom is – I’ll be charitable – mentally ill. I have no siblings, no close relatives nearby, so keeping her functional and arranging the funeral and delivering the eulogy and all that stuff fell upon me. I did a good job, I say with no small amount of pride. I don’t take compliments well, and I compliment myself even less, but being thrown in cold into a trauma like that, I think I genuinely did good.

Life got worse after he was gone and, as I said, I never got time to grieve. I almost would, but people were counting on me. I couldn’t afford to let myself to fall apart. There were taxes to settle, corporations to dis-incorporate, estates to settle, things to re-title to my mom, finances to shift. None of this unique, everyone has to do it at some point, I suppose, but in my case if tell on me. I did adequately. I’m great in a crisis, merely ok in an ongoing state of duress. Barely-functional under normal circumstances.

As a result of all this, I feel oddly numb when I think about him. I packed it down so tight, suppressed it so thoroughly, even banishing him from my daydreams. (I daydream a lot). I was very afraid that if I wrote down the things I was feeling – like how it’s been years and I still can’t bring myself to sit in his chair – it would all come flooding out, and I’d be a basket case, and life would get worse for everyone, particularly my mentally-ill mother. And me. I definitely feared it would roll back on me.

A week or so ago my dad turned up in my dreams. Because it was a dream I didn’t remember that he was dead. I just said, “Oh, hi dad,” and he nodded and sat down while I went on about whatever nonsense was going on in the story. Eventually I woke up to go to the bathroom (Because I’m 50), and when I laid back down again, I realized he’d been there. I was suddenly sorry I missed him. Not sad, oddly, but just sorry. I tried to will him back as I drifted off again, but, no luck, he was gone.

Now, I know it wasn’t him. My belief in the supernatural is…measured… at best. I believe in God and an afterlife, but not ghosts or sleepytime messages from beyond the grave. That stuff doesn’t happen. I know full well that whatever goes on in my unconscious mind is a product of my unconscious mind, something I’m telling myself, sometimes with a reason, but mostly just random. I know all that. More importantly, I believe it.

Still, the next morning I was sorry that I had largely ignored him in the dream. Even if it was my own subconscious speaking to me in his voice, it would have been nice to hear his voice again. It’s been so damn long.

Now, anyone who knew my dad could tell you he was a great guy. I called him “A living saint,” and he always bristled at that out of humility, but it’s really hard to stress how great a guy he was, and what a long shadow he’s cast as a result. He was a living Horatio Alger story, only without the creepy understated homoerotic elements.

His family was poor in the Great Depression. His mom ran off when he was three. He was homeless, but managed to survive and be a normal kid. Played with the kids with houses, went to school, slept in a coal cellar. Eventually the state picked him up and put him in an orphanage, which he hated.  My grandfather eventually re-married so he could get custody of his kids back, then the entire family moved to Florida, where the Child Welfare laws were unreasonably lax even then.

They were still dirt poor, but they had a house. My dad took odd jobs, mostly as a delivery boy on his bike, and the family frequently lived off of stuff that washed up on the beach. Eventually he graduated high school, joined the USAF, served out the Korean War, GI Billed his way through college, became an Aerospace engineer, and ended up working for NASA in the Apollo/Skylab glory days.

Then he lost everything because Congress effectively shut down NASA in 1973/4.

He started over again. This time he went into business, and my mom went nuts, and we moved, and working – no joke – sixteen hours a day he managed to build a successful career for himself capable of supporting all of us in nearly-patrician fashion. He could easily have been a millionaire, but his opinion was, “What do you need all that money for? As long as you’re comfortable, isn’t that enough?” He was a deacon at the church, honest to a fault, a great guy. He built his life from scratch *Twice.* The second time in middle age.

He died at Eighty. He looked 60 or 65. He took care of my mom, and he took care of me (I’m mentally ill too, just in a more entertaining fashion than my mom) and while that wasn’t the life he wanted – come on, everyone wants a *normal* family – he never once complained. It was just his lot in life, and he accepted it and worked to make it better.

the impressive details of his life aren’t really why I’m thinking of him, though. I’m thinking of the “Living Saint” quality that he had, and it struck me today that really, he made it through life uncorrupted. He didn’t lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who did. He didn’t hate anyone, and he held true to his values even when they were unpopular. He treated people of all races equally long before that was the norm. He made it through life assuming the best of everyone, and because he so clearly assumed that, most people tried to live up to it. He made life better for the people around him, just by merely being him.

I mean, yeah, he had some negative qualities too, everyone does, but in his case they were trivial.

I’m told the definition of “Saint” comes from the latin word meaning “Set Apart.” If so, that’s definitely my dad. Somehow he made it from one side of life to the other still pure of heart like a child, still full of faith for all the good stuff in life, and still believing in the future. So many people don’t. So many people, like me, just kind of give up. My dad, though? He was a good man from start to finish.

I miss him. I feel numb about him, but when I think about his fundamental goodness, I can feel…something? I’m not sure what, but something more vital than the little glimmerings of all the memories I’ve compressed into a little ball in my soul. I can’t take him out of that ball and look at him, or think about him. It’s been too long. I couldn’t grieve now even if I had the option to. I’ve grown coarse and gnarled and complicated and sad and self-loathing in ways he never did. That opportunity is shot, and will not return.

But when I think about how good he was, it always makes me smile.

That’s not much, I know. It’s enough, though. For now, anyway.

Mentally Ill Relative Freakout (Diary. Day 18,505)

I’ve written before about how difficult it is to take care of a mentally ill relative. I don’t recall if I mentioned that I, myself, am mentally ill as well, but if not, big surprise: I’m nuts.  As you can imagine this exacerbates matters considerably.

One of these is that it’s very easy to spiral out of control. You have to keep a very tight rein on yourself, stay stoical, don’t get engaged. Don’t get happy when the person in your charge praises you, don’t get unhappy when they curse you, because both will happen a lot.

If you let yourself get up, you will sure as shooting get bitchslapped down, it it will hurt twice as bad because you fell twice as far. If you let yourself feel anything when they attack you, or attack people you love, then you just have to have thick skin about it. Distract them, or find an excuse to leave without being too obvious about it, or go to a secret dreamland that you’ve developed. (In my case it’s a domed version of Progress City on the planet Venus. I like Venus. It’s more interesting than Mars, and gets no love)

The hardest part is when they attack people you love, particularly if they’re prone to perseverating on it. “That thing they did,” comes up again and again and again, and if you ask them not to talk about it, they talk about it twice as much and accuse you of never wanting to talk about stuff, about trying to hide things, about how your loved one is going behind your back and doing stuff that you don’t know about, they talk about things that happened fifteen years ago as if they happened yesterday.

It’s all paranoid bullshit, but whereas you can take attacks on yourself on the chin and come back for more, your every instinct is to protect the ones you love. Those attacks hurt three times as bad, so it’s hard not to give in to rage.

The black joke of all this is that if you do give in, if it just accumulates, and you snap, the mentally ill person won’t understand it at all. You can scream and shout and cry and their perspective is so completely skewed that they will not be able to attach effect to cause. They can’t tie your anger/hysteria/sadness/tears to anything they’ve done.

And if you cite bad things they did in the past, odds are they don’t remember it. Let’s say someone used to beat you up 45 years ago, but they’re nuts and have had many nervous breakdownds and are very ego-centonic, they just don’t remember it. Or they remember it in some skewed fashion. Confronting them about it brings you nothing, no peace, no resolution, no apologies.

You may have been hiding under your bed while they stomped around threatening to beat the shit out of you and then throw you out of the house, or terrified when they abandoned you in a parking lot, and because you were a little kid it was the most traumatic, horrible thing in the world. To them it was just another Tuesday, though, nothing remarkable to stick in their mind. If they’ve got a for-shit memory to begin with, it’s even worse. So why bring it up? Why bring anything up? Why get mad? It simply scares them and accomplishes nothing because they’re fucking nuts, and can’t understand even normal things.

I’ve been caring for a mentally ill relative for six years now, and last night I snapped. It’s my fault. I let myself get elated. I took the lid off my Bipolar Disorder and let it boil over, because I was happy and excited about something,  and then it all got slapped away and I fell, and I was very depressed. Then the crazy person started attacking one of my loved ones, the same damn thing that had been said a million times before, and I just snapped.

I screamed, I cursed, I used very foul language, I shook my finger, I fell to the ground crying, I lost it. The dam burst. All the vile, black stuff in me came out in one big flood that horrified me, and merely confused them. Occasionally they grasped enough of it to understand it was a criticism, and then did the big baby defense move of “Well, if I’m saying the wrong thing, then you just never need to worry about me talking again, because clearly I can’t talk,” or whatever “Woe is me” move they think will make them seem like the victim instead of the instigator. Their apologies are mostly just to shut you up, and they don’t know what they’re apologizing for in the first place. It’s circular.

And I suppose at some point you *are* attacking. At some point it probably becomes mean. I never hit anyone in my life, I back away from arguments, I didn’t hit or threaten anyone last night, but at some point in the torrent you want to make them feel as badly as you do. They did this to you, after all. It’s only fair that they should feel the despair and hopelessness and crushing weight that comes from caring for them every day for two thousand one hundred and ninety one days, sometimes driving down to their house three times a day for several days in a row, suffering abuse and just the weight of having someone who’s constantly sick, constantly complaining, constantly finding something miserable to complain about, someone with little or no empahty, who’s driven away all their own friend and relatives, so that there is literally *no one* but yourself for them to rely on.

It wears down your empathy. You still love them, but it gets harder and harder to care about them. And you look forward and see no end in sight. They could live another ten years, fifteen, and it will never be normal. It’ll never stop. It will never, never, never stop. It’s very exhausting physically and emotionally and spiritually and psychologically, and stressful. Oh boy is it stressful. I have a diagnosis of PTSD. I got that from caring for this relative. Entirely from that. Rapid Cycling Manic Depressive guy with PTSD. That’s a winning combination, right?

If that’s not bad enough, there’s a spillover effect on your family. They see you miserable all the time, and they get to feeling bad, too. You’re away from home for hours a day taking care of the lunatic, which means less time to spend with the people you love. They get sad, they miss you. It fucks up their lives as well. If you’re self-loathing, like I am, then that’s a huge burden as well, and it hurts the people you love.

But what can you do? You can’t abandon the crazy relative. That would be cruel. So you just keep taking it on the chin, and packing down all your anger and resentment in a little ball, fighting to keep it from getting out. And then, every few years it does. And then you spend the next six months trying to fix it.

So that was my friday night. How’s by you guys?

MY DIARY: Day 18,263 (My 50th Birthday)

This will come as a shock to no one, but I am sad today. I’m not as bad as I was 2 or 3 days ago, where I was just a wreck of a human being, but I have started crying on two different occasions today, and started to tear up on another.  There was also a minor health crisis that made me freak out and go all hypochondriacal. I’ve done well with that of late. I haven’t gotten scared about being sick and dying for probably going on six months. Came back today, though. Better now, but, hey, what better way to celebrate your utter waste of a life than freaking out at a blister, right?  I think Ovid wrote about that. Or maybe it was that English/playwrite who wasn’t Shakespeare, but I can’t remember his name right now.

I suspect my recovery from decades of hypochondria comes from not really caring if I live or die. I mean, I’m not suicidal or anything, but…this is too personal to discuss in a public forum. I’m sorry. I’ve been deliberately wasting your time.

Bacon. His name was Bacon.

My Diary: Day 18,198: In which I realize I’m Overwhelming

I realized yesterday that I’m overwhelming. Not in the “Oh, he’s so wonderful,” sense, but more in the “Randy is exhausting, and I just can’t deal with him,” sense.

There’s any number of examples: I’ve been in and out of bands and writing songs and making music since 1988. Why? When I started out, obviously, I hoped I’d get a big break and be a rock star. Everyone does. By 1990 or 91 I’d realized that wasn’t going to happen, but I kept on doing it. Most of my friends had already given up on that sort of thing by then, but I kept going.

My goal? Never clear. Mostly, I think I just wanted to include a song or two on the mix tapes I sent my friends to let ’em know I was still doing this. I never did, of course, because making music and recording it are very different, and recording it in 1991 was way harder than now.

Oh, and let’s take the mix tapes, shall we? I made ’em. I made a lot of them. I was very interested in very many very different kinds of music, so I made mix tapes that I sent my friends. Two or three a year. If you were unlucky enough to be my girlfriend or on the shortlist of best friends, you got more than that. We called it “The Randy Records and Tapes Club.” Eventually I switched to CD.  I slowed down a bit, to one or two a year.

I got less and less response every time, and had to keep needling people to find out what they though of “Astronauts,” by “Desk,” featuring backing vocals by Aimee Mann, or a long-lost They Might Be Giants B-Side, or a Cold Water Army song or an unfinished Roy Orbison track or my Ska obsession or what have you. Oh, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins! I don’t think anyone on the planet likes him but me, and BOY was I vocal about it.

Finally, around 2007 I sent out a really good double-disk mix, and I didn’t hear back from anyone. Not a peep. When I pressed, I was angrily told that it was just too much, that we were all 30-ish now, and weren’t interested in hearing new crap, and please knock it off. Depressing.

So I knocked it off. I started actually recording my own music, and eventually started putting it on youtube and nobody cares. If I get 13 views, that’s exceptionally popular for me. Again, if I push people, they get mad. “Nobody wants to listen to your stupid songs about Ocelots, or your weird-ass instrumentals, Randy!” Depressing.

Oh, and I write. A lot. I always have. I was head writer for Republibot for five years, and no one cared. When I quit, it folded, and nobody cared. I have this site you’re reading, and I’d be surprised if 5 people read it a month. I also had a fanzine (“Rampant Boingophrenia”) and eventually another one for heretical religious matters called “Sacrilege, Ho!” (Obviously I put a few of these online eventually) and my endless movie reviews and chat rooms and stuff. Nobody cared about any of this. Actually, I was irritating and/or scaring them. Depressing.

Then I started writing books, and NOBODY wants to have anything to do with you if you’re self-publishing books. Seriously: your friends who’ve talked about that novel for 25 years, but never actually got around to it hate you. People who actually write ignore you because they’re busy writing. People who don’t care about such things find it pretentious. People who do care about such things generally have more interesting stuff to check out than my nonsense.

Yeah, you might get a couple people who will buy the first book out of politeness, and never read it, or skim it and give you a nice “It had a good beat, and you can dance to it” review on Amazon, but after that, you’re done. I’ve got, what, eight books, seven of which are pretty good, and one of which is terrible. (No, seriously: It’s my crappy poetry. Stay away from that one) I’ve got four more in various stages of completion that I hope to have out this year.

That’s a lot of stuff! Nobody cares. Depressing.

Added to which I am reputed to be (As one person put it) a “Vigorous conversationalist.” What that boiled down to is (As another person put it), “Requiring way too much energy to talk to.” I can see that. I probably am a lot of work. I never talk about normal stuff like sports. I’m always on about whether or not Saul of Tarsus was part of the Herodian Royal Family, or my latest project that no one cares about, or what I’d do if I was making Galactica for a third time.

So, bottom line: I’m overwhelming. I produce more stuff than people can keep up with. And people don’t want to keep up with it. They want to read Dan Brown novels and listen to whatever was popular whenever they were in High School, and not have me wildly speculating about theology, or the Apollo program, or why Venus is better than Mars for colonization.

AND I CAN NOT FAULT THEM FOR THAT.

Nor do I. Maybe 1 or 2 percent of people are really interested in the giddy thrill of thinking or experiencing or seeing or hearing new things after their 20s. We’re all pretty set in our ways by the time we hit 50. We’re actually neurologically wired to enjoy learning less by that point: We’re supposed to have learned everything we need to by then. I never felt like I’ve learned anything.

This is not arrogance or elitism on my part. I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else. I’m just a flibbertigibbet. I chase after any new shiny object or idea that catches my eye, and I talk about it. A *LOT* Way too much. It’s my failing, not theirs. I don’t have a lot of impulse control in that regard.

OH, and I forgot to mention my mood swings. My mania and depression, and frequent unpredictable behavior. That’s tiresome as well.

So the bottom line here is that I’m just exhausting.

I get that now. I really do. I’m not depressed about it or anything, I’ve just finally identified the problem, and I’m a little excited about that.

The question, then, is what I do about it.

I got no clue. Please sound off if you’ve got any ideas.

MY DIARY: Day 18,214 – A Landmine of Pointless Nostalgia

I cleaned out a storage space this week, and found a shoebox of old crap that had been stuck on the bulletin board above the desk in my bedroom when I was in high school and college. When my mom reclaimed the room and turned it into her crafts den, they took down the board, and (Surprisingly) put all the 20-25 year old crap from it in the shoebox, which I’m now looking through a decade later.

Still rooting through it. A lot of it is standard bulleting board crap: newspaper clippings, old “Far Side” comics, some band pins, concert and movie ticket stubs, pictures of people I can’t recognize or remember, some “Go, Cougars!” high school crap, a couple short notes from friends, a lot of ROTC stuff, a couple things from church that jumped out at me. directions to a girlfriend’s house, a wide assortment of name badges from minimum wage jobs. Also, curiously, my college class ring.

The most interesting thing was a note I wrote the night before I started college and hid inside a fedora that I then nailed to the wall. (I had this cheap fedora that I wore everywhere my senior year. I retired it the day after graduation and nailed it to the wall. At the end of summer, I wrote this note, folded it up, shoved it in the hat, and forgot about it.

I’m not nostalgic by nature, but it is still kind of interesting to know that I saw Howard Jones on Friday, October 4th, 1985 (It cost me 14 bucks. “Go West” was supposed to open, but they didn’t show). Or that I saw the USF Theater Department’s produciotn of “The Poor of New York,” a play I have no memory of, on February 12th, 1988 (That seems like probably a date thing to impress a girl). Or, hey, where were you on July 26th, 1987? Well, I was down in Largo going to a pre-release test screening of “The Lost Boys.” I still have the survey card.

Anyway…into the trash with most of this crap.

RIP Gene Cernan, RIP Apollo

MY DIARY, Day 2096: It was Thursday, December 7th, 1972. My mom and dad and I, and a million of our closest personal friends, were standing along the banks of the Bananna river. It was long after dark. It was cold, the river stank, as usual, and it was crowded. My dad had long since given up me staying awake and standing, so he just carried me.

It was the night of the launch of Apollo 17, the last of the missions to the moon. Gene Cernan, who died yesterday, was in command of the mission. Back then, he was thirty-eight and I was five. (Going on six) I grew up in Cocoa Beach, and my dad worked for NASA at the Cape, so launches were commonplace in those days. I couldn’t really understand why this one was significant, why I couldn’t just go home and go to bed.

Then, around half past midnight: Ignition. The engines were the brightest thing I’d ever seen, brighter than the noonday sun, brighter than anything but a small atomic bomb. It went from a black Florida night to dazzling and hard to focus in perhaps a second. I remember roosters started to crow. I remember fish started flopping around in the river, thinking it was daytime. I remember a million breaths sucking in all at once in awe, and I remember the sound hitting us an instant later.

The Saturn V was – and remains – the most impressive rocket ever built, and the way things are going, it’ll probably stay that way. Tall as a 36 story building, six million pounds, it lept up quick – don’t be fooled by all that slo-mo footage you see on The History Channel, rockets are fast! – and tore off downrange. The intensity of light quickly faded to day-normal, and then we had an odd kind of second nightfall where it all faded to blackness again, with everyone standing around blinking and cheering with purple spots in our eyes. It had been the only night launch of the program. Decades later, I found out that it had been clearly visible as far away as North Carolina,  as far south as Haiti!

APOLLO 17 LIFTOFF FROM KSC. 12/7/72. REF: 108-KSC-72PC-42

I also remember the drive home. We lived less than ten miles from the Cape, but attendance for the final launch had been larger than any in NASA history, excepting Apollo 11, which sent Armstrong to the moon not quite four years before. So quick an age, so long a drive home. There’s probably a metaphor in that if you want to hunt for one.

It was total gridlock the entire way, with hundreds of thousands of cars on roads never intended to hold tens of thousands. I remember the white leather seats in the back of my dad’s car, trying to curl up and go to sleep, but it was so cold, and we hadn’t thought to bring a blanket. That drive seemed to go on forever, stop, start, stop, start, endlessly being jostled awake, irritated as hell.

Though I’d seen all of the Saturn V launches with my own eyes, I don’t consciously remember any of them, except for the last. Again, there’s probably a metaphor in there if you want to poke around.

Decades later, I developed a fascination for Apollo 17 for the same reasons we’re always fascinated by the last of some animal going extinct. In particular I grew more and more interested in Cernan. It was the end of an age. Though there have been sime impressive things in space since, nothing we’ve done in the years since has matched, or even come close to matching, the Apollo program, and that last launch was the most ambitious of all. When it was done, when they returned home about two weeks later, we went from actual physical explorers to voyeurs, gawkers, people who send robots off to do man’s work. It’s cheaper, safer, but dammit, it isn’t sexy. It’s not strapping a rocket to your ass and riding fire. Sure, hundreds of people have done that to get into space, to endlessly tool around in orbit for whatever reason, but even that isn’t nearly so cool as riding fire to actually get somewhere. 

APOLLO 17 LIFTOFF FROM KSC. 12/7/72. REF: 108-KSC-72PC-42

“Everyone remembers firsts, no one remembers lasts,” I wrote in one of my stories, “Everyone can tell you who the first man on the moon was, but nobody can tell you the last.” Well I can, it was Gene Cernan. It’s been 44 years since he left. I despair of anyone ever going again. The past is a country. The past is a lost continent, drowned by seas of time. The brave new world is past, and this timid age dares little.

Gene Cernan died the other day. He was 84, I was 49. A door slammed shut for me. There are other moonwalkers still alive, that’s not the point. Not to me, anyway. To me, Gene Cernan – moreso than Yuri Gagarin or Neil Armstrong – was the high water mark of the golden age of space exploration. He went to the most remote location of any of the six landings, he stayed the longest, he left last. He was the end. The last man, the last rocket, the last to strive, the last to try, the last, period.

Here’s a story about him I’ve heard, which may be apocryphal: He’d promised his daughter that he’d writer her name in the soil on the moon, where it would stay undisturbed for millions of years. In the massive workload and tight schedule of the mission, however, he forgot. He said that for the next 30 or so years, he couldn’t look at the moon without getting angry at himself for not doing it. I always thought that was cute.

Can I tell you a secret? My fascination with him led to me using a not-very-accurate version of him as a recurring character in some of my stories. If you’ve ever read any of my stuff, and noticed a slightly-manic grey-haired old guy named “Gene” turning up, that’s him. None of my characters ever say his last name, of course, though there’s plenty of clues. If you haven’t read any of my stuff, he figures most prominently in my novella, “Home Again,” and in my unexpectedly controversial short story, “The Cetian Sky.” He turns up here and there elsewhere and gets namechecked a few times, but he’s front and center in those two.

In the real world, Gene Cernan was every inch the hero. In my fictional world, where history followed a somewhat different road, I turned him into a full-on Moses of the Space Age. It just seemed appropriate somehow.

MY DIARY: Day 18,138 (Election day)

Me: “Hey, welcome home!”
Her: “Thanks. Well, I just voted.”
Me: “Did you go for the clown or the shrew?”
Her: “Neither. I stood in line for 45 minutes to write in ‘Nixon.'”
Me: [Pause] “Are you kidding me?”
Her: “Nope. I voted Nixon/Agnew.”
Me: “Oh my God, honey, I have never been so proud!”
Her: “I also wrote in my own name for County Mosquito Control Commissioner.”
Me: “Someone gets a hug!”

DIARY: Day 7418

In the summer of 1987 I worked the swing shift at the Home Shopping Network. Start at Midnight, get out at 8:30 AM, get home around 9:30 eat breakfast, and go to bed until around 8 PM.

The only thing on TV when I was eating was “The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin,” which I watched because, much like the target audience, I like bright colors and stories that won’t interest me enough to keep me awake. Now, unlike nearly all cartoons aimed at little kids in those days, it actually had a serialized storyline. Each episode ended in a cliffhanger, which was resolved in the start of the next episode. So I watched this sort of absently while eating corn flakes for, I dunno, 60 days? 90? Most of the summer.

Then one day I missed an episode.

I was livid. I was furious. I was hat-stomping mad (And this was the 80s, so people wore hats) I mean, the Fobs were in a really bad way at the end off the last episode, and Grubby wasn’t able to save them, and it all looked pretty dire, and I DIDN’T GET TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED!

It nagged at me. All day long I was stomping around like I was gonna deck someone. If anyone asked me what was wrong, I’d spill out strings of incoherent mumbles that sounded like “Mumble mumble mumble goddamn mumble f-cking Teddy Ruxpin mumple mumble bastard mumble mumble misterable son of a bitch Fobs mumble mumble mumble sh_t, goddamnit!” And while I don’t think I broke down in tears at any point, the option was certainly on the table.

That night at HSN on the phones, while taking orders, I asked the callers (Mostly 90 year old ladies calling to buy capodemonte soup tureens and what have you) if they’d happened to catch Teddy that morning, until my manager got really really mad at me.

During my 10th or 12th hyperprofane outburst it suddenly struck me that I was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too involved in all this and that, in a larger sense, I was watching way the hell too much TV.

I decided then and there that my new years resolution would be to watch no TV whatsoever for a year. It kicked in four months later, and I actually kept it: I watched no TV whatsoever that next year. Fortunately, it was 1988 so there was nothing good on anyway.