Sunday, July 21, 2019

a moment in the day: moon

It's 7:54 on July the 20th, 2019, and I'm sitting in front of my laptop computer in the thick air-conditioner air, waiting for the big moment.

I had set my iPhone alarm clock so I wouldn't forget to watch at just the right time. Fifty years ago right now—or two minutes from now—Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon.

I have a Youtube video all ready to go. So I can watch the moment on my laptop  (a thing Neil Armstrong never knew about when he was walking around on the moon) via the internet (a thing Neil Armstrong never knew about when he was walking around on the moon). I googled the exact time and then used the internet to convert Coordinated Universal Time to Pacific Daylight Time (there are a lot of things I did tonight that would have blown Neil Armstrong's mind back when he was walking around on the moon) so I'd know exactly when I would need to be watching this thing in order to honor my membership in the American Society of Nerds (if there were such a thing, Neil Armstrong would surely have been a member).

I click the play arrow. I throw it into full screen mode.

The muddy, contrasty video opens up on what is apparently NASA: three big screens taking up most of my screen, the middle one showing a huge map in alien neon greens, and in the lower corner a spread of small computer consoles with men working at them, bathed in mauve. A muffled voice says, "Neil, this is Houston, loud and clear."

My nerd heart leaps.

I watch the little figures at their mauve computers move at the bottom of my computer, and then one of the big screens before them blinks. My computer blinks from the earth to the moon. The color disappears and it's all black and white and gray. Shapes that mean nothing to my eyes.

A voice says, "And we're getting a picture on the TV."

The first images I see from the moon are upside down. I only know this because the voice on the TV tells me so. When they flip right side up, I still don't know what I'm seeing—just gray, contrasty shapes—until something starts to move and I start to make out what's going on. It's Neil Armstrong's shape emerging from the rocket.

I was born on June 14th, 1969. Mom and Dad always say they held me up to the TV so I could watch. Of course I have no memory of it. I have no memory, even, of the last telling of that story. Who was it who held me up? Mom or Dad? Whenever I think about the story, it's always "we" in my head. Was I fussy or quiet? Did my eyes connect with the shapes on our TV or was I looking off elsewhere? What was I wearing? I mean, I was just over a month old. Was I naked? Was I mooning them watching their man on the moon?

On my computer, Neil Armstrong is descending the ladder. As he steps down onto the surface of the moon, I don't know exactly what time it is because I'm in full-screen mode—it could still be 7:55, it could have nudged past to 7:57. I watch the almost indistinguishable shapes of rocket ladder and spaceman. His big, bulbous space helmet. "It's one small step for man," he says, and I wonder, did he practice this speech in front of the mirror as he was shaving in the morning before takeoff? "One giant leap for mankind."

"I think that was Neil's quote," the TV voice says, "I didn't understand it."

I think the thing that has always stuck with me about the moon landing, personally, beyond the wonder of humans first doing this thing that was so seemingly impossible and magical, is that my parents held me up to see it, that the moment for them was as much about their first baby as it was the near reaches of outer space.

Or I could be projecting a little.

I pick up Nicholas and hold him up to my laptop screen as Neil Armstrong walks around on the moon. Nicholas is unimpressed.

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