Monday, July 20, 2009

Regularly Scheduled Programming

I must have been as excited about it as everyone else. After all, a cardboard model of the lunar module, some give-away from the gas station, hung from the light over my bed so that I could fall asleep gazing up at it. I remember helping my father put it together, by which I mean watching my father put it together while I jumped up and down. My favorite toys were space toys: Matt Mason figures, the Colorforms outer space men, one from each planet. I must have been excited the week of the moon shot, but 40 years later that's not what I remember.

What I remember is being sick of it before it happened. This was the first event of my life that featured nonstop television coverage, and the first event of my life that I experienced entirely through television, and although I wanted to watch the landing and walk on the moon, I was completely confused by the pre-emption of all my cherished programs for four straight days. They left Earth on Thursday, July 16. I didn't realize beforehand that going to the moon would mean missing two days of Dark Shadows and almost an entire Saturday of cartoons. By Sunday I just wanted them to get there already and get it over with so that my 5 year-old life could get back to normal.

I must have been alseep by the time the Eagle landed Sunday night. My father got me up to watch Neil Armstrong descend from the module. I know I saw the whole thing live, but what I remember is not Armstrong's famous words but Walter Cronkite, so excited I thought he was maybe about to cry. Walter Cronkite, taking off his glasses and saying, "Oh boy!" Forty years later the lesson I remember is not about technology and aspiration and innovation and greatness but instead that the way we know what is important is because not only our fathers but the TV tells us so. Even half-asleep I knew that if Walter Cronkite was moved, I should be moved.

Events with far-reaching implications swirled around that moon weekend. I have no memory of any of them. No memory of Vietnam, probably because my extended family contained no draft-age men. Woodstock several weeks later meant nothing. My mother was 39, my father 46. They listened to show tunes. There was no counterculture in my household. While the astronauts frolicked and planted a flag my mother was realizing that she was pregnant with my sister, another thing I knew nothing about at the time. All I knew, as my father lifted me in his arms to carry me back to bed, was that this particular event had finally transpired, and that the next day Dark Shadows would resume its regularly scheduled programming.

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