My father’s downstairs in his red burlap wall papered study watching Walter Cronkite talk about the astronauts descent onto the moon.
Their radar isn’t good; their radar is good. My father’s watching as if it’s the holy grail.
I’m supposed to be excited about this? Really?
I have known that we were going to land on the moon since I was in second grade, and Sputnik went into space. It’s totally boring. We could use the money to somehow get out of Viet Nam, and for the new social welfare programs. But today I couldn’t care about any of that.
Yesterday was my 19th birthday. My mother considers her daughters’ birthdays to be more important than any national holiday but Thanksgiving.
Though I’m living in the dorms this summer, my mother insisted that I come home this weekend.
Last night we went to La Fonda Del Sol, in The Time Life Building in the city, for my birthday dinner. We ordered seafood paella from the pre-theater menu, otherwise known as the only menu our family gets to see. It’s a prix fixe (fixed price) meal with three limited selection courses.
.My parents haven’t met my on and off boyfriend Noah, yet, and, told me to invite him. I knew he would make up some truly lame excuse so I never invited him. We’re going out for Chinese and to see Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliette. That will be my true birthday celebration.
We’ve been seeing each other, three weeks on and three weeks off (I’ve worked it out) since the beginning of my freshman year last September.
Only where is he? He’s already hours late. I don’t want to call his house again to hear the pained sound in his mother’s voice as she thinks I’m the best thing to happen to her son since he skipped third grade.
I could call his best friends but don’t want him to think I’m desperate. Though we all know I am.
I’m wearing a vintage deep blue rayon dress with small flowers and shoulder pads that I got at Bogie’s in The East Village for half price—$5.00 because I let Bogie tongue kiss me. My mother hates my wardrobe, and she doesn’t even know all the dresses have been sealed with a kiss.
My mother doesn’t know what to make for dinner as she and my father were going to have a cold dinner of shav (sorrel soup) and tuna fish after I left. She wants what she calls a festive dinner. Like everyone in the free world, except for me, my parents were planning on being home tonight.
Fortunately the freezer burn queen of Long Island can open the freezer, and find enough food for ten blizzards and twelve monsoons, all carefully marked with the name of the dish, and the date it was put in the freezer.
It doesn’t matter if she put in bagels that morning; it will have freezer burn. It’s an incredible skill.
She takes out left over homemade chicken marsala and vegetarian chili for my father. He’s not a vegetarian though he aspires to be one in his next life. I was a vegetarian in high school, and he happily took me to the one health food store in Nassau County. Life, college, and severe anemia got in the way.
He sneaks out to Carvel for an ice cream birthday cake.
My father, who claims to hate TV except for Johnny Carson, can’t be pulled away from the TV. Historic events are the only reason TV is allowed during the day.
Every. Damn. Moment. is exciting to him. The way he’s going I figure he will have a stroke by the time they actually walk on the moon.
“Don’t you know?” I want to scream, “I finally have a date for my birthday and he’s standing me up.” But of course I don’t.
My father wasn’t excited that I was going out. Unlike last year when they almost physically forced me not to go to the Chicago Convention, he can’t tell me not to go out. Though they can tell me when to come home. They don’t abuse that privilege so I don’t drag and scream when they ask me to. Well, some of the time.
Noah has two things going for him. He’s Jewish, and he’s going to school a couple hundred miles away in the fall.
By 10:30 PM the astronauts begin to prepare for the moonwalk and I realize that I have been stood up.
I don’t want to watch the moonwalk with my father. I want to be back in school.
I tell my parents that Noah has been unavoidably detained. It sounds stupid even to me. To make this sound more plausible I have a friend call me on my phone line.
Sometimes I wish that my parents were a bit less intelligent, and, would buy stories even I have a hard time telling. Because it is my birthday weekend, they pretend to believe me. My mother goes to their bedroom.
I want to go to bed but my father begins screaming. Sometimes I think screaming at me is my father’s favorite activity.
“What’s the matter with you, Pia? You used to care so much about the world. I could talk to you about anything. You were fascinating.
I don’t care what your interests are. Join the SDS, hell, The Black Panthers. Do anything that involves the world around you. Care. When did you stop caring? I never knew anybody who could make the history of Indians in Mexico interesting before you.
You were the most compassionate, caring, involved person I knew. I was so proud to be your father. You knew more than people three times your age. I could take you anywhere, and people would find you amazing.
Now you spend your time with all those freaks. Now you’re boy crazy. What happened?”
He’s talking so fast and screaming so loud I’m scared he’s going to have a stroke.
Too much of my life is spent scared my father’s going to have a stroke. I would never say that.
I’m angry. But I can’t answer him. A little little part of me knows that he’s right.
I won’t let him know that. I’m right also. I just turned 19. Life is better than I could have imagined. I hate Noah. If he asks me to go anywhere I will say no.
There’s going to be a music festival in a month. At least five people (OK, boys) have asked me to go. Maybe I will.
My father and l sit in that damn red burlap wallpapered study, and watch until Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong respond to President Nixon’s phone call slightly before 3 AM.
I just watched history. Can’t deny that. I’m angry at my father; angry at that Byronic idiot who stood me up. Just angry.
“Good night, daddy. Going to drive me to school tomorrow?” I finally say. He nods yes, says “good night, sweetie” and kisses my forehead before we go upstairs to our rooms.
This is creative nonfiction. According the NASA timeline Apollo 11 landed on July 20th and the moonwalk was on the early morning hours of July 21st. I used this as my guide.
According to the presidential library the moonwalk happened on my birthday and thus everything would have been pushed up two days.
I know this not to be true as I would have claimed all responsibility for “one small step for man…”
A Google search of other primary and secondary sources usually shows the landing to be on July 20th and the moonwalk in the early morning hours of July 21st.
I screwed up the timeline as I totally forgot to factor in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time–more commonly known as London time) It’s four hours ahead of EDT (Eastern Daylight Time.) This is why no matter how great you are at editing and fact checking–you need an editor and fact checker for your own work and the only reason I don’t like blogging.