Wednesday, January 22, 2014

No. 134 – Do It Again

Performer: Steely Dan
Songwriters: Walter Becker, Donald Fagen
Original Release: Can’t Buy a Thrill
Year: 1972
Definitive Version: None.

A long time ago, I mentioned my first trip to Florida a much longer time ago to stay at my grandparents’ condominium in New Smyrna Beach (good ol’ No. 824). The little things stood out about that trip—walks on the beach, the arcade at the end of the street, hearing Living in the Past in the car while driving to the condo, hearing this song at the arcade.

But we certainly did big things, too, on that trip. That was the whole point of going, after all: We had a free place to stay to visit all the tourist attractions that drew vacationers to Florida in the first place.

We did Marineland and Disney World, which still was fairly new in 1973. Disney World, of course, is big for any kid, and I remember loving the Haunted Mansion and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. What I remember most about that trip, however, was the Kennedy Space Center, then known as Cape Kennedy.

If you’re a male about my age, chances are you were into the space program as a boy. I certainly was. I remember Apollo 11. I remember Apollo 13 more, as I mentioned, but I remember the Apollo 11 mission. I remember the Gemini program before. I had posters of the moon and the solar system in my bedroom. I had a Saturn V rocket model, complete with lunar module, on my dresser. So going to Cape Kennedy, where they launched all of the missions into outer space, was huge.

It was strictly a guys trip, just me and Dad. It was a gray, overcast day. There were two parts to our visit: a tour of the museum and a bus tour of the compound. I’d been to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, so I was used to seeing aircraft and rockets. It still was cool to see the capsule replicas, but that was nothing like seeing the moon rock behind the glass.

I’m not one of those idiots who believe that the lunar landings were faked. Seeing something that came from the moon up in the sky every night was almost beyond comprehension, even as a boy with an active imagination. Wow, we went up there and got that piece of rock. It doesn’t get any cooler than that.

With that in mind, if I may digress a bit, why the Hell don’t we spend more on our space program? I’m sorry, but turning over control of outer space to private enterprise and other nations is an extraordinarily bad idea.

I mean, we can drop a couple trillion on an unnecessary war in Iraq that benefitted no one except a few corporations connected to Dick Cheney, but we can’t spend more than a half-penny of every tax dollar on NASA? I got news for you: NOTHING we’ve done as a nation since World War II advanced our nation’s ideals and brought the nation together more than landing a man on the moon. (And that’s laying aside the practical and economic benefits the space program brought us.)

After we put a man on the moon, we kind of lost our way without a clear goal. It became more important to cut taxes for the wealthy and boost military might. The NASA budget was cut drastically, which led to cutting corners, which led to the Challenger, which for all intents and purposes ended the space program. Everyone talks about the malaise under Carter, but if you want to trace the origins of our nation’s downturn, a better place to start might be that terrible February day in 1986. On that day, we stopped looking outward.

Well that was far in the future in February 1973. Yes, the Apollo program had just ended, but NASA had a lot going on. Skylab was about to launch, and the space shuttle was just around the corner. I was plenty excited to be at Cape Kennedy.

Dad seemed to be less so. I mean, he liked aircraft and spacecraft (and building models for me) as much as the next father, but as we began our bus tour of the launch sites, he got pretty quiet. Before long, he had his eyes closed as though he were napping. I could tell he wasn’t feeling well.

I was right. We came home, and he went to bed for the rest of the day. I didn’t know it at the time, but Dad told me many years later what happened that day was that he had his first wallbanger—his first cluster headache.

What I also didn’t know at the time was that I was glimpsing my own future. Sure enough, at about the same age that Dad was when he took me to Cape Kennedy—32—I had my first face-melter in the middle of L.A. Confidential.

Ironically, like the nation was about to regarding the space program, Dad turned inward, and the day now is marked in my history book more for personal significance than societal. It’s time to start looking outward again.

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