Saturday, January 9, 2016

7660. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 126)

(pt. 126)
I don't know how much the world has changed
since October 4, 1957. I know that I have changed
a lot, but even there I really can't say how or why. 
It's all just too personal and particular  - in its ways,
different for each of us. And so what. That was the
day of the first space shot, when 'Sputnik', was put
into orbit by the Soviet Union. It circled the Earth
once every hour and thirty-six minutes. I guess I
had just turned 9. It was a Friday, this launching,
and it was a v-e-r-y big deal. Probably too difficult
for me to get across to you now, but the world was
completely altered. Time was stopped. Time became
a countdown, to an event we'd missed, or lost. The only
thing which counted as time, for those hours, was time 
as only the idea of an hour and thirty-six minutes. An
hour and thirty-six minutes. As if it became eternal.
We looked up. We stood out on our lawns, with all our 
paddy-cake sisters and mothers and brothers, craning
our necks for the little, blinking, traveling white light
high up in the sky. The sky which was no longer ours.
The sky which they called another's now. Oh no!
You had to be there. It would be, perhaps in today's
world, as if Kenya had taken over the Internet, taken 
ownership on all cars and vehicles, claimed all ports 
and highways, and shut all tunnels. That's kind of
how bizarrely not-right, upside-down, and earth-
shattering it was. On our lawns, the talk was of death  -  
fire raining from the sky, weapons, atomic bombs;
everything 'wrong' a Russian could do. It was their
sky now and we were dead ducks. Doom and the
destruction that went with it was now wearing suits,
no longer sloppy Soviet clothes. All was new. If one 
was a teacher, from that night on the message of 
teaching had to be renewal. If one was a preacher, 
from that night on the preached message had to 
be one of salvation AND renewal, combined. 
Resuscitation. Survival. Anything opposite to
Death. We were cooked.
Of course, it probably wasn't like that at all, but that
was the feeling it all imparted. Mobilization. Panic.
Fear. Hiding under desks now, for TWO purposes :
the bomb, and its offshoot  -  the Russian mastery of 
the skies. There was suddenly no other way to live,
but in a blind terror, a doubled-up impetus to fight
back and again make things right. Everything was
illusion, and this turnabout proved it. To my mind, 
standing out there in the street, looking up, it was as
if The Twilight Zone itself had prophesied all of this
and then all of it had come to be. I was unsure of what
to make of anything. I don't remember talking to anyone
about this. My own world was twisted : space cadets
and Buck Rogers, gone mad. Men, no longer chained
to their tiny planet, apparently, had now to reinvent
everything. People began to believe everything  -  a 
public as crazed as it was gullible became an awful 
monster, and a screaming parody of itself. Nothing
was safe, not even a book, not pen, not paper. There
was no more common sense : believe me I tried. An
object, set into space  -  where there had never before
been any human experience (which is what common
sense, after all, is based upon)  -  faced conditions so
unlike anything we'd ever before been told. The world 
crumbled, and all its 'taught to us' facts and its told
vulnerabilities became suddenly meaningless. It was 
truly a national existential moment. It was the start 
of America's late madness. I ask you to just think 
of the thoughts that went spinning in my head : In 
space, there is no air to breathe or to sustain flight 
or prevent liquids from boiling away, objects have 
no weight, and things that are dropped do not fall. 
The forces of friction and slow-down are non-existent, 
it takes no effort to keep an object moving forever. 
Perpetual motion is natural. Nay, as it turned out, 
perpetual motion is necessary or else all objects 
would be pulled together into one, single conglomerate 
by the inexorable force of gravity. Too much of all 
this taxed me, sent me spiraling : 'if you wish to 
make an object go slower you must speed it up, 
and if you wish to make it go faster you must 
slow it down'? Yet, as it turned out, for an object 
in a free orbit around the Earth or any other 
attracting body, this is true. A push intended 
to speed up a satellite will only lift it to a higher 
orbit where it will rotate more slowly, yet at 
the same time a slowing force will pull it into 
a speedier orbit closer to the attracting center. 
As these weird objects, then, came back into 
the atmosphere and were 'retarded' by friction 
they did indeed speed up as they spiraled in
until they burned up from the frictional heating. 
This was all like a field-day for madness, to me.
I was a dumbstruck kid, on some pathetic Avenel 
lawn, being told now to stare high into the sky at 
the blinks we watched moving overhead (yes, yes, 
we really did see it), so as to prove the undoing of 
my nascent world. I found I had no one to turn to. 
Was lost. The vast speeds needed to throw things 
into orbit were too much to imagine. A jet-plane 
flying at 600 mph, that speed not even really yet 
attained then, was going 10 miles a minute, yet 
we were being asked to conceive of travel at 5 miles 
per second here. To then escape the gravitational 
pull of the earth, speeds of 7 miles per second were 
needed. And to escape from the pull of the Sun, 
26 miles per second were needed! But all that was 
nothing  -  space distances were mind-boggling
as well! At 26 miles per second  -  if that could 
somehow be maintained, it would take 23 days 
to reach Mars. 2 years to reach Neptune. And 
28,000 YEARS to reach the nearest star 
(Alpha Centauri). It takes a beam of light, at 
186,000 miles per second, 4 years to reach
that star, 150,000 years to cross the Milky 
Way, and 2 billion years to travel to the most 
distant nebula. I was short-circuited! I was 
dead-man-mad-crazed. They tell us one thing 
and give us a Milky Way as a candy bar?
They give us a stupid-ass portable 'classroom' 
with a desk to sit at so we can listen to drivel 
that would dissolve away a year later to pure 
nothingness, an error, a happenstance a no-truth 
non-reality made up of incontestable factoids of
made-up propaganda? I was fucking done, at that 
early stage, and I already knew it. There was no 
one around me with even a clue and behind 
everything was a lie. Pure and plain and simple. 
Nothing more than whipped cream, on a nipple 
'Human beings have the right to be excited'.
Yes, they actually said that. Yes.
It's all too easy now to say it meant nothing, but 
it was a big deal. I'd not yet kissed a girl. Never 
driven a car. Never gone anywhere special. I just 
wasn't ready to die and  -  to my knowledge  -  neither 
was any one of my friends. We may have played at it, 
but it was only play. The world had not been destined 
to come crashing down upon us like this  -  no manners, 
where we had all of them. I had to wonder what would
 happen now; on Friday nights, other times, my father 
would drive to the Chinese place in Rahway and come 
back with little white boxes with metal handles  -  odd,  
sloppy foods, Chow Meins and Egg Foo Youngs. Those too 
were things that weren't even real  -  not Chinese at all  - 
 more false and hysterical American drivel. They
even lied about their foods? In looking up at the sky,
what was I supposed to see? What was anyone supposed 
to see? And why? For what reason? What was this
purported 'Reality' everyone was so worked up about?
It wasn't as if there was a traffic-jam already lined up for
the skyward trip. Things were everywhere mixed up. For
all I cared, let them have the sky, what then did it matter?
Maybe there's no talking sense when you've got none.
Maybe if I had then known what 'surreal' was, I'd have had
a better grasp. As it were, so many parts of me truly wanted to
believe, to take part, to become. But the rest of it? The rest of
it baffled all my imaginings, took me far, far away, into my own
deeply unsettled, and strange, orbit. Slow as fast, fast as slow; 
heavy as light, light as heavy; immovable objects on the move.
I was broken, my world sundered. All was madness to me.

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