Hank got home from work late. His 1969 Buick Riviera—metallic blue—rolled into the carport of a nondescript one-story-one-bath in Suburbia, USA. He stepped out of his car. He stretched his back.
It was nighttime. The moon was out.
He was tall, lean, with salt-and-pepper hair. More salt than pepper. He wore a tan suit and a striped necktie because this was the uniform of the American desk jockey.
In his den, Hank found his son and daughter sitting cross-legged before a glowing television screen, their two noses practically smooshed against the tele-tube glass.
Hank’s wife was perched on the edge of their sofa, smoking Camels, her eyes focused on the RCA console.
“Hi,” said Hank.
“Ssshhh,” his wife said.
She didn’t say “Hello.” Neither did she say, “Hi, honey, how was work?” It was just “Sssshhh.”
“Sorry I’m home late,” he said. “Traffic was just—”
“Sssshhh,” everyone said in unison.
He left the den and entered the vinyl kitchen. He placed his briefcase onto the enamel kitchen table. He retrieved an Old Milwaukee from the Kelvinator refrigerator.
In the oven was his Swanson TV dinner, baking on low heat, still boiling in its volcanic-lava gravy. He took one bite of his unevenly heated turkey-and-mashed-potatoes and the roof of his mouth was ruined forevermore.
This food reminded him of the MRE field rations he ate when he was in Italy, fighting Hitler. Except, the field rations tasted better than this flash-frozen slop.
He returned to the den to find his family still rapt before the screen.
He said, “What are you all watchin—”
The voice on the TV sounded like it was coming from a walkie-talkie. The voice said: “This is Houston, Roger. We copy. And we’re standing by…”
His family was lost within the black spell of the boob tube. He didn’t understand these people. How had they let technology invade their lives like this? Look at them. They were vegetables.
But then, Hank was from the old world. Born in 1928, under the Coolidge administration, back when pennies were made of steel, and Babe Ruth was still the Sultan of Swat. Silent movie theaters had in-house pianists, and Al Jolson was swell.
In those days, men living in Hank’s little Illinois hometown were still using horses and buckboards to transport feed corn from the mercantile. Gasoline was two dimes per gallon.
The walkie-talkie voice on TV came again. And the text on the TV read, “Col. Edwin Aldrin Jr.—Moonship Pilot.”
On the screen was a man clad in what appeared to be an atmospheric diver’s suit. The suit was pure white. The bulbous helmet was the size of a beachball, and there was a large pack on the man’s back.
Dad was about to ask another dumb question but was met with a sharp “Ssssshhhh!”
“This is history,” muttered Hank’s wife.
History. The year before Hank was born, history had been made by a young man from Little Falls, Minnesota, who completed a nonstop flight across the Atlantic.
Hank still remembered the newspapers explaining that Charles Lindeburg made wee-wee into a little funnel, mid-flight, whereupon the waste was expelled somewhere off the coast of France. Schoolboys in Hank’s era had fun with that particular tidbit of trivia.
“Lucky Lindy tinkled on France!” his pals would all say, howling with laughter.
Meantime, Hank’s living-room television was broadcasting something much more compelling than a Minnesotan urinating on France. This was history.
The TV’s image was grainy, hard to make out, but the man in the suit was descending a ladder from the moonship. When the man’s feet touched ground, the TV voice said:
“That’s one small step for man—” long pause, “—one giant leap for mankind.”
Mom’s eyes were wider than tractor tires. Her cigarette ash had burned all the way to her knuckles. Hank’s daughter was covering her mouth with her little hands like she was about to either laugh or weep.
Hank’s oldest son shot to his feet and tore out of the house. Hank followed him. He found the boy standing on the front lawn, looking upward at the moon.
In the darkness Hank could see other dads, and other sons, standing in nearby yards. They were all looking at the same sky.
“Can you believe it?” said one of the neighbors. “We put a man on the moon.”
“Heck of a thing,” said Hank.
“You ever think you’d live to see the day?”
“Really makes you think, don’t it Hank? I mean, where will mankind be in another fifty years?”
“Don’t know,” said Hank. “But it don’t much matter, does it? You and me won’t be alive in fifty years.”
Which just goes to show you how wrong he was.
Happy 94th birthday, Hank.