written March 2, 2006
This is me, trying to relax, unbinding my mind knotted, as my body is carried hither in yon upon the Atlantic Ocean, living cargo in a luxury naval frigate. Which makes me wonder: what do those already in a tropical paradise visualize to shake the wrinkles from their nerves? I might then think of sitting in a folding chair, on the moon, sipping lemonade. What a view.
Every day while underway I have made a point to have something I am happy for. I pick out one thing, like Monday, when popcorn was available in the mess-deck vending machines. But then someone spoke up and said “At least there’s popcorn in the vending machine!” I can’t believe he stole mine. Sometimes I’m thankful for Sundays, but I can’t use that one every day. Being positive is hard; last week I spent an entire day trying to think of something to be happy about, and came up with something at the very end. Then I had to start thinking of something else. Today’s splinter of joy in my back pocket is, if you want to know, the month of March. Being in the month of return to Marley gives me further cerebral slack.
“Oh, that’s what you think you know, you Meathead…” I watched an episode of All in the Family, when I found the back sonar compartment, the one with the DVD player, to be locked—vacant. I’d already seen it, the one in which Archie’s mouth hosts his foot, being found wrong in the end. Popcorn made it even better. I tried writing a letter but only got static. Having nothing to say is not the best way to pen a message, so I tried to invent something for myself to do, just so I could then report on. But the part of me that didn’t sleep through Journalism 122 suddenly felt revulsion of Making Something Up, and wanted to leave me to take a shower. I asked myself to come back later, thank you.
Something was needed to fill the silence, so I threw in Wishful Thinking, a burned CD of what songs I threw together on my last night in Hampton, Virginia.
Einstein makes a brief, crackly cameo (just his voice), this first track briefly extolling the virtuous non-participation tactics of Gandhi before John Lennon launches into “Strange Days:” Three, Four!”
“Everybody’s flying, and nobody leaves the ground.
Everybody’s crying, and nobody makes a sound.
There’ a place for us in movies
You just gotta lay around
Nobody told me there’d be days like thes—”
I would then say that Clifford, the fellow sailor, dropped by mid-chorus, wanting to sprawl out on the gently rocking floor and watch whatever closed-circuit movie was playing throughout the ship, because that would be a perfect fit with the lyrics. But that didn’t happen, and I didn’t want the virtuous part of me to hate me more. In truth, I remained alone for the duration of “Strange Days.” But it could have happened. …The Graceland-era Paul Simon is now in mid-song:
“It was a slow day, the sun was beating on the soldiers by the side of the road
There was a bright light, a shattering of shopping doors
The bomb in the in the baby carriage was wired to the radio
It’s a turnaround jump shot, everybody’s jump start
Every generation throws a hero up the pop chart
Medicine is magical and magical is art
Think of the boy in the bubble
And the baby with the baboon heart
And I believe these are the days of miracles and wonder
This is a long distance call
The way the camera follows just in slow mo
The way we look to a distant constellation
That’s dying in the corner of the sky”
George Carlin rants about ranting next, in part of an old routine, after Mr. Simon leaves the stage. A great deal of his particular act is spent pointing out the collapse of the English language and the ever-spreading stink of euphemisms. How is he known for only seven words?
Warren Zevon then sings his dying wish, once again, two years after succumbing to cancer, with the assist of a spinning commercial product. He hopes that when doing simple things around the house he’ll be thought of with a smile,“You know I’m tied to you like the buttons of your blouse. Keep me in your heart for a while.” I wonder what my own Oblivion Song would sound like? Kind the same.
Next, Steven Wright shares his baby diary: “Day one: still tired from the move. Day two: Everybody talks to me like I’m an idiot.”
Then I get a sudden, internal visitor:
“Is this what I’ve come to, what I have to share for the day?”
“—You’re just losing a bit of steam, you’re saying vital things!”
“What is that?”
“—That you have nothing to say!”
“True, but does it make for good reading?”
“—Are you kidding? Writing is just like being able to see, to influence. There is no difference. Listen, a good writer could sell fire in Hell.”
Hocking heat in Hades sounds like a tall order, especially when I remember long summer afternoons trying to unload frozen pizzas on now-dead neighborhood grandmas, all for tee-ball uniforms that would have tears in the knees and grass stains by the national anthem. The pizzas didn’t taste good, and I think the grandmas knew that. At least they didn’t know they weren’t supporting the tee-ball MVP. My primary duty in right field, it seems to me, was to pick dandelions. And I can write that with Oprah’s full approval.
If I could be on any tropical paradise right now I’d be on the moon. The best thing about being a boy in a bubble is that I can be out here for quite a while. I may be mistaken, but I might see something resembling a boot down there. I wave. If you can see someone, Gwen, in the large lunar sea to the right, that’s me. And I’m out of lemonade.
* * * * *
Yes, this is the life. To imagine, the rest of the world is tethered to that passing TV satellite—E! channel for everyone! Let them have it. Without another thought of rip-off baseball pizzas or tee-ball dandelions I lean back and close my eyes. Silence… for exactly six seconds.
“Hello there, sir, my name is Lewis Carroll,” a spritely, well-dressed man says matter-of-factly. Suddenly there are three persons standings before me, my surprise sending my glass of diluted lemon-water to the rocky ground. “And these, the first continued, “are my constituents, Mr. Theodor Geisel and Mr. Kurt Vonnegut.” The two on each side of Carroll bowed, seeing nothing odd at all about being on the moon’s surface. “We need to speak with you—it is very urgent.”
“You’re Lewis Carroll?” I whisper, “The dead one?” Carroll instantly bristles at his nonexistence.
“I haven’t insulted you by reminding you that you are still living, have I, Mr. Carlson?: He turns to the others for validation. “Leave it to the alive to think their grass is greenest. I really didn’t expect much more, actually. Like I was telling that Jack London a day ago—”
The man to the left in dark suit takes a step forward. “Really Lewis, you have to let the whole death thing go. Honestly. We’re not here for us, but for him.” Carroll folds his arms, kicking a moon rock.
“You’re here for me?” I echo hollowly.
“Indeed we are, son,” Geisel replies with a smile. “We’ve come to remind you of your responsibilities.”
“That’s right!” Carroll adds, flushed. “You’re going to give us all bad names, carrying on as you have!” Alarmed, I take a half step back. These ghosts of literature have come across spheres of existence to give me and English lesson? The tropical-whatever options around Fiji were looking better.
“Gentlemen,” Vonnegut intones, placing a hand on Carroll’s shoulder. “Mr. Carlson, you’ve worried a great many people, making them think you spent last night on the moon. A writer must be responsible to remember the mentality of the reader at all times. This is the First Rule.”
“The First Rule?”
“Yes,” Vonnegut continues,” and it is not ‘Writers Sell Fire in Hell.’ I know some very good writers in hell, and Virginia Woolf would never—”
“No, she certainly would not,” Geisel agrees solemnly, bowing his head. “And this is why you must leave this silly moon business behind. If you go around saying you are on the moon people will think you’re over the moon—well, if you excuse the expression.”
“I don’t understand,” I say flatly. The three pause and look at me.
“What is it you don’t get?” Vonnegut asks, a bushy eyebrow raised. “You want to appear mad?”
“Well,” I begin slowly, “You are saying that a work is completely dependent on its author, and they can’t live separately? That we can only write of things that are plausible?”
“It isn’t quite that—” Carroll begins.
“No, not at all—” Vonnegut joins in, but I don’t give them the chance.
“Yet Mr. Carroll, you wrote of falling down a rabbit’s hole, and a smoking caterpillar! Were you sent away for that? Carroll looks uneasily at Vonnegut, and I follow his eyes. “And Mr. Vonnegut, you wrote of a time-travelling soldier—yet it’s a classic! And Mr. Geisel, I don’t have enough time to mention everything you’ve come up with— and that’s all for kids!” I wait for them to respond. They quickly look to each other.
As if on cue a women in a blue flight suit adorned with the American flag bounded into view. I don’t know from where, perhaps the formation of large rocks twenty yards away, but there she is, all the same. Carroll, Geisel, and Vonnegut seem just as interested in the new arrival. He name tag reads “Sally Ride.”
“Are any of you Will Carlson?” the woman asks pleasantly. I raised my hand. The population of the moon is sky-rocketing.
“I’m just a visitor, I swear!” I say on instinct. Sally merely puts up her hand, not wanting to hear any of it. Then, from somewhere inside her blue suit, coming a high ringing. Sally looks to the heavens. That is to say, left.
“Huh, I was sure I put this thing on silence,” Sally mutters, flipping it open.
“You have a call. In space…” I murmur. What a carrier she must have. I make a mental note to switch. Surprisingly, she thrusts the phone to me, perturbed the first interplanetary phone call was not for her, and on her phone, no less.”
“Hello, is there a Will Carlson there?” a deep voice says amazingly clear from the receiver. I say I’m him, wondering what this could all be about.
“Mr. Carlson, this is Brit Hume, Fox News! How are you doing this morning?” Brit doesn’t wait for an answer. “All of America is watching you—everyone! You’re the story of the globe, how a man was able to reach the moon without help of rockets or shuttle—quite amazing! Will, we have your girlfriend on the line. She wants to speak to you. You can hear us, can’t you?”
“Um, yes I can, Brit.” I wait a moment, then test the line. “Marley, are you there?”
“Will!” comes a faintly static voice, because Italy is far away. “What are you doing up there, I’m so worried for you! You told me you were going off into the North Sea with the Navy, and then I turn on the TV after a long day at the hospital and what do I find? Will, you really need to come home.”
“Actually, I was really enjoying myself, taking a little break, honest.” Sally glares at me, her minutes plan not covering this. “Marley, it’s really amazing out here, it really is. Imagine looking out at the whole Earth, and it’s looking back at you. I mean, it’s not easy getting here, you really have to concentrate, but it is worth it! I’ve never seen the sky filled with so many stars—” I stop, no listening. I nod. “Well, okay, if you want.” I walk over to Sally Ride, and offer her the phone back.
“Hello,” Sally chirps, happy to be back in control again. “Yes, this is Sally Ride. …Right, I can do that. No, no, I understand. Alright, well, the best way I can describe it is amazing—truly amazing, really. If you can imagine looking out and Earth, and it’s looking back at you. Uh, huh, that’s right…” The authors busy themselves with talk about the “new upstart John Updike,” ripping his works to pieces. “No, I really wouldn’t call it an easy trip,” Sally continues, “but all it takes is a little concentration. But it’s worth it, if only to see the clearest star scene you’ve ever witnessed. …Right, exactly, now you’ve got it. …Well, I was happy to help.” Sally looks very satisfied with herself as she slips the phone back into an interior pocket. “Your girlfriend sends her love,” she reports.
“You might think about listening to your girlfriend,” Vonnegut says softly. “She seems to make sense.”
“What actually are you here for, Sally?” I ask somewhat wearily, now remembering her sudden materialization a few moment ago. I thought this was the one place I could get some peace.
“Right, I was asked to give you this.” she replies simply, whipping a white envelope out from yet another pocket. I open it.
It has come to the attention of the Federal Regulatory Commission that you intend to persist in the notion that you are residing on the moon. Poppycock, sir. As our records clearly show no deed in your name for the Field of Galileo we must strongly insist on your immediate surrender of this slander on the good names of the daring and heroic astronauts who played golf on the sacred lunar-scape. Your rightful return to Earth is expected within seven to ten business days. Thank you for your cooperation.
Howard K. Kruk
Director, Federal Regulatory Commission
“I’m just visiting!” I flail, looking at the faces of two dead authors, one alive author, and one Sally Ride.
“I don’t see any way around it,” Carroll remarks, looking grim. “Looks official–good stationary, too.”
“It’s for the best, I suppose,” Vonnegut mists. Geisel then produces a wooden sign nailed to a stake, and with two swings has impaled into the grey ground, its bold, black letters impossible to miss: “Moon Closed for Repairs.” I didn’t even know it was broken. They lead me off.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see a beach ball float around lightly from the next ridge over. A yellow, orange, and red beach ball, now drifting off into the cosmos. Why is there a beach ball on the moon? Before I leave I decide to finally get some answers, and charge up the moon hill. The authors and Sally Ride all plead for me to stop and come down, saying that the rocks look too loose to climb. At the top I stop, stunned.
Thousands of people are on the moon! Tens of thousands- people everywhere! Some are dozing in reclining chairs, some are playing volleyball, and others stand in line at a lone Starbucks.
“Is this all your doing?” I yell, turning to the four at the base of the gray hill. “Trying to get me off this moon so you could take it over?”
“No, not at all,” Geisel insists, “It wasn’t for us at all. We were just thought of as the best way to get you down to Earth. You’re looking at a billion dollar industry, all of these people’s imaginations here, for a small fee, of course.” I am barely listening to him.
“And now that I think of it, aren’t you all dead? All except ‘Kurt Vonnegut’ here?” I eye them hotly.
“That we can explain,” Carroll starts, “Actors. We’re actors. My name is Warren Reed, and this is Glenn Donnelly,” he motions to the former Theodor Geisel. “And this is the real Kurt Vonnegut, actually. He just jumped at the chance of the moon when he was asked. Got him in a contract he couldn’t get out of.” Vonnegut gives a shrug and tries to light a cigarette, but the lack of air causes him to gumpily stuff the unused smoke back into its rumpled pack.
“So what is supposed to happen to me?” I ask, not allowed to visit my own imaginary place anymore. Sally leans in.
“You do still have this plot, if you want it. You’d just have to share it now.” And that was my last option, what I could do, for the sake of my knotted mind.
March the Third. This is Eric. It was a good day back on the ship. It could have been better, it could have been worse. For lunch I had corn dogs. There was this sale on shampoo this afternoon. I got one. I wish I had more to write. Or that I could writer betterer letters, like others. Maybe me write good one day. I will write again tomorrow at let you know all about it. Promise.