Monday, December 5, 2016

Lifetime Special Events

If one is fortunate enough to live a long life, it is likely that a series of events will be witnessed that are transformative, either personally, or of the world, sometimes both. We accumulate these events in our memory bank, and they never leave, but instead form a collective view of the world in which we live.

When I was still pretty little, December 7, 1941 occurred. I was a mere 7-almost, when we listened to the radio broadcast announcing that catastrophic event. Two thousand of our countrymen died in that attack, and our world, indeed even my little world changed as a result.  We lived at the time in Manhattan, in a little flat on Second Avenue, and even though I knew little of the world, it became clear that the world had changed suddenly and might never again return.  I knew it from blackouts, and rationing, and my uncle becoming something called a Seabee, and going overseas, eventually into the South Pacific.  We listened to frequent radio broadcasts by the President and life became The War.

And life went on, and somehow we survived.

Fast forward to 1962 . . . more specifically October 1962. Here is a clip from The State Department Office of the Historian:

The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 was a direct and dangerous confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War and was the moment when the two superpowers came closest to nuclear conflict. The crisis was unique in a number of ways, featuring calculations and miscalculations as well as direct and secret communications and miscommunications between the two sides. The dramatic crisis was also characterized by the fact that it was primarily played out at the White House and the Kremlin level with relatively little input from the respective bureaucracies typically involved in the foreign policy process.”

I was an engineer, engaged at the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in Sunnyvale, California producing the Polaris missile, a submarine launched ballistic, intercontinental missile capable of reaching the Soviet Union.  When we became aware of the ships carrying missiles to be placed in Cuba, and aimed at the US, and we listened to the broadcasts emanating from Washington, we would gather outside of work at a local pub after work. We sat there and engaged in lengthy conversations about where we should all go, were the missiles to begin flying.  Should we leave the Bay Area and head for the mountains? Might it be safer somewhere along the coast? Given the relatively dark professional world in which we were engaged, producing missiles that could carry ten nuclear warheads each, capable of destroying a large swath of the world, our speculations were not idle.  And since this “event” lasted over several days, with the outcome always in doubt, it was nerve wracking at the least.

And again, the world survived, and we remained within that world.

Fast forward now to 1963, specifically November 22, 1963. We lived in San Francisco at the time, and my home office for the consulting firm in which I now worked was in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  I had flown from San Francisco to Boston that day.  As I was driving in my rental car from the Boston airport to our Cambridge office, a news flash came on the car radio—John F. Kennedy had just been shot while in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Slowly, the agonizing news kept coming. Then that dread announcement; the President was dead. John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. I sat in the car, in the driveway of our office, unable to move, almost unable to think. How . . . why . . . who would do such a thing???

I think I never recovered fully from that shock. I became aware of personal mortality. It could happen to anyone if it could happen to JFK. None of us at that office knew what to say, or how to grasp fully what had just happened. When I finally flew home to San Francisco, I was aware of a new thing—a fear of flying.  It never fully left me.

1969 . . . summertime. We were in the process of relocating from Boston to Washington, DC.  We arrived back in the US of A from our four years in India in the summer of 1968. We settled into Sudbury, Massachusetts. Then, winter arrived. Then snow arrived . . . a lot of snow. Springtime finally arrived and we began talking about leaving the snow country for some place more compatible with our mentality. We had lived in California for almost a decade, followed by four wondrous years in India, where snow arrived only in far off Himalaya’s. So, we decided to leave the snow country and settled on Washington, DC.  Yeah, yeah, it could snow there, but not like Boston.

But first we had to find a place to live.  So, we decided to spend the summer in Chincoteague, where the kids could enjoy the beach, and I could commute from DC on the weekends.  It was a Sunday afternoon. We were sitting in the little dining room of our summer cottage, having our first gin and tonic of the approaching evening. We were watching a small black and white TV, transfixed. The first landing of man on our moon was taking place, in front of our eyes. There we were, surrounded by our family, and close friends from our India days, all with mouths agape, watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.

Man had left our spinning globe and was now on that tiny thing we observed way up in the sky. It was not like flying. No, this was something fundamentally different, capable of altering our whole concept of our place in the universe. When I had worked at Lockheed, in addition to the Polaris missile, our plant also developed and built the Agena satellite system. The Agena Target Vehicle (ATV) was an unmanned spacecraft used by NASA during its Gemini program to develop and practice orbital space rendezvous and docking techniques and to perform large orbital changes, in preparation for the Apollo program lunar missions. So, I was vaguely aware that we were moving toward space travel.

But actually watching an American astronaut set foot on our moon, was an astonishing event—first that it was actually occurring, and second that we were witness to the event.  We were all changed forever.

Many important events happened in the many years and decades after that magnificent achievement.  Richard Nixon ascended to the throne on the empty promise of ending that awful war in Vietnam, after which we endured another half decade of killing in that benighted land.  We elected an empty-headed movie actor, St. Ronald of Reagan to that same high office. And when he spoke of welfare queens arriving in their Cadillacs to mooch off of our goodness as a people, I understood that racists were now coming out of their closets, and it was ok again in America to be a racist.  And then that same man espoused the Laffer (Laugher??) curve as his economic policy, producing the largest fiscal deficits we had ever known, I realized that our President was also a moron, albeit a well-meaning and happy one.

Still, nothing quite prepared me for November 8, 2016. We had all grown weary of watching the parade of fools masquerading as GOP candidates, while on the other side, Hillary was marching toward the throne, and we were being entertained by Bernie. It was always hard to disagree with anything Bernie told us, so much so that we actually voted for him.

But it slowly became clear that the GOP was dissolving into a pool of empty rhetoric, with hate forging the anvil of their message. The Donald, whom nobody could take seriously, slowly began destroying his opposition. Really??? Donald Trump?? A billionaire circus clown??? That’s the best you can do Republican Party?? Really???

But then, as we approached November 8th, the race actually tightened between the two remaining candidates. How this could be was astonishing. It was clear to the entire nation that the Clown lied all the time. How would you know he was lying?? Well, whenever he opened his mouth and words came tumbling out, that would mean he was lying. And the astonishing thing??? He accused Hillary of being the liar.  Well, to be fair, he accused everyone who opposed him of being the liar.  It’s what he does.

But then, Hillary seemed to be leading, even if only marginally.  As we watched the returns, it began to seem altogether too close. But still, we assumed Hillary would prevail. We knew it would not be over til way past our bedtime, so we closed out the TV and went to bed.

I arose early the next morning and turned on the radio to NPR (we never watch TV news). And what to my wondering ears did appear . . . but a notice that the Clown, the Drumpf, had been declared the winner by virtue of his likely take in that creature called The Electoral College. See, we have a really strange system. We make believe we are voting for a candidate when we cast our ballot for Mr. X, or Mrs. Y. But in reality we are voting for an unknown “elector” who will later vote for the real candidate. It’s called “let’s Pretend Democracy”. See, our founders didn’t really trust us to act responsibly, so they dreamed up this make believe voting system, to keep us happy-- dumb, but nonetheless happy.

So, The Drumpf was being declared President-Elect. I called upstairs to tell my dear wife Carol of this remarkable event. She burst into tears.  Later, when I spoke with our daughter who was enroute to her medical practice that morning, she too burst into tears.  How could this be? It was like being told that Barnum and Bailey had arrived in town and had decided to buy the country and install their chief clown as the headman. And if we didn’t like it, why we could stuff it.

And so endeth the tale of events, or in this case, the trail of tears. We had elected a narcissistic-sociopath with advanced ADHD as President. A man who was unable to read or write because he could not focus long enough.  And now, we are both the laughing stock of the world, and pitied at the same time.  We look forward to a long, dreary set of years ahead, with feeble hope that the Clown does not blow up our entire universe, a not unlikely prospect.

Sigh . . . yet another of life’s defining moments. Let the new (Hunger??) games begin, folks.
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