We’ve been watching that fantastic series about the early years – hell, the best years – of space travel. It has been a trip down a very dim memory lane for me. Trooper? He was wandering around like this, mostly…
(Don’t complain, honey – I could have used the other picture…)
Anyway…while he was livin’ large the country way I was enjoying a complete split from reality having moved from a very crappy part of Chicago to New Smyrna Beach, FL. From there, one had a very intimate relationship with the space race. It – the fervor, I mean – ran up and down that coastline.
So every snippet of footage played reminded me of those days. I can clearly recall taking a sheet of cardboard and drawing an instrument panel on it. I played astronaut like a bunch of other kids did back then. And it was always something I did – I always had an ear cocked to the news and books about space. It brought me, of course, to science fiction and my early influences toward anarchy. Och, well, maybe not so far as that but…critical thinking, perhaps.
I did rather well in school for quite some time – which is saying a lot considering the crap I went through. But then…we had to return to Chicago, leaving behind that halcyon life. And I went from soft ocean breezes and the sound of waves smack dab back into hell. And Von Steuben. Oh, not the school of today. No, it has come up in the world, let me tell you!
It was there that I, relatively streetsmart but still prepared to be patient and learn, wandered into that math class. I know that doesn’t have the sound of a funeral dirge that it has for me. Even then there was no echo of it but…I could sense it. And then I saw that wave crashing.
The teacher was an ancient fellow who probably ought to have retired long ago before he started to hate kids. And he did – I could smell that he despised me. I was trying rather hard to be at least blank – not rude, not smirky but…smooth. And his crooked finger pointed at the blackboard and asked me what was the answer to the sanskrit there. I cocked my head and told him that I’d never seen anything like it before. Because I hadn’t! To this day I’ve no idea what was up there. It was just…a deep black etched with pale scars in forms that I could not decipher. Most likely some sort of geometry. But back then? I had no idea.
It was so hushed in the room. The teacher’s face grew colder still and his lips curled back as he told me to get the hell out of his classroom. I clearly remember blinking. I was in shock. And then a sheet of cool derision fell over me. I rose slowly and took my books in my arms and walked out. I never returned to that class and, instead, would cross the street to the local hangout and order french fries. I’d play pinball for 30 minutes, eating the fries. Then I’d go on to the next class.
That was it for me. The end of my formal education. Oh, I still attended some classes if I thought they were interesting. And I did attend a magnet school for about a month but the commute (2 buses and a train) was impossible to maintain. Interestingly, while there I was able to learn rather a lot of math. It had a sheer beauty to it. Pure logic, nothing could change its truths. But then I found other amusements when I returned to that hellish place. How I hated that school…and to this day I’ve hated that man because he ruined a great deal for me. He took from me something that I have never replaced.
We weren’t goal setters in my family. It was a day-to-day existence and you didn’t look too far ahead. So I had absolutely no expectation of education. I had no expectation that I’d survive high school each week. But there was one thing…one dream…to fly.
Many years passed and I always feared math, always worked to avoid it. I’d avoided rather a lot of school, too. So when I was 18 and utterly lost I called the Air Force one morning. Called an office and asked them – could I? There was a soft response – kind but…clear. No math, no degree, no fly. Oh, I threw myself into the debauchery, then.
Soon, though, computers came around and I was learning again that lovely logic. And the shuttle was new…I could, I thought, maybe do it…NASA, though, indicated otherwise. No, the letter said. No, not without a great deal more education and a very long line to get in back of…
Which brings us round to this time, watching that history and remembering why and how it was all I ever wanted to do. And yet…not enough, I suppose, to change. Even now, I panic at percents…a sale? Um, yeah – where’s a calculator? And work? Oh, how well I manage to hide it. They’ve no idea, of course. And I avoid all spreadsheet work but the most basic. If they only knew…
All I’ve ever wanted to do… So I’m thinking – maybe there is some kid in a poor family that has a similar dream. Maybe I can get them to space camp for a week. I’ve been giving that a lot of thought. That maybe instead of feeling full of self-pity that I should extend it outward and away…give instead of hoard, hoard, hoard. Let it all go in a wonderful arc of hope. Seems like an honorable thing to do…