2:31 am: My head is on the pillow, all is still. Blessed exhaustion and quiet but for the hum of the fan. The house is quiet and, finally, so am I.
2:28 am: Stargate is on…again. The same episodes as earlier today. Yesterday. I’m halfway through the show and I’ve had enough. I’m going to try again. Off to bed.
1:13 am: At this hour I should be sleeping in my bed but every time I close my eyes my room spins instead.
I’m hungry. I have waited two hours since last I ate and can barely believe I’m still wanting food. But I go to the refrigerator and find a container of brown rice, fill it with chicken broth and put it, along with a baked chicken leg, in the microwave. I put it on low so the circuits will not blow as the air conditioner is on in the conservatory and, in our Lisa Douglas fusebox, the air conditioner and the microwave equal more than ten.
I feel funny eating so late. I’ll regret this. I know, but I must assume physical stress causes hunger. Extreme physical stress seems to have caused extreme hunger. I want protein and protein and more protein. I tell myself tomorrow I’ll be careful, eat better, eat lightly but for now, I want meat and bulk. I want something that will hold me down.
12:10 am: I don’t know why I am waiting to go to sleep. Normally I’d be up late on a Friday night, but with my stomach upset, with my head hurting from side to side, perhaps I should have been in bed sooner. I’m stuffed, fatigued, in pain, still hungry (how can that be?) and every time I close my eyes I see a screen, black on either side and my head swims. Enough. I’m going to bed.
9:39 pm: Home. I’m headed to the fridge. I want more meat. I can barely believe it but I do. Chicken. White meat. Diet Pepsi I brought back with me. On to the couch. Lee is watching Stargate, as I would expect and I can’t really think of anything I’d like more right now than to lie on the couch, a near mirror opposite of Lee, and watch bad sci-fi with her. I’m queasy. My head hurts. My shoulders hurt. My neck hurts. Everything just plain hurts. Sore muscles. Physical stress? Emotional stress? Fatigue? But it feels great to be lying here, picking at the chicken, watching my sweetie watch Stargate.
9:18 pm: Our plans did not quite work out. Jack is quiet, watching TV. I could spread myself on the couch, splay myself on the carpet. I could but I will not. I feel welcome but tonight I feel a bit extra. Since I do not normally feel this way at their home, I figure something is up and, perhaps, feeling uneasy, queasy and unsteady I figure it is the right choice to go home. I say my good-byes and take my leave, driving home in the extra-sub-urban darkness. I later found Jack’s grandfather had taken ill.
7:43 pm: I arrive at Evanne’s, Jack’s and Beth’s home. Jack is not home. How is my day? I tell the truth as I have been asked but do not wish to sound whiney. I leave out a bit but tell how I feel. My stomach has calmed a bit. It still is not right, but it is no longer playing twist and shout and I am grateful for the improvement. Jack comes in some minutes later, seems tired. This is understandable. He sits on the couch, is asked by Evanne if he wants to play Changeling, he states he is not quite in the mood, is tired. This is why I had come here tonight. No that I ned a reason to visit with these fine people, but, tonight, I’d rather be sitting at home, quiet, watching television, still. So very still.
7:13 pm: I am leaving for Evanne’s. It is Jackanalia, Jack’s birthday week and I have been asked to come over and play Changeling as a surprise for him. I said I would go and on any other day I’d have no doubt about going, but I feel so terribly unwell, I do not know how I will drive there, sit there, play there. But this is his birthday and what he wants so off I go. On the way I stop for a bottle of diet coke. They are on well water and I am not use to drinking water that tastes of sulpher.
6:42 pm: Thumping wakes me. Not my heart but a larger drum from outside. My son’s bass drum. He must be practicing with friends. It is ok as I need to wake up anyway. I rise, dizzily. I am supposed to be at Evanne’s at 7:30. I am going to be late.
Lee says she saved some dinner for me. Dinner? Yes, I could eat more. A small piece of flank steak, about four ounces, the size I would normally eat. An ear of corn from the co-op. It is a rarity Lee cooks and this is wonderful. The corn is barely done. It is wonderful anyway. The steak is barely warmed and it is wonderful especially. It is covered with garlic salt which means Lee had this on her plate. Especially incredibly wonderful.
4:12 pm: I arrive home. Woozy. Nauseas but the aching in my head is beginning to subside in some remote locations. As I make my way to the door I hear the high commands of Invader Zim so I know my son is home, on the couch, and, as I enter, approach, I ask him to please, oh God please in all that is holy and right and proper in the world, if you have any compassion and decency and humanity, turn it down. It sounds like this. “Volume, please,” except that it is muffled and slurred. He looks at me and asks if I’m ok, that I don’t look ok. I answer “Bus, seventy kids. F-14 simulator. Headache. Nauseas and… Hungry?”
Yes, I am hungry and no-one is more surprised than I am. I want protein. I want something dead that use to get around on its own and decide its own fate. I want meat. I eat the contents of a can of salmon. I eat some turkey. Beef jerky. I see a piece of chicken from the other night and it is gone. If it walked , flew or swam, I want to eat it. This isn’t right. I think of the volume of food, of the calories, the effect. I wonder if physical stress does this, if this isn’t the right thing to do, give in to this as need and not gluttony. I am still nauseas but no more so and still hungry and not less so.
My wife arrives home, looks at me and puts me to bed.
3:50 pm: The bus pulls up in front of Stone Middle School. I get off last as I am in the back, walk wavering, slowly across the parking-lot to my truck. People wave, say goodbye, ignored. School isn’t out for ten minutes. Teachers cannot leave until 4:15. I should get the CD from Susan. I looked forward to that all day. I don’t care. I can’t. Not about that. Not about the time. I drive slowly home. No radio, windows open in the ninety degree day.
2:38 pm: The bus is loading and I am asked to get on first and do what I did this morning; sit at the back and not let the kids do the same. I do so, nearly lying down. It is noisy as the kids load. I am out of discipline. Maria takes care of what needs taking care of while sitting next to me. We talk a bit on the way from NASA to South Melbourne as the kids get louder and louder.
Sean is poking girls, complaining they are talking about him afterwards. A kid next to him keeps shouting how he is a crazy white nigger. Crazy and white, I have no doubt. Stephanie keeps trying to sit upside-down. She is wearing a skirt and this seems to be just a bad idea all around.
Sara sits in front of me. She seems protective. She has come to me in the past wanting help with poetry, writing, wants to see my books.
It is a huge bus. It waves and sways around curves, on entrance and exit ramps, corners. As it rolls down Palm Bay Road, it rocks and I feel once more and I will lose anything in my stomach. Everything.
Maria is still talking, Sean is still poking, I fight sleep. Chaparones are not supposed to sleep. My eyes close and I am woken at the school.
2:30 pm: We exit The Astronaut Hall of Fame and Space Camp and head to the bus. The heat feels wonderful. I have never been so happy to be so hot. It is delightful, comfortable, embracing and life-giving. I want to vomit. I want my head off but at least I am warm.
I am walking, not too steady, to the bus. Beside me a mother of one of the students. She looks at me, asks if I want Tylenol. I say bless you and accept two Extra Strength Tylenol. Who needs water? We mill at the bus waiting for the signal to board.
2:24 pm: Last stop. The conference room. I am shivering. It is the same sixty-two degrees in there it has been throughout the rest of the complex. There are rows of chairs facing the front table. On it, shuttle tiles, torches, vices. I walk to the back of the room and sit on the blue carpeted floor thinking it more stable than the chairs. Under me the floor twists and heaves. I ride it.
The students are told of all the wonderful jobs available in space and science. What they can do for NASA. How they will be the next astronauts. What amazing opportunities they have living as close to the world’s spaceport and how, with education, they can take advantage of those opportunities.
Tiles are heated on the front, glow red and furious bright. Students tough the back of the two inch thick blocks. They are amazed it is cool to the touch. The front becomes cool enough to touch within seconds of removing the flame. The students line up to touch. One calls me and I go, holding on to whatever is available as I wait in line.
When the line is done, we file outside. Outside.
2:04 pm: The door swings open and light, bright and painful, enters. I turn away and my head swims. My body seems to move the opposite way as my head feels as though it is continuing to turn. The old man walks to the opening, looks at me and says, “You need to sit a bit. The next person can wait.” He is right. I do. But soon, not more than a minute, I get up, grab the doorway, pull myself out. Walking into the bright light, toward the glass door, steadying myself. I do not want the students to see me ill. I’m not sure I have a choice.
Mr. Science Teacher looks at me closely, “O Man, you don’t look so good. Are you ok? If I had any idea it’d do that to ya.” He would have what? Stopped me? I should have stopped myself. I lean on the railing. Ms. Ramirez is heard in the distance and she tells us it is time to round up the kids and head to the conference room.
1:57 pm: I have waited an hour. Perhaps a bit more. The glass door opens and I am ushered in and to one of the small booths. Inside, it is no more larger than the space needed for a small chair and the person sitting in it. The chair faces front and toward a small screen. Next to the screen, one on either side, are two handles facing up. I sit within and fasten the seabelt. Below is a floor and an up-slanted foot rest joining the floor to front wall. It is made of dimpled metal and my feet rest comfortably there. A moment or two passes, I look ahead and see a sign above the screen: Keep eyes open at all times. I look ahead and below the screen and next to it, a large red button. “In case of distress or ailment, press this button and the simulator will slowly come to a halt.” Next to this was the same list of ailments I read outside. I have none of these? Why should I not ride? The door closes and it is a solid darkness.
The screen lights up and voices are heard. I had not noticed the speakers. It is a radio-voice from a virtual f-14 pilot and I hear we are about to take off and, jerking, not smoothly, I move. I spin, I know, but spinning this did not feel like. I reach forward and grab the handles and they do not give, do not move.
I feel consumed by the screen as the voice tells the tower he is ready for liftoff and the ground, which does not look remotely real in the monitor, falls away as the sky becomes wider and takes more of the screen. I feel as though my stomach has left me, choosing to attempt a stay on the round whilst I rise into the air. Unfortunately, my stomach did not make it out and I am more than astoundingly aware of it.
I do not listen carefully to the voice. For a moment I tried to loosen my grip on the handles. I could but felt them move toward me and decided I might not be able to get them back on and so left them, tightening my grip. It says something about a mountain and it comes into view, about not being able to avoid it and it comes closer and then lurches down and to the side. I am stamping the floor against the four G’s, plastered against the wall , beating it with my shoulder, elbow, voice as I discover I am making noises quite unbecoming, quite undignified.
This continues. The fake sky spirals as the ground circles coming closer and I can feel my head spin, hear myself whimper, still beating the right wall, the floor, the surface behind my head.
Six minutes, I think of hitting the red button but do not, cannot, will not. Six minutes long and I decide I will stand it, must stand it but will pay or this and the sky opens wide again as the ground fully falls away and I hit the back wall with my head again and again and again.
I have no idea what the voice says. I do not remember a thing of what happens on the screen and do not pay attention with my mind but my body accepts every fiction and reacts despite my knowledge of slow rotation and slight temporary tilt. I do not know what happens but I am panicked and ill and sorry and sore and want out, an end, stillness and quiet and light and all I have is noise and twisting and nausea and brightness in the solid claustrophobic dark and then I see the ground come close and level and coming fast and then slowing and then the screen image is still and something is different though I am not sure but I believe we have stopped.
12:43 pm: These kids keep cutting in line, but they are my kids, kids I’m in charge of and, of course, it is they who should ride so I let them in. They are not sneaky; some even ask. The sign says the ride is six minutes long and it takes two people at a time. I count the people in front of me. Eighteen. Nine times six and I can see I might not get my chance. I wait patiently and talk with my partner in chaperonedom, the science teacher, he of the mid-thirties and sixth career, ninth professional job, ex-cop and E.P.A. inspector. We move forward the distance of two middle-schoolers at a time. Our speed: twelve middle-schoolers and hour.
12:40 pm: I have spent a half hour or more in the museum. It is not that large and I have been here before. It is a static exhibit and nothing has changed. What is different is the time I have and it seems there is plenty. I walk toward the one exhibit I know, in my heart, in my gut, I should be walking away from. I tell myself it is jus because most of my young charges are there, in line, waiting patiently, well behaved and calm. It is a glass enclosed room about fifteen by fifteen. Within is a whirler of industrial proportions with a computer in the center, a pivot above that allowing for spinning and at either end a small fully opaque chamber big enough or a person in a chair. The chambers are on servos that allow them to rock out and in as they spin around the center as dictated by the program. The device spins slowly. It is the F-14 Simulator.
The sign says it produces four Gs. How much can that be other than four times the pull of Earth’s gravity. It’s spinning so slowly. It is nearly mesmerising. It looks calming. People go in and six minutes later they come out and no-one looks worn or upset or any worse than upon entering. People say it was fun, enjoyable, cool, neat, and I’ve nothing to do and find myself in line.
12:30 pm: Lunch is over. The students are given time to investigate the museum on their own terms and I, with my twelve kiddies and my teacher-partner enter the dim from the bright through corridors and doors and find ourselves in a hall of spacesuits, faces in monitors, touch-screens and hands-on science. Two small halls of exhibits. I read what there is to read. Make a spaceman balance in the center of a small tank of water, play a virtual game, learn of the Apollo One mission, read about Gus Grissom and how he was scapegoated by NASA, then died, burned alive inside the Apollo 1 capsule, along with two others as a result of a failsafe device to prevent the very mistake he was supposed to have made in his earlier flight. In short, they made he door so it would not open from the inside. Later his ‘mistake’ was found to be a design flaw which had nothing to do with him.
Grissom was an engineer who, even after that event in the mercury capsule, went on to create designs that were used and are still used in spaceflight. He is the reason NASA stopped naming individual capsules and named only overall missions and gave flights numbers. He called his 1961 capsule Liberty Bell Seven not because of his love for liberty but because he said the design would cause it to sink like a giant iron bell. NASA took a dim view.
His Mercury space suit is on display in the hall while a battle rages over who gets to own it. His family wants it to tour the country. The Smithsonian and NASA want it to stay just where it is where it can be seen only by those who can afford the pretty pennies. Forty years and Grissom is still making waves.
You go Gus!
12:00 pm: Lunch. Out of various coolers come lunches, all packed in their clear bags. Each with a name. The children sit on the bleachers in the room we have been in all morning. I don’t see the need for the coolers. Sixty-two degrees.
These kiddies are eating monstrous things. One has brought nothing but a bag of Cheetoes and another a bag of Fritos. These both had to be, of course, in large plastic bags. A bag in a bag. Cokes, Gatorade and cookies. A few have sandwiches and fruit.
I have my bag. I eat my apple, my carrot. I drink my bottle of water and then have my Cliff Bar. I walk my empty bag with it’s empty bottle, empty wrapper, apple core and carrot end to one of the two fifty-five gallon trash barrels which are the only reason, both I and the children have been told, a student may move from the bleacher and the shame of their terrible lunches is even greater as the barrels fill further and higher with huge quantities of food untouched now become trash.
11:30 am: The children have been lined up in front of a harness attached to a chain attached to four rows of three long springs each – twelve springs: three in line attached to three in line attached to…- and then a series of chains, pullies and then a winch attached to a track which runs forty feet and all this a four foot wide, six inch thick mat running under the track. Me and my twelve and Mr. Science Teacher. Our guide, Diane, shows us this will allow us to feel one-sixth gravity. She puts on the harness, much like the kind stuntmen use to fly, much like a wire-harness. She puts it on and tells us all the girls will have no trouble with this but warns the boys may find this more than slightly uncomfortable, and, as she says this she pulls a strap tight and we all see exactly what she is talking about.
She demonstrates the methods astronauts use to move in lower than Earth gravity as she sidles, hops and skips. She shows us how to pick up and object and bend in low gravity.
A boy goes first and confirms the discomfort, then a girl, then I lose track until the tallest of our group goes and there is little room left near the winch as the gears pull the chains and there is little left between the springs and the winch by the time it is high enough, taut enough for him. It dawn on me: this does not work. Most of the kids have their feet barely on the ground, touching it with their toes as they hang there. Even under low gravity, they would actually be in full contact with the surface. With a computer, they could enter the weight of the child, the compensate with the pullies for an accurate one sixth of the weight. But she just ups the child into the air until their toes dangle dragging the mat. For a half hour they flip and flop and hip and hop and bounce. The girls giggle. The boys seem to wince.
11:00 am: We sit in the bleachers in front an eight foot diameter gyroscope with a seat. We are given a lecture about the Multi Axis Trainer. We are told why it exists. How NASA was afraid a capsule could spin and twist in different axis and the astronaut within would need to withstand it and bring it under control. Thus, a Multi Axis Trainer.
The sign says if I have a heart condition, back problems, vertigo, pregnancy and some other such difficulties I should not ride. This is a ride? And I was not aware pregnancy was a ‘difficulty’ but who am I to argue with NASA?
The first child is strapped in, shoulder straps, leg straps, feet on the foot plate which is a new addition and the reason for such is without it the feet tend to fly around a bit. I’m glad Diane mentioned that. I’d hate to see the kid’s feet flying around.
We are told the way the device spins the center of gravity remains the center of the body so the abdominal area does not actually move very much. We’re told because the movement does not stay stable, because it does not continuously move in the same direction, the ears do not cause the rider to become dizzy as they would simply spinning. It appears true as the lever is pulled, the seat sways back and forward a bit, Diane walks out of the small cage surrounding the MAT, closes the gate, walks to the side and turns a throttle. The outside ring turns, the seat begins to move, the center ring begins to move as well, the seat begins to flip this way then that and spins, the inner ring turns in response to the other two and the seat moves no way more than one revolution. Hair, long and unbound, flies here and there, red flames blown by a fickle wind, the child screams. The child is smiling.
She comes off and appears no worse than when she got in. A thirty second ride. One minutes with strap-in and strap-out. The next goes, then the next all through the twelve of us and then, “Come on Mr. Teacher. Do you want to give it a try?’
I walk up, empty my pockets and a student, one I initially did not trust, takes my digital camera and tells me he’ll get my picture. All my belongings are on the bleacher but Diane is right there and I worry a bit anyway.
I enter the cage, am strapped in, I ask about epilepsy, am told it is not a problem, I ask about any number of things and am told I have only thirty second and if I want to try it now is the time and I say go ahead. Diane pulls the lever and the seat sways back, feeling like a swing that has gone too high, come back down and I say, quickly, “That’s good.”
“So you are ready?”
“No, I mean that’s good. That’s enough. It was fun. No ride. Out please.” And I realize I am about to become very much a spectacle and I also realize I don’t care and as I think this, I am being unstrapped.
I pick up my things, all still there after less than half a minute, my camera is handed back. There was no time for a picture.
10:00 am: I have six of the kids. Mr. Science Teacher has six and he is to be in another section of the Shuttle simulator. The kids have tags around their necks and have been given flight designation which tell them what their jobs are. Before coming here they have been given materials to read which helped them understand what those designations mean and what they entail.
We enter a hatch to a small room with a bank of screens. Behind us are ladders attached to the opposite walls which lead to hatches in the ceiling. Each leads the same place: the flight command center above us. Four of the kids go up there. I look up the ladder and decide to stay down here in the science center.
The other six students are in mission control in another room in this hanger.
Our guide shows the kids how to do the experiment when the script calls for it, to take the blood pressures of the flight crew, change the carbon dioxide filtration unit. The entire simulation experience is scripted and the kids each have a script to follow. Each has a microphone and an earpiece and can communicate with the others through these devices even though the space is small enough they could hear each other at a hush. I suppose, in space, no-one can hear you whisper.
I watched them follow the script right through the landing, as seen through a screen. They were proud of themselves, doing the experiment, changing the canisters, guiding the shuttle in.
While I watched them talk, crawl through hatches, ascend and descend, I had nothing to do but stand there in the six by six my eight space. I looked at the controls. I looked at the intercom. I looked at the thermostat and saw it was at sixty-two degrees. In the small box of a room, all metal and moving air, it was sixty-two. No wonder I was chilled, stiff. We were told to wear long pants but I would have worn long sleeves as well.
Later they got to see that the simulation was programmed to work smoothly but to record, as well, what the results of their flight would have been. The alternate results showed a rather large mess on the runway.
9:30 am: We pull up to The Astronaut Hall of Fame and Space Camp. As we exit the bus, we are escorted into a large hangerish room off of which all the other smaller rooms are connected, in which is the shuttle simulator, the multi-axis trainer, moon walker, space walker and other devices are.
Each child is asked his or her designation and are given a name tag and with that designation on it. Mission Control, flight crew manager one, flight crew junior, science crew, other designation I am not close enough to hear.
We are divided up and I am given my group of six and my companion, MR. Science Teacher, who has six as well. We are walked to the Shuttle Simulator and are met by our guide, Diane.
8:30 am: Our bus pulls out of Stone Middle School. I have not been in a bus this large. It rocks and sways. As we pull out the driver tells the students not to scream. Particulary the girls. Then he tells the boys not to give them anything to scream about. I sit in the back with Maria and watch them, many still tired, squirm and talk, sleep and poke.
Each turn we come to feels as though we are about to fall over. I figure this must be stable or Space Camp would not be transporting kids again and again and again. Still, it certainly does not feel that way.
Maria is talking. Curriculum, skin cancer, reading, skin cancer. She shows me her leg where the lymph glands were removed this last Summer. That’s what she did on her Summer vacation. Maria gets sick more now, it seems.
Maria is a native of Brevard County but looks like she would come from Upper Michigan or Wisconsin. It looks like the sun is not her friend. In the end, it wasn’t.
As we pull in, Maria is still talking. I have no idea about what.
8:15 am: The Science Department Chair meets me and thanks me for taking this on in such short notice but that there is no time for talking and, taking my hand, pulls me from Susan and toward the bus. I was asked only yesterday. I’m not een clear on where we are going. It’s called BLAST which stands for Brevard Something And Science Something.
None of these kids are my students, she knows. Mine are with a substitute. But the chapparones all failed to show and to go on a field trip one must be fingerprinted now, thanks to the Patriot Act. The schools board will not pay for the fingerprinting and few people want to pay the sixty dollar fee.
So here I am. I put my lunch, packed as directed, in a clear bag, in the large red cooler marked TEACHERS and mill. Ms. Pebbles runs up. She has been recruited just this morning to attend.
The bus driver is old. Rather incredibly old. Or at least he looks that way. The bus is huge and looks new and shiny white and is not a school bus but belongs to Space Camp. For some reason, they use their own buses and the cost is included in the camp or, in this case, the field trip. As we are a science school, each child gets to go. I am told this is through a grant of some kind and some other schools are involved.
Some students who are suspended had to be brought back to attend this and will be out again after the trip. Why, I ask. It has something to do with the grant and the superintendent himself said it had to be that way. Chalmers, I think his name it.
“Mr. Tritt, would you board first?”
Sure. I get in and see the back is a long bench seat from one side to the next. Prime real estate for kids to fight over, fall under, do things in behind the other seats where they cannot be seen. I walk all the way back and stand in the center directly in front of the bench. As kids come in they ask if they can sit there. Each on asks and I point to their seat. I don’t want to sit in that one, I’m told, and I point anyway. Most sit. A few I have removed until they comply. Not sitting with friends? Well then, board with them next time. Saving a seat? Nope, not this time.
Maria enters and walks to the back and I am now not alone.
There are about seventy students. The door closes and the bus starts.
8:11 am: I arrive as school, sign in and make my way toward the bus. On the way there, Susan finds me and hands me a yellow padded envelope and tells me it’s a present. In it is the first Big White Undies CD. I have been looking for this. Back in Gainesville, I use to see them play all over. I MCed a fundraiser or two with them, saw them play with Phish. I never had to pay but also never had the money to buy a CD.
I am overwhelmed as I look at it and Susan tells me she like the other one so much when she found this one she got two so I could have it.
Last week, I gave her Matter by Big White Undies to borrow. I never do that, let people borrow CDs or books, but I did for her. She loved it, telling me what I knew already, that there was not one bad cut on it, that it was formidable, concerted and tight. The songs were thoughtful and literary while the music was light and joyous. That is is an amazing recording.
Do I have something to listen to it with? No Susan, I don’t have a portable CD player and, if I did, I’d not be toting it with me on the field trip. She tells me she’ll hold it for me and I can get it from her when I get back this afternoon.