yesterday, when our guys did the first moon walk, and I believe one of them even whacked a golf ball on its dusty surface, I was in Pacific Grove, California, glued to Walter Cronkite at George and Ann Crile’s house, and I wrote this little vignette of their elderly French neighbors.
Pacific Grove. Sunday, July 20.
“The old French couple next door put up a small American flag on the side of their house in honor of the moon landing. Otherwise they spent their Sunday in the usual fashion, sitting together on the front porch, he with his beret, grey pointed beard and bathrobe, often peering through a long and fully extended telescope; she with opera glasses and a blanket over her legs, looking out at the sea all day, although they could only see a small patch of it at the end of the street, and nothing visible seemed to be going on out there. The flag was their one concession to the event that was so important to their adopted country. Of course they were proud of the moon venture; that was a part of being American– but they really weren’t interested in it at all. They didn’t have a t.v., and besides the whole thing seemed to them a little foolhearty and unnecessary. They preferred to look at the pale overcast sky and the kelp bed floating in the waves off Lovers’ Point, at the sight that had become so intimate with their last years. They were content to live at the level of their awareness. Down at the end of the street the beach was full of the people who are drawn to the beach on Sundays : the playing children, and those who come to see the children play.”
Yesterday I remembered that day forty years ago and vaguely recalled having written a reflective piece, and maybe even thought of rummaging in the wooden chest crammed with my juvenalia to see if I had a copy of it. At the time, I was 22, morphing from a poet to a songwriter. The Sixties were in full flower, and I was studying Russian at the Defense Language Institute with George Crile, who turned me on to an obscure Marine reserve intelligence unit that trained us to be parachuted behind the Iron Curtain and melt into the local population. This was not going to happen, as we were not at war with the USSR, but with the Vietnamese commies and their Chinese backers, so it was an honorable way of getting out of going to Vietnam, which I wanted no part of. The following year, I was made a minister by the Reverend Gary Davis in a heated moment in a storefront church in Harlem, and got discharged !V-D, the D standing for divinity.
Lo and behold, speaking of the devil, among my e-mails this morning there was one from a guy called Elric Eldersby, who had hitchhiked down from Berkeley and spent the historic day with the Criles and me. I had for some reason copied my vignette into his journal, which he still had 40 years later, and he sent me a scan of it.
George and Ann split up a few years later. She is the daughter of Susan Mary Alsop, who was married to the
influential, impeccably connected, incredibly stuffy journalist Joe Alsop. George went on to become a producer for 60 Minutes. He was sued for libel by General Westmoreland for his segment, The Vietnam Deception. He wrote the bestseller, Charlie Wilson’s War, which was made into a movie, and died in 2006 of pancreatic cancer at the age of sixty-one. Cronkite is gone, too, and as Eldersby observed in his e-mail, “now we are not so much younger than the French neighbors, finding the longer perspective within ourselves.”