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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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Return to lately 2001.

october 13, 2001

This past Monday, Columbus Day, I took a day off, because Mary's company recognizes the holiday.

We stayed up later than usual Sunday night, working on our Flash movies.

I woke up about eight o'clock Monday morning, much later than usual (I normally get up at four o'clock each morning, while the world is still black and silent).

I went into my usual routine, smoking a cigarette in bed with my night table lamp clicked on, nothing else existing yet except two dark doorways and the slumber beside me, thinking about my life, then trudged out to the kitchen, finger-combing my hair, getting coffee started, feeding the cats.

It occurred to me I could turn on the TV, but I didn't. The day prior, Sunday, the United States started bombing Afghanistan. What would I see on the screen, if I pressed the little red button on the remote? Would it be buildings in smoke? Thousands of miles away, or hundreds?

So I left the TV off, woke Mary, touching her shoulder, and we drank our coffee, smoked our cigarettes, talked, joked, imitated Bela Lugosi's voice to each other at one point, made love.

When we finally did turn on the TV, we found out no Americans had died yet in the raids. Eighty-five percent of the targets in Afghanistan had been successfully destroyed.

People say the world is getting smaller, but I think it's getting bigger, because we're discovering so many new areas of the globe we have to bomb. I fully support our efforts in Afghanistan, and sincerely hope we extend our military actions to any other nation that aids and abets terrorists. Somewhere in the booms, rubble and red body parts is a perfect world. I hope we find that greenness.

When I was eleven I used to walk to my maternal grandparents' house each Sunday to spend the day with them. They lived on Steamboat Road in Greenwich, Connecticut, south of Greenwich Avenue, so it was about a mile's walk. I always looked forward to visiting them, because I loved them, especially my grandmother, but even my grandfather, who was the angry type of alcoholic, rather than the sentimental type of alcoholic, but also because their long backyard bordered Long Island Sound, and there's nothing like an ocean to keep an eleven year old boy busy. After I cleaned house for them, and mowed the lawn, we'd sit down to Sunday dinner together, me, my grandmother, in her seventies, and my grandfather. My grandmother and I ate whatever dinner I prepared under her supervision (she had Parkinson's disease by then, and couldn't cook). My grandfather always ate a hamburger patty, which I'd cook for him. I'd place his cooked patty on his plate, then he'd old man shuffle out to the back kitchen to return with the skillet in which the patty had been cooked, and pour the blonde and brown grease onto a slice of toast he laid out on his plate next to his patty. He loved grease. He thought it kept him alive.

About seven o'clock or so in the evening I'd say goodbye to them and walk the mile or so uphill to home, passing all the stores on Greenwich Avenue, most of them shut and silent since it was Sunday.

One Sunday morning when I walked down to my grandparents' house, nobody was home. I knocked on the white front door, walked around the first story, listened at the windows on the front porch off the living room, but past the panes there were no sounds of muffled conversation.

After about an hour, I gave up and disconsolately started the mile-long trudge uphill towards home.

Between my grandparents' house and the bottom of Greenwich Avenue, about a fifth of the distance I had to travel, was the Greenwich Railroad Station. Its black iron diamond-patterned trestle traversed above the sidewalk I had to take.

Immediately to the south of the station was a huge, flat black parking lot with white lines for each car.

Being Sunday, the parking lot was empty.

But what I now noticed, strolling up the beige sidewalk on the opposite side of the street, was that the entire parking lot had been used to set up, like a traveling carnival, a display of about a dozen fall-out shelters.

And it was deserted.

This was 1961.

I crossed the empty street. At first, I just walked around the periphery of the lot, marveling at the oddly-shaped fall-out shelters from a safe distance.

After a while, being a kid, and realizing there were no adults around, I ventured down onto the tar of the lot, peeking into the nearest corrugated shelter, then poking my head into the next one, then walking down the steps of the third one, emboldened by the isolation of the lot, descending with sneakered feet and skinny shoulders until I was surrounded by arched yellow steel.

For whatever reason, nearly all the fallout shelters were yellow as fire hydrants, a few of the more expensive ones highlighted with red.

It was cool.

It was romantic, even for an eleven year old, like climbing up into a treehouse, except it smelled different, and instead of climbing up you were climbing down, and what you were climbing down into was meant to be buried in a big hole in your backyard, dirt shoveled atop.

The shelters came in different sizes, the smallest about as big as a root cellar, the largest the size of a garage. The bigger shelters had fake cartons of supplies inside, impressive but empty, with light brown lettering identifying the contents as BEANS or CABBAGE or DRY MILK.

The bigger shelters also had a radio, represented by a black and gray cardboard box, and better hatch-locking devices. The biggest of all of them, actually the last one I descended into the shadows of, a monstrous yellow drum with ribbed sides and ceiling, had the same type of spin-the-wheel latch found on submarines. Back in the late fifties, early sixties, there was a national religious debate as to whether or not it was proper to shotgun any neighbor who tried to get into your shelter, they having failed to buy their own shelter. The general religious consensus was, Blast away. Praise God and use the ammunition.

Along about this same period, I remember walking with my best friend at the time, Peter, through the orderly streets of Greenwich's first tract housing project, only a few blocks from my home.

Before this tract arrived, on what had previously been an immense, empty field, houses in Greenwich had been built as you please, on whatever parcel of land was available. There was no relation in design from one house to the next. But in this tract, all the houses had been put up by the same builder, and all were somewhat similar. Walking down a block, you'd see that the eight or so houses had to share three designs among them. It's impossible to convey now what a novelty that was back then. We wondered if people pulled into the wrong driveways. The houses were also fascinating to neighborhood kids because they were only one story high, unheard of at that time (ranch houses, as they were called back then). Even adults were uneasy. The bedrooms were on the first floor.

The owners of these tract homes were all younger than the owners of regular homes in Greenwich, and they all spent far more time taking care of their front lawns. Regular Greenwich homeowners mowed their yard, and that was it. But these new men were standing in their front yards from the time they got home from their jobs in New York City until it got dusk, young wives calling them in to dinner, not only mowing but planting trees, pruning hedges, watering rose bushes.

Peter and I were walking through these neighborhoods we didn't live in, arguing between ourselves as to which was more powerful, the atomic bomb or the newly talked about hydrogen bomb. This subject of conversation was not at all unusual among kids in the early sixties. After all, several times a month we were made to suddenly vacate our school in the middle of class, hurrying out beneath wailing sirens with everyone else to cringe on the sidewalk outside our school, the black and white nuns leading us in prayer that this would turn out to be just another test, and not 'the real thing'.

That phrase, 'the real thing', has a special meaning for people of my generation. We all knew what the real thing was. It didn't mean Coca-Cola. It meant our parents blown down dead onto the living room's white carpet, ourselves blasted into black, elongated shadows against a building's red brick wall.

The real thing meant death by disintegration, no body to bury; or death weeks later by radiation sickness, skin swelling white as fish bellies, hands falling off like gloves.

I was more interested in science and current events and destruction than Peter, so I argued the hydrogen bomb could kill more people than the atomic bomb. He disagreed very strongly, because look at all the tens of thousands of people who died when we dropped 'the big one' on Hiroshima.

As it happened, we passed by the front yard of a young home owner who was crouched over his lawn, big shears in his hands, clipping the lawn's edge.

"If the Russians dropped an atomic bomb on us, or dropped a hydrogen bomb, which bomb would kill more people?"

He stopped his edging, straightening up, considering the question for a moment, in the way adults do. All of this may sound odd now, but back then, it was considered to be a reasonable question for children to ask, and adults to answer.

"The atomic bomb, as it's known, splits apart an atom. That unleashes a terrific force. But the hydrogen bomb, it splits apart a specific atom, the hydrogen atom. The hydrogen atom is more powerful than the regular atom used in the atomic bomb, so the answer to your question is that the hydrogen bomb would kill more people than the atomic bomb."

Actually, this didn't stop Peter from continuing to argue his case, after we thanked the man and continued our way down the darkening street. "Look at Hiroshima!"

The word 'atom' was coined by Plato. It means 'uncleavable'. If only.

Mary and I only drink Spaten Optimator malt liquor. It's been brewed in Munich, Germany since 1397. It's absolutely wonderful. The only reliable dealer we've been able to find, in the Dallas metroplex, who can deliver four cases every other week, is located in northern Dallas. They're Middle-Eastern. Normally, when we go there, the store is packed. When we visited after September 11, the one person in the store other than ourselves was a fortyish guy with blond hair trying to cash his paycheck. The owners greeted us as they always do, rolling out our cases of beer on a dolly. I mentioned the severe drop-off in business. "It'll pick up. We are ready to wait."

After they loaded the cases in the back of our SUV, the co-owner, whom we've known for about a year now, came out brandishing two glass mugs emblazoned with the Spaten Optimator logo. Joining us behind the SUV, he held the big mugs out to me. "We want that you have these. Sincerely."

Since September 11, there have been about twenty acts of violence a day against American citizens of Middle-Eastern origin. That's shameful. That's truly, truly shameful.

Artists control their own worlds, in that they create them.

I've created all sorts of literary worlds, but lately I've taken to creating visual ones.

I'm redoing the SENTENCE Flash Index page, now that I know more about the capabilities of Flash.

In the process, I'm creating two worlds. A white moon that orbits high in the sky, and a massive brown planet that slowly rotates beneath. Both have been incredibly fun to make. The moon is made out of salt, black pepper and garlic powder; the world out of dirt, stone, flour and herbs. Mary did the photograph of the moon, from my flat sculpture, and trained it into rotation. It would not exist without her help.

Yesterday, Mary and I went out into our backyard after work, and in a large flower bed that's empty this season, we shoveled dirt around an imaginary center to get a circular mound of about four feet diameter. Leaning over the birth like giants, we carefully plucked up any twigs or roots in the dirt that would betray our planet's real scale, then started our world-building, pushing small white rocks into the loam to create mountain ranges, half-burying sheets of blue-tinted Saran Wrap for our oceans, creating vast forests and deserts by sprinkling powdered oregano and tarragon. At the planet's northern pole I sifted flour through my fingers, watching the snow fall over thousands of square miles of mountain range and seashore. If anyone lives on our planet, let's hope they've discovered fire.

When we were done, we took a moment before photographing it to look down at the world we had created. It looked vast and peaceful.

The great joy, the great sorrow of our lives is that we can imagine so much, that isn't.

Click on the thumbnail to see the full image.