Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Trip to the Moon

Ira stood in the corner with me, her foil space hat cocked backwards resting on the ball of her head. The NASA that I had drawn on the foil was beginning to wear out and the foil was beginning to crack. My space hat was still on my head but had changed form, from a pointy dunce-like cap to some kind of weird blunt object now that sat precariously on my forehead. The ‘I heart science’ that I had drawn on my hat was illegible. Things were yellow and warm. There was a constant sweaty milk on all of our faces, due to the overwhelmingly swampy night. Ira’s face sparkled with this milk as I tried to calm her down, telling her that our friend Pepe was fine. A blond haired American woman casually made her way over to ask us about our hats. She was bursting with curiosity.

“What are the hats for guys? Are you gonna like stab someone with them in the heart?”

“No. Why would we do something like that?” I asked her. Her attempt at humor failed to put a smile on my face. She was trying to relate, but at this point, it was impossible. There was a very thin unbroken meniscus of sanity still, and with each of the girl’s questions, the membrane grew weaker. The meniscus had broken for Ira already, and one false step was all I needed to step into the great abyss of momentary confusion. I knew there was no possible way to relate to this blond woman what we had done and why we were wearing these space hats. The definition of insanity—when you can’t relate to a sane person anymore—crossed my mind.

But this girl wasn’t sane at all. After all, she was talking about stabbing someone at this party in the heart with my space hat.

“I mean, come on, why are you wearing these hats? What’s the story?” She continued interrogating me.

“Well, we went to the moon. And now we’re back.” I said as I looked at Pepe who was laughing and with a spouted pail watering all the plants that lined the courtyard. Those aren’t his plants, I thought, why would he be watering them? Maybe Ira is right. Maybe Pepe is losing his mind.

“You went to the moon.” The blond American woman said. I think she was angry by my response.

“Yeah. We built a spaceship.” I said. “Out of space material.”

“Okay. So you built a spaceship.” She was definitely aggravated. I think she expected a wittier response, and normally I could have delivered one, but my wit was overcome with lysergic acid and the only thing that remained of it was my blank stare that was directed at Pepe watering the plants.

It was better Ira couldn’t understand this woman’s questions. It would have confused her.

I didn’t tell this woman that the day before Ira and I had scoured the dumpsters of Buenos Aires like Cartoneros searching for cardboard and anything that resembled technology in order to transform Ira's bed into a makeshift spaceship. Most of my friends hadn’t understood; they just appreciated my insistence of the idea for its comical appeal. They thought, Haha, Zach, a spaceship.

After we came up with the idea, it had quickly spun out of control. In no time, Ira and I had a pile of trash on her floor and bunch of folded cardboard boxes stacked . But it wasn’t then, when we had started to cut the windows out of the cardboard or when we built the engine out of a broken floor fan and the frame of an umbrella, that I wondered why we were building a spaceship. When we ate the LSD, which we euphemistically referred to as combustible, I felt confident and I ignored the anticipating butterflies that had been flying around in my stomach the whole day. Our choreographed disco dance to the galactic funk version of the Star Wars Theme put me at ease and in the right mood before our journey. The next few hours followed peacefully and the world turned yellow and the heat caught me paralyzed.

When I entered the party with my friends, who eyes were lit like green and blue globes, I was wearing my space hat that was covered with aluminum foil and made from an empty cardboard cone that still had grease marks from the French fries I had eaten from it. With the cold eyes of my expatriated colleagues who comprised most of the guests of the party, I asked myself for the first time what we were doing. I felt like some kind of poor pseudo-Timothy Leary who was delivering his band of drugged out misfits into the mayhem and chaos of the outside world. The only difference was: Timothy Leary was a Harvard Professor with some kind of existential purpose. I was just skinny and confused.

What would my old friends think of me right now? What would my parents think? What did this strange occurrence, the spaceship, these space hats, the unwanted glares from the drunken people at this party have to do with my life as a whole? Why did I spend a day building a spaceship out of cardboard boxes? And why was Pepe watering the plants?

I had come far now, in this exact moment, away from the world that I had come from. I hadn’t felt farther from home, from the sane pulse of existence, than at any other moment in my entire year and a half journey. The expatriate community, the ones throwing the party, had accepted me into their world of escapees and fleers. We had all identified and respected each other. We all saw a bit of ourselves in each other. We were the ones who had to try something else, the dreamers, the makers, the shakers, and the escapers. I felt, in this expatriate party, that I was at some end of this escapist extreme and those that had accepted me, now were looking at me in complete confusion.

I have no conclusion. The spaceship was a spaceship. Did we make it for fun? To have some kind of funny purpose to use drugs? Yes and yes. Was there something more to the spaceship besides a few cardboard boxes with the NASA logo drawn on them? Yes. I chose to do something funny and maybe a bit extreme that put me somewhere outside of conventional understanding. Maybe it was something artistic--it was creation. Along with the celestial craft, there was a celestial state of being that was created alongside of it that we all participated in for the night.

I don't know what this is, my life. I don't know where my life exists within the conventional hierarchy of well-being. It took the construction of the Nave Espacial to really consider this, to realize that constructing a spaceship out of cardboard isn't what other twenty seven year olds do. I am escaping a certain reality that would exist for me in the states, a certain middle-ness. I could be finding my place in the middle, and with my intelligence, I could be a successful middle-est, like my parents and their parents.

Is it living outside my country that gives me the feeling that I have some how escaped the middle-ness? I should be happy the middle still awaits because at least its not the bottom. And if my childhood friends, the attorney and the dentist, are finding themselves on the higher side of this hierarchy of well-being, where does that put me--building spaceships and taking drugs?

I guess that's a spaceship. All rules are off when you break the stratosphere.


  1. I would have loved to have seen the choreographed disco dance to the galactic funk version of the Star Wars Theme. Why didn't that ever take place with the attorney and the dentist back in the day?

    No matter where you are Zach, not knowing what your life is isn't just an experience for people escaping the middleness. Join the club buddy :)

  2. Still deeply love reading your words Zach. You are such an inspiring writer. Im just gonna say it, everyone you meet is lucky to have known you... and in some cases... wear space hats with you.