One Time, One Night In America

What I remember about the moon landing is we got to stay up late to watch it. Some of my friends were over. I think Andrew van Pelt and Becky Morrow – I could be wrong but its my memory so who’s to correct. I was 6 and I guess Becky was too. Andrew was 8 and I thought it was cool to have a big kid as a friend. Someone had given us a huge pad of paper and told us to draw spaceships on it. Andrew’s were the best – as usual. I thought everything he did was the best.

July in Chicago meant nights so hot my mother would spread an old canvas tarp on the porch and we’d sleep there, hoping for a breeze. Air conditioning was for people with more money than we had. So were color TVs. We had a black & white as did nearly everyone else I knew.

(The Tates were the only people who had color, which is why I liked to go over there on Saturday morning – the only time cartoons were on. This did not make up for the fact that they named their son – my other best friend – Ira. Ira Tate. Honestly you’d think they’d never gone to elementary school.)

Read the press today and you’d think Walter Cronkite was the only TV person to cover the landings. With only three networks to choose from though families had enormous loyalty to their preferred network. We were ABC not CBS, and so I remember Frank Reynolds narrating. Reynolds had silver hair and a voice like dark silk. (Cronkite’s voice grated on my ears when I was younger. The loss of the 6-year-old demographic did not seem to hamper him much.) If I could have picked what I would look and sound like when I grew up it would have been Frank Reynolds. He was teamed up with the ur-nerd, Jules Bergman – there was something Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin-like about them together.

I do not think I remember the landing itself, just Reynolds’ voice. I say think because I have watched it so many times since that I’m not sure. But all the memories I have of the event itself are aural. The statically crackling of Neil Armstrong terse phrases. Even at the time I thought it was stiff but I also thought it was amazing.

The moon landing was a big deal but it wasn’t surprising. I was a nascent sci-fi geek and learning to read from my brothers’ comic books. I had already seen the Fantastic Four defeat Galactus, the planet-eating villain. It was a year when anything seemed possible – the Cubs were in first place, five games ahead of some expansion team from New York. I was going to be an astronaut or a fireman. Either way I’d get to go into space. We’d all be in space by the time I grew up.

All that is why I wrote this short story.

     “Told you so!” Cholly shouted with a seven-year-old’s self-righteous glee.

      Isaac’s skepticism was near total. Not only was he nine and doubting everything, but he had never ever admitted his sister was right. Then there was the matter of the room they were in. It was huge and dark and at the back of an old building, with aisles and aisles of shelves that reached to the ceiling where the light bulbs gave off a dim, green light. They had been let into the room by a woman who seemed as old as the building. She had very little hair and wrinkles everywhere and had smiled at Cholly, but only lowered her eyelids and snorted when she met Isaac. In short, Isaac was scared. And the more scared he felt, the more he couldn’t possibly admit Cholly was right.

      But there it was, in a permanent book. That made him even more nervous. Almost every book he’d ever seen was printed out then cycled when you were done with it. His parents only had one permanent at home. It was very old. Bible, they called it. Which was the story of God. Isaac wasn’t sure who God was, but knew God was big and dangerous. As much as possible he avoided being alone in the room with Bible. So books scared him, too. And he had been telling Cholly it was all impossible since yesterday. People gone to the moon. Not really.

      Yesterday Cholly had come home and that was all she would talk about.

      “I saw it. I saw the pictures.” She was whining because instead of wanting to go see it, he just said it never happened.

      “I’d have known about it,” he said with a nine-year-old’s unshakable certainty.

      “I’ll show you,” she said, making it sound like a threat.


Why Jon Stewart is today’s Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite was known for years as the most trusted man on TV (or America – depending on who you listened to). Watching Jon Stewart’s evisceration of first the entire “financial TV news” farce and Jim Cramer on last night’s The Daily Show is the latest and best example of why Stewart now has the title.

He did what I’ve seen far too few American broadcast journalists do – he was willing to be difficult and uncomfortable. (It’s not just TV that’s guilty of this – NPR had a series of interviews with car company CEOs earlier this year that was awe inspiring for its refusal to ask aggressive questions.) Watch BBC World News America or listen to BBC radio news to hear journalists who clearly are not concerned with whether the person being interviewed or the audience likes him or her. Then try to watch Anderson Cooper et al.

Stewart did what every real reporter does – he had the facts at hand and when the subject prevaricated he hit them with them. He continually cuts to clips of Cramer explaining how he used all the tricks and tactics that he said he didn’t know other traders and companies used. This is what Ted Koppel and Nightline was all about.

While the entire episode deserves an award – a special Pulitzer citation? – of particular note is this quote:

“These guys were on a Sherman’s March through their companies financed by our 401Ks and all the incentives of their companies were for short-term profit and they burned the fucking house down and walked away rich as hell and you guys knew that was going on.”

Cramer’s attempt at a defense (and kudos to Cramer for being willing to go on the show and face the music – his TV career is now over) was this:

We’re not always told the truth. Most importantly the market was going up for a really long time and our real sin was to continue to believe it could continue to go up in the face of what you described – a lot of borrowing, a lot of shenanigans. … I’m not Edward R. Murrow. I’m a guy trying to do an entertainment show about business.

In short, Cramer never recovered from one of the first things Stewart said to him: “I understand you want to make finance entertaining but it’s not a fucking game.”

Stewart is the most trusted man in America because HE DOESN’T PRETEND TO BE OTHER THAN WHAT HE IS. The show is flat out honest about the fact that they’re just trying to get some laughs. Jim Cramer and the rest of the CNBC/MSNBC/Fox Business hacks aren’t honest. As Stewart himself asks: “How is that different from an infomercial?”

Now if Stewart or someone else will just take down these asinine partisan political chattering shows. From Rachel Maddows to O’Reilly – they all need to realize that it’s not a fucking game.

BTW, kudos to Richard Laermer for his spot on live twitter (@laermer) commentary of what happened on the show.