Category Archives: Memoirs

The Beguiling Allure of Labels

I’m  generally not a fan of labels when applied to people.

At the same time that we have made strides in excising labels for people of different races, religions or sexual orientations,  labels for people with a myriad of other psychological conditions have proliferated beyond all reason. People who might once have been thought to have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder} because they wash their hands 500 times/day or keep getting up in the night to see if the stove is turned off, are now called OCD because they like to keep their closet organized. From Tourettes to Dyslexia to Borderline Personality Disorder, everyone seems to have some label to pin to their lapel.  There is now a term, and books written, about “alphabet” kids who are characterized by the acronym they fit under such as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). If the child is too annoying (bored?) they may even be given a drug regime to make them more normal (manageable?), as if being normal should be the goal.  There is one disorder whose acronym is AAADD (Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder) where a person goes around all day so distracted by stimuli in their environment that they leave a trail of unfinished projects. I was jumping in my chair thinking “Hey! I have that!”, until I realized it was a joke.

The problem here is the label itself, and more specifically, when this label is assigned and one then stops all efforts at trying to understand the person (or one’s self) on a deeper level or in a more complex way. In this way, labeling becomes the home of the intellectually lazy. It takes effort to really understand all the facets of a person’s character and personality, more effort than many people, and too often parents, care to take. This is no different than racism really. Judging someone by the color of their skin is just a whole lot easier than judging them by the content of their character! Clearly such a person is suffering from LRLD (Lazy Racist Labeling Disorder).

This is not necessarily the fault of the psychologists who are investigating the intricate workings of the human mind and all the ways things can go right and go wrong or go simply differently. With all the tasks that we must do psychologically, it is not surprising that some people accomplish certain tasks more easily than others. There is certainly some truth undermining many, if not most, of the psychological labels that have so quickly grown in abundance; it’s just that most of them occur in various degrees of disability or ability, like a spectrum, in all of us, and that seeing these traits  is only the beginning of understanding, not the end. Suffice it to say that, usually, what one finds are not specific talents or crippling syndromes but something far more interesting and beautiful: a personality.

This is Where my Memoir Starts

I was on a flight from Chicago to Seattle in the year 2000 when I happened to sit next to a woman with two identical twin boys about ten. One had a pile of drawings perfectly outlining the fifty States, and the other was looking at the map in the back of the American Way magazine, and then out the window, in what appeared to be an attempt to trace our passage across the US. I asked the boy with the maps if he had traced them, and he did not answer. I told him how much I liked maps. Nothing. Then their mother turned to me nicely and replied, “They are autistic. They have photographic memories, he can draw them by himself.”  Willing to believe, but a tad skeptical, I turned back to the boy and asked him if he would draw me a picture of Michigan. I picked a particularly difficult State, not to be sadistic or because it is where I am from, but to give him a good test. “Yes, I can do that, ” he said robotic monotone utterly devoid of inflection. He took out a clean sheet of paper, a pencil, and within one minute had perfectly delineated the outline Michigan, everything in perfect proportion, not one bay or inlet excluded. I was amazed. He gave it to me without my asking. I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he said “A mapmaker.” I told him how much I loved maps, how once I had them on all the walls of my apartment, and how I had all the countries of the world memorized by the time I was his age. No response. I asked his brother what he would like to be when he grew up and he replied, “A meteorologist.” A small light went on in my brain. I was currently studying for my masters degree in atmospheric science at the University of Washington. I spent the rest of the flight talking to the Mother about their family life.

Autism, and it’s smaller twin Asperger’s Syndrome, has been something of a popular epidemic in the last few years. No one is quite sure if there is just a growing consciousness of it’s existence, if the edges of the spectrum are being broadened to include more people, or if it is indeed becoming more prevalent. Waves of hysteria over the possibility that vaccines are causing two year olds to withdraw into their own private autistic world come and go, often with parents carrying on indefatigable battles with school boards over vaccination requirements. After the above flight I got online and started to research. I read “Thinking in Pictures” by Temple Grandin (an autistic woman who has designed most of the animal handling facilities because of her ability to see the world as animals would). I took tests. Clearly I was not autistic, but I did come awfully close to Aspergers, enough to dance on the edge of its “spectrum,” which is a far more reasonable way to view it in my opinion.

A person with full fledged Asperger’s Syndrome has many of the following characteristics to varying degrees: excellent thinking skills regarding the natural world, but poor interpersonal skills, especially regarding personal boundaries; a preoccupation with certain topics such as dinosaurs, trains or boats, memorizing lists of facts like Presidents or Capitals, or meteorology (I didn’t make that up);  they enjoy routine and get anxious if it is upset. The list goes on with regard to social skills, with most of these difficulties resulting from an inability to get out of their own mind in order to appreciate the other person’s point of view. Asperger’s is often found together with Sensory Processing Disorder (that’s SPD folks!) where a person, again to varying degrees, has difficulty processing incoming sensory information. It is not uncommon for a person on the autism scale to be uncomfortable being touched or to intensely dislike loud noises or scratchy clothing. A debate rages in psychological circles on just how close the connection is and if a sensory problem lies at the root of people in the autism spectrum. I recall once seeing an young autistic woman rocking rythmically back and forth in the gym, and I had an epiphany as to why she was doing this. The changing center of gravity pulling on different parts of her body were helping to focus on the fact that they she had a body at all, and its whereabouts, as opposed to being a disembodied consciousness, which is disconcerting to say the least. When I am sitting quietly, it is almost impossible for me not to tap my fingers on the table (there’s my hand!) or bounce my foot (my body goes that far).

Not Your Average Boy

I have been bonkers for the weather my whole life. As a seven year old I was indignant when my parents did not waken me for a midnight windstorm that actually knocked down trees! The nerve. I kept a weather diary for years, keeping especially close track of averages and any deviations from them. I drew pictures of specific events because it helped me a lot if I could imagine it in my head. As an early teen I wrote to the National Weather Bureau to request all information possible on climate data for Michigan. When I received an entire book with a map of Michigan’s annual average snowfall isolines on the cover, I was as excited as most teenage boys are when they discover a Playboy magazine in their father’s underwear drawer. I looked longingly at the areas of northwest Michigan that received over 100 inches in annual snowfall, which is where I happen to live now. Be careful what you wish for.

When I was ten, my parents decided to breed our dog, Holly, a thoroughbred whippet. This, of course, would excite any kid, though I handled it with my own special pizzaz. I researched dog breeding through what little material I could get my hands on. When my Dad found a local stud, and we drove over to their home, I unselfconsciously asked if I would be permitted to observe the “coitus”. I was ten, remember. The other people looked at me strangely, and my father said “yes”.  Nothing too much seemed to happen, except for the stud jumping on the back of Holly (he was appropriately named “Rider”!) and his penis taking on a sort of disturbing quality. The adults were pretty certain that nothing significant had happened, so we left our dog there a couple days, but afterward, Rider’s owners were still quite sure that we should not expect puppies. I was not ready to give up hope, however. At two weeks I began to take measurements of Holly’s nipples so I could see if they were growing (a dog’s gestation period is nine weeks). At three weeks they were definitely larger and I was proud to announce to my parents that Holly was pregnant. No, she is NOT, they insisted, and they didn’t seem to like that I was measuring her nipples. But by four weeks the evidence was growing and they were starting to relent that I was indeed correct. Soon, I abandoned nipple growing as an object of measurement, that was obvious, and took on something else. Apparently, a dog’s temperature, which is normally between 101 and 102.5°F falls below 100°F twenty four hours before labor. For those who would like to know more about this, and I’m sure you all are, you can find that information here. Anyway, one evening around the ninth week Holly lay on the floor next to the chair where my father was reading the newspaper. I took my rectal thermometer, slippery with margarine, and proceeded to place it in Holly’s rectum. Holly was used to this by now. I was just finishing the mearsurement when a scream arose from my Dad. “What do you think you are doing?!” After calming down a second from being shouted at, I explained precisely what I was doing…and in fact, the temperature was 99°F…and Holly would soon have her puppies, I announced. My father then told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was never to do that again, and no, that was no way to determine when a dog would give birth. He ordered me to bed, I protested vehemently, and then only consented once he promised to wake me when it all started happening, which I knew it would. Oh! I never forgot that windstorm! I went to bed secretly planning a middle of the night reconnaisance to make sure I wasn’t missing out. This did not prove necessary, however. Just one half an hour after I had gone to bed I heard my father calling up from the bottom of the stairs: “Oh, Craaaaiiigg…” Ha! Right again.

When I entered junior high school, I thought I was quite popular at first. Where other kids were wary of how they were being perceived, I was utterly unselfconscious. I talked about anything and everything to anyone. One day, perhaps one of the more important days of my life, I walked into homeroom and was given a letter by the girl who sat behind me. It was a letter from another girl that I considered a friend; a truly popular friend. This letter was a ruthless litany of all the inappropriate things I had done and said, only as far as she knew even, since the beginning of the school year, escoriating in its judgment of me, and how I was no longer to consider her or any of her friends as my friend. I was just within seconds of running up to my homeroom teacher Mrs. Johnston, when I read the following words: “…and now I know what you are going to do next. You will run up to Mrs. Johnston and show her this letter.” And because she was so precisely correct, she drove an icepick straight through the shell of my unselfconsciousness, and I realized that there really was something different about me, and that other people understood things about relating to each other that I did not. I was Adam in the Garden of Eden, seeing myself for the first time, I was naked, I was ashamed, and I cared.

The early Seventies were a kind of renaissance of interpersonal psychology. Fortuitously,  my mother happened to have purchased, for her own reasons, some books on Transactional Analysis (TA), and finding these books was a godsend. I still relate to its concepts today. TA was not just a lightbulb going on for me; it was a supernova. There was the concept of “strokes,” one stroke being one acknowledgement of another person. For example, if your neighbor has been in China for a month and you see him in his driveway and simply say “Hi, Steve,” (one stroke) he will think you are not being friendly at all. If, on the other hand, you saw him yesterday, he asks you how you are and you go on for ten minutes about the trouble you are having with your lawnmower, you are stroking way too much! The proper balance between these two extremes has never been easy for me. It was especially challenging when confronting a new culture where the generally accepted amount of stroking was different than what I had grown used to.  The basic concept behind transactional analysis was of course analyzing conversations where one starts by knowing the “ego state” from which one was speaking, and from there, to predict whether the conversation would be fruitful or lead to conflict.  There were other useful concepts in TA too, some of them being your “lifescript,” “rituals,” “pastimes,” “stamp collecting,” and “game playing.” Stamp collecting is interesting because instead of telling the truth about a situation that is hurtful, a person just gathers stamps in their stamp book. When the book is filled, the person blows up and acts inappropriately. Being the blunt person I was as a child, didn’t tend to collect stamps and never suspected others did. This explained a lot to me. But by far the greatest concept in transactional analysis for me was “game playing:” a series of interactions with rules, players, strategies and goals with payoffs (usually to reinforce your lifescript). This literally brought me into a world which is intuitive to most people, but often left me blindsided. I recommend the wiki article on transactional analysis.

Now, you may be thinking, and you’d be correct, that none of the anecdotes above clearly point to a diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder. I have left many tales out naturally, especially those of ritualizing habits, but if I am a bit Aspergerish, it is certainly on the far normal side of the spectrum (is that good?). With regards to the Sensory Processing Disorder (the ole SPD), however, there is little doubt that my mind has this difficulty. I retreat into my own little world far more than most people (my close friends and family with attest to this) because focusing on the world outside my brain, especially people, takes just too much effort at times. I have learned that when most people are asked to pass the hammer on the workbench, they see the hammer and grab it. This is not what I am able to do. I begin evaluating all the objects on the table. Is that a hammer? No. Is that a hammer? No…etc. Until I happen upon the correct object. I do this exceedingly fast, yet my reaction looks a tad slow, and more mental energy is used. Grocery stores, and shopping in general are a nightmare for me, the cereal aisle being especially mind boggling. I try to use the same stores where I have memorized the placement of the items I usually need. Store reorganizations and renovations annoy the heck out of me. Going to a nightclub? Yikes! Flashing lights, loud music, people shouting at me – my functionality plummets. It is not an auspicious place for me to meet someone, and absolutely not a place to have a good time! I like sitting here in front of the computer, thinking; no multitasking required, just a single minded goal.

Many of you who know me less well surely must be thinking…is he kidding? Craig, the social networker extraordinaire? The great communicator? He who voluntarily entombs himself in an aluminum tube with three hundred people who all want something from him? Well, I have a few things to say about that. First, my career has given me a fantastic opportunity to practice sensory input management on a regular basis. When I first began working as a flight attendant I withrew into my own little world enough that I was reported three times for suspected drug abuse. Now I can manage the situation fine, just like a person born without musical talent, but who has practiced the violin for twenty years. I am a natural social networker because I really do like to hear other people’s stories and this is especially so since I’ve learned, and again practiced, the proper way to socially interact; I no longer suffer from feeling blind to what is happening in the other person’s mind and whether or not I am doing something socially unseemly or inappropriate. But blunt honesty and a guileless inability for interpersonal game playing are Aspergerish characteristics I like about myself, and they are also qualities that actually aid good communication. If your aim is the share the truth, that is.

I have a friend who is currently working at Google in Australia who has a giant heart and a genius mind (well utilized by your favorite search engine!). We have had open discussions about the possibility that he has Asperger’s Syndrome. He is certainly a few more steps towards the center of the spectrum than I am. He is an inveterate calculator. We might be walking to a friend’s house when he will announce that we are 47% of the way, and that we should arrive between 21 and 23 minutes depending on the traffic lights. I find this charming, and often interesting, since my own geek is not far behind. But my friend does not think that he falls under the rubric of “Aspergers” and he does not accept the label. You won’t be surprised to find that this is just fine by me! He knows who he is.

Another friend of mine has told me that he has the inability to form mental images. Interestingly, when I researched this phenomenon on the internet, two things stood out to me. First, unsurprisingly, this inability occurs in varying degrees, with about 1% of the population possessing absolutely no “mind’s eye.” Second, not being a huge disability, it has only recently begun to be studied and many people online are desperately seeking a “name” for it! Really, why is a name so paramount? To pin a label on your forehead and forget it? How much more interesting to consider how this might affect the way a person processes information and deals with other people. In my friend’s case it is not surprising that there are both negatives and positives. At times, some friends of his may feel a bit like they are “out of sight, out of mind”. On the other hand, I know of few people as this friend so possessed with the ability to live in the moment. He likes to act out roleplaying games with friends in reality and is drawn to costumes and performance art.  Since I rely so heavily on mental imagery to process information , I wonder what it would be like to think in this different way.

What it all comes down to is the very simple concept I mentioned at the beginning of this essay. When new psyhological manner of functioning is discovered it might be good to call it by a name so that everyone has a basis for discussing it. However, I am unable to think of any cognitive style that does not occur to varying degrees or on a spectrum. Additionally, we are combinations of these spectra. This is what makes us unique and interesting to individually unwrap like a present. God forbid I should be normal in every way!

What combination of alphabetical acronyms make you who you are?

The Awesome Power of a Secret

(Or the Story of a Teenage Stalker…Across the Nation)

A cautionary note to the reader: it is with some hesitation that I share this story. While we may all have a “stalking tale” to tell about ourself, mine certainly shows more than the usual amount of gusto.  At the least, it is embarrassing, absurd, humbling, and an insight into the power of repression and secret keeping, for if one was a gay teenager in 1977, you kept that information to yourself.  And well, in the end it is pretty funny!  Rest assured I no longer feel compunctions about sharing the truth about myself, obviously, and I would no longer behave so out of touch with reality. I would like to think this story shows something of my determined character. So the flattering parts of this story are true and the unflattering ones were anomalies. Ha.

I am sometimes confronted with younger gay people who fear that society is becoming more intolerant and that all their rights are hanging by the thinnest of threads. Chill. You have no idea of the progress toward the acceptance of gay people that has been made in my lifetime. When I was in high school, the word “homosexual” was considered too provocative to print in a decent newspaper; homosexuals were not just immoral they were sick, and in the school halls the only mention made of it was when someone might have called you a faggot.  You could not possibly experience dating in the excited manner of your heterosexual peers. You built castles of fantasy to replace real experience; secret crushes and imagination ruled the day.

American Bandstand

So, this was the state of affairs when one late winter day in 1977 I switched on the TV and American Bandstand was on. Bored, I decided to watch for a while. I liked the music (“it has a good beat and is easy to dance to”) and I was curious about the intimidating idea of whether I could look cool dancing. Suddenly I saw a young man pass before the camera and Lo! Love at first sight. A mad volcano of a teenage crush, sweetened by the only outlet possible – the dreams of my vivid imagination. The next Saturday I found myself in front of the TV again wondering if this same guy would be there or whether it was a one time appearance. But to my great happiness he was there. What can I say but that I began to think about this guy all the time and count the days to the next Saturday? I was obsessed. Once I even took a picture of the TV, making sure no family members would catch me, though upon development the picture on the screen had been obliterated by the flash. One part of each show was the “spotlight” dance where three couples would dance alone, and at the end they would line up and introduce themselves to Dick Clark (RIP), the host. I waited patiently for my guy to get his chance in the spotlight and sure enough that day came.  As the dancers introduced themselves, I pricked up my ears and attention for the moment he would say his name. “F* V*” he said. It was an unusual name but I clearly got it. What a piece of golden knowledge!

My short time as a young Grad Student

But what was I to do with this fact? I wasn’t going to just leave it at that, oh no.  So, I schemed and schemed until a plan gradually laid itself out before me. It would take some thought and patience, but I would carry it out. He was a dancer after all, so I imagined he might be gay (yes, a stereotype, which was truer in those days than now thankfully) and only a couple of years older. I had a chance! The first thing I needed was more information. I decided I would pose as a graduate student in “American Studies” at the University of Michigan and I even made up a fake name. Then I wrote to the show explaining who I was and what I was doing, the lie I mean, and that I would like the names and addresses of some of the regular dancers on the show to send them a questionnaire I had composed. Would you believe, living now in the age of hyper-vigilance about our privacy, that back in this age of innocence they actually sent me what I asked for?! They even wished me good luck with my work. Most importantly, there in the middle of the last page was F*V* with a full mailing address. Wow. For my next step, I pondered what such a grad student would ask of young people on a dance show. I don’t remember many of the deeper questions I thought up, but the information I really wanted would be on the back of the page under “biographical” information, for statistical purposes of course. I typed up the questionnaire and went to the library to make copies on some ancient contraption that was certainly not what we know today as a copy machine. Once that was accomplished, I set about mailing them to all the dancers, so as not to look suspicious, and included a personal note in each with the hope of getting a response. I wondered if they would ask each other if they had received a questionnaire from some person in Michigan.

By the time these surveys were sent out it was the summer of 1977. My Mother had gone up north to our cottage on a lake close to where I live now, taking my sister. My brother and I had jobs; for me it was my first, at Burger Chef. Dad worked nine to five. It was only after I had mailed the questionnaires that I began to wonder what would happen if the dancers actually responded. Although the return envelope I sent with each one had the pseudonym on it, such a thing could only be the handiwork of the oddest member of the family. (But why did you do this?). I would obviously have to intercept the mail each day, just in case these strange missives began arriving. I became vigilant over the timing of the mail delivery. But oh, my brother, Russell, was not born yesterday! He caught on quickly. “Oh Craaaaiiig! The mailman has just arrived on Gary Lane! He could be here within ten minutes!”.

Well, wouldn’t ya know, lo and behold, they started to come. Each time I saw one I held my breath hoping it was from him. But it seems other dancers took their job more seriously. I would be disappointed, but I still read their responses so as not to feel like a total schmuck. I remember Russ fighting me for the mail a couple of times – what was Craig waiting for? – but luckily nothing came on those days. Then, just as I was about to give up hope, “it” finally arrived. I stared at the letter in disbelief. I felt like I had made contact with an alien. He had touched this paper. The envelope was crumpled like it had been in his pocket. (!)  I could see his handwriting and signature. I was so powerful! [As an aside, I love to throw things out, and usually that is a good thing, but what I wouldn’t give today to still have that letter from F*V*]

In case you are thinking that this story must be about to end, you’d be mistaken. Keep your seatbelts fastened. I don’t abandon plans midstream. That fall I went off for my freshman year at Kalamazoo College. During this first quarter I wrote to the Chamber of Commerce of Orange County, California, asking for a yellow pages for their local businesses. Oh, how much easier all of this would have been in the internet age. It came, and over the Christmas break I got out my old-fashioned key punch typewriter and began to pluck out letters to places I thought might have summer work for a college student. Much to my parents astonishment when they asked me what I could be doing, I informed them that I planned to go out to  California the next summer to work and I was writing to get a job. My Mother was dumbstruck; my father just never knew what to make of me and long since stopped trying. All in all, I sent out 40 letters. Surely, one would get me a job. And that is exactly what happened. I didn’t even get any rejections, just one acceptance. It was for a job at U.S. Borax Research in Anaheim. It would consist of  testing geologic samples from Alaska for various trace elements and it would pay the princely sum (honestly, this was 1978) of four dollars/hour. That would give me money to pay expenses in California, at poverty level, and also save money for what I would need at school the following year.

By the next spring I had saved enough to buy my round trip plane ticket out to Los Angeles, had written to Chapman College in Orange County where the housing director agreed to rent a dorm room to me for 80$/month, and  I had even arranged for other summer “interns” (that word was not in wide use then) working at U.S. Borax Research and living in Orange, to pick me up to take me to work everyday. I wasn’t certain what I would do with regards to F*V* when I got out there, but I figured I would take one step at a time. I didn’t have nearly the self-confidence to try out for American Bandstand, though that would have put a good twist on this story.

The Summer of 1978

The summer of 1978 was the “coming of age story” of my life. I was faced with logistical problems, emotional problems, people problems and financial problems whose solutions got me headed in the right direction for the rest of my life. What I have now are phantasmagoric memories firmly stamped on both sides of my brain. Whenever I hear Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” I am transported back in time to a younger, more vulnerable Craig lying on his bare dormroom mattress looking up at the palm tree out my window. I know where to end my tale, but where do I begin to string together the disparate experiences I had that summer?

Well, one good place are the two roommates I had the honor of suffering through. The first one, Patrick, was a young African American man who introduced himself to me by saying that God had sent him to this College to integrate it into a mixed race and a Christian Institution. Emphasis his. Over the next few nights as I tried to fall I sleep, I listened while he and his friends discussed the recently released movie “Damien: Omen II”, how this movie was a sign that the Antichrist was about to make his appearance, and how they would combat him. By the end of the first week he had informed the housing director that he suspected I was a homosexual (!). The housing director boldly asked me if this was true and I boldly told her “Yes.” So, she switched me to a room by myself…excellent!…until another Patrick, a hapless nanny pampered rich one from Singapore, showed up. Although I should save this poor creature for the telling in a novel or screenplay, I’ll give a short synopsis here. He had done nothing, and I mean nothing, in his life by

Hapless Patrick on the left, me, and two other students of Chapman College on the right. Summer, 1978

himself before. He threw garbage down the toilet and stood by surprised and unmoving while it overflowed when he flushed it. He spent all the money in his wallet on a taxi to the beach, had nothing left, and so slept there until the buses began the next day. Then he bought an expensive stereo and called his Dad to say he needed more money which was promptly sent. The next day I awoke, dressed, opened the door to head off to work and found a $100 bill on the doorstep (a lot of money to me then!!!). I turned to Patrick and asked, “Are you missing $100?” He picked up his wallet, looked inside, paused, and said “I can’t tell.” Wrong answer. “O.K.” I replied and slipped it into my pocket. Once, he came back from the laundry room and threw his “clean” clothes in a wrinkled heap on the bed, frustrated. “Laundry! Ironing! Cleaning!” I looked at him and asked calmly, “When you thought about coming here, who did you expect would do such things?” He looked at me blankly and now in a nearly toneless voice with just a hint of wonder replied, “I never thought of it.” He started with a full load of classes and gradually dropped them all but “English Vocabulary” which he spoke fluently, but flunked anyway. I’ve often wondered what happen to him. Hey, for all I know he’s a successful neurosurgeon. But he had a rough start.

My work at U.S. Borax Research proved helpful in guiding me into what kind of work I would NOT like to do in my life. It’s important that we learn this! Oh, the director who hired me had great hopes for me on that first day when all the summer interns arrived. What initiative I had shown in procuring this job! I must really be interested in this kind of laboratory work. Ha! Little did he know! Later, I felt his disappointment in me, like a disapproving  father, at my attempts to inject some levity into this very serious ambience. Sitting in front of an  expensive mass spectrometer was definitely not the place to tell funny stories about your first year in College. The place cultivated ennui like corn on a moist and fertile summer Iowan farmfield. Laboratory work, and even cubicle work, would never be for me.

I did make some friends that summer, but by far the closest one, and the only one I occasionally keep in touch with was Eric. Using his family’s vehicle (what freedom!) we once went hiking in the San Gabriel mountains overnight. I clearly recall two things from that expedition: finding our way, crawling at times, along a path on an extremely steep slope in total darkness, and sleeping on the rocky bed of a dried up river. We also invited some friends from work and drove down to

At the San Diego Zoo. My friend Eric is second from the right. I can’t believe those shorts were legal. This is a warning to all kids with pants around their butt: in the future your photos will look ridiculous.

San Diego to visit the world famous zoo. But by far the best thing we did was drive up to San Francisco to visit my cousins who lived in a nearby suburb. Both Eric and I talked about the adventurous lives we would lead. He spoke passionately about his love for “The Lord of the Rings,” and to this day I can’t think of that book without seeing Eric animatedly talking about it. The trip up to San Francisco felt a bit like two hobbits setting out to see what they would discover.

The two loneliest times I have felt in my life were both times when I was off by myself somewhere with very little money, and this was one period.  I bought three eating utensils and a can opener at a garage sale, and cooked beans by taking the paper off the can and heating it directly on the stove in the student kitchen. I felt suspended in time. I read “Atlas Shrugged” four times, which is not a minor task since it has 1168 pages. I made weekly pilgrimages down to Wells Fargo where I had opened a savings account and watched with pride how the stamped total in my savings book grew.

The End You Been Waiting For

Alas, by the summer of 1978, my obsession with F*V* had started to wane. I no longer had a television to watch American Bandstand, and perhaps more importantly, I had begun to come out of the closet to my best friends and to my family (see Addendum at the end), so I had begun to take my sexuality into the realm of the real world. A non-secret world.

However, I had come a long way for this and had made an extraordinary effort. I was not going to just leave it all behind. I had bought a very cheap bicycle to get around, not nearly adequate for a city like the L.A. Metro area, but enough to get groceries and such. I don’t recal if F*V* lived in Santa Ana or Garden Grove, but in any case, I decided to get up early one Saturday morning and make the trek, about ten miles each direction, to his house, just so I could say to myself I had reached the goalpost. It would be like putting the period at the end of a sentence. The path was not bike friendly. I had to cross freeways and vast intersections, bike along a railroad and the Santa Ana river basin, and find my way down unmarked streets on my very basic map. But by early afternoon I was approaching his house. I counted the addresses, prepared to ride along what I could determine was the correct side of the street. And then, there it was. A nondescript house on a nondescript street in a nondescript part of Los Angeles. Except for one thing: he lived there. Still as I rode my bike by, I felt a bit of a letdown. Could I possibly think of an excuse to go knock on the door? I retraced my path and locked my bike to the rail of an overpass. I got off, and headed back to the house. On foot, at least, I could have a better look.

And what I am about to tell you is the honest to God truth.

At just about fifty feet from his house an extraordinary thing happened. The garage door opened, and a man appeared. His hands were gripped around the handlebars of a motorcycle which, after closing the garage door behind him, he began to guide down to the end of the driveway. As I approached, he looked up and my heart stopped. Indeed, it was HIM. He was dressed in black leather pants, black boots and a black tee shirt. I stopped, stunned, though to him it probably looked like I was politely going to just wait for him to pass. He smiled and said “How’s it goin?” “Um..good…thanks.” He nodded, slipped his helmet over his head, cocked the starter to get the engine revving, sat down and took off down the street, leaving me alone in his driveway. My entire Odyssey flashed before my eyes, from the moment I first saw him on TV to this final moment of serendipitous timing.

I should have asked for a ride.


During the previous summer as I was keeping vigil over the mailbox, I decided to come out to my parents in a letter. I would send it to my Mother up north where she would have time to ponder the situation before talking with me. Reading it over now, written so long ago, and light years from where we are socially, I still find it painful, anachronistic and a bit strange. It was awkwardly explained and at times I cringe. I no longer agree with my theory of why I am gay. Did I actually mean it when I said I could choose a woman in the end or was I trying to soften the blow? I feel like I want to edit it, but except for a small part which has private information about other family members, I can’t; it’s history. In any event, I am publishing it here, in part to show where I was at emotionally during the time of this story, and also as an illustration of my personal and our collective social evolution.

My Coming Out Letter

Postmarked August 8, 1977 (postage 13 cents):

Dear Mom-

I don’t really know why I am choosing to tell you this now, or why I told Bob for that matter. I guess that after keeping something inside for so long, there comes a time when it just comes out. I hope our relationship will grow, I hope that so much that you just can’t believe it. Remember last weekend when I kept hugging you and smiling at you? I guess that was just the outward signs of all the love I felt.  First, I’d like to thank you, especially as I prepare to go to college, for many things. Thank you for letting me know that no matter what I do or say you will always love me. Thank you for giving me the confidence to tell you what I am about to tell you. Thank you for teaching me self love – that is probably the most valuable thing I ever learned, and believe me, I really do feel self love. Thank you for teaching me that life was meant to be beautiful – all I can say is that, lately, as I look at myself and at my future I feel joy, anticipation, strength, and hope. Thank you. Reading over this, some of it seems rather corny, but I am just writing as it comes out and I mean every word of it. I have this desire for you to be a kind of buoy for me to hold on to when I run into “stormy seas”. I want you to be my friend; to both share and accept. In a way, I want to sort of prepare you for what is obviously going to be a shock. But, above all, I don’t want you to feel guilt. You were the best parent that you knew how to be, and you really knew how to be a great parent. Anyway, I know of no other way to say this than straight outright. I am a homosexual. I expect you to be disappointed, and shocked naturally, but I hope you can rise above any other emotions so that our relationship will not be adversely affected.

I really have no idea how much you know about homosexuality, so let me tell you a little of what I know. Homosexuality is nothing more than a sexual preference. It affects no other areas of a person’s personality than his/her sexuality. There are nice homosexuals, mean homosexuals, perverted homosexuals, intelligent homosexuals, homosexuals with high morals, and homosexuals with low morals, homosexuals who are sick, and homosexuals who are healthy, talented homosexuals, dull homosexuals, homosexuals who like football, and homosexuals who like ballet. There might be the possibility – and this is only a very general possibility – that the gay population, on the whole, is slightly more on the feminine side. But take note of the “mights,” “possibles” and the many exceptions there are. From now on when you look at me, I hope to God that the first word that comes to your mind is not “gay.” I am MANY things before I am gay. Don’t look at me as your gay son, but rather, as your son who just happens to be gay. After all you are also attracted to men, so you know exactly how I feel…would you like to be known by your sexuality or by other things which are really much more important? My sexuality is really a very small part of my personality, why make a big deal of it? As I think you know from living with me for eighteen years, I am a person with very high morals. I would never have sex with anyone who I didn’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I loved. As for my future, who knows? It would be great if I found a man who I loved, would be my friend, and would want to share my life and who loved me in return. But if that doesn’t happen, I will simply look to other areas for happiness. Let’s face it Mom – even with homosexuality against me I still have a better chance in life than 99% of most people, if for no other reason than my attitude. I will conquer anything that stands in my way. And who knows? Maybe I will find a woman who will accept all of me, who will love all of me, and who will also want to spend her life with me. Before Dad asked me what I would ask for if I had one wish. That would be a companion who I could really relate to, and who I could “grow” with, and who I could share all the beautiful things in life with – something I never really had – and, well, if it happens to be a man who I am sexually attracted to and who I can also have a sexual relationship with, all the better! At this point in my life I don’t even really know if I will ever totally “come out of the closet.”

[Here I omit something that discusses personal family members, and I don’t want to breach their privacy.]

How did I get this way? I tried to explain this before in relation to other aspects of my personality. I don’t know if I want to explain all of it now, on paper, but I have done a tremendous amount of thinking on this matter and I really believe I have the answer. Basically, it has something to do with association. When Russell was born Papa and Dad took him in and taught him sports, etc… but, when I was born they, especially Papa, already had someone, so I became more attached to New Nana, Nana Henry and Aunt Verda.  Basically, it has to do with identity – I began to associate myself with more feminine things, and liking boys just happened to be one of them. But the point is, that’s all right! If I had to choose again how I would like to be raised, I would pick the same way. Aunt Verda and New Nana taught me things which, today, I cherish: Aunt Verda taught me how to communicate better, she always answered my questions, taught me how to write letters, took me into her home and was a friend to me. Some of my best memories are with New Nana: walking through the woods with her, showing me flowers, birds, etc…telling me about God (although that never caught on). Nobody had more love than me! Mine was an ideal childhood, despite a few emotional upsets. I was taught sensitivity, I was taught to challenge my intellectual faculties, I was taught rational thinking, and I am a stronger person because of it. We can talk more about this later.

How did I hide this for so long? It was very easy: my whole brain has been geared toward hiding it. A lot of what has happened looks so ironic now that I look back. I remember once you said that: “Naturally, you don’t have any trouble with your sexual identity.” Well, that was when I was having trouble at Frost, and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t having trouble then (most of the time), and I’m not now!..(although you didn’t quite know what you were saying). I was having a lot of trouble feeling badly that some people thought I acted feminine, but, somehow I never associated the fact that I acted feminine with the fact that I was a homosexual.  [More personal family issues redacted] Today, as far as acting feminine goes, I’m quite secure about it. I know I’m not the most macho person, but now I don’t really care (or does anyone else anymore). To tell you the honest truth the thing that hurts the most is the fact that SOCIETY can’t accept homosexuality. Everyone else can enjoy their sexuality, but I must deny mine (or choose to be ostracized). Well, as I said before I will fight any obstacles that come in my way.  Now do you see why I feel so strongly about Blacks? I know what it is like to be part of a minority group. No one can rationalize bigotry…I don’t care if they use the Church or such slogans as “Save Our Children.” Judging one person on the basis of the group he belongs to is just illogical no matter how you look at it. I don’t want to be segregated from anyone either. Why would I want to just hang around gays? What a boring thing to have in common: one’s sexuality. I want to live my life with heterosexuals, homosexuals, Blacks, Whites, Chinese, Arabs, etc… if their personality appeals to me. Well, this is getting kind of long. I hope I’ve explained enoug until we can talk in person.

Love, Craig  P.S. Please read this over…then hide it well.


Have you ever kept a personal secret? Have you felt the need to “come out” about anything? What’s your tale?

The Man in the Moon

Part One  (~4.5 billion years ago to present)

Let me introduce myself. I am the Man in the Moon.

Like most of you I presume,  I don’t remember all that much about my birth.  I used to imagine all kinds of ways I might have gotten here.  Once I had the idea that I had been captured by the gravity of my sister, Earth, as I was passing by. But I’m smarter now that I’ve seen so many close encounters like this in my life. The atmosphere of Earth would have had to be fantastically thick and deep to slow me down enough to catch me; I would probably have been going pretty fast.  After that I thought maybe we had grown together from the very beginning, made from the same material and spinning around each other until gravity finally formed two encircling globes. But the problem with this idea is that I am lighter than Earth for my size, just 61% as dense. I have only a small inner heavy iron core and weigh much more like the light rocks that sit on Earth’s surface. It was possible, I suppose, that Earth was spinning so fast when it first formed that I simply flung off the surface by the centrifugal force. But no, that would have had to be one mighty spin, and that amount of spin, shared between the both of us, would have to be the same today because there is nothing in space to cause the friction that could slow us down. The thing I believe today is really amazing and kind of beautiful considering Earth has been my only companion for 4.5 billion times around the sun. I now believe a small planet, about the size of Mars, crashed right across the surface, like a giant asteroid, causing a fantastic explosion! The impact would have released so much energy that both objects would have melted from the heat. Most of the heavy iron would have fallen to the center, the Earth’s spin could have tilted from the collision to its present position laying about 23 degrees on its side, and the surface material would have mixed up just enough before the momentum of the “Mars like” object flung it out around Earth, making me.  This amazing story is the only one that fits all the evidence I see today.

So when I was young I was actually orbiting much closer to Earth than I am now. Now I am about thirty Earth diameters away from the my sister, but then I was only four Earth diameters away.  I must have looked huge in the sky from Earth – she sure looked huge to me! I was going lickity split around Earth at that time too. And I bet you are wondering one crazy thing about now. Why didn’t (and don’t) I just fall right back down on her after I bounced away? Well, are you sitting down?….I am falling down on her! – straight down right now. Ah, but there is a trick of course. I am also moving straight out into space in a perfect right angle to where I’m falling to Earth.  And the amount that I’m moving away from Earth every second almost exactly equals the amount that I’m moving toward the Earth every second by falling into it. Add them both up and what do you get? That’s right. My orbit. Any orbit is really like this.

But I said “almost” didn’t I? Actually I’m drifting away from Earth about two inches/one time around the sun. Why is that? Well, it’s a bit tricky to explain. Gravity doesn’t just pull me toward Earth, it also pulls Earth toward me. This causes the water on Earth’s surface to draw up on the side nearest (and farthest) to me, which is called the tides. Then, as this bulge of water crosses the Earth in exactly the opposite direction from her spin, that friction causes her to slow down just a teensy bit.  Now, the total energy of the spin of Earth and me can never be changed, as I said before, so that means I must go faster! But, if I go faster, then I must recede farther from Earth to stay in orbit. Imagine that. The tides on Earth are slowly causing my sister and I to drift away. Sad but true. I bet your head is spinning now!

Well, how did Earth get so much water anyway? Some of it I saw slowly drifting out of the rocks as she cooled off and some fell as rain out of the earliest atmosphere. I had some water too, but most if it was burned off by the Sun. I don’t have enough gravity to hold in an atmosphere. Those little molecules just get all energetic and fly off.  But that’s not how  Earth got most of her water. Let me tell you, the solar system was a crazy place back then. For about a billion and a half times around the sun we were both bombarded by asteroids (big rocks) and comets (mostly water).  That was the most interesting time in my life really. The time that made my face! The dark areas are where I had magma flows (I was still hot then) and the white areas are where asteroids hit me. Earth had an atmosphere that was largely hydrogen at first, but soon became mostly nitrogen and methane and carbon dioxide. Anyway, back to the water! The comets just kept raining water down on the earth and gradually the oceans formed. It seems like a lot of water too, from way up here by me; about 2/3s of Earth is covered with it. But really, it’s only a small part of her total mass.

Things are much calmer now. There aren’t many asteroids or comets in our path anymore. I have gotten a bit boring. I haven’t changed much in billions of times around the sun. The most interesting thing that has happened to me is that the side of me with my face is heavier than the side with the back of my head, so gradually Earth’s gravity stopped my spinning until I only spin around just once each time I go around her. That means Earth only sees one side of me, my face, but that I get to look at Earth all the time. And how fortunate that is because, wow!, she changes all the time and is great entertainment for me. Early on in our lives the sun was dimmer than it is now and we didn’t get as much energy from her. A couple of times the water on the Earth’s surface actually froze over completely. The last time this happened was only 600 million times around the Sun ago or so. I’m not sure why that happened then, but she looked like a giant snowball. “Snowball Earth” I called her.  Other interesting things happened too. For example, the bits of land don’t stand still. They float around on top of the hot fluid rock underneath the surface. Sometimes all the land comes together as one, and then it breaks up into pieces that drift around again. All this causes mountains to form, which gradually erode away from all the rain on Earth, and there are great volcanic explosions where the hot rock actually comes up and pops out of the surface.  It has been fun watching all this activity even though the movement is kind of slow. It takes millions of times around the Sun to notice much difference.

But by far the most interesting thing that I have been able to witness on Earth started about 3.5 billion times around the sun ago, after all the asteroids stopped hitting us so much. Amazingly, parts of the blue ocean started to turn green(!), and if I looked really hard I could see it was some kind of life! I was amazed when this very unexpected thing happened. Over the next billion times around the sun the Earth became so beautiful, covered in white clouds of floating white water, blue and green oceans, and even the brown land became green in spots.

Gradually over this time I noticed that the atmosphere started to change and that a lot more oxygen was coming from somewhere…this new life? Now, you would expect that oxygen, being so reactive, would kill off any kind of life, like a type of poison. But that’s not what happened at all. What happened was that even more life came, only this time I saw that it could move. Creatures were living down there now! And periodically, when something happened like the Earth freezing over 600 million times around the Sun ago, or when a particularly big asteroid hit Earth, the life would seem to go away for awhile. But it always came back, usually even more than before. From about 200 million times around the Sun to 60 million times around the Sun ago, giant creatures walked around the surface, and they lived that way until the last big asteroid hit.

Recently, it has been interesting watching how ice has been coming and going across the top and bottom of the Earth; like little Ice Ages. But not nearly as interesting as what I saw happening during and just after this last icy time. Believe it or not, some new creatures had appeared that looked like they could cooperate. It was as if they knew what had happened in the past, and could tell their children, and that they could predict and prepare for what might happen in the future. They understood time and cause and effect. It has always been a bit boring for me when I was encircling the back of Earth. Just completely dark and not much to look at. But just 120 times around the Sun ago, lights started to grow in clusters around the dark side of Earth. From this I could see where it was that these new creatures were living in the day. Now, make sure you are paying attention to this next bit. Forty-two times around the Sun ago, these creatures built a kind of ship that shot up out of Earth’s atmosphere, flew up, encircled me a few times, and then came right down and landed in my face! My left eye to be exact. Now in all my billions and billions of times around the Sun I never would have dreamed such a thing could happen! Since they were in my eye, I could see them really well, and they looked pretty ingenious to me. They even carried little bits of Earth’s atmosphere in special suits so they could breathe.

And they could talk to each other too, about complicated things, which is actually how I know some of the things I do, like that I’m only 61% as dense as Earth. You can’t imagine how happy I felt to get visitors from Earth after watching her for my whole life. So far they have come to see me a total of six times.

Speaking of which, I’m about halfway through my life.  About 4.5 billion times around the Sun from now, the Sun will grow very large and swallow both me and the Earth. I wonder what crazy things I’ll see on Earth in that time still to come. But my time has passed so quickly – it seems like only yesterday that I was young and asteroids were hitting me all the time. Ten billion times around the Sun isn’t really all that long.  But then I think about those intelligent creatures that came up to visit me. Each one lives only 70 or 80 times around the Sun and then they die! How can they possibly find meaning and purpose in a life so brief as that, and motivation to do such amazing things like build ships to fly up here to me?

That is a question that I’d really like to know.

Part 2  (July, 1969)

I’m going for a midnight swim!

We had arrived late on a sultry Friday evening. I was hot and anxious to take in the crisp, but warm, air at the Hull’s  big log cabin cottage called  “The Leaning Pine.” If I played my cards right, I could get lost in the arrival confusion and wouldn’t be missed by my Mother and called out for being anti-social. I loved the Hulls, don’t get me wrong! But tonight I had a special agenda.

While the others greeted each other and unpacked, I grabbed my swimsuit and a towel, and headed downstairs to the changing room,  a room in the walk out basement built with ancient stones, cool and smelling of must. I quickly put my suit on and headed to the large doors leading outside, opened them with a loud creak, and scuttled down the cement boat ramp that led into the water. Budd Lake was warm because it was rather shallow, and I wasn’t cold at all.

The waxing moon shone brightly in the clear sky and created a lighted pathway across the water out to my goal: a raft floated by six empty steel barrels and where we kids played games during the day. But tonight I was anxious to be alone.

I swam out to the raft quickly and positioned myself on the far side where I could not be seen. I took off my suit, set it upon the raft and felt my naked body beneath the black water. I imagined fish and turtles around my feet and occasionally brushed a toe past some seaweed that grew up from what I knew to be a mucky bottom.  Just three years earlier I had been terrorized by a Baptist Bible School teacher about how Satan was coming to steal me down into Hell. But now I had no such fear, as mysterious and dark as the water looked.  I’ve never had a fear of water or what lived in it. I love everything about water.

I looked up at the Moon above me.  It was three-quarters and growing rounder each night and I tried to imagine the face on it that people claimed they saw, formed by craters and lava fields. But I was never very good at seeing a face there. It was easy to spot the Sea of Tranquility though, the Moon’s “left eye,” where the Apollo astronauts would land in 48 hours. They were already getting close, and I tried to imagine I had super vision and could see them.  I felt lucky to live on a planet with a big bright moon. I understood its feminine symbolism; how it inspired lovers and poets through the ages; how it influenced the lives of people at night before the electric light; how it’s eclipses, both lunar and solar, provoked acts of religious atrocities among ancient people;  how it had become the basis for many calendars; and how it unified all mankind by its presence in everyone’s night sky.

My Mom called out finally, ending my reverie with the moon and the water.  She was perturbed, but already used to such behavior on my part.  That night I slept in a sleeping bag on a cot in a screened in porch over the boathouse. I dozed off  as the moon slowly made its trek across the sky. It was so peaceful with the natural sounds from the lake and the smell of pine needles, but inside I was a bit anxious whether the Apollo mission would go smoothly over the next few days.

The next morning, breakfast consisted of boxes of Dunkin Donuts that one of the adults went to get. All of us kids, three Browns and four Hulls, piled in around a built-in kitchen table surrounded by cute cottagey hangings like “We live on a lake. Why don’t you drop in?” A TV had been set up on the back porch which ran the entire length of the house. It was mostly turned off, only occasionally turned on, mostly at my suggestion, just to make sure everything was going well. Otherwise, it was a typical day at the Hull’s cottage, centered around the water. I tried to swim and water ski with the rest of the group, though it was a bit hard being so preoccupied by the moon mission.

In the afternoon, I went up to the porch and looked at the blank TV and lay on a couch or a day bed, knowing that the astronauts would be entering moon’s orbit right about then. I drifted off into a delicious afternoon nap, the soft summer air drifting through the open windows and with the raucous sounds of the families at the shore below and, more distantly, from the state park on the opposite side of the lake.

It wasn’t until the next evening, the 20th, that the TV was turned on permanently as the actual moon landing was about to take place. I don’t recall whether it was a new “color” TV, but the broadcast was certainly in black and white. In retrospect, everything seemed so ancient compared to today. Telecommunications and computers were in their infancy. The amount of computer power NASA possessed would probably fit in my smart phone now. It felt a bit like a “moon landing” party at the Cottage that evening, with people coming and going, checking out the progress. I was pretty much anxiously glued to the television set, and everything seemed to take forever in my ten-year old brain. First, there was the detachment and descent of the lunar module (LM) called “Eagle” from the orbiting vehicle (“Columbia”).  This part was particularly  harrowing for me, as I was almost certain that something would go awry.  In fact, there was indeed a small malfunction at about 6000 ft. altitude – the on board radars, one monitoring  Columbia and the other the landscape below, both starting working at the same time and overloaded the computer. A fix was jiggered and the descent continued smoothly, although a bit to the west of their ideal location in a more rock strewn area. I stood fascinated, watching the moon come up to meet the Eagle. They landed at  6:17pm EDT with 25 seconds of fuel remaining!

It then took an agonizing two and a half hours for EVA (extra-vehicular activity) to begin. During this time Buzz Aldrin made the following statement, which forever stuck in my ten-year old little atheist mind:

This is the LM pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to  pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.

Then a short time later Neil Armstrong began his descent to the surface, further delayed by the fact that the opening of the hatch was barely big enough with him all suited up. He back down the stairs and planted his foot on the surface of the moon at 10:56pm EDT. At this point he uttered the famous line: “That’s one small step for [A] man. One giant leap for mankind.”  I was a bit appalled by his leaving out the “A”. Ah, but no matter! Flawed humans doing incredible things.

Armstrong was followed by Aldrin, and over the next few hours they performed various experiments and some childlike hijinks too. They collected 49 lbs. of moon rocks and left a plaque on the moon that read “Here Men From the Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We Came in Peace For All Mankind” and a disk that contained messages from 73 world leaders. Once back in the Eagle they slept and finally took off to rendezvous with Columbia at around 2pm Monday EDT. The ascent also went smoothly.

During the astronauts’ time on the moon I remember drifting over to the window, looking down on the lake where I had swam two nights before. Then I looked up at the moon knowing that people were walking on it for the first time, and I wondered – how was it that I was lucky enough – in all the eons of time in the past, and of all the generations to come, to be alive to witness such a seminal human achievement as this?

So. Much. Gratitude.

Epilogue (35 years later)

I am standing in the First Class galley on a 777 at Chicago’s O’hare airport before boarding, a flight attendant now, we are getting ready for the passengers on a trip to London.  I rarely work First Class, I am not particularly posh, and I usually enjoy coach people more. A gate agent comes on board and informs the lead flight attendant and myself that we would be having Buzz Aldrin as a passenger in 2D. My side!

“Wow!,” I say. “Who is that?” asks the purser (head flight attendant).  “An astronaut,” says the agent. “The second man on the moon,” I elaborated (a bit appalled).

I didn’t care about them though – this was going to be my best on board celebrity ever! I worked the flight as normal, except for occasionally looking over at him and thinking “that man walked on the moon.”  He drank pretty heavily–scotch and water, if I remember correctly–adding some heft to his already extroverted personality.  NASA would have done better choosing him as the first man on the moon rather than Neil Armstrong.  He became a huge promoter of NASA and space exploration in the ensuing years after Apollo 11, while Neil Armstrong became a recluse.  He sat next to his even more flamboyant wife in 2G, who catered to his every whim.  He was looking very much more like a normal man than the hero of my childhood, but this did not temper my awe in the slightest. On the contrary, it made me think of what a normal man can do.

I always treat celebrities  very professionally on the plane and act as if they are just regular people. I’m loath to do things like ask for an autograph. They are probably annoyed enough without being bothered by staff. But I felt compelled to say something to him in this case. But what? Everything that I tried to conjure up sounded  so corny. And then it hit me! But would he get it in his alcohol tainted mindset? Would he remember his own words?

As we approached London, in our final preparations before landing, I knelt in front of him and said:  “Mr. Aldrin, a few hours from now,” – a lump suddenly appeared in my throat and water began to gather in my eyes and I felt a bit panicked by this – “I will be in my hotel room and I will contemplate the events of the past few hours.  And I will give thanks in my own private way.” He stared at me blankly and red-faced for a second. Was he uncomprehending? Astonished? Then he broke out into a gigantic smile and reached out to shake my hand.  “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you,” I replied. And then I stood up and turned away before the teardrop could fall over my eyelid. Water that, for all I know, came from comets falling upon the earth billions of years ago.