Went to the Los Angeles Festival of Books last week at UCLA, my alma mater (now that’s a story for another time…) and spent the day browsing through wonderful tomes old and new, checked out a fun exhibit on Huckleberry Finn at the Powell Library, bought a Fahrenheit 451 t-shirt for the gym (I try to stand out when I can).
Also spoke to the editors of McSweeney’s, who’d wanted me to write a piece on THE TWILIGHT ZONE a couple of years back, which I never got around to doing. If you’re not familiar with McSweeney’s, they publish truly distinctive and delightful magazines and books, all for the love of it. I highly recommend them. I’ll be emailing them shortly to see if they’d like to excerpt or publish in its entirety the memoir I just finished on my mother. I think they’d be great fun
to work with.
I also took time out at the Festival to talk with astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon (had he thought about it at the time he might’ve said, “This is another small step for a man…”). We talked about an issue close to both our hearts – sending men to Mars. Buzz is lobbying for a permanent manned station there – hell, I’d be happy starting with just landing a small group of scientists there for a short duration.
Given the recent discoveries about liquid water – a key requirement for life – and methane releases from under the surface – a strong marker for life – I think it’s vital we go there as soon as possible. Several keen-eyed men and women could accomplish a great deal more than a long-distance robot in this case. Not that I’m against the probes we’ve sent, they’re great, but imagine how much harder it would have been to find fossils of early hominids in Africa had we only been able to look for them with slow-moving long-distance machines.
I don’t think our government will ever be sending men to Mars, there’s no short-term political advantage (and the corporations don’t want it). I think there’s only two ways we might have a chance of getting there – either China will do it for the prestige (and I’m thinking of writing the Chinese premier to suggest it) or private citizens will fund and mount a Heinlein-style by-our-bootstraps kind of mission.
I’ve actually thought of proposing the latter to some billionaires and other like-minded spirits. I plan on calling it Wiki-Mars, and it would require a small number of folks to each donate a big bunch of money or a big number of folks to each donate a small bunch. (Hopefully, it would be both.)
I want to see Man on Mars in my lifetime, and I’m not getting any younger. I’ll bet you do, too. We don’t want to revert to a point where there are no humans in space, no drive to move outward. The best part of our race is our curiosity, our desire to know. (The worst part is that we kill each other, and everything else we can get our hands on.)
One thing I didn’t mention to Buzz Aldrin was my experience of the Moon landing, which proved quite memorable for unusual reasons.
I grew up in the Beverlywood neighborhood of west Los Angeles, just south of the Fairfax district, and all the white people I knew until I was a teenager were Jews. I was thirteen on the day of the Moon landing, and for some reason I was in the Toluca Market at the corner of Robertson and Pico, a cavernous grocery store that has been gone for decades.
I have no idea why I wasn’t sitting in front of a TV; given my passion for science fiction you’d think that’s where I’d have been. But no, I was standing in this market, in line with my groceries. All the other habitués were the regular clientele of the Toluca, Jewish old ladies who spoke Yiddish as their first language, many of whom still bore the tattooed numbers on their forearms given them in the camps.
The Toluca was piping in the audio from the Moon mission over their speaker system. And as the Eagle touched down we all fell silent, listening to this miracle, myself and these women who had survived the Holocaust to hear two men land on the Moon.
Had my grandfather not escaped Poland before the Nazis moved in, I knew I would not have been alive to hear this, as I’m sure many of these women had lost countless loved ones in the ashes. But there in that moment we had survived the worst of Man to be part of the best, amongst the cabbages and grapefruit and chicken breasts.
I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world.
All good thoughts your way,