Chuck pondered. Actually, pondering was pretty near a full-time occupation these days. And reminiscing; that was good, too. He could reminisce about his childhood, about the time that he got in trouble because of that yellow-haired girl, what’s-her-name. He was — what? — 15 or 16, an eighth grader, second row, fourth seat back in Miss Grimbach’s room. Or was it Miss Mumbrey?
Whoever it was, she made him stay after school for two weeks, cleaning slates and clapping erasers out in the yard.
Anyway, the girl had sassed him during recess; said, “You think you’re sooooo smart, Charley-barley.” She sat in the seat in front of him, her dingy yellow pigtails hanging just inches from his inkwell. Well, he was smart. He didn’t grab her hair and draw attention to his behavior. Instead, he put his hand under the desktop and pushed the inkwell up, watching the hair quickly turn a bluish-black as it soaked in the liquid. That’ll teach her. Wonder whatever became of her. Agnes? Elsa? Something with a “A” in it.
One great thing that Chuck had discovered about the profession of pondering was that you could skip around. Go to different times. Different places. Like when he was a cub reporter for that newspaper in Phoenix. The Cactus Chronicle? The Desert Daily? Whatever. The little town was celebrating the 25th anniversary of Arizona’s statehood. He had already interviewed an old-timer, a guy named Dusty or Rusty. Maybe it was Musty. Guy helped his father herd sheep shortly after the Civil War. Had a lot of good stories about the journey toward joining the union.
Chuck wanted to get the perspective of a younger man on the memorable occasion. The 28-year-old fellow that he chose later became quite famous. But, at the time, he didn’t seem to be too bright. Chuck asked, “Why do you think this territory wanted to become a state?” The young man responded, “It was a choice, not an echo.”
Chuck wondered what that was supposed to mean, but it sounded good, made an interesting lead for his story. A few decades later some woman used the expression as the title for a book that urged the nomination of that once-young man for President of the United States. But, Chuck remembered, it was a landslide victory for the other guy. Was it that peanut farmer from…? No, wait, it was that Texan who liked to show off his appendectomy scar and hold his dogs up by their ears.
Pondering also lets one travel. Chuck thought about the time — must have been later that same year — that he moved to New York City. Actually, he didn’t think that Manhattan was so great. In fact, he started calling it “The Big Lemon,” but that never caught on.
Writing for the “Arts and Leisure” column of the Soho Snooper, Chuck was convinced that the real culture of the area was across the Hudson River in New Jersey. Besides, he enjoyed the novelty of riding the bus through the Holland Tunnel, which was still considered to be something of a novelty. That’s why he happened to be at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station on May 6, 1937.
Chuck was fascinated by German engineering and wanted to see, first-hand, the marvelous Hindenburg airship that, while held aloft by a huge structure filled with flammable hydrogen gas, allowed cigarette smoking in the bar. Besides, he was tickled by its German designation, Die Deutschlandfahrt.
However, any levity soon vanished when the ship seemed to stall in midair. Something was wrong. A chill ran down Chuck’s spine as he witnessed the initial burst of flames from the craft. “Oh, the humanity,” he cried as people fell from the blimp to their death. Near him, a radio reporter stole his line and got fired. Well, Chuck thought, cheaters never prosper.
Several decades later, Chuck was working for a different paper and hiding out behind a fake rock on a Hollywood sound stage, pondering the fate of the Apollo 11 rocket that was headed toward the moon. The goal of the latest space mission was to land safely on the lunar surface. The little transistor radio by his side announced, “The Eagle has landed.” In a little while, it informed him that the astronauts were preparing the lunar module for take off, in case of an emergency. But time passed without incident. Because nothing much was happening in space, he turned off the radio.
Chuck sort of dozed off as pondering had become hard work. But the words, “I’m going to step off the LEM now,” had him immediately alert, especially because his radio had not been turned back on. It was at that moment when he noticed a door opening in a mock-up craft that was several feet from his faux boulder. An unrecognizable actor in an elaborate space suit stepped out of the contraption and started to descend a ladder. He heard a few people applaud.
Off stage, a director shouted, “Quiet on the set.” Uh-oh, Chuck realized that he was stuck in the middle of filming some kind of documentary. He drew his legs in closer to his body and tried to breathe silently. As the actor’s foot touched the stage, which had been covered with sand and gem-like stones, the actor looked at the camera and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
That evening, Chuck paced his motel room, turning the events of the day over in his mind. Ever the consummate reporter, he wrote up the incident for the newspaper (which shall remain nameless), but his editor cut the story. Rejected! Today, Chuck still ponders that experience. Rejected. How could a responsible editor reject such a momentous scoop? It was unheard of. Dishonest. A travesty of justice. A betrayal of journalistic integrity!
Another several decades had passed before Chuck became the publisher/editor of The Madera Tribune, a newspaper that is dedicated to upholding the fine history of U.S. reportage. Chuck ponders, “Finally there is one paper that will not put up with any fantasy, any undocumented and superficial space filler.” So, in keeping with this policy of openness and transparency, I conclude this column by informing the community that Monday is Chuck’s birthday. Just don’t mention that you heard it from me.
Happy birthday, my friend.