Thursday, July 23, 2009

Earthbound ’69

Journalist-author Ron Rosenbaum posted a couple of pieces on his blog this week that work as a healthy but gentle purgative for all the sentimental, overwrought and insipid glop churned out by the electronic and newsprint media to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. It’s clear now that the premature passing of Michael Jackson was truly a large-scale tragedy, primarily because it deprived the world of his sharing of his memories of Neil Armstrong’s one small step. (Jackson, of course, would later popularize the moonwalk on a scale that Armstrong, alas, never attained.)

Yes, we remember the day the Eagle landed and Armstrong walked. We were playing golf that day. With our good friend R-b. At the country club, where we both pursued the solitary sport with maniacal determination and a crazed competitiveness. (Neither we nor R-b were much cut out for the country club: Both of our dads worked in the oilfield—we never heard anyone back then call it “the oil business,” which is where George H.W. Bush must have worked—and ours, having clambered his way up from driving a wireline truck to wearing a tie and running his oilfield services company’s local office, had the family’s club dues paid by his employer as both a perk and business expense.) On that day in July we had played the front nine and stopped at the little snack shack that sat between the 9th and 18th greens.

The snack hut—a thrown-together wood-framed structure with a covered but unscreened porch—was run by Joe Decuir, a gentle but stupendously large and well-muscled black man with a shaved head (not so fashionable back in ’69) and a small, well-tended mustache who claimed to have once been given a tryout with the Saints, even though he never attended college. We whiled away many long summer hours of our 13th through 15th years talking with Joe Decuir on many subjects, and although there were some on which he remained guarded he had a natural graciousness and sensitivity that, at least to our mind, managed to transcend the obvious gulf of race and class between himself and two suburban white boys who talked shit, stupid shit, like suggesting he’d enjoy listening to Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (which he didn’t).

Joe always had the radio going, and when he wasn’t regaling us he was singing along. On Saturday afternoons he’d really come alive, wailing and keening as loud as he could without disturbing the nearby linksmen. That was when the local Top 40 station would turn four solid hours over to Paul Thibeaux, “The House Rocker,” owner of “House Rocker’s Record Shop,” who’d play only the best of Black America’s favorite music, past and present, while plugging at the top of his lungs a local nightclub or a “big wedding dance” out in some exotic rural locale like Frilot Cove, which he’d pronounce as “Free Loco!!” Sometimes he’d excitably end these commercials with a personal guarantee to would-be customers: “No harm will come to you or your car!” Joe Decuir loved Paul Thibeaux, as did we.

Joe talked often of sex, a subject on which he professed to posses vast experience and expertise, and on which we had none of either (we believe it was from Joe that we learned of the Black Man’s supposed historical aversion to cunnilingus, which we see now as a dated 20th century notion). Once, on a steamy afternoon, he provided us, gratis, two ice-cold beers—just one each. We were grateful, possibly because it was not the Falstaff that we occasionally filched from the refrigerator at home. Another time, after the discussion had rolled around to exactly how strong he was—he perhaps had initiated the discussion—Joe emerged from his kitchen and, standing adjacent to one of the pillars that held up his humble fiefdom, began slamming it with an upward thrust of his giant forearm, much as he would had he been exploding off the line for the Saints. The building shook and shuddered, and the post jumped a little bit off its concrete foundation. We feared he was going to knock the place down. He was the strongest guy we knew.

On a wall behind the screened-off counter, in the kitchen where Joe cooked up delicious burgers and fries, hung a shitty little black-and-white TV bolted to a rickety stand, and it was on that instrument that we saw the moonwalk, although “saw” is not quite the right word. The picture, already dark and cloudy from the moon transmission, was made more so by the quality of the TV and the counter screen we had to watch it through. We remember having to crane our neck and shift our eyes as afternoon shadows pitched into the kitchen, and after a while that seemed to be more trouble than it was worth.

We don’t remember much of the rest that particular July day when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. We knew it was big deal, or course, but not one that really touched us, not like, say, Otis did with Try a Little Tenderness. We suppose that as Neil Armstrong prepared to tee one up on the lunar surface we finished out the back nine at the country club, arguing with R-b over gimmes and the lies of our respective balls in the rough, perhaps making fart noises or clearing our throat as he drew back to putt. Neil Armstrong’s walk has faded into a fuzzy, indistinct memory, one we initially registered at a poor angle off a bad TV image. But Joe Decuir we remember clearly.


Steve Sailer said...


Anonymous said...

Re: Afternoon shadows: Didn't Neil step off onto the moon about 10 pm Central time?

Slampo said...

Anon- That's probably correct, but I clearly remember watching it, or half-watching it, during the afternoon. Maybe it was a replay the next day. Or maybe I'm confusing the moon landing with Super Bowl I.