It sounded good.
A friend suggested it. A book entitled July 20, 2019 – Life in the 21st Century. Published in the early mid-1980s.
I was there for both.
Question is …
What happened to our future?
It sounded pretty good back then.
I was always a fan of Arthur C. Clarke: Rendezvous with Rama, The Wind from the Sun, and the obscure 2001: A Space Odyssey, that Stanley Kubrick made into a movie.
It’s here. The future. Again.
July 20, 2019 – Life in the 21st Century. By Arthur C. Clarke, a non-fiction piece.
At first, I was going to write, write and reflect on the exact day the book is titled. Life in the 21st Century however has its time constraints, for one and I didn’t get around to it. No time for anything. That unfortunately is the real 21st century. No robot servants to do our bidding. So, I didn’t get around to reflect, about the day — on the day. The day the book envisions. In the 1980s when the book was published the future was well — the future.
Now, I am, we are those people in this future.
Clarke’s predictions turned out to be too depressing as it seems our future has been hijacked by cold stark reality. A futuristic future just wasn’t in the cards. Or the stars.
Yet, we had a space program that put a man on the moon.
On July 20th, 1969 and fifty years later, now what? What happened?
Never ending wars, almost daily mass shootings by hate squad enthusiasts, food you can’t eat, water you can’t eat and a world you can’t afford. Or nutjobs driving their SUVs into shopping malls playing Deathrace 2000 for real with people’s lives such as in suburban Chicago.
You didn’t hear about that one?
I put the future down and tried to move forward.
It was August 10, 2019.
I could say I went.
“I went to the moon today.”
I had been to the Woodfield Mall in suburban Chicago too. Back in the ‘80s.
It seemed futuristic back then.
Traffic was heavy so I approached from the South.
On my way to the moon.
Not with a jet pack or hovercraft, instead a two wheeled vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine.
I parked, locked up my helmet and got my camera ready. I looked around, then asked a couple looking at a kiosk, with the image of the moon — for the big event.
I asked where the moon was.
They did not know.
I looked before me where the music was coming from.
They didn’t notice?
The moon, there it was. There was the moon.
As close as anyone, in the year 2019, is going to get, in the real world, to the moon. As close unless you’re an astronaut or a billionaire. The Moon in all its glory: a three-dimensional sculptural representation comprised of actual NASA images, big, real big, and suspended by a crane over a circular area, with tiered seating. That’s the moon tour, on tour. On tour this day at Catalano Square in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.
A tourist destination, this Third Ward, even without the moon.
Arthur C. Clarke didn’t mention that.
Didn’t mention that commerce and industry would deteriorate, give way to high priced lofts and trendy bars. Destinations with people from Chicago and beyond — zipping around on electric scooters. Not flying cars. Arthur C. didn’t talk of that. I think the Jetsons gave us that notion, and that’s in the late 2060s, so we still have time. And Star Wars, with flying cars? That wasn’t even Earth.
The future is just the present.
The future is kind of like the late 1970s, except with digital readout.
The future anyway was supposed to be one of continued growth pushing onward to the stars. So much for the future. Sure, we have some semblance of space tourism, millions of dollars for a ticket, and only one place go, aboard the ISS, getting in the way of actual scientists with work to do. Trying to see if spiders can spin webs in zero gravity and so on.
Yet, here was the moon. Old hippies and Earth Goddesses holding hands and dancing around the moon. Not quite kumbaya but close. Moving about in a circle, while enchanting live music celebrating Oneness was presented. Everyone was encouraged to turn around and smile at someone we didn’t know. Turn around and greet someone we didn’t know, next. I stood at the periphery, before the hugging started. And kept my distance.
That’s the moon for you.
That’s the future.
The songstress sang, “We are all divided and yet we are all united.” Etc., etc.
Didn’t Aldous Huxley say we are all equal, but some are more equal than others?
I’ve always liked the moon.
My ex-wife for one.
“Look at moon, I would say.”
Clear night, reflecting on the lake.
“I don’t like the moon,” she announced.
“What do you mean you don’t like the moon?”
“Well I don’t like the moon the way you like the moon,” she then returned.
Just one of the many reasons I’m alone here in the future.
Another time, we were camping on Yellowstone Lake, the moon was low — and it seemed like you could walk on the ray it reflected, shimmering on the water.
I tried it and I just got wet.
When did this become a piece on the moon, my moon?
Reflecting on my lunatic life?
Oh yeah – July 20th, fifty years later … now more a month, two months from when I watched the landing on TV. Walter Cronkite narrating.
As kids we were marched into the grade school gymnasium that doubled as our auditorium and sat on the floor looking up at a big 27 inch black and white television that stunk. A big cathode ray tube that smelled like burning circuitry, precariously balanced atop some industrial, scholastic, for schools only AV stand — with wheels. It was adorned by a place for winding up it’s long electrical cord, that was hot to the touch. And also smelled funny.
It’s mighty rabbit ears, pulling in over-the-air transmissions, from just across the river, before the days of cable and streaming.
The principal, Mr. Shebesta, he had to hit the side of the TV, when the picture started to roll, turn to snow, or flip askew. Again, and again. That’s how it was before the future. We were brought in each time Mercury, then Gemini and later Apollo rockets took off. Interrupting our usual studies like arithmetic, reading and gym — even recess. Writing cursive. At first, we were shushed when we counted along “10-9-8-7, etc … blast-off.”
Some had to stand in the corner.
Others had to write, a thousand time in cursive, yes cursive, “I will be quiet when we are being indoctrinated.”
That might have been me.
Then, later on, as the future approached, the teachers let us revel in the launches.
We were allowed to count down, engines on.
Well before single press to MECO and disaster.
We reveled and the teachers stood around, arms crossed, with sad smiles on their faces, secretly knowing one way or another that this future we were promised, would really amount to nothing and didn’t really matter.
Except that, thanks to our space program we now have pretty good ICBMs, (intercontinental ballistic missiles.) We don’t call them rockets now. Not since we brought the special scientists over on Operation Paper Clip. It gave us everything. Now we have satellite GPS and LCD screens for everything. Surveillance cameras everywhere. And now, in the future, so does everyone else.
Computers and nominal telemetry to make our lives ever more maddening and maybe just yet, just yet we’ll find some primordial slime on some other planet and know we’re not alone.
Up to our necks in raw sewage and rainwater.
Here in the future with billions demanding the limited resources of an elderly planet?
A grand oscillation has been set in motion.
Even when we find some pallid microbes frozen in time, or the alien equivalent of The Price is Right, or Dancing with the Beautiful People – TV being transmitted millions of years ago, just reaching us now, travelling at the speed of light – in black and white. From a galaxy or Super Earth far far away and long ago.
We will be alone — with the future still always tomorrow.
Curtain closes and the credits role.
We do have some wonderful parting gifts.
The home version of the Future is always in the Future.
Please stand by.
Shorter of breath and one nanosecond closer to transcendence.
I never did get to see Arthur C. Clarke speak from Sri Lanka by satellite on a big screen when I was in New York back in the eighties. I wanted to. I read about it in the Village Voice, reflecting “The Sentinel.” But I wasn’t allowed. I think we went to Bond’s and saw Gang of Four instead. She didn’t like the future like I like the future. That’s what she said. Kind of recurring motif here in my lunatic life. Satellite, closed circuit TV, by satellite. That was futuristic back then.
It goes on every day now. Here in the 21st Century.
Here in the future.
Top photo: Earthrise from Apollo 11 as it orbited the moon in July, 1969. By Michael Collins, for NASA
Jeff Worman lives in Walworth County, Wisconsin where there is water and a crisp, cool night sky conducive to the creative process. He has been drawing and writing since he was able to hold a pencil in his hand. Worman started out as a high school intern at the Bugle-American, an alternative newspaper in Milwaukee, and was a founder and long standing contributor to the Crazy Shepherd which emerged from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is published currently as the Shepherd Express. Worman’s column The Hourly Why was conceived in 1982, published broadly in underground newspapers over the decades and can be found online today at www.thehourlywhy.com. He has a great love of the outdoors and champions charities by riding those long distance centuries on his road bike to raise funds. Contact the author.