Secret Pop

May 3, 2007


When I was in the fourth grade and a student at Mountain View Elementary School in Concord, California, I entered an essay and drawing contest with the theme "How a Moon House Would Be Different from an Earth House." The winners of the contest were awarded a $25 U.S. savings bond and got to meet Astronaut Wally Schirra. I was one of those winners. My two drawings on construction paper depicting a normal house on Earth and a house on the Moon, with its Airstream-like solar panel exterior, accompanied a handwritten essay whose contents I no longer recall and apparently wowed the judges enough to earn me a spot in the photo opportunity. When my mom brought me to the place where the newspaper photographer was going to capture our honor on film, I learned that there were a total of six winners of the contest: three from standard schools and three from the school for special needs kids. So my photo in the paper was of me and five other kids and Astronaut Wally Schirra. And three of the kids had Down's syndrome, and I am half Chinese, and I can't remember which of the women in my family has this on her birth certificate, but one of our birth certificates has "Mongolian" in the field marked "Race." And even in the fourth grade, I recognized this to be a situation of some irony. I remember Astronaut Wally Schirra as having a ready smile and a friendly demeanor. I remember him being very tall. But then, I was eight.

When I was in high school in Japan, the Home Economics teacher Mrs. Sattre (whose first name was Solveig) was famous for two things. One, she had driven her car into the side of the school one day. And, two, she had once dated Astronaut Buzz Aldrin. I heard they were both known to be hotsy-totsy on the social scene at one point. But I don't know whether that means she ever met Astronaut Wally Schirra. This anecdote is less important to the story than the one that preceded it.

I heard on the radio this morning that Astronaut Wally Schirra died today of a heart attack at Scripps Green Hospital of La Jolla. That's the hospital I went to when a wood plank flew off a moving truck and into my windshield on the 805, spraying my retina with glass. It's considered one of the finest hospitals in San Diego, and it's in a lovely location. I'm glad Astronaut Wally Schirra was being well cared for, and I'm glad that our paths crossed back when I was eight years-old. And I remember being thrilled by the idea of going into space, and that is thanks to astronauts like Wally Schirra. In doing some cursory research today, I learned that he snuck a corned beef sandwich onto a space mission, was the first person to perform music in space, was the first astronaut to swear over an open microphone, and was (according to his offical web site) a 33 Mason. Our worlds were always converging, it seems.

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