Anyone who came of age at a bungalow colony through the summers of the 1950’s and 1960’s well remembers the extraordinary absence of television in our day to day existence. Here, in the country, we learned to do without Shindig and Hula-ba-loo, Sonny Fox, Soupy Sales and Sandy Becker, I Love Lucy and Star Trek. Consternation over missed viewing was easily assuaged by marathon games of stickball and softball, full days splashing in the pool, crisp evening of Ring-a-leevio and Johnny On the Pony.
There were, however, a day each summer when we felt the void of a life without a flat back picture tube. This was a time when baseball’s all-star game, the summer classic, was played as God had intended baseball be played—in the bright light of day. Invariably we were in day camp when the game commenced. Not one amongst us was an accomplished enough litigator to liberate us from scheduled activities in a trade for an afternoon in the damp, dark, cool of the colony TV room, watching snowy images on the black and white Philco—Mays, Mantle, Aaron, Robinson, Koufax, Gibson…
So we missed the game, and the heroics—the Mays home run, the Koufax strike out, the incredible catch by Clemente. Yet, with the single exception of the All Star game, not one of us missed the TV, nor were we even cognizant of just what was meant by the term “summer re-run.”
The summer of 1969 was a watershed season—its events so indelible that it was the single year Pamela Gray selected for her homage to bungalow life screenplay for “A Walk on the Moon.” At home, some ninety miles southeast, the New York Mets were being transformed from lovable, laughable losers into serious contenders for the NL East title. On a sultry night in early July Tom Seaver took a perfect game against the first place Cubs into the ninth inning before a dying quail off the bat of the appropriately named Jimmy Qualls foiled him. Though we missed the game on the screen, we read, and re-read, then re-read once more each account in the following day’s newspapers.
There was a concert coming in August, right in our own backyard, just a stone’s throw down route 17B, past the track, on a patch of verdant farmland. They were calling this “An Aquarian Festival.” The projected line-up read like a register of rock and roll royalty—Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Alvin Lee, Santana, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Sly and the Family Stone, the Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead, The Who, and so many others. Tickets for the three day event were set at a pricey $18 per day, but it was remote that anyone under sixteen could convince their parents to allow them to attend.
Amidst the Met’s pennant drive, and the coming show in Bethel that would forevermore be simply remembered as “Woodstock,” another event unfolded. This event was one that was as extraordinary as it was fleeting, one that, unlike the ascension of the Met’s or the raucous revival at Woodstock, would again be repeated, and thus somehow lessened in our memory. Still, it was no less a phenomenon, a happening, a wonder, a miraculous moment that would define a life and a generation. On the evening of July 20th, in the midst of a damp, rainy and cataclysmic summer, while some of America’s children played in the backyard, and others dropped acid and lit joints, and still others died in the swamps of Southeast Asia, there were men on the moon. We gathered in our small colonies, around one flickering black and white image, much as was depicted in the film, “A Walk on the Moon.” At once transfixed and impatient, jittery with the interminable wait for the go ahead from Houston, we scrambled outside into the starry night and gazed heavenward. So near and yet so far away, two young Americans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, were preparing to alight onto the dusty, gray, powdery surface of the moon.
It was unusually warm for a Catskill night. Against a wall of white noise from crickets and cicadas, we strained to hear Walter Cronkite amidst the buzzing, humming, static transmission from the orange ball that hung midway in the evening sky. We hunched closer, ears perked, eyes peeled, breath held short, and then, in an instant, Armstrong muttered his now immortal phrase, and he bounced from the ladder of the lunar lem and was, at once, on the moon.
Again outside we gazed heaven ward once more. Exactly where was this “sea of tranquility?” How long till we would reach Mars, Venus, other distant planets and stars? What would we then discover? Uninhabitable wastelands? The remnants of ancient, long gone civilizations? Vulcans? Very late into the evening, in fact, in early morning, we slipped beneath crisp sheets and turned to try and find sleep, but, first, chancing one more look to the sky. Good night, moon.