Rocket Ship

Dan Berkey

© Copyright 2002 by Dan Berkey

In the 5thth grade I decided to beat the Apollo Program to the moon. I said it aloud to myself one rainy, spring day. Out of the blue, I guess, because I don't know why else I said it, but it was true. I knew it was true. So I set about convincing others of the truth. Immediately, I knew who I wanted and I got 'em. Pronto! No sweat. My crew fell in line the very next day.

Richard Ohlund was my first and most enthusiastic recruit. His was an easy conversion with a father in jail, and a drunken junky mother who clobbered him nightly. He wanted out, big time! He was to be the commander, "In charge of the flight," I said. He liked that. Then came Dana Sutherland. Dana was an avid ham radio operator. Any talk of big electronics hooked him right off, and I talked of really big electronics. He was to be the navigator. Steve Hansen wanted to be a chef like his grandpa, so I made him our mess hall manager. I was to be the ground control.

The group met in my garage nightly to study plans and listen to my gabble. In my zeal I went off like a demonic shaman. I had a time. "To keep them in line"..."Too boost morale'" I thought. I guess it was OK. They said it was nuts, but they stayed. Richard liked it best. Steve ate candy bars, and Dana clapped occasionally. I yowled, "We've let ourselves become useless nuts at the length of our tree branches, rotting!"

Atop an old desk, I yelled, "...we're gone to the edges of our promontory's, crumbling!" I howled, "...gone to the edges of our seascapes, drowning...we gotta move it man, move!"

"Yes yes..." they chanted back, uncomprehendingly.

"Do you like it here?" I yelled.

"No, no we don't!' they screamed, and Richard yelped, "We gotta run, gotta run...!"

"We gotta fly, Richard, fly...!" I raved.

"We'll fly, We'll fly..." he yelped, and danced about.

"We hear you, Dan, we'll fly, we'll fly!..." they screamed, and on and on it went, till I bellowed, "To the MOON we'll FLY, in the ship we'll BUILD...TOGETHER!"


They jumped around and flailed...they ripped each other's clothes off...tore them to shreds...they howled like banshees...they kissed and smacked each other. They went bananas!

I loved it.

To be sure, I led the pack on to the very edges of their wits, to their surprise. When they balked for fears in the beginning, I said, "Don't worry! You'll snub those fears." And they did...sort of.

Everyday for a month, I gave them advanced technical books to study overnight, and report on the next day. They were all post graduate math books, engineering texts, computer manuals, etc...and they did, in fact, study them. I knew this, because of the calls their parents made to mine.

"What's this garbage your son's handing out?" said Mr. Hansen, late one night.

"What do you mean?" my father asked, wearily.

"Steve's not doing his homework anymore," Mr. Hansen ranted, "He just sits in his room staring at math books I don't even understand. I want you to do something about it!"

My father told me about the call at breakfast. I was ecstatic. My father wasn't.

That night there was another call.

"Daniel, you come down here this instant. Mr. Sutherland just called. He told me that you told Dana you were going to take him to the moon. You had better explain yourself, young man. This has got to stop!" I shouted back, "He misunderstood me, Dad! I meant That I was going to take Dana with me some night and let him LOOK AT THE MOON through my telescope."

A stilly moment passed.

"Oh," my father replied wanly, and let it go.

When Mrs. Hansen, Dana's mother, called the next night, my mother took the call. I heard Mrs. Hansen's muffled voice from downstairs. She ranted for over an hour. My mother screamed.

"Danny, you come down here, right now! Mrs. Hansen just called. She told me she thinks you're the devil. I can't stand you being the devil, Danny!"

This outburst started a nasty fight with my father, wherein I was fortunately forgotten.

To avert my mother's hysteria, from then on, my father took all the calls. He had every phone, except the one in the front room, unplugged till he went to bed. If any of the calls bothered him, he never let on, nor did he confront me. That was OK by me. I had work to do.

All the other parents chewed relentlessly on my buddies enthusiasms. They bugged them about the technical books I gave them, about the homework they ignored, about the time they spent with me. As the project progressed, I had to spend hours on the phone every night to boost morale.

"You're tying up the phone," my father complained.

He tried to stop me from using it.

"Too much!" he said, "Why?"

"To call my buddies," I said. "They need me."


I didn't say.

He eventually confiscated the last phone until bedtime.

I resorted to calling my buddies at three or four in the morning which was tricky. Sometimes an irate parent answered. Sometimes my mother heard the creaking, wooden staircase and cried out. I tried every night, but success to failure was only about one to one, and that made me mad. It made me try harder. It challenged me.

"Great!" I thought..."A push!"

Twice, I crawled out of my window at Three O'clock in the morning to use a pay phone a half mile away.

The strategies inevitably varied, but I always found a way.

When I got through, my buddies were always hard at it, and that made me proud.

"Great!" I'd say, "Hang in there!"

"Yeah, Berk, yeah, but..." Richard whined at one point.

"But what, Richard?" I asked.



"Sometimes I just don't..."

"Just don't what, Richard? Go on, talk to me, I'm your creator."

"Ok ok, sometimes I just don't understand."

"Oh. Is that all?"


"I get confused too, Richard."

"You do?" Richard asked incredulous.

"Yes, but don't worry. If it gets to be too much, do what I do. Look out a window. Take in a little moon. Pretty soon you'll understand. OK?"

"OK, Dan."

"Dig it!"

That always worked. The moon was a great sorcerer.

My buddies unobstructed and passionate commitment to the project was vital to my ability to live through the remaining days of school. I hung onto their needs, as I hung onto the moon. I was on the escape route, and my friend's paved the way with their yeses. It was important to me they were never discouraged, because I knew they wanted out as much as me.

Everyday I gave them new stuff to read, and happily, though bleary eyed, with a humph and a smirk, plus a big thumbs up, they carried on. I was impressed.

When Mrs. Lowe took me to the crisis room each day to scream at me, I kept my buddies verve in mind, and it was OK. I was fine. When I went home for lunch everyday, and my mother screamed at me, I kept my mind on the moon, and It was OK. It was fine.

In the evenings, I worked on the ship in the garage. My parents never suspected anything. To them, it was only a huge plywood shipping crate, four-feet-cubed, but I knew better.

I found an old black 'n white TV in the attic, a monster of vacuum tubes with real 'Rabbit-Ear' antennas. It weighed a ton.

"What a great anti-gravity propulsion system," I thought, and hauled it to the garage.

The big day was drawing near.

Dana contributed an old Ham Radio Set, another monster. I decided to use half of it.

Steve stole about a hundred cans of vegetables from his family's restaurant, Green Giant beets, corn, creamed onions, etc. I used them all.

Richard 'borrowed' a rifle from his brother. "Just in case," he said, and I agreed.

"We'll only be gone about five days," I said, and my crew was relieved. Dana had to go on vacation with his parents in a week, Steve was enrolled in cooking class, and Richard had to go to camp.

I designated the Big Oak in the turnaround of my parent's driveway to be our launch base. An enormous branch, about twenty feet up, half as thick as the trunk itself, was to be our launch pad.

The tree knew me well. If there had been any problem with the plan, it would've said something. There were no complaints.

I was elated.

The first Saturday of the summer was to be the Big Day. I reasoned, "My mother cooks all afternoon in the kitchen with the radio and the TV going full blast. She'll hear nothing. My father works till six, so we can blast off at Three. No problem.

"Spacesuits?" Richard asked, "What about spacesuits?"

Good point. I wrestled with that all Wednesday. On Thursday, I decided to use Alcoa wrap. Richard liked the idea.

"How will we secure it?" he asked.

I liked his eye for detail. I thought about it for two-and-a-half hours, from gym class through math.

"Swimtrunks and flippers, with a skin-diving mask for the face. Plus!...snorkels for life support!"

Richard beamed, and I felt smug.

It was a GO with everyone. I rejoiced. Then suddenly, Dana did a turnabout.

He called me during dinner, said he'd have to steal his brother's mask because he didn't have money to buy one. He started to cry. I said, "Why don't you just ask your brother if he'll lend it to you?" Dana replied, "I can't. He's a jerk. He wouldn't do it anyway. We went to the lake once, and he didn't let me use it then, even when I promised it wouldn't a left his sight. My brother's a jerk."

"OK, then," I said, "I guess you'll just have to steal it."

Dana hemmed and hawed. He said he'd never done anything like that before, but I kept at him throughout the rest of my dinner, with my mother and father howling, till he said he'd do it. Right before I hung up, he backed down again, exclaiming, "I'm a good person, I won't stoop to my brother's level and steal his mask."

Dana cried some more.

In exasperation, I argued he had to 'borrow' the mask to teach his inflexible brother a lesson, if nothing else, and that was the key, apparently. Dana agreed, and The Plan was a GO.

On Friday evening, I muscled 'The Ship' up the tree all by myself using a ladder and a few ropes. I told my dad I was exercising. My mother got upset. She was afraid I'd accidentally hang myself. My father appeased her.

Early Saturday Morning, about four, I ripped off three rolls of Alcoa Wrap from my mother.

I told the gang to show up at Two. Together, using the ladder, we loaded up the ship with the TV, Rabbit-Ears, Ham Set, and all the food. It was done in a snap. The heavy branch sagged.

We stood back in reverent silence.

"There it is!" I thought.

I just couldn't believe it. 'The Ship' was ready to go. I cried a bit, and my buddies got embarrassed.

Then they suited up. I helped them with the foil. It was pretty rough stuff, but my buddies didn't complain.

"Tough guys," I thought.

With all their gear on, except for the fins, they climbed up the Ladder for the last time.

I took my place at 'Control' old Oak Stump about thirty yards from the Launching Tree. With the 'crew' in place, I called out, "Ready?"

No reply.

Again I called, "Ready?"

Again, nothing.

"O yeah, right," I thought, "That's stupid of me."

I called out loudly, "Take your snorkels out, I can't hear you!"

They did so.

I called again, 'Ready?"

"Yes," they replied in unison, "we're ready!"

"Great," I yelled. "Suit up!"

They 'suited' up.

"Turn the engines ON!" I yelled.

Richard flicked a knob on the Rabbit Ears. Dana flicked a knob on the radio.

"All set?"

Richard waved the OK.

I wanted to have a camera, to get a shot for the books. My heart was in my mouth.

I took a deep breath, but I couldn't let it go. I couldn't shout the 'shove off.'

"That's silly!" I thought.

I took another breath, a deeper one and almost blacked out, holding it. It pissed me off.

"Goddammit!" I thought. With a violent burst of will, I barked, "SHOVE OFF!"

The 'Ship' plummeted, like a rock.

My friend's faces, though partially blocked by the masks, flashed vividly from cocky pride to stark terror, sliding smoothly, though rapidly, through several distinct emotional states. It looked like a reel from a Keystone Comedy Flick.

I laughed.

When the box hit there was a harsh splintering of wood, and a weird popping sound as the TV blew up. Shards of glass went everywhere. Amazingly, no one was cut.

Simultaneously, my father's car veered into the drive. My mother, apparently looking for her Alcoa Wrap, peered out the front door. She started screaming.

Then, all at once a shriek of brakes, my mother wailing "Danny Danny!" and three miraculously unhurt 'Astronauts' slithering from the wreckage, yelling, "What went wrong? What went wrong?..."

I didn't answer. I went away in my head. My father clobbered me, and my mother blubbered.

My buddies went home. They never talked about it. They never even hinted at it. They just left me alone after that, for good.

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