Rocket Lessons - Fog: Launch Scrubbed

I started this blog at the suggestion of my agent, who thought blogging excerpts from my memoir of growing up as a rocket kid would be a good idea. And yet, thanks to the readers of this blog, it's turned ever more toward poetry and away from prose. Today, I offer the opening of one chapter of Rocket Lessons -- a kind of prose poem.

Fog: Launch Scrubbed
Einstein's Theory of Relativity: Due to the natural curvature of space, the shortest path between any two objects is never a straight line, but a curved line called a geodesic. An example of this is that we can see stars that are located in a straight line behind the sun appearing near the edge of the sun.

Dad's Corollary: Unless there's fog.

I knew before I opened my eyes it would be socked-in, with Foghorn Maggie's groans weaving into my dreams. She sounded like my mother crying in the bathroom, like my father pushing away from the table with what he called a complimentary belch. Maggie groaned like Dad's rockets as they ripped away from the gantry and slowly ascended, a scene we had viewed in black-and-white on our new television. "Oh, Fog," was what I think Dad said when Mom mailed the bank deposit to the phone company – what he had said when the Russians launched Sputnik a year before the Americans were ready to launch.

San Pedro's fog seeped through balding ice plant and effervesced off Bixby Slough, tumbled over docks where men on crates mended fishing nets and tuna boats bobbed red, green and useless. Fog meant bad fishing, sport and commercial. It meant launches scrubbed, Dad coming home with an empty sack. The look in my mother's eyes when he rambled on about some jerk who would not give over when Dad hooked his only fish of the day, a gathering of cloud that meant I was likely to get lost.

Mist slipped behind Mom's eyes and made her hear us from a distance: "What? What?"

My job was to sound the horn when it got too thick, prevent blind collisions in my family, the ramming thud that sickened me in the night remembering its sound in their voices. So far, as a fog horn, I had only managed a few croaks, which were mistaken for insolence and got me sent to ruminate alone on how the fog descended to cut off the tops of the houses across the street, leaving only a sly wink of a window here and there.

She sent us walking to school in fog so thick it dewed my jacket. Houses floated and shifted, unmoored from Bynner Drive. The blank descended only as far as the red, but not the green, stoplight. Palm trees rose into the mist like mastodon legs, suggesting a prehistoric swamp where my school should be. Inside the classroom, time rusted and flaked. All over San Pedro, you could hear children's minds evaporating. Finally the afternoon cannery whistle set us free to race out into drizzle, but I was afraid to venture off my regular route. My own neighborhood blurred and gapped with pockets of blank. I hurried, thinking to outrun it, hurry in case my own house turned up missing. But there it was. I hardly noticed that I slowed when I saw it.

By dinner, the fog burnt off, leaving a cloud scrimshaw on the apricot sky, but night fog roared back and fell like snow. Fog fell indoors, into our TV. Dad pounded the set. "Geezacrist! What did you do to this set, Betts? Did you fiddle with the rabbit ears?"

Noise frothed in the kitchen, and Mom's voice said, "Why would I do that?"

For a moment, the atmosphere cleared. Dad's eyes flared, as they did when a car veered into his lane. Then kitchen noises clattered. Dad went back to fiddling with the antenna, and we all sank back into grayness.