January 4, 2009

Behold! The moon!

I'm going to come out and say it—children are completely bizarre. When I was in Colorado for my Xmas sojourn, I met Zakary Friedland, who is two years old and is my first cousin once removed. (Don't be confused—"once removed" in cousinspeak merely means he's one generation younger or older than me. Either the child of your first cousin, or the first cousin of your parent. Whereas the parent of your first cousin is your aunt/uncle, and the child of your parent is yourself. Or your sibling. Now I'm confused. Anyway, this kid's mom is my first cousin; his grandmother is my dad's sister. Got it?)

Zak (no "c," note) is a great little kid, friendly and smart and seemingly well adjusted—we had a good time dancing to "Fox on the Run" by Sweet. But as with all semicurious toddlers, he has his obsessions. In Zak's case, he's obsessed with the moon. I find this to be an extremely odd, and interesting, thing for a little kid to be obsessed with. I mean, the moon? Of all things? But yes. He was asking questions about the moon, he has a giant plush crescent moon hung above his crib (pictured at top). We went out to dinner and he stared at the waning moon through the restaurant window until it dipped below a building. That's when he got upset, crying, "I need the moon." I need the moon. There's something inexplicably poetic about that.

I, unlike my young relative, have never thought much about the moon. Are kids still told the canard that it's made from green cheese? I never got that one—no matter how young I was, it seemed implausible to me, especially since the moon rarely looks green (or blue, for that matter). Also, and I'm sure this was different for children of earlier eras, but we in this culture are so inundated with the heroics of Neil Armstrong & Co. that we're practically born with the knowledge that man has visited the moon, pretty much blasting the cheese theory out of the nonexistent lunar water. (Aside: Yes, Neil Armstrong blew his lines on the moon. That famous quote is a logical contradiction.)

When I was older, I read an article about a major hoax perpetrated in the 1830s by The New York Sun (no connection to the recently expired paper). It claimed that a team of prominent astronomers in South Africa (actual people, it turns out) had developed a new and wildly powerful telescope that had revealed the existence of civilization on the moon. Giant crystal towers, fantastic bat-winged creatures, hyperintelligent beavers, and a lot more. An artist imagined it like this:
It reads like absolute nonsense to me—did when I first read about it as a teenager—but the citizens of NYC apparently bought it at the time, so much so that for a few months, the Sun was the world's top-selling paper. Eventually, the hoax was revealed, and various commentators (among them Edgar Allan Poe) questioned the intelligence of the millions who fell for it. It's reminiscent of the reaction to Orson Welles's War of the Worlds scare in 1938, except that was grimmer due to the panic it caused and the fear that it betrayed our ill preparation for the impending war.

But I think it shows that as familiar as it is, the moon is still a ready source for fascination and mystery in our minds. (Pink Floyd certainly mined the concept.) The Apollo landing really hasn't done much to diminish that, nor has seeing it in the sky night after night. I've realized how convenient the moon is, since we all want a little mystery in our lives.

We want it, but Zak needs it.