Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cardboard Spaceships

Back in 1957, when I was four years old, I felt bad that Canada was lagging behind the Soviet Union in the space race and wanted to do my part. So I named our cat Sputnik and went on adventures orbiting our bungalow in my Radio Flier.

I knew from pictures of Chimpmanaughts that Space helmets were needed so I "improvised" by emptying the goldfish bowl. I had not been around "Mother Earth" for one orbit with that goldfish bowl on my head when I noticed my Oxygen supply was rapidly depleting. If it hadn't been for Sputnik running into the house and alerting my mother I might have perished. I can still see the back fins of the goldfish hanging out of the cat's mouth. (My mother, who was very strict with manners, forgot to admonish the cat with her usual "Don't yell with your mouth full!")

Anyhow the Fire trucks came with the firemen carrying their big sledge hammers and pick axes and I thought for sure my head would be pulverized like a grape in a vice if they used them on me. (You can imagine how scary that looked with the goldfish bowl distorting my perspective.) They managed to extract the goldfish bowl manually just in time.

Later on my father, who was a tireless worker at Goodyear, lectured me on the dangers of "home-made" spacesuits. My mother took me to the Five and Dime the next day and bought me a turtle that came with a round clear plastic dish with a ramp and a green plastic palm tree. She probably thought I wouldn't get that "terrarium" stuck on my head.

My quest to propel Canada into the space race did not end there. My brother and I collected discarded cardboard refrigerator boxes and would use them as "stages" of rockets. We used to drag them behind our tricycles across the train tracks, which were a block away from our house. An earthen mound elevated the railroad so we set up our launch pad on the far side hoping no one would steal them.
At the height of our mission we had a total of 17 boxes lined up, enough to propel us to the moon and back four times!

My brother and I would get into arguments over the orientation of our spaceship. I wanted it to be vertical but Kim (that's my brother's name) said the wind would blow it over, and moreover — if we did get all the boxes stacked up — it would be seen from the town and someone would steal it and commandeer it to other planets it was not designed to go to. Deep inside I knew that a square spaceship would never get off the ground so I let him have his way not wanting to burst his bubble.

My desire to propel Canada did not end until I reached "High" school. The culmination of our "homegrown" space race was when we scrumptiously assembled a life-size mock up of a 747 with a shuttlecraft on top on a runway at the Royal Canadian Airport in downtown Toronto. It never occurred to my brother that a spaceship riding piggyback on a 747 would only transport the shuttle to another airport and not the moon. But again, I didn't want to burst his bubble.


My radio flyer — it is bright red
It's orbiting my bungalow
The big dogs can't lick my face
Cause I wear a goldfish bow

I'm a toddling astronaut in space
And I sure miss the human race

My diapers on number two
Think I need a change of pace
II wonder what real spacemen do
If they have to go in space

Through asteroid rocks again
Take this helmet off my head
Think I need some Oxygen
Hope the fish aren't getting dead

Somebody call my flight engineer
This goldfish bowl is really stuck
Oh good my mommy's here
With the sirens and a fire truck

I've learned my lesson well
Don't put plastic on your face
And concerning those homemade spacesuits
Well just don't trust them in outer space

© 1997 Stefan des Lauriers


The “Crop Duster” on his plane was spelled with an “A,”
His farmhouse was sparse ‘cept for a poster by Paul Klee:
It was “Hero With the Wing” many times I asked him why
He identified with a rooted man only dreaming of the sky

“I’m just a paradox,” he said, “Someday I’ll tell you why –
Someday I’ll shake the dust off these wings and fly"

“Pesticide is ‘Globicide,’” Gave up crop dusting long ago
Thought he’d die of cancer but it was something else you know
Now he sits by his bed and waits for the nurse twice a week

Used to joke he had no voice, “To speak of so to speak…”

“I’m just a paradox,” he said, “Someday I’ll tell you why –
Someday I’ll shake the dust off these wings and fly"

The hundred-year flood came 95 years too soon
Went out to the barn — for a cane he took a broom
Dusted the crap off the wings and opened the barn door
Hay was flying everywhere as he made the engine roar

“I’m just a paradox,” he said, “Someday I’ll tell you why –
Someday I’ll shake the dust off these wings and fly"

Heading for the coast he would take one last drink
And saw a stranded school bus full of kids on the brink
So he radioed it in and headed out to ditch it in the sea
“It’s easy to forget you’re low on fuel…
 When you’re an old fool like me.

                                     © 2011 Stefan des Lauriers

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