Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Rocket boy

My son became a rocketeer last week, when I took him to launch his Estes Alpha III. I turned out to be constipated the two days before the launch, and struggled mightily the morning of the launch to emit before taking the long drive. No luck. I told myself, just be calm, breathe deeply, and drive. People will think your funny walk is just part of your limp.

The three launches were a success, each went up straight and true, and we recovered them all within 200 yards. However, the second one came down within a completely fenced-in area. It was over 100 degrees out there, and I'm lucky I only got a mild sunburn.

The digital camcorder malfunctioned and would not film the launch. All I got was audio, mostly me shouting, "OK, I will!" to my son. Once I got the camera home, it worked fine. I think that the heat may have disabled it. Not sure.

After the second launch came down behind the fence, I left my boy with my friend who had also brought his son. If I had been thinking, I would have asked my friend to retrieve the rocket. But I didn't think. So there I was, 200 yards from the launch site, out of site behind some trees, in the heat and dust, facing a very complete, six-foot fence. And constipated. I could have used my cell phone to call my friend's cell. But there was something of a challenge to it. I thought: You have ALS, which makes you clumsy and weak, yet you are smart and cautious. I bet you can get over that fence and get the rocket back. It will be fun. Like operating strange equipment.

Fortunately, I was not the first rocketeer with that problem. Someone had torn apart a roadway sign, the kind that hinges at the top, and leaned one half of it against either side of the fence, forming a crude ladder.

I went up, very slowly, grabbing the post and placing my feet with utmost care. I laughed at the discomfort in my rear. I paid attention to the angles. It was like building a ship in a bottle. Or opening a car door with your tongue. Patience and plenty of time did the trick. There was some clonus and some trembling muscles, but I never felt in danger. At the top, my shorts got hooked on the fence, and it was comical to try to unhook them using my left hand, which is so weak and clumsy. The right hand held the post. I also had to unhook the family jewels.

Once over, I retrieved the rocket and then had to repeat the entire, very slow process again. My son reports that he asked my friend three times when I would be back. I drank a lot of bottled water and announced that the third launch would be our last. If it went over the fence again, was planning to ask my buddy to retrieve it.

The best part of the whole experience was that when we got home my daughter said, "Daddy, when I'm five, can you get me a rocket?"

"Yes," I said. And I plan to take her to fly it.
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