I haven't been able to write you lately because "wife of" has been traveling. First time in Cleveland, first time in Chicago and first time in Space. Space isn't as scary as you might think, Beverly, because the NASA people ease you up there slowly, making sure that you see something familiar at first, like the Holiday Inn at Cocoa Beach, Fla., with the reassuring strips over the toilet seats and the drinking glasses in sanitized paper. That's where the real astronauts hang out, I'm told, when they're not floating about the upper ionosphere with screwdrivers and pens sticking to their bodies with Velcro tape.
To tell you the truth, I don't think the NASA people had any intention of letting me get too far off the ground once Mr. Ambassador told them I have to be let out of the Buick every half hour (along with the dog) because I get queasy in the back seat. And they realized I wasn't mechanically minded during the indoctrination talks when they told us about simulated satellite values and the difference between cosmic and gamma rays.
Mr. Ambassador said he was embarrassed when I asked them, "I guess you'd be the fellows who'd know where the electric light goes when I turn off the switch?"
He said my question showed I belonged to the Dark Ages of Science, but I think Mr. Ambassador is a bit of a hypocrite because he doesn't know the answer either.
In theory, Beverly, I might have been a good candidate for Space because they are conducting queasy- feeling studies up there. But I didn't want to be part of the program when I heard about their methodology. The way I understand it, the astronaut doctor happens upon another astronaut floating around in the shuttle, who's feeling pretty good till then, even without the gravity. Well, the doctor actually tries to induce my back-seat-of-the-Buick feeling, in the healthy fellow, in the name of queasiness-research. It does make the stomach churn, and I'd never volunteer.
I suppose you're wondering why I went to Cocoa Beach, Fla., in the first place. Mr. Ambassador was asked to come and watch the space shuttle launch because a Canadian astronaut was part of the crew. It was kind of them to include "wife of" with the rest of the dignitaries, because basically my job at the launch site is the same as it is in Washington.
I'm supposed to step out of the way when they take pictures of the Famous Names.
I don't know whether I've mentioned this camera business to you before, but there's always someone snapping pictures at semi-public events in Powertown and anywhere else where even semi-famous names might appear. Baron Spitte, the waltzing diplomat, says he's never sure who the camera belongs to. The photographer might be snapping for worldwide coverage and your face could be on the front page of 60 newspapers. (It's never happened to the Baron). On the other hand, the fancy camera might belong to the father of the host, who wants to get a snap of his son with a Powerful Job to embellish the family scrapbook.
No matter who the cameraman represents, Beverly, he always asks me to step aside so Melvin Thistle Jr., from State or Dexter Tribble, the Roving Ambassador, can be photographed without me cluttering the picture.
George probably thinks I deliberately hang around Famous Names just in case the cameraman forgets to ask me to step aside. Tell George that occasionally I have to get close to a Powerful Job in order to shake hands in the reception line. And I can tell you it bruises the ego when I hear an aide whisper to the photographer, "Let her pass before you take the next shot." Anyway, another reason you didn't see a picture of me chatting with the astronauts at the space shuttle launch is that the NASA people realized after my electric light question that I wouldn't be able to have a rational conversation about chip hardening and tile deterioration.
But "wife of" actually did see the launch, and, Beverly, there's something about the preparations and event that reminds me of another marvel: the way my Auntie Zora makes omelettes. Gerald, her husband, is a fussy eater. Auntie Zora travels miles out of town to buy eggs from a farmer she can trust. She rises at 3 a.m. to separate the eggs and let them settle. At 4 a.m. she combines three yolks and one white and puts them in a martini shaker (six shakes, 30 seconds each). She and the eggs wait one hour, until Uncle Gerald comes downstairs, for the blast-off, so to speak. The moment he sits down at the table she throws some butter in the pan, adds a easpoon of ketchup to the eggs, and counts down 20 seconds until they turn into a red and gold sponge. Gerald always tests the omelette for last-minute malfunctions, probing it with a knife.
I remember him saying, "Sondra, look quickly, if you want to see a perfect omelette." Then he'd wrap it around his fork and swallow the whole thing in one gulp.
At Cocoa Beach we rose at 3 a.m., waited around during the refined preparations, hoping the weather would settle, and finally went to a special place at 5, where we could feel the earth tremble when the launch went up. Precisely on schedule, the marvel appeared, all red and gold, brightening the sky for 60 seconds. It disappeared from sight as quickly as Auntie Zora's omelette.
That's what it was like, Beverly.
Your best friend,