Nobody wanted to go to the moon right out of college. Your amenities would be pitiful, tiny living quarters. Even the engineers had it cramped. But I learned one thing when I was growing up, to be clever and think of things other people didn’t. I think I invented thinking outside the box.
My parents had fled from the Italy to North Africa as boat people in the late ‘40s when it became apparent the Americans wouldn’t launch a second attempt at Fortress Europa. They got out early, before Germania leaned on the Vichy occupation force to return the refugees crossing the Mediterranean, and they hopped a tramp steamer that dropped them off in Boston. That’s why I was born in Massachusetts.
I was the youngest of six children, and my father was an upholsterer, my mother worked in an office, so I studied like heck in high school, I knew I would need a scholarship. By the time I would be ready to go to college, there’d be no money left. And I was right.
I always had two things going for me. First, the guilt the government felt about the people trapped behind the Steel Curtain because of the failure of the Allies to dislodge Hitler in World War II. I was five when the Germans erected the Wall of Moscow overnight to keep the Russians in West Moscow from fleeing into the Allied Sector.
Second, I grew up with the space program, I was born in January 1957, and my mother bounced me on her knee as we all watched Chuck Yeager become the first man in space on Oct. 4, 1957. I grew up when the race for the Moon was on with the Nazis and JASSECA was in full swing.
Of course, we beat them, and although President Kennedy sounded peaceful as he congratulated Glenn and Gagarin on the moon’s surface, we all knew they had a pair of warheads with them when they landed on Nov. 22, 1963. Suddenly the Nazis started talking a lot less aggressively, and when that drooling old man Hitler died a month later, everyone hoped for the best.
The JASSECA moon base was dedicated July 23, 1969, so it was ten years old when I graduated from college. And that summer the administration was about to rotate back to the American team.
The JASSECA agreement was the U.S. and Soviets would administer it in a five-year rotation, with the U.S. starting and the Soviets taking over in 1974. The plan I worked was to be one of the administrative grunts coming on board the summer of 1979.
The part I finessed was siding with the Republicans. President Ford had barely squeaked back into office, and I gambled--correctly--that the Republicans would load up the moonbase admin with as many GOP diehards as possible as a practical political power base because they would probably lose the 1980 election. When Ford smoked Carter out by offering him the moon executive position at the start of the year--and Carter turned him down cold, not even flashing that peanut-eating toothy grin--it was obvious “Jimmuh” was looking for a rematch in 1980, and Ford would be toast.
“You’re playing this like a poker hand,” said Melody one afternoon at lunch. “The next election after the upcoming one will be in 1984, right as the admin changes again. A bunch of these Republican appointees will be coming back earthside, right in time to join various campaigns.”
“Yes, and I’m playing the Bay State card to the hilt,” I said.
“Is that a pun?” she said.
I laughed. “Aw, crap, I didn’t mean it!”
Having thrown my lot in with the College Republicans, I had some special leverage being from a state with a weak Republican Party during a Republican administration in Washington. Like any good poker player, you make the best of the hand you’re dealt, and in my case, the “ace in the hole” was that my hometown rep on Beacon Hill was one of the few Republicans in the Massachusetts House, a bright Greek-American kid named Andy Card.
“The family name was something like Cardmastimides,” I said. “Card is not a bad way to shorten it.”
Southeastern Massachusetts is full of Greeks, Italians and Portuguese--like Melody, who grew up in New Bedford. We met and began to date in college, but she was a year younger than me.
“At least his family had the sense to shorten it,” I said. “And not keep a clumsy name like Santangelo--or Leverinho.”
She fixed me with her big, dark eyes. Her pupils were so dark they blended with her irises, and her hair was jet black, which--combined with her pale complexion--made her look unnervingly like Snow White.
Except she was better built.
“Leverinho is a fine name, with a great history,” she said, a bit touchily. “I’m proud of my heritage.”
“I didn’t mean anything,” I said.
“So Card wrote you a letter of recommendation,” she said. I kept eating my gyro and nodded.
“What if you get the job?” she asked.
“Let’s see what happens, it’s a shot in the dark,” I said. “A long shot at best.”
She gave me look I didn’t quite understand at the time. “Are you sure you are thinking this all through?”
“Trust me, even being seriously considered for this job is a plus, “ I said.
We had been eating on a cement bench on 116th Street. She looked around distractedly and got up quickly. “I have to catch my professor,” she said. “I will call you tonight.”
I thought she wanted to cut the conversation short because she was afraid I’d ask about a place to stay again. Columbia’s graduation is always the third Wednesday of May, and I would have to be out of the Furnald dorm by the end of the month--which was in three days.
I had tried to play some strategy, too--but this wasn’t working. I don’t think she was willing to let me move in.
She gave me a quick peck on the cheek. “Be safe,” I said, feeling a bit cold for late May.
I turned and walked up the Low Plaza, heading towards Uris Hall. I looked around the campus as I walked towards the business school.
Graduation and the prospect of leaving after four years had somehow wrought a change in perspective. Somehow, the familiar buildings seemed to be receding.
“Can I be getting nostalgic?” I thought.
“For this pile of bricks and attitude?”
I stopped and turned around. “Professor Bawke!”
He laughed at my expression. “Why are you mumbling to yourself?”
I coughed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was.”
He put a hand on my shoulder. “You look preoccupied. Worried about that job?”
“More like female problems,” I said. “It’s a tough time of the year.”
“Comings and goings, jobs and graduate school, yes, I understand,” he said. “Well, I have some good news. I was hoping to find you.”
I looked up. “Any feelers from D.C.?”
“Better,” he said. “I got a call from Dick Obenshain’s Chief of Staff.”
He smiled at my expression and nodded. “Wow, that’s great!” I blurted.
Richard Obenshan lost the race for U.S. Senator from Virginia by less than 500 votes the previous fall, and President Ford had nominated him to head the moonbase administration. While the White House was assembling the incoming administration in D.C., Obenshain was assembling his own staff in Virginia.
“You’ve got a shot at it,” he said. “Card must have praised you to the moon--pardon the expression!” said Professor Bawke. “You must be in the running for press liaison or personal aide.”
The news that the Obenshain would get the top post at the base was a piece of luck for me; with his deep ties in Virginia, Obenshain had to work to reach out to find staffers in the rest of the country.
The good recommendation from a rising young politico from New England must have had its effect.
Professor Bawke now grasped my shoulder. “Come back to the office with me, I want to talk.”
Our shoes clacked across the brick sidewalks. “You are in a unique position, you may be only person on Obenshain’s staff from Columbia, as well as Massachusetts,” he said.
“You make me sound like some kind of Republican token,” I said, a bit unsure where he was going.
“When Ford gets turned out of office next year, you will be especially useful in having insights to some places where the opposition is strong,” he said. “The Republicans will want that, if they want to make a comeback in 1984.”
I held the door open for him as we entered Uris Hall. “Some of my friends say if Ford is smart, he will simply retire and through the race open,” I said. “Some people think it’s time to let Reagan go for it, like Goldwater did 20 years ago. It will get it all out of the system.”
Professor Bawke smiled as we entered his office. “I guess the reactionaries needs to run amok every generation.”
He pulled off his scarf and draped it on the hat rack, then sat down.