November 14: “Men on the Moon” by Simon J. Ortiz

Who’s got the Mondays, Story366? Not me. Granted, there’s only an hour left on Monday, and had you asked me at 6:16 a.m., when I woke up over an hour early and couldn’t fall back to sleep, I would’ve answered differently. Really, though, today has been a good day because I can smell the nine-day Thanksgiving break coming. To celebrate the spirit of time off, I got wrangled into a couple of episodes of old TV shows I haven’t seen in years. Karen had been watching some Frazier rerun, then went up to take a bath. The channel, COZI, then went all nostalgic on me and played an episode of Hart to Hart, which is one of my favorite shows from when I was a kid, one I watched with my mom. I loved the concept, millionaires—a self-made shipping magnate and his best-selling author wife—solving murders, coming across murders every week for whatever reason that millionaires come across murders. I also had a huge crush on Stephanie Powers, aka, Mrs. Hart, and really, thirty-five years later, I can still see it. Anyway, I liked watching that show, even if it came off as dated and sort of cheesy. Then I really fell victim to the next show, The A-Team, this time with Karen and the boys in the room. We watched the episode and I was surprised to see just how awful it was, how unbelievable, so nonsensical—I loved it. I would have caught an episode of Miami Vice next, but alas, I had to write this post, so no Crockett and Tubbs tonight.

Earlier, I’d read from Simon J. Ortiz‘s collection Men on the Moon: Collected Short Stories, out from the University of Arizona Press. Ortiz read at Bowling Green quite a few years ago and I went to his reading, liked it a whole bunch, and bought this book. Truth be told, Ortiz is known more as a poet, but since I’m not doing Poem366, I was glad to open Ortiz’s collection and read from it today. I read several stories but am deferring to the title story, “Men on the Moon,” a story I liked a lot.

“Men on the Moon” is about this elderly Native American guy named Faustin, who at the outset of the story, is brought a television, the first he’s ever seen. His daughter, Joselita, has brought it for him and his grandson, Amarosho, helps to hook it up. First, Joselita turns on a wrestling match, where a Native guy, an Apache, is wrestling a Mericano (aka, white dude), and Faustin is completely enamored by the device, how it works, etc. Then Joselita turns on the pre-launch coverage for the Apollo mission that would be first to the moon, which brings up a whole new set of things Faustin doesn’t understand, like how exactly the men on TV are planning to get to the moon—their spaceship doesn’t even have any wings. He is especially tickled by the fact that the astronauts seem to be doing up to the moon to get rocks and study dirt: This is clearly not a good use of anyone’s tax money, let alone time.

The story is cut up into four different parts, the first covering that Apollo launch, the second a dream that Faustin has that night. It’s about a figure named Flintwing Boy who has an encounter with a coyote-type thing called a Skquuyuh mahkina. The dream takes up a couple of pages, and like all dreams, especially those in short stories, there are things to interpret, things to figure out. Ortiz then jumps to a third section, picking up when the Apollo ship has reached the moon. Faustin watches and comments on the strangeness of the events, like how cold it must be on the moon for the astronauts to where those heavy suits. Just a day earlier, Faustin was in awe of the TV, and now suddenly, men are flying to and walking on the moon. It’s a lot for him to take in, very strange, but his daughter and grandson guide him through it. Like any space program apologist, make this trip sound like the most necessary and sensible thing in the world. Faustin, as you might guess, isn’t buying it.

I won’t reveal anything further about “Men on the Moon,” as anything further would be giving away too much. It’s a great idea for a story, a nice stroke by Ortiz to pair these two wonders—a TV and the moon landing—together. A man’s first encounter with either could have been enough for a plot, but the two together add a layer of complexity to everything. In a way, it’s like, if you’ve never seen TV, then someone just wheels one in front of you, would it be any more ridiculous than people flying up to the moon in a fiery tube? Probably not. Something else that Ortiz pairs together are the generational and cultural gaps, as Faustin’s age and heritage work together to make his perspective curious and sensible. The world has changed, and basically, this is what “Men on the Moon” is trying to tell us.

Simon Ortiz is one of our great poets and certainly one of our great Native writers, but he can also spin some prose. I like the stories in Men on the Moon, all of them featuring Native characters, all of them gorgeously written, as you’d expect from a poet. Good book by a good writer.

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