Downwind From Trinity


People can accommodate themselves to nearly anything, and they usually need to. Today, downwind from Trinity, F- 15s paint twists of thunder in the skies over Alamogordo, while missiles dart from hill to hill at range outside of town: and it has become somewhat quaint. Just as a bomb casing from the days of the B-17s can decorate the gateposts of a ranch, a rocket styled after the old V-2 can advertise a cocktail lounge, and the military space shuttle Discovery a dry cleaners. Surely it must seem picturesque and naive to the scientists driving out from foothill suburbs that would be comfortably anonymous anywhere in America: How can these little people know, they must think, that even the sleekest of those symbols is old hat, that the new kid on the block is the chemical laser that can smoke a plane at 50,000 feet or blind the cameras of a surveillance satellite? Rockets, they think, as they drive past endless tracts of trailer parks, who do I know who does rockets anymore....

And in the trailer parks they wake, and lay aside their dreams for uniforms, for mechanic's blue or driver's green or the T-shirt of the manual laborer; they eat breakfast to the fighting of the kids, and when they drive off in their grunting cars to go to work the wives wait in the doorways watching, half-dressed and already weary with anticipation of the day. Most of the men drive over to the Air Force base or the missile range to work as tenders of machines or tenders of men who tend machines, squinting into the bleak sky for days on end till the paycheck comes that's already spoken for by bills on the table. Standing, waiting, pretending they don't know that someday they will wait for a rocket not much different from the one they tend to come lurching silently toward them from the Other Side. Well, it's a job, they think, as they drive back to the endless tracts of trailer parks. Where else can a guy like me get a good steady job. And the wife and kids are waiting for them, hot and fidgety after a long day in the trailer, or tired from schools and typewriters and the bustle of lunch counters, and together they fold themselves into the shadows of that long long box, squirming for comfort in the sofa in front of the TV set. They crack open the first cool one of a long day's long night, put off their uniforms, and take in the canned dreams of the tube, while the desert stars whirl over them in ignorant majesty.



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