The Last Months of Moonlight

It was a long time ago, when I was still in college, that I found out about the moon. My friend Terry ran into me on my way to class. I remember he talked so fast that I couldn’t understand him. He told me they were canceling the moon. I couldn’t believe it.

He found out about it from the Internet. Reliable sources confirmed that, despite its general popularity, the moon was on the way out. The trend back then was to slash the budgets of cultural institutions, no matter how respectable. The moon had to go. Not all at once, but slowly, so no one noticed, until it was too late. Terry pointed out that this was typical, really.

They had gone too far, I said. People had a right to know. Terry agreed. I knew I could count on Terry. He was on the debate team, and did not let things like this fly. In those days, I prided myself on my activism. I decided to do something about this moon issue, and not to give up until my voice was heard.

After class, Terry and I met on a metal bench in front of the Perry-Castañeda Library. Natalie met us there, with carrots and hummus from the apartment. We were still dating at the time. Our business was to decide what to do about this moon fiasco. We knew we had to act fast.

Natalie agreed that discontinuing the moon was an act of oppression. It was clearly a plan by the elites to squeeze public services, and that kind of thing always hurt poor people and women the most. What’s worse, she said, it was bad for the arts. Terry said that, although he rarely took time to enjoy the moon himself, he liked knowing it was there. I took notes.

I was a member of a very active environmental organization, and I decided to bring up the moon problem at the next meeting.

There were forty or so people at the meeting. I won’t lie – I was a bit intimidated. But I had my friends, and the determination to be heard. I told the committee that the very survival of the moon was in question. I said that moon cutbacks could be disastrous for wildlife, and that the kind of moon they grew up with might not be around for their children to enjoy, if they decided to raise children. The crowd was miffed.

I proposed to form an organization to save the moon. The reaction was very positive. Terry took down email addresses, and Natalie and I talked up the crowd. Although Natalie opposed traditional political theater, I hoped my charisma and verve would impress her. I could imagine our sex life coming out of hibernation. Hope bloomed.

We named the group the Moon Ongoing Operations Network (MOON). Our first goal was an event to raise awareness of the moon and its importance to society. We couldn’t get a seminar room on such short notice, so we used the student union cafeteria. We encountered some resistance from the administration, who were no doubt supporters of the moon cutbacks, on the basis that we failed to fill out the proper paperwork and that the moon was not really a matter of serious interest. Sensing our resolve, they capitulated.

We invited professors to address the meeting. The cafeteria was packed. Our guest speakers were enthusiastic. Professor Massey, a cosmologist, explained that the moon was almost as old as the earth, and it would be a shame to lose such a marvelous piece of planetary history. Jane Katz, a writer in residence, submitted that without the moon, Shakespeare’s sonnets would have been basically impossible. Dr. Don Garcia, the chair of the entomology department, speculated that, because moths navigate by moonlight, its absence would prove quite confusing, at least for moths.

Afterwards, I took the podium. I saw that the crowd was anxious to act. The next event, I announced, would be a protest at the state capitol. We would make known our demands for good governance and institutional integrity. The moon must stay. I don’t exaggerate when I say that my voice was drowned out by cheers.

It was then that Natalie stood up and interrupted my speech. She argued (with feeling) that the organization had lost sight of its original ideals, and had become a moonist militia that would only play into the hands of the powers. She declared the formation of a splinter group, which would use performance art to tear down the wall of apathy surrounding the moon question. Her betrayal took me completely off guard. But I determined not to back down; after all, there was the moon to think about. The show, I felt, must go on.

The turnout for the protest was huge. The weather was perfect, and Terry had sent out over 50,000 emails. We even did an interview on public radio. Thousands of people filled the capitol lawn. Some protesters even brought their dogs. Terry himself couldn’t make it, claiming classwork. I surveyed the gathering crowd. Natalie’s splinter group had staked out an area on the lawn. One of the group was nude, her body covered with silver-white paint and glitter, and the others, wearing black leotards, lifted her into the night sky.

This was it, my chance to change history. But as I picked up the wireless microphone and began my speech, I realized in horror that my public address system was silent. A fringe anti-moon counter-protest had emerged, and had pulled the plug on my podium. Clashes broke out between my supporters and the reactionaries. The crowd swarmed in all directions. Someone pushed me from behind, and I stumbled down the capitol stairs onto the heads of the crowd. The crowd carried me out to the center of the lawn, then dropped me on my back in what felt like a pile of fresh dog waste. Above me, I saw the moon. It was so big and round that it seemed fake; its glow hit me like a spotlight. Then, in an instant, the moon went black.

First, the chaos around me halted, while thousands of eyes searched the sky for the missing moon. Then, slowly, the crowd grew furious, and boiled over with unfocused rage. My arms and legs were trampled, the sound of shouts and sirens was deafening. In a desperate act of self preservation, I rolled over onto my elbows and knees, covered my head with my hands, and scurried away through the riot.

When I finally found my bearings, I was standing on Congress Avenue, out of breath, smeared up and down with grass stains and dog shit. Somehow I still gripped my wireless microphone with both hands. I tried to walk home, but the street was too dark to see, and all around me, filling the air, flying into my eyes, black and ivory and gold, clogging the gutters and slamming into office windows and battering the city like torrents of iridescent rain, were millions and billions of moths.