On Thanksgiving—actual Thanksgiving—the building is eerily quiet. The office is dark. The staff are all at home with their families. I go for a walk outside, where the breeze blows cold. The stores are closed, and the sidewalks and park are empty. I sit down on the bench below the American flag whipping in the wind, and watch the pigeons shuffle about, as the faraway silence moves through me in strange, ethereal waves, surrounding my mind in a cool vapor of unreality.
I think of the old Twilight Zone episode where a man finds himself alone in an empty town, with no memory of who he is, or how he got there. Evidence in the form of a lit cigar in an ashtray and a jukebox left on, indicate that the town was recently inhabited, but as he wanders around he finds not a soul, and begins to suspect he’s dreaming. By the end of the episode, paranoid that he’s being watched, the man is running through the streets screaming, “Where is everybody?” When he pushes a button at the crosswalk, it’s revealed to be a panic button, and the man is seen in an isolation booth being observed by men in uniform, who then break him out of what was only a sensory deprivation-induced hallucination. This isolation experiment was a test of his fitness as an astronaut in preparation for a long, lonely trip to the moon.
Having aired a couple years before Ham the Astrochimp survived his launch into space, and a decade before human astronauts finally reached the moon, this episode is now a remembered anticipation of future space travel. It has proven oddly prescient about the isolation and loneliness of modern life though. Also, with growing internet conspiracy theories about the moon landing, there’s a sense that the event was a kind of collective hallucination. I wonder if anyone’s ever dreamt about waking up to discover they’re the only person on Facebook.
Today, the moon is alone in the big blue sky, plain and striking, full and luminous. I tilt my head back further, and watch the flag above me rippling against the sky. Assuming the lunar landing wasn’t fake, did you know the American flag Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted on the moon is no longer American? Exposure to harsh ultraviolet sun rays has long since bleached the flag white. Instead of a claim staked by a conquering nation, now the flag appears to signal surrender to aliens. I close my eyes and picture in my mind, the white flag on the moon, hanging eerily still against the black sky.
The wind picks up, sending a chill through me, and I decide to make my way back home. At the crosswalk, I wait for the light to change, even though there are no cars coming. I press the panic button, but the observers of this experiment, if they exist, do not intervene. Across the street, parts of the red “Don’t not walk” hand have been covered by black tape, so that it appears to be giving the middle finger.