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Fly Me To The Moon

Fly Me To The Moon
Dan McClenaghan BY

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The birthday bash went down at my son's house, on the other side of town, for my youngest granddaughter, Sofia. And since her other abuelo was in the backyard cooking chicken taquitos in a makeshift deep fryer, I'd offered to buy the pizzas. I made the phone call, gave them my order. They wouldn't take my credit card info. They said they'd been hacked, their customers' pulled into financial danger, so they'd send in a drone with a card reader.

Fifteen minutes later the delivery swooped in and landed on the front lawn. I trotted out and swiped my VISA. The card reader spit out a receipt, but the clamps holding the pizzas stayed in place. The drone, thinking all was well, mindlessly ignored its malfunction and lifted off to return to its point of origin, with my purchase still on board.

So I chased it, pounding around the avocado tree like a crazed halfback hellbent on hitting the endzone, razor forced on my pizzas as I pursued them into the street, where I leaped like a cat and latched onto the drone's undercarriage, thinking I'd bring the thing down and pry my purchase free. But those eight little propellers had more power than I'd given them credit for, and I left the surface of the Earth to dangle beneath a flying machine that went into a navigational malfunction from the excessive and unbalanced weight it now bore.

I held on as I flew over the shingle roof of my son's house and then the shaggy head of an unmaintained Mexican fan palm in the bed of the little creek that runs behind his back yard, flying away from the place where my grandchildren and a score of their cousins had lined up to take turns in a spirited attempt to beat the devil out of a Donald Trump pinata, for sale on the cheap in the Mexican markets now that the man with the corn silk bouffant had settled in a lower profile. I sailed on, over the Seven-Eleven and the Alberto's Taco Shop, and the sluggish brown San Luis Rey River and its wild tangle of riparian vegetation before I— hanging on for dear life—soared over the Wal-Mart parking lot to enter into the air space of a tonier neighborhood, and a view of an expansive maze of lushly landscaped quarter acre lots surrounding three thousand square foot red tile roof homes as a violet dusk settled in.

The propellers whined like wasps, and the drone, dying it seemed, came to rest in an unsteady hover twenty feet above the turquoise surface of a backyard swimming pool, beside which sat a steaming jacuzzi packed with a quartet of plump, mid-thirty-ish women, each of them holding a schooner-sized margarita.

"Hey, dumb ass. If you want to spy on us, you're supposed to send the drone in on its own, with a camera," one of the women called up to me.

The ladies were deeply submerged in the water that was opaque with the rising steam and a vigorous percolation of tiny bubbles, and it occurred to me— due to a complete absence of shoulder straps—that they might all be naked.

I was uncomfortable with this, since they all appeared to be about my daughter's age. I averted my eyes, and saw, in the darkening backdrop of the oncoming night, a gorgeous full moon looming over the distant Mount Palomar, as Billie Holiday sang from a poolside Amazon Echo on a picnic table her saucy version of "What Little Moonlight Can Do."

"You look like an orangutan hangin' in a tree," another of the naked beauties called up to me.

The moon grinned. The ladies all chortled.

"An old orangutan," another said.

With this they shrieked with drunken laughter, and I considered telling them that they sounded like a tree full of screeching monkeys; but the wisdom I'd acquired with my advanced age told me to hold my tongue.

"What the hell do you think you're doin' up there, anyway?" said another.

"Enjoying," I said, "a beautiful view," meaning the moon and the emerging stars and the mountain, but their collective giggling told me they'd taken it the wrong way, so—in an effort to temper any suspicion of creepiness on my part concerning even a hint at a carnal interest from a man my age directed at women their ages—I looked down and added what I hoped was a disarming and courtly tint to my side of the conversation: "And by the way, ladies, the moonlight becomes you."

They cracked up laughing anew, and out of this gleeful cacophony one of them announced: "We'll show you some moonlight, bucko."

And with that they rose and simultaneously turned around and leaned their bodies forward to allow me a view of four glorious orbs, as, from their patio table speaker, Lady Day gave way to Frank Sinatra, backed by the Count Basie Band, belting out an energized "Fly Me To The Moon."

I thought of the bone-white satellites orbiting Jupiter—Io, Europa, Ganymede, Calisto—set in a side-by-side horizontal ellipse in a tight configuration in front of their planet. Then, under the influence of the music—Sinatra wondering what spring was like on Jupiter and Mars, Basie and the band cranking things up a notch—those moons went into seismic shimmies, a prelude to the girls all standing tall and breaking into a collective and poorly organized rhumba that was all the more alluring for its joyous improvisational lack of polished synchronicity, a sight that made me lose my grip on the drone to plunge Earthward, into an explosive splash in the swimming pool, contemplating, as I pushed off the bottom, a long cold walk back to Sofia's party.

But those ladies—as adversarial as they'd been while I hung from the drone—were as nice as could be once I'd fallen from the sky. They fished me out of the water and offered me a ride home, and the next thing I knew I was wrapped in a warm blanket, rolling down the road in the back seat of a black Lexus, armed with a traveling coffee mug filled with a powerful margarita in the tight-packed company of a bunch of loud, drunk, happy women, clothed now in an array of pastel colored bathrobes and smelling collectively of chlorine and tequila. And I thought that surely by now, back at the birthday party, the kids had beaten the Donald Trump pinata to death, disemboweled and dismembered him, and now cake was being carved, ice cream scooped, and perhaps the little birthday girl was sitting down to a roof-high pyramid of presents; and I hoped to high heaven that my drunken escorts wouldn't, upon dropping me off, decide to invite themselves inside, to join the festivities, as the errant drone with my pizza's tried (I was sure of this) its best to fly itself to the moon, thwarted, almost certainly, by the gravitational pull of the Earth, and a diminishment of atmosphere above a certain level of altitude.

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