Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

One-Eleven, or, One-One-One

Posted by ilbebe on May 7, 2012

I was strolling across the Hill-to-Hill bridge over the Lehigh River towards the South Side of Bethlehem, PA on the evening of Cinco de Mayo, 2012, when I saw ahead of me a fellow standing with a tripod and  a camera bag slung over his shoulder.

“Whatcha trying to shoot?”

“Well,” he said, with an air of resignation in his voice, “I was hoping to shoot the moon.”

This struck me as a pretty hilarious coincidence. Only an hour before, I had lost the first bet I had ever placed on the Kentucky Derby by three or so lengths- Damn you, Dullahan, so close…anyhow, gambling was on my mind, and now here was a fellow talking about shooting the moon.

“Any particular reason you’re out to shoot it tonight?”

“Yeah, it’s a Perigean Moon.” He picked up on my expression, which read “Go on.”

“It’s something that happens once or twice a year where, by trick of perception caused by an unusual proximity of the moon’s orbit to the Earth, it looks huge; much bigger than normal. With my telephoto lens, I was hoping to get some shots of it over the old Steel Stacks.”

The old Steel Stacks are the ruins of Bethlehem Steel, a once-proud factory that manufactured steel that went into the Chrysler Building, the Golden Gate and George Washington Bridges, and hundreds of US Liberty Ships. Bethlehem, along with Carnegie’s US Steel in Pittsburgh, made the Steel that won the war in Europe; the Steel that put Allied forces on the beaches in Normandy and led to one of the more significant wedding/double suicides in history.

The old Steel Stacks, since their industrial shuttering in 1995, have now been re-purposed as a lovely little arts center, and though it’s hard to complain about an old industrial plant on the banks of a scenic river being turned into a space where children can paint, those Gothic Stacks will remain a testament to the reigning economic forces that have directed the American economy since the end of WWII buying and selling out our resources, both natural and human. To see them under the biggest moon of the year would perhaps shed a much clearer light on how respectable blue collar jobs at the old Stacks in the Christmas City have been replaced with service slavery posts at the adjacent Bethlehem Sands Casino. An Angle of the Living Autopsy of the Decline of the American Empire, which I feel we are in the final few years of.

But the cloud cover was relentless on Saturday night, and the photographer I met was not optimistic about getting the shot he had hoped for. I didn’t give the moon any more thought that night, but then last night, sitting in a friend’s backyard, I saw the still almost entirely full moon through brief breaks in the heavy, dark clouds marching over the valley. This made me consider how we rarely get dark clouds overnight in the Bay, and thus I was seeing the moon in a way I couldn’t have, seen it in five years, since the last time I was on the East Coast in spring or summer. This led to a pleasant reminiscence about “Somewhere Out There”, from An American Tail, a song that speaks to the universality of looking at the moon and the hope it proves.

The moral of the story is Go Places. See the mad desert moon over Joshua Tree at the end of winter, which allows you to walk around that alien landscape by it’s stunning and relentless light. See the sun come up over the Brooklyn skyline and dawn of another new day in the City That Just Can’t, Won’t Sleep. See one huge star over Bethlehem, and an old steel plant that now manufactures dreams.

-12:47PM, 5/7/12, Joe’s kitchen, Bethlehem, PA. Raining outside, warm rain. Rain you just don’t get out west…

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