Briar Patch

January 1974By , and Comments

THE DECLINE AND FALL OF LUNAR ROYALTY

IT WASN’T EXACTLY ONE GIANT step for womankind, but from all reports this was one exploration NASA’s Director Christopher Columbus Kraft found not worth smiling about. Odds are that 1973’s Lunar Landing Festival Beauty Contest was not only the first such endeavor by NASA’s Employee Activity Association (EAA) , but the very last.

It all started last summer when someone over in EAA got to thinking about what nice things all that money (namely, half the profits) from the vending machines and souvenir stands in the employees’ cafeterias could do for the hard-working NASA employees. They’d already subsidized the Christmas dance, the family picnic, the cheap Oiler tickets and NASA night at Dean Goss Dinner Theatre. What with the Lunar Landing Festival coming up in July, thought a young woman, why not a queen to reign over festival activities?

And so it came to pass that everyone who worked at NASA received via NASA’s efficient inter-office communication system, his opportunity to elect “a QUEEN and 5 girls in the COURT.” According to the ballot which listed the names of 48 women employees, “The girl will reign over the activities at the LUNAR LANDING FESTIVAL held in downtown Houston. She will be required to attend the public coronation ball, social teas, and private parties connected with this social function.”

That was just too much for local feminists who don’t like to be called “girls’. and who had been claiming for some time that NASA discriminates against women in their employment practices.

Consequently, in the dead of night, or so these women tell it, a band of elves was spirited into the government buildings to fold, package, and subsequently slip into that same efficient inter-office mail system hundreds of alternative ballots which unsuspecting, but duty-bound, secretaries duly distributed to employees the following morning.

“The holder of this ballot may vote as many or as few times as possible from the list of lovelies below,” it announced. “From the names listed below [45 male NASA employees were listed, including Chris Kraft, Rusty Schweickart, Pete Conrad and Deke Slayton] there will be elected a KING (or QUEEN) and 5 boys in the COURT.”

“The boy will reign over the activities at the LUNAR LANDING FESTIVAL held in downtown Webster. He will be required to attend the public coronation ball, social teas, and private parties connected with this social function.

“Selection should not be based on merit. Vote for a pretty face & a good bod.”

When Chris Kraft happened upon a ballot, taped to the elevator wall, he reportedly turned white. He immediately called in the armed and uniformed security police and NASA regional inspector Glenn L. McAvoy to find the irresponsible culprits and to determine if criminal charges should be brought for misuse of government facilities. Secretaries were dispersed with orders to intercept and send to Security as many of the offensive ballots as could be found. An unsmiling, organized Investigation began. According to one observer, collecting evidence was complicated because many employees thought the illicit ballot so funny that they began Xeroxing copies.

Despite the continued and persistent investigation, the intrepid elves—noting that the results of the official EEA vote had been announced (allegedly before all the ballots were in!)&#151decided to announce their winners too. The results were affixed to poster boards which were then taped by the elves, once more working in the dead of night, to every NASA bulletin board and elevator their tiny little hands could reach.

“THE WINNERS!!! …LUNAR LANDING FESTIVAL KING (OR QUEEN) CONTEST,” it announced.

KING: GLORIA STEINEM (write-in favorite)”

The eight members of the court, the boys that is, received labels considered appropriate. There was a black revolutionary , a conservative reactionary, a hippie liberal, an inscrutable oriental, a southern aristocrat, a Yankee stormtrooper and the last, this one next to Pete Conrad’s name, “Stuntman and human cannonball.”

A lengthy note was appended: “The wide cross-section of size, weight, color, religion, political views, sex and individual deviances represented by the winners of this contest dispense, once and for all, the blatant charges that have been laid at the doorsteps of Johnson Space Center&#151that its record of discriminatory practices is worse than any other NASA installation; worse than the aerospace community surrounding it; and possibly among the worst in the Federal government.” The note went on to apologize for the fact that they could not validate the accu- racy of their tally due to impoundment of the ballots by NASA security forces. It closed with this: “Let us now, Kings and Queens, pledge ourselves to overcoming that immortal statement by Astronaut, Patriot, and National hero, James Lovell, which was reported recently in Playboy Magazine:

” ‘We fully envision that in the near future we will fly women into space and use them the same way we use them on earth-for the same purpose.’

“Sincerely.”

The yellow paper was flanked by cartoons which the elves had commissioned Houston artist Anastasia Sams to do: these included one of a prostrate queen (girl) on the moon’s surface with a giant boot bearing down on her crowned head: “One giant step for mankind.” Others showed the Moon Maid first carrying mop, broom, and trash barrel on the moon (“You’ve come a long way baby”) and then on a 34" (so labelled) pedestal—”the height of equality” and “just about as high as she can go.”

Back at NASA’s ninth floor, Building Two, where the head honchos huddled, no one was laughing. By 9:30 a.m., Security had removed every copy of Offense #2. An interested visitor who tried to get a copy of Offense #1, the ballot for the boys, was told “I promised Chris Kraft I wouldn’t let the press get hold of it.”

None of the elves was talking. Some of the “boys of the court” reacted with undisguised embarrassment to the honor bestowed upon them. At least one thought it was funny and asked when he was going to get a fitting for his dress. But most of the division and department heads thought the whole affair had been in bad taste and would best be forgotten.

The women who’d won the legit contest didn’t think it was funny either.

“They really got screwed,” observed one of the more sympathetic elves later on. “They had to buy their own dresses and no men came out to hustle them. It turned out to be a bummer for them.”

No one ever did find out exactly who had put the elves up to their mischief.

WON’T THE BABOONS BE WANTING ONE TOO?

THE NEW GORILLA HABITAT (SOUNDS so much nicer than “cage,” doesn’t it) in Houston’s Herman Park Zoo will contain, in addition to such pedestrian items as vines for swinging and paintings of jungle scenes, a large television set. Does this important fact reveal something unknown but suspected about gorillas? Or something unknown but suspected about television?

WAR IS SWELL

IT’S CONSIDERED BAD JOURNALISTIC FORM to run press releases verbatim, but we were tempted to do so when the release from the “War Museum of History, Inc.” crossed our desk. American promoters have brought London Bridge to the Mojave and “Holyland” to Georgia but now, we discovered, they are bringing war to Grand Prairie, Texas, and it’s aIl supposed to start this spring.

Mr. Mike Giles, a newspaper advertising salesman, is evidently the prime mover behind aIl this since the press release describes him as both president and general manager of the War Museum of History, Inc., and as curator of the museum, and as a major donor of war memorabilia. What first interested us about his project was the news that the museum would be “designed in the shape of a military bunker” which will be “partially surrounded by a moat where a World War II submarine and naval surface vessels are to be displayed.” Furthermore, “visitors to the museum will enter the displays through the darkened entrance of the bunker.” No hint is given of how the visitors are going to get out.

Mr. Giles is building the musem so near the Dallas-Ft. Worth Turnpike that he doesn’t plan to erect a large sign. “I don’t expect we’re going to have that much trouble attracting attention, anyway,” says Giles in the press release. “You can’t imagine someone’s reaction when they look off the turnpike and see a World War II fortress and a submarine conning tower 250 miles inland.” Hell, when we look off the turnpike, we’re happy to see even half a mile inland. Fortresses and conning towers would be gravy.

Lest he be misunderstod, Mr. Giles insists the museum “is not meant to promote war or the suffering it causes—but to provide an authentic, realistic vision of the wars as they were.” He adds later: “We’re striving for the things that make you feel that you were actually there.” A realistic war without suffering! Before you know it, they’ll make a coffee we really like without caffeine.

CROSSING THE CHORUS LINE

THIS FALL FREDDIE DELOIS GOOSBY, an l8-year-old black South Oak Cliff (Dallas) graduate broke a 32-year-old, all-white tradition when she joined Gussie Nell Davis’ precision high kickers, the Kilgore Rangerettes, who are as representative of Texas as bluebonnets and oil wells.

Taught to kick higher and with more precision than the Radio City Rockettes, the Rangerettes were the first chorus line on the football field in the nation: all those others you see every weekend are mere copies. No, the Rangerettes are still the Tiffany’s of halftime shows, so much so that Lowell Thomas filmed them for Cinerama’s Seven Wonders of the World, Macy’s has had them in thek parade, and television variety and news programs have looked at their training and their performance.

Rangerettes can never miss unless they are sick in bed; they cannot marry; and they cannot attend parties where liquor is served. Director Davis admonishes them to “Be Gracious” and the whole experience is like a finishing school chorus line.

Freddie has aspired to be a Rangerette since she first marched on a football field with the Pivoteers of South Oak Cliff. “I came down here to make it. I didn’t know anyone at Kilgore Junior College, but I just knew I’d make it no matter what,” she said in a recent interview. Five years as a Sanger-Harris Young Texan Fashion Board model and her performance as co-captain of the high school drill team undoubtedly made her a strong contender in the tryouts which are judged much like Miss America competition.

Of the workouts which take place in an auditorium with a flashing SMILE sign, she says, “It’s a lot harder than high school, but I love every minute of it.”

A MOTORCYCLE IS A MOTORCYCLE IS A MOTOR-ASSISTED BICYCLE

A SOLEX IS A SMALL bicycle propelled by a very small motor. It will attain the breathtaking speed of 20 miles per hour. Over eight million Solex bikes have been sold in Europe and the Orient; but until a distributorship opened in Dallas about a year ago, they were unobtainable in this country. What’s interesting is how quickly the French company learned the importance of a good lobbyist.

Texas law, before last August 27th, provided that anyone riding a motorcycle must wear a helmet. Under that law Solex was considered a motorcycle and that put quite a crimp in Solex’s sales. As Adbil Said, Vice-President of Sol-U.S. Imports, put it, “Texans felt they looked silly wearing a helmet on this little bike.” Under the new law, written and passed through Solex’s efforts, any vehicle that will not travel over 20 miles per hour is defined as a “motor-assisted bicycle”; its operator doesn’t need to wear a helmet. Solex plans an elaborate advertising campaign of this recently earned privilege.

Perhaps the Japanese have something to learn about business after all. Don’t Texans feel as silly wearing helmets on small motorcycles like the Ronda 90 as they did on Solex’s? Don’t those machines go about 40 miles per hour, a speed easily reached by most human powered bicycles? If the legislature winds start blowing that way, the helmet companies may have to send their own man down to Austin. The helmet lobby?

WHAT HAS BILLIE JEAN DONE?

CONVERSATION OVERHEARD BETWEEN A FATHER and his seven-year-old son:

Son: Is there anybody in your office better than God?

Father: Nobody’s better than God.

Son: There is too, Jesus is.

Father: (nonplussed) Oh yeah?

Son: Yeah, Jimmy told me. Jesus is everywhere. E-v-e-r-ywhere. Jesus is right there standing on your arm, you just can’t see her.

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