“What’s the matter, you looked bummed out,” he said.

“Oh. Just a bad day.” She sighed.

“What happened?”

“I screwed up that deck I was doing with Roger. Have to do it all over again tomorrow. It will take hours.”

“Don’t worry. It isn’t so bad.”

“Easy for you to say.”

“Seriously, I know these things. I screwed up the millennium.”

“Huh? How’d you do that?”

“You really want to hear?”

“Maybe it will take my mind off that damn deck.”

“Well it was 1999. Eli was 8 or 9 or so and he and I had gotten into building rockets.”

“I doubt that screwed up the millennium.”

“You’d be surprised.  Anyway, on New Year’s Eve we came up with a great plan to celebrate the arrival of the new millennium. Have you ever heard of a Payloader?”

“No, what’s a Payloader?”

“It’s an Estes rocket. It has a regular two-stage delivery, but the nose cone is not the usual thin little capsule, you know the kind that is only as wide as the rocket body.”

“What is different?”

“The Payloader nose cone is a bigass oval thing. It makes the rocket look like a snake that’s eaten a pig. Except the pig is still right at the snake’s head level.”

“That’s a nasty image. What’s the nose cone for?”

“Great question.  They tell you in the materials it is to send up an egg.  You put an egg in there and it comes down in a parachute and you try to see if you can do it without the egg breaking.”

“That sounds kind of cool.”

“But it’s a lie.”

“What do you mean it’s a lie?  The Estes Rocket Company lies about what the Payloader is for?”

“Yes. They have to.”

“You’re kidding? What’s it for?”

“Everybody that’s ever dealt with Estes Rockets knows that the Payloader is for one thing and one thing only…”

“The suspense is killing me.”

“It’s for putting a mouse in space.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Not kidding at all.  They just can’t say it. The animal rights people would be all over their ass. The Payloader nose cone is the perfect size to slide a little mouse in there. The idea is to shoot it up and see if the mouse is still alive when the rocket comes down.”

“Have you actually done that?”

“No, but Eli and I were planning to. Obviously. That’s why we bought the Payloader.  We thought it was one of the greatest ideas of all time.  We built the rocket and we had the whole thing all set to go.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“I said, we didn’t actually do it.”

“Why not?”

“Thing is, we hadn’t actually acquired a mouse when all of a sudden it was the millennium…”

“Snuck right up on you, did it?”

“Shut up. You know what I mean. And anyway we got the idea that it would be great to shoot the Payloader off to celebrate the millennium. But by that time there wasn’t a way to get a mouse.”

“So what happened.”

“We were invited to Leena’s house for New Year’s Eve.  Not a huge deal. She had a bunch of the neighbors and their kids. You know, maybe 30 or 40 people.”

“Friends and family?”

“Yep, it was perfect.  Anyway, as it got close to midnight, she got out pots and pans and wooden spoons and gave them to the kids.  Everybody was banging away and whooping it up as we walked over to that park by her house. We hadn’t been keeping track of time that well so it was a little rushed, but Eli and I knew what we were doing when it came to shooting rockets.  We had the Payloader all set and ready to rumble.  The only problem was that it was really dark and we only had one flashlight and it wasn’t very bright. Fortunately I was able to put the headlights on in my parked car so we could see the Payloader and follow the various cords and lines we had set up.”

“What was the point of the Payloader if you weren’t shooting a mouse?  Were you shooting an egg?”

“No this was the brilliance.  This was the millennium idea.  We had the thought that we could make it really cool for the kids. So we asked them all to give us something that they owned that was special to them. Our plan was to put all their keepsakes in the big head of the Payloader.  And then, when it was all packed, we would shoot the Payloader up just before the start of the new millennium so that when it went up it would be the 1990’s and when it came down it would be the 2000’s.”

“Split second timing required.”

“No problem.  And the beauty of the idea was that when the Payloader came parachuting down and we’d give kids back the stuff they put in the capsule. That way each of them would have an object that had traveled from one millennium to another and it would give them good luck for a 1000 years.”

“Nice idea.”

“The kids loved it. But so did the adults. We went around and everybody – kids, parents – put in a little something.  There were rings, and earrings and lucky coins and the whole thing was cool. They were really into it. One kid tried to put in his retainer but it didn’t fit.”

“So what happened?”

“Eli had the Payloader all teed up.  I kept the time on my watch.  I had my thumb on the launch button – it was all set to go.  The crowd was beating on their pots and pans and crying out the countdown to midnight, 10-9-8-7 and when they got to three, I pushed the button.”

“Oh no.  It didn’t go off? It was a big dud?”

“Nope. It took off like a bat out of hell. One great big whoosh and it shot out of the park. The kids were all shouting and cheering and whacking away on their pots and pans.”

“Wow, how high did it go?”

“I don’t know, but it was a two stage rocket and a two-stage Estes rocket can get up to 1,800 feet.  That’s a third of a mile.”

“Totally cool.”

“One problem.”

“What’s that?”

“It was so goddamn dark. We could see the rocket go up but as soon as the first engine stopped there was no further light.  I tried shining the flashlight up in the sky but it was way too weak.  We knew it was up there and we knew it was coming down in a parachute somewhere but we couldn’t see a damn thing.  I kept flashing the lights across the sky in the hope that we could see it coming down, but nothing.”

“Oh that’s awkward.”

“You’ve no idea.  We were wandering all over, eyes up to the heavens, no sign of the rocket coming down.”

“Well, probably it just drifted.”

“You think?  We split up and made a line and we all walked forward in the way that we thought the wind was going, though we couldn’t really tell whether there was any wind going or not. Did I mention it was News Year Eve and I had had a few glasses of scotch?”

“No, but I had figured that out.”

“So we walked in a lot of directions.  We looked up every few steps. There were trees everywhere and you couldn’t tell in the dark whether the Payloader capsule had come down and was in a tree or whether it was still drifting away. Any way, after about 30 minutes we had to give up because the little kids were starting to cry and you couldn’t see shit.”

“Oh man, that’s a bummer.”

‘And some of the parents – the ones that had put in their wedding rings and stuff like that – were not too happy, either.”

“What did they expect? It was a rocket launch, after all.”

“Exactly. But they were not so philosophical about it. Anyway Eli and I got up the next morning at 6:30 and we went back over to the park and we walked everywhere.  Up and down, we climbed trees, we looked everywhere.”

“Did you find it?”


“Oh, that’s really a bummer.”

“Yeah, you have no idea.  All of those people with their little keepsakes.  All gone.”

“Did you ever find it?”

“Never. I still can’t believe it.  It is 12 years later but every time I drive by that park I look up thinking I will see the Payloader hanging from a tree branch.”

“Wow that’s sad.”

“Yeah, and I can’t help feeling that I screwed up the millennium. During the Bush years I felt it was my fault. And then the mortgage collapse. It is just one thing after another.

“I think it’s time to get over it.”

“I don’t think I can.  It’s going to take a thousand years.”

-Jay Duret