We all met up for breakfast the next morning and then set off for Houston. I followed Mr. O’Hara along I-10, but since I knew Patrick didn’t like to drive fast, I knew this trip would take longer than it needed to. It was lunchtime when we arrived, so we stopped for pizza before continuing on. After eating, we pulled into the parking lot for the Astrodome, ready to take a tour of the facility.
The boys were excited, because they thought they were going to see a game, but I quickly informed them the Houston Astros now played at a new ballpark, so that wasn’t possible. They were disappointed, but not for that long, as we entered the structure and began our look around. The boys soon learned that the noted architect Buckminster Fuller had designed the Astrodome, at the beginning of the 1960’s. However, construction didn’t begin until 1963 and there were many obstacles to be overcome in building it.
Although there are all sorts of domed stadiums now, this was the first structure of its kind and had a span of 645 feet. The side of the dome was constructed mainly of steel and they’d erected 37 towers to hold up the roof. Many so-called experts claimed the baseball players would hit the dome with pop ups or long fly balls, so they allowed a group of professionals to spend several days trying to hit the top with a batted ball. They tried their hardest, but they eventually proved the experts wrong. The next problem was a surface on which to play, because it would be difficult to keep grass growing inside a building. Scientists came up with an artificial turf, originally called Astroturf because it was first used in the Astrodome, and it soon became a commonplace surface on all types of college and professional stadiums.
It was a very interesting tour and we spent a couple of hours there. As we were ready to leave, one of the boys commented that it was too bad we couldn’t see a ballgame. I asked them if they’d be interested in seeing the new ballpark, Enron Field, and nearly everyone exclaimed that would be nice. Seeing they were in agreement, we made our way to that location.
When we arrived, I sent the O’Haras on ahead with the boys, telling them I needed to see about tickets for the tour. What I didn’t tell them was I had already reserved tickets for tonight’s game against the Dodgers. I picked up the tickets and then took everyone out for our little tour. As we looked up, I pointed out the retractable roof on this stadium, unlike the Astrodome, so games could be played in either indoor or outdoor conditions. It was actually quite intriguing.
The first game was played in this stadium on March 30, 2000, and was an exhibition game against the Yankees, so this was a very new ball field. The boys were excited when the players started taking the field for batting practice and they asked me if there was a game today. It was then that I broke the news to them that there was a game today and we were going to stay and see it. I explained we could buy food at the concession stand for dinner, and then we would take our seats, which were just on the outfield side of the home dugout.
Needless to say, the rest of the day was a blur of activities. I bought the boys each a program and they went down to get autographs from players on both teams. I did manage to get them to eat in between gathering autographs, shagging foul balls and talking to other kids who were as excited as they were. When the game started, our private game of musical-lap started, as the little ones took turns sitting on my lap, Uncle Patrick and Aunt Brenda’s laps, and then even on their brothers’ laps, for some extra attention. For some reason, they all needed a little extra loving this evening, as we watched the Dodgers defeat the Astros, 7-3.
After the game, we made our way to the hotel, checked in and assigned rooms. I gave Mr. & Mrs. O’Hara the first room, with me taking the one next to theirs. The ‘sex room’ would be the one next to mine, so we would have the rooms on either side of that one, to prevent other guests (or the O’Haras) from wondering what was going on in there at night.
Danny, Brandon, Cole and Graham were sharing the ‘sex room’ tonight, although there probably wouldn’t be much sex actually taking place. The older boys were protective of the younger pair and would not do anything they felt might hurt them or be more than they were ready for. In fact, other than a little kissing and hugging, the boys merely spent their time enjoying each other’s company and Danny spent the night cuddled against Cole, while Brandon snuggled up with Graham.
Actually, the other room arrangements were slightly unusual for us. Ricky and Jay wanted the four little ones in the room with them again, so Dustin and Kevin asked to stay with me. Pat and Carlos quickly teamed up with Dion and Trey, so that left Nick to be included somewhere. Dustin and Kevin realized what had happened and asked him to join us, which Nick did in an instant. I still think he has his eye on Kevin, as well as Ricky and Brandon, and is just waiting for an opportunity to get closer to him. I might be wrong, but I would be very surprised if I were.
After their showers, I inquired who was going to sleep where, and Nick quickly indicated he wanted to sleep with the other pair, but Dustin became an instant gentleman and offered to sleep with me, so the other two could have some elbowroom in bed. I was surprised at his suggestion, thinking he would be jealous of Kevin spending time with another boy, but I think the lesson he’d learned a while ago was still in his mind. After that near disastrous blow-up between the two of them, when Trey first arrived, and the time they spent together when each of them had been in the hospital, I think Dustin had come to learn he could trust Kevin and didn’t have to possess him completely. I was pleased by his maturity and Nick was pleased at the opportunity. Later that night, when I got up to use the toilet, I saw that Nick was wrapped almost completely around Kevin, kind of like a squid wrapped around its prey.
I went back to sleep, knowing there was another big day ahead of us, so I’d need my rest. I needn’t worry about the boys, however, as it looked like they were going to be well rested for our next outing.
Thursday was bound to be an interesting day. I only had one stop planned, but it was certain it would take up the entire day and give us plenty of interesting things to do. After breakfast we loaded up and headed over to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the heart of the US space exploration program. Mission Control is here, as well as the training center for astronauts. We would be at Space Center Houston, the official visitors center.
We began the day in the Space Center Plaza, an immense area that rises up five stories above the shiny, black-lacquered floor that houses the current display. There is a full-size Space Shuttle mock-up located there, which gave the boys a close-up look at the mid-deck and flight deck of the orbiter – from the control panels all the way to the sleeping quarters. At this point the boys were hooked and I knew the only way we’d get them out of here today was if security threw us out when they closed.
The rest of the attractions opened off of this central space, so we went to The Feel of Space area next. This was a hands-on exhibit area where you could experience the physical and psychological sensations of space flight. There are various flight trainers there that allowed you the chance of trying to land the shuttle or the opportunity to retrieve a satellite from orbit, using very realistic computer simulations. All of the older boys tried their hand at one or the other, with the younger ones cheering them on.
It was obvious the hours they spent playing computer games added to their dexterity and made it easier for them to complete the task, while those of us who where a little older struggled to perform even a portion of the task. “That’s okay, Daddy,” Graham told me after I lost the satellite I was trying to retrieve, “you’re too old to be an astronaut now anyway.” I wasn’t sure if that comment was meant to make me feel better or not, but it just made me want to grab my walker and leave.
In the Living in Space show, we learned how astronauts handle the routine activities, like eating, sleeping, and showering, in zero-gravity. They selected a ‘volunteer’ to help them with this demonstration, and it just happened to be Cole who got the honor. He went up and got to see what it would be like eating and exercising in space. “Man, that food didn’t taste all the great,” he whispered when he came back. “I don’t know how astronauts can stand to eat it.”
“Well, I think they do it more for sustenance than taste,” I offered, “and most of them don’t stay up there for too long, so they probably just tolerate it and then pig out when they get back.” He laughed at that, and then we continue to watch what was going on.
There was also a simulated flight in a Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), which is operated on an air-bearing floor, and I couldn’t believe our luck, when Dustin was selected to give it a try. He got a chance to race against time and perform a series of necessary commands, before he ran out of fuel. If that happened, he and his entire crew would be lost in space.
“Man, that was tough,” he complained, after getting back. “Nothing worked the way I thought it should and knowing I had to finish before time ran out, just made me mess up even more. I can’t believe I’d be stuck floating around out there forever.”
“Well, it’s like flying a plane, rather than driving a car,” I offered. “When the fuel’s gone, it’s not like you can get out an push it to the next gas station.” He laughed at my analogy, but got the point.
After that, the little ones even got to try on the various space helmets representing the four distinct eras of space flight. The helmets were huge, compared to their heads, and they looked more like some alien being from a B-rated movie than an aspiring astronaut. Little Nicky kept trying to hold the front of the helmet up, so he could see out of the visor, but the weight of it kept pulling it down and dragging his head along with it, toward the floor.
From there, we went to the Space Center Theater and watched a 25-minute film entitled “To Be An Astronaut”. This was projected on a screen that was five stories tall and showed us how the astronauts trained and the teams prepared for in-flight situations, before ending with personal comments from several of the astronauts. The boys were buzzing now, saying how they wanted to be an astronaut or wanted to design or help plan for these flights. It was quite electric. On the way out, we checked out the exhibits of flight suits, from the very earliest ones, on up to the present day models.
After that, we took the official NASA Tram Tour, where we were taken behind the scenes of the Johnson Space Center. There are actually two separate tours. The first was a 75-minute tour, during which time we visited the astronaut training facilities, including the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory, and the Mock-Up and Integration Laboratory. Then we took a 45-minute tour of the historic Mission Control Centers and the brand-new Space Station Operations Control room.
“Was that the place we saw in the movie ‘Apollo 13’?” Ricky asked, after we left the historic Mission Control Center.
“That was not only the place you saw in the movie,” I informed him, “but it was also the place all of those people actually worked when they helped bring that flight back safely, not to mention all of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo flights that were monitored from that center.” That seemed to answer his question and he seemed more impressed by it, after my explanation.
By the time we finished the second tour, we were well past our normal lunchtime and everyone was starving. I suggested it was time to make our way over to the Zero-G Diner, where the boys managed to eat enough to satisfy themselves. Their mouths were going the entire time, even while they were eating, as they happily recounted all of the wonderful things we’d seen. I was going to chastise them about talking with their mouths full, but noting their excitement, I didn’t have the heart to dampen their enthusiasm.
We began the afternoon at the Mission Status Center, where we were able to listen in on the up-to-the-minute details of the mission currently in progress. We even heard the astronauts talking from their orbit high above the earth and listened to Mission Control communicate with the Space Shuttle astronauts, exchanging information and asking and answering various questions. It was almost as if we were part of the group managing this flight.
Next, we went to the Starship Gallery, beginning with a visit to the Destiny Theater. There we watched the film ‘On Human Destiny,’ which told the story of the first thirty plus years of space exploration. It began with the Goddard Rocket, continued through the various Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, and then went on to discuss the Space Shuttle and the Skylab. When the film ended, we went out to check the various displays, including a suspended Lunar Module, the “Faith 7” Mercury capsule (which was flown by Gordon Cooper), the Gemini V capsule (piloted by Pete Conrad and Gordon Cooper), and the Apollo 17 Command Module (which took Gene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmitt to the moon). The boys were even more excited now, after seeing all of these capsules that actually went up into space, and they were really hyper as we headed into the last area.
The Kids Space Place was the last stop at the Center. Here all of the boys got to do something. Some tried out the interactive displays and exhibits, while the rest ‘walked on the moon’, and others ‘commanded or lived on the space shuttle’. By the time they walked out of that area, it was like they had been on a sugar high for a week. They were fully wound up and I knew it was going be tough to calm them down again.
Some of the boys wanted to use the restroom before we left, so I told them to go ahead and we’d meet them back here. As the other boys were nearly to the toilets, Andrew announced he too had to pee, so I told him to hurry and catch up with his brothers, but warned him to stay close to them until they got back. He raced off after the other boys and the rest of us started talking about our day. Several minutes later the boys returned, but once I counted noses, one of the boys was missing. I quickly determined it was Andrew.
“Didn’t you see him in the men’s room?” I asked all of them, but no one in particular. They all looked at each other, before responding that none of them had.
“I did hear a door to one of the stalls open and close,” Dustin told me, “but I didn’t see who it was.”
“Well, that was probably Andrew,” I suggested. “He might have decided he needed to take a dump. Why don’t you older boys come with me and help me make sure we find him, so we can leave.”
I told the others to stay with Mr. & Mrs. O’Hara and the rest of us headed toward the restroom. When I walked in, I only saw a pair of men’s feet in one of the stalls and the rest of the place was empty. Just for the hell of it, I called Andrew’s name. I heard a weak, quickly stifled “Daddy” come from the stall. I quickly sent Trey to get security, placed the other boys near the exit, and then addressed the guy in the stall with my son.
“You might as well come out of there now,” I advised him. “There are several of us out here, so you’re not going to get away. I’ve already sent someone to get security. If you let my son go, we might go a little easier on you.”
There wasn’t an immediate response, but I could hear clothes rustling and then the door opened and Andrew came out, in tears. However, the guy stayed where he was.
“Are you all right, Andrew?” I asked him, very concerned. He nodded that he was, although he continued to cry. “What happened in there?” I pressed.
Andrew looked up at me, but hesitated answering. “It’s okay, Andrew,” I told him, reassuringly. “You didn’t do anything wrong, but maybe that man did. What happened?”
Andrew looked at me with very sad eyes, not sure if he should tell me, but finally he did. “He touched my pee-pee… and he made me touch his,” he sobbed.
I was afraid something like that had happened, but tried not to sound upset. “Is that all he did?”
Andrew shook his head and then responded further. “His pee-pee got all hard and then… and then… well… he tried to put his pee-pee in my heinie.”
That did it. I was fuming now. I had done my best to keep the little ones away from any sexual activity and then this guy tries to molest him in a public restroom. I pushed Andrew toward Dustin, who was standing closest to us, and then I kicked open the door, smashing the guy in the face with it. That sent him backward and caused him to land on the stool, none to gently. I then went in and dragged him out, before slamming him up against the wall.
It was at this instant that I realized the example I was setting for the boys, so I relaxed and released the guy, while we waited for security to arrive. As I turned back toward the boys, the guy made some obscene comment to my sons, which instinctively caused me to whirl back around, with my right fist leading the way. I smashed my knuckles into his face and sent him sprawling again, but I didn’t stop there. Once he was down, I leaped on the bastard and was ready to smash his face in, when Trey arrived with security.
They came forward and dragged me off that sorry excuse for a human being and I tried desperately to calm myself down, for the sake of the boys. Once things had settled somewhat and they had cuffed their suspect, the officers started questioning all of us about what had happened.
While they were performing those tasks, another of the officers was snapping Polaroids of the crime scene. Sometime during this period, Mr. O’Hara came in to see what was going on, and Brandon quickly informed him about the situation. Shocked and concerned, he returned to his wife and the other boys, trying to keep them all calm, while they waited for us to rejoin them.