My wife Yahaira and I showered for our date. We had just returned from the grocery
store, where prices double weekly.
I lathered myself into a tizzy: "Five bucks for Coco Puffs! What part
of a Coco Puff is worth five dollars?"
Yahaira wore that face she gets when she's trying to tune me out. It looks
"Did you see what we spent on cookies?" I said. "I wasn't
aware of the global chocolate famine."
Taking my lecture to go, I resumed on the freeway: "Everywhere you
turn, someone is trying to squeeze you. The doctor, the gardener, Mickey
I vowed on my belly to never eat chocolate again. Yahaira stuck her head
out the window.
The observatory dome billowed on the horizon, and Yahaira came back in.
"It's beautiful, papi."
Some people find it odd that she calls me papi, but then they call each
We approached the star-gazers who were milling about debating astrophysics
as so many of us do on Saturday night. Others convened inside the dome, where
a 20" lens was fixed on Pleiades. Everyone seemed eager like they expected
God to reveal Himself.
Since Yahaira and I were new to the world outside our house, I broke the
ice with a dumb question: "What's the difference between a galaxy and
A gray-bearded man shook my hand. "I'm Carl. Are you new to the Astral
"It was my question, wasn't it?"
Carl -- no relation to Sagan -- started from scratch.
"Earth," he said, "belongs to the solar system, which is
a tiny drop of milk in the Milky Way." He paused to laugh. By himself. "There
are over 150 billion other galaxies in the universe, which itself continues
Yahaira asked, "Growing onto what?"
The group laughed like so many folks who had been there.
An Asian man with Coke-bottle glasses cut in. "Andromeda is the nearest
galaxy outside our own. It is 2.9 million light years away. The universe,
on the other hand, is 15 billion light years in diameter. For now."
A light year is the distance light travels in one year. A billion is a one
with twelve zeros at the end. Fifteen billion light years is very humbling.
An elderly woman grabbed my elbow and pointed east. "See the belt of
I had no idea what she meant.
"Yes," I said.
"To the right is a nebula. Look."
She handed me her binoculars, and I saw a bunch of brilliant blue glow worms.
Those, she said, were stars being born.
"Of course," Carl interjected, "that all happened millions
of years ago. It's only reaching your eyes now."
I wobbled on the edge of the space-time continuum. Maybe it was the fact
that my head was attached to my back and would have to be surgically restored
to an upright position.
Carl explained how the Egyptians used the North Pole to align their pyramids.
"But the North Star was all wrong in 2,500 B.C.," added a boy
no older than my underwear, "so they used points on both Dippers."
At that kid's age, I thought the world was created by a grumpy old man who
wouldn't bring presents if I acted up. So it goes.
His father clarified. "Earth," he said, "revolves around
the sun once a year, give or take a day in late February. It also spins on
its axis. The sky, then, is always changing. Venus, for instance, shines
in the morning for half the year and in the evening for the other half."
I nodded dumbly, unable to grasp a word. Something inside me resisted the
lesson, refused to grow up. Heaven was so much more comfortable.
Yahaira and I bid our farewells, mainly because our brains were full. We
didn't talk in the car. Nothing seemed important enough.
150 billion galaxies...
A Saturn cut me off to gain a car-length. Funny name for a car. I wondered
how many car-lengths were in a light year. Finally, I apologized to Yahaira
for my previous tantrum and proposed a nightcap at the Restaurant at the
End of the Universe (Denny's).
I knew exactly what to order: "Anything with chocolate and a tiny drop
of milk from the Milky Way."