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12/02/03 Little League Glasses
11/02/03 Capture the Flag
10/12/03 Poor Sport
09/06/03 Dominican, Part 4
08/10/03 Dominican, Part 3
07/10/03 Dominican, Part 2
06/14/03 Dominican, Part 1

Starry, Starry Night

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 like constipation.

"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 Mouse."

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 other pumpkin.

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 universe?"

A gray-bearded man shook my hand. "I'm Carl. Are you new to the Astral Society?"

"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 to grow."

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 Orion?"

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."


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