13 February 2009

The sky is falling (well, maybe)

News of the collision of US and Russian satellites in space earlier this week -- and the current watch on how the debris will fall to Earth and/or scatter in space -- transported me back to July 1979 when, a junior at Xavier University, I was working at a Cincinnati chili parlor, Skyline Chili, in nearby Norwood, Ohio.

(Yes, that's the "sweet" chili that's served on spaghetti with shredded cheddar cheese, onions, and beans that's not Texas, Memphis, or any other kind of chili of which most people think when they hear "chili," but don't condemn it unless you've tried it. It's GREAT. )

Anyway, it's 11 July 1979, the day Skylab I is scheduled to plunge to Earth "scattering debris across the southern Indian Ocean and sparsely populated Western Australia." Well, they say they know where it's gonna fall, but I'm no dummy: scientists predict things all the time that might or might not happen, so I'm taking no chances. I wear a hard hat to work at Skyline.

When I arrive at work, running into the restaurant like it's raining outside with my hand above my head, my boss, Corky, looks at me, looks at my hat, rolls his eyes, and asks,

"What's with the hard hat, Gil?"

(Corky was a great boss and put up with me a lot, but I don't think he ever quite understood that I was the kind of employee who, if Skyline had a theme song like McDonald's or Burger King, that I'd sing it all day long, while mopping the floor, wiping down the steam table, or cleaning the grill -- just like they do in the commercials!)

"Skylab's falling today, Cork. I want to be prepared"

"It's falling in the Pacific, Gil."

"So they say. You never know."

"So, you're going to wear that all day?"

"Yep. And I'm not going outside again until it's time to go home. Skylab's falling today."

"In the Pacific."

"So they say."

"What if I ask you to make the deposit at the bank today?"

"I won't go. I can't go. Skylab's falling today."

(If I were better read at the time, I probably would've "Bartleby'd" him, "I'd prefer not to," but I was but 17, and my Latin literary knowledge was better than that of the American Renaissance.)

"Oh, you're going, Gil."

(Somehow I knew he'd say that!)

So when the time comes to make the two-minute trip to the bank across the street, and using my best TV-learned spy/soldier/sneaking-around-teenager moves (slithering along the walls and the store-front window with frequent skyward glances), as the crosswalk signal turns green I dash across to the bank.

You'll be happy, if unsurprised, to know my trip return was without incident -- due, of course, entirely to my caution. Remember: Skylab fell that day.

I enjoyed myself tremendously that day at work. Corky got a headache, but that frequently happened to him when I worked.

Go figure.

For the next couple days, take a glance upward occasionally and watch out for space debris!

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