Tag Archives: stars

What does it all mean?

I remember when I was a little kid, a few times when I got really, really bored, I’d turn to a Spanish television channel and I’d try with all of my might to just do it, to just force myself to understand Spanish. I had nothing to work with at all, besides your basic hola mi nombre es. But I’d just sit there and try to will those words to make sense in my brain. And obviously nothing was happening, but it wouldn’t stop me from holding out just a little bit of hope. I mean, these people were communicating, there had to have been a way for me to access what was going on.


It’s like, I see some Chinese text on a billboard in Flushing, or the Korean church van that passes me in traffic, it has symbols or pictographs or glyphs or whatever they’re called scrawled along the side. And a part of me still tries the same trick. Like, come on, reveal yourself to me, just tell me what you’re trying to tell everybody else.

And again, there’s nothing there. But still I can feel my brain doing its best to stare intently at the line configurations, the two characters that look familiar except for maybe a slight difference that a non-native reader wouldn’t be able to pick up. Well look at that, I just picked it out. That’s something, right? What does it mean? Why can’t I read Chinese?

It’s like, when I go upstate in the summer, I like to stare up at the stars. I can always find the Big Dipper, I’m quick to point out Orion and his belt. But after that, I’m just like, where is everything? Isn’t one of these constellations supposed to look like a crab? And while nothing’s jumping out at me immediately, after a while I start to see claws, or one claw anyway, like something kind of looks like a claw. And it’s that same automatic process, all of these imaginary lines start getting connected in my field of vision. I’m seeing hamsters and racecars and, those can’t be real, right? I mean, there’s no way ancient people would have been able to spot stuff in the sky that hadn’t been invented yet.

Or if it’s a really nice day and I’m lying out in the grass, I’ll stare up at the daytime sky and watch all of the clouds mix and mingle. Here there’s not as much pressure to find something that I know is already there. Here I can just kind of let my brain do what it does, find something where there’s probably nothing. I’ll see an old man with a beard, and after I stare at him for a while he kind of morphs into a giant bowl of fruit.

And I just can’t help but think, why do we have to learn all of this stuff? Can’t we figure out a way to program it all into our DNA? Right? It’s like, you don’t have to teach a baby how to breathe. Why do you have to teach that same baby Mandarin? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could somehow inscribe all of those lessons right into our DNA? Think of the advantages our future babies would have if they came out of the womb already knowing how to read.

And Braille, man, I’m glad that there exists a system that allows blind people to read and write, but every once in a while I’ll be at some hotel somewhere, I see that all of the room numbers and elevator buttons have their Braille translations all embossed in metal underneath their alphabetical counterparts. And have you ever tried feeling Braille? Man, I’m sure you get better with practice, I mean, I know it works, but I don’t feel anything, it’s just a bunch of little bumps. How are you supposed to train your fingers to differentiate slight variations of the distances in between tiny little bumps?

And then, what if you do get really good at Braille? What if you’re able to slide your fingertips across a page and absorb information as fast as I’m reading with my eyes? Do your fingers get hyper sensitive? Do they start randomly trying to decode secret messages every time they grip a piece of sandpaper? Are they constantly struggling to make sense out of the nonsense bumps that constitute the skin of an avocado?

And what about Chinese blind people, do they have a different Braille than we do over here in America? What about sign language, is it its own language? Or do they have different signs for different languages? Man, I could ask questions for days. I should just look this stuff up. But I wouldn’t even know how to make any of these into searchable terms for Google. Wouldn’t it be great if we had like built-in search engines? I’d be able to do Google Translate right in my head. I guess I wouldn’t have to stare intently at Chinese billboards, futilely trying to comprehend messages that I’m simply not able to understand.

It would have been nice to see the blood moon

I wanted to see that lunar eclipse a few weeks ago, but it was really cloudy and you couldn’t see the sky. I wanted to check out that meteor shower last night, I read about it during the day, but I’m only thinking of it now, and so I forgot about it, I never set an alarm, I didn’t make a note to look outside. Not that you can really see any space stuff here in the city. Still, it’s nice to go outside and try, like I did with that lunar eclipse, before the clouds rolled in, you could see the start of the beginnings of a shadow start to creep across the lunar surface. When I first looked up, I swear, it looked like there was a huge chunk missing. But my awe turned to disappointment when I realized that it was already a little cloudy, and that’s what I was looking at, a celestial fake-out, a tiny circular cloud floating for just a few seconds in the moon’s way.


I’m always looking for shooting stars, when I go upstate on vacation, I’m always instantly mesmerized by that view of the heavens that you’d never even imagine is there, hiding just behind the glare of the city night sky. I wonder if you live up there, do you take it for granted? Do you even bother looking up at all? Because after a minute or so my eyes adjust and my brain starts to look for stuff that isn’t there. I see all of these phantom spots and movements out of the corners of my eye, my neck starts to hurt from craning all the way up. One time I tried to lay out on the grass so I could just take in the majestic view of the cosmos, but all of these little gnats and bugs started landing on my face, buzzing just around my ears, I was inside after like a minute or two.

I think I saw a shooting star, once. I had just turned my attention upwards and, there it was, no question about it, directly in my line of sight, if that wasn’t a shooting star, then I don’t know if anything could really be a shooting star. And what got me the most was how fast it happened. It was the most fleeting of moments I’d ever experienced in my life. Like, when I was a little kid and I went camping with my cousins and we’d all stare at the stars, I used to think they were just teasing me, “Look! I saw one!” trying to make me feel left out. But yeah, it’s totally something that, if you’re not looking right at it, it’s gone, like if you happen to be blinking, that’s more than enough time for you to miss out on the action.

One time I saw a satellite, I think. It was definitely slow moving, and streaking across the sky in a straight enough line that, if it wasn’t a satellite, well, I’m pretty sure it had to have been a satellite. But this was kind of the flip-side of the night-sky coin, like it was almost too slow. I’m always looking for that perfect moment, my eyes landing on something happening out there, wherever, outer space, and this satellite is kind of just like, way too easy. There’s a brief moment of wonder, like I found something worth looking at. But after thirty seconds, after a minute, my brain started to make sense of everything, it’s a satellite, a piece of equipment that we shot up into the sky, and it’s catching the sun’s reflection. It doesn’t really pack that same sense of wonder.

I really wanted to see the stars from the city when the entire Northeast suffered a blackout during the summer of 2003. But I was somewhere in between Georgia and South Carolina at the time, behind the wheel, making the trip back to New York from Florida. I heard all about it on the radio, how everyone was gathered outside to catch this once in a lifetime crystal clear picture of the Milky Way, right from the middle of the city. As we sped north on I-95, I just kept thinking to myself, come on, just a little longer, just don’t fix the blackout for one more night, please.

But as we crossed into Delaware, pushing north to New Jersey, I noticed that all of the toll machines were working fine, that there weren’t any signs of traffic jams. And as the streetlights flickered on as the sun set, I stared up at the muted orange twilight and knew that I’d missed it, that maybe if I were lucky I’d be able to see the North Star tonight, maybe the moon, even on the clearest of nights, all you ever get up here is one star, maybe just like two or three stars in the entire night sky.

Get off your high horse

Someone said to me the other day, “Rob, get off your high horse,” and I thought about it, yeah, I don’t want to be on a high horse, I want to be on the highest horse. And even though this horse is naturally higher than all of the other horses, certainly bigger than the one I was just on, even though that first one was pretty big, I want it even higher, someone get me a pair of horse stilts, my horse knows how to gallop on horse stilts, and I’ll ride it on top of the tallest building in the country, we’ll have all of these ridiculous jumps set up, so that if you’re up there as a spectator, you’ll think to yourself, what’s that guy on that high horse going to do, ride under those jumps?

high horse

Because that’s how high they’ll be, like you’ll look at them and the idea that I’m going to get this horse to leap over those posts, no, it won’t even cross your mind. But my high horse stilts, they’re the robotic kind, they’re the kind that amputees aren’t allowed to use in the Olympics because it gives them an superhuman edge, and I’ll go, “Ya!” and my highest horse is going to whinny and then – jump! – we’ll clear every one of them, all at once, we’ll keep sailing through the sky, way past the edge of the building, by this point nobody’s even going to be scared, maybe anxious, but nobody will doubt what I’m capable of next.

Just me, just me on top of the highest horse you’ve ever seen, I’ll have a backpack on that, when I push a button, these two wings will spring out of the sides, I’ll glide for a while, I’ll be able to integrate the horse’s harness right through the backpack, so whenever I go “Ya!” or “Whoa!” or “Ho!” those will all be voice commands, I won’t even have to do anything, my highest horse will be so well trained, it’ll pull the wings up and down, it’ll be the closest thing anyone’s ever had to a Pegasus, we’ll be able to glide, or even get some lift, to go up and down.

It’s like whenever I’m talking, I can’t get in more than two sentences, someone says “Will you get off your high horse?” How about you get off your low horse? My high horse has X-ray vision. It’s complicated, but via the same backpack harness technology that allows us to fly, I’m able to access everything that my high horse is seeing, or seeing through. That’s the only thing I can’t control – it’s still a prototype – when my high horse decides to look only at the surface or use its X-ray vision to, say, see through your clothing. But when it does, I’ll see it, and as you’re berating me, telling me, “Oh Rob! Why don’t you get off of your high horse!” I’ll be like, “Hey Jeff, nice Incredible Hulk underwear!” and you’ll be like, “What? How could you?”

But I won’t even be around to watch you stammer in embarrassment. “Ya!” I’ll shout out as my high horse and I shoot for the stars. And you know that saying, that, “Shoot for the stars, if you miss, you’ll be on the moon!” well, when I shoot for the stars, my high horse and I make it to the stars. And then we stop by the moon on our way back, because what’s higher than the moon? Nothing on Earth. Go ahead and get your telescope, you thought I had a high horse on the surface, yeah, well, now I’m on the highest horse in solar system, I’m up there screaming down to everyone on the planet, I’m saying stuff like, “How do you like me now?”

And, yes, there’s no air on the moon, so unfortunately my voice doesn’t really have that carry, that same effect like it does down here, but my high horse’s whinny, I haven’t figured out how he does it, but it’s even more powerful up there, it’s enough to propel us off the surface – Pegasus wings, activate! – and we’re able to cruise right back home.

So don’t talk to me about high horses. In fact, maybe you should look into investing in your own high horse, a medium horse, whatever you can afford, feed it lots of oats, but put a sock in it, all right? Talking to me about my high horse, why don’t you get off of your soapbox, OK? You’re going to need a lot more soap than that poor excuse for a box can carry.