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scott c virtes

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Stargazers, a study      Download this Full Story
By scott c virtes
Monday, December 02, 2002

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A trip down a bizarre avenue, where nobody is willing to look up & face reality.

I was downtown not long ago, and had this strange urge to start quizzing people. It is usually amazing just how little the average citizen knows about anything, and how our country gloats about its powers and pushes everyone else around, while completely failing to provide a basic education for its people.

Still, the subject on my mind was astronomy. Sirius was particularly obvious, so I thought I'd ask a few people about it.

I found a man named B.K., who had some interesting theories to account for the pattenrs in the sky. A piece of our dialog follows:

SCV: Do you know offhand which star that is over the Union Bank building?

BK: That's an airplane, you jerk.

SCV: Well, thanks for that little piece of insight. What makes you think it's an airplane?

BK: If it's a light in the sky, it must be an airplane.

SCV: There must be a lot of airplanes up there, then.

BK: Sure are.

SCV: Any idea how many of them?

BK: Millions, from what I've heard.

SCV: I suppose you've been living in the city for a long time.

BK: Born here. Raised here. Good guess.

SCV: Maybe. Can you tell me why that airplane of yours is not moving?

BK: It must be in a holding pattern.

SCV: A holding pattern?

BK: It's waiting to land.

SCV: It's been waiting a long time.

BK: There are millions of airplanes, and only a few runways. Go figure.

SCV: I get the picture.

BK: Good.

SCV: But what about stars?

BK: What stars? I've never seen one, except on Star Trek. Pure fiction. Good luck finding one.

SCV: They are a bit hard to see with all these city lights, smog, and airplanes. True. But, haven't you ever been out in the desert? They are a bit obvious when it's dark enough.

BK: Are they?

SCV: Very. But you can still see some of the brighter ones from here.

BK: That's ridiculous.

SCV: And that's the brightest star, right there.

BK: It's an airplane. Look, it moved!

SCV: Oh come on.

BK: Sure did! It was on THAT side of the antenna when you stopped me, now it's over THERE.

SCV: But how fast do airplanes go?

BK: Very fast. But not when they're in a holding pattern.

SCV: Does the sun move?

BK: Sort of.

SCV: The sun is a star. The rest of the stars seem to move also, because of the rotation of the earth.

BK: Stars don't move.

SCV: They do, but they're so far away they seem to stand still.

BK: Sure. And how fast do they move?

SCV: Um, fifteen degrees per hour.

BK: No wonder they're so hot.

SCV: What?

BK: No, no. You're mad. There are no stars in the city, except in Hollywood, ha ha. Sometimes, I'm so clever I scare myself.

* * * * *

That was the end of it. BK ran out across traffic, raising a clamor of horns and brakes. Apparently, the phrase "Stop, Look, and Listen" never rubbed off.

Next came AR:

AR: It's a trick. If I look up, you'll knock me down and steal my wallet, and max out all my credit cards, you fiend. Besides, it's bad luck.

SCV: You never look up?

AR: Of course not. Don't be silly.

SCV: How do you know if something is going to fall on you or not?

AR: If something is going to fall on me, I guess I'll find out about it sooner or later.

SCV: Wouldn't it be nice if you could get out of the way, though?

AR: Yes, but it can't be done. You know some physics, don't you?

SCV: A bit.

AR: Then you know that all things fall at the speed of light, so even if I saw something, I couldn't get out of the way.

SCV: Is that how it works?

AR: It's still bad luck.

SCV: Can you explain?

AR: Well, if I look up, someone might throw something at me. Or I'll fall over and get stepped on. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if my head simply rolled off. You never know what will happen when you start to mess with the natural order of things.

SCV: And you think it's natural to stare at the ground all day, and never wonder about anything else.

AR: It's important to know that my feet are on the ground. Besides, I find money sometimes.

SCV: How much?

AR: Why, dozens of pennies.

SCV: And I thought everyone used bank-cards.

AR: Actually, I did look up, once.

SCV: And?

AR: A bird shit in my face.

SCV: Nevermind.

AR: It was disgusting.

* * * * *

While I went around looking for another subject, AR followed me and tried to prove that birds are intrinsically evil.

The final words were brought out by the third subject, ZT.

ZT: I don't know who you are or what you think you're doing, but I'm not going to answer your question. The answer is obvious, but tell me this: All those stars, and even the planets, are so infinitely far away that they might as well not exist. They might as well be airplanes, or christmas lights. These things, at least, have some kind of purpose. But stars and galaxies are delusions. Interesting, but pointless. The people who spend their lives studying these things might just as well be staring at bricks, for all the good they're doing the world.

Sure, maybe there's a supernova going on in the Large Magellanic Cloud. We can't even see the thing from the northern hemisphere. So what difference does it make to me? How does
this bit of knowledge help me in any way? If you can answer this question to my satisfaction, then you are perhaps an inch higher than these people you walk around sneering at. Nothing more.

SCV: Alas, the usefulness of knowledge. Surely there are forms of knowledge that do nothing for us. Trivial Pursuits, let's call them. There are even those facts which are harmful,
and along with the obvious bombs, I am none too proud of the knowledge that gives us TVs and highways. But the stars are different. They fit together into a hint of a picture so unimaginably huge that we can only shake our heads. If nothing else, stars are like mountains ... when we're feeling overly important or powerful, they stand there and remind us that we are nothing.

ZT: My job does that for me. Who needs stars?

SCV: I'm not talking about the working class here. Work has its own merits. I'm talking about the powerful. The rich and lazy. The politicians. Something has got to remind them
that there are limits.

ZT: I know for a fact that politicians never look up.

SCV: As far as getting there? I'm just waiting for the ticket prices to go down some. You see the Leapers all the time, rocketing off the tops of buildings, toward their orbital pods. As soon as those jet-suits go down to a thousand dollars, you can bet I'll blow my savings account and get off this rock once and for all.

ZT refused to be satisfied with any explanation. I grew weary of the game, and took a bus to the edge of the city. I found a patch of sand, and a blanket, and watched the sky. Every
now and then a Leaper arced up or down. The sky was full of circling planes, and specks of drifting orbiters. I think I saw a meteor, but it might have been a malfunction.

The stars blinked impassively, infinitely cold with distance. I was in no hurry. I knew we would get there someday.

* * * END * * *

written 11/23/91

Published in Contes per a extraterrestres (web, Spain, 11/95); and (web, 2/01).

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Reviewed by alex dihes (алик дайхес) 8/4/2008
the pieace appears quite entertaining, although i did not finish -- too long for a short story, because the theme ii not developing. you started with a great note about miserability of education in the usa and public's knowledge. i expected to see your reason of the problem and, at least, some suggestions. i did not see the tendency... so i stopped
i cannot say how good it is from an entertainment point because i did look for such stuff.

this is my review.
wish you the best
in reverence and respect

ps. your pen is quite agile and your vision is sufficiently keen. i advice you to touch a topic, basing on an observation of this site, why so many people call their prosaic musing poetry. i see their misunderstanding is based on the point you have admitted: lack of any knowledge. in our case these poets dont know neither Poetry nor its attributes. you article on this theme would be a great help to many people.
let me know when it is ready.
Reviewed by Aamie Burnley 6/3/2003
... this is infinitely charming, and so sadly representative of our times. much enjoyed by me!
Reviewed by ♥ Kari Hirshey ♥ 12/2/2002
cute, awesome, it's got it all.. ;)

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