First Car

Chip in for gas, friends!
My car goes where I aim it.
Just us. No parents.
–First car haiku

Our 21-year old has just purchased his First Car.  I thought it would happen sooner, but then I’m the one that always said you don’t need a car until you graduate from college. And, truthfully, he’s not been keen on driving since he got his First Ticket blowing a stop sign in front of a patrol car one foggy evening after a late shift at his First Job at McDonald’s (the last day before returning to school).  It made him skittish; it made him hitch rides with us and his friends as often as he could. But heading into graduate school in Southern California, the reality of needs set in. He had to get his own car.

In America, the first car is a rite of passage, though it wasn’t always so. A hundred years ago, cars had just been invented. My grandparents didn’t own cars until well into their thirties; my grandmothers didn’t technically own the cars at all. My parents didn’t have a car until they were in Europe when they were working overseas after college. My brother and I didn’t have one until we were out of college as well. Continue reading “First Car”

The Price of Moon Dust

Bag of moon dust sells for $1.8 million
Posted: Jul 20, 2017 6:29 PM PDT
NEW YORK (AP) — A bag containing traces of moon dust has sold at auction for $1.8 million.The sale at Sotheby’s on Thursday was surrounded by some fallout from a galactic court battle.  The collection bag was used by astronaut Neil Armstrong during the first manned mission to the moon in 1969.  But the artifact from the Apollo 11 mission was misidentified and sold at an online government auction. NASA fought to get it back. In December, a federal judge ruled that it legally belonged to a Chicago-area woman who bought it in 2015 for $995.
Sotheby’s declined to identify the buyer who won the bag.

Nancy Ann Carlson bought trouble in a 12×8.5 inch bag. The bag was square, zippered, and printed with the words: LUNAR SAMPLE RETURN. Did it arrive one morning in a simple box while she was sipping her tea? Did she peer at it over her Earl Grey, guessing that it might be famous dust? Did she open it and let some of the fine silt sift over her fingers? Or did she keep it closed, prudently considering contamination or other scientific concerns, only conjuring the moon dust in her mind?

The surface of the moon is pockmarked with millions of meteor strikes. The atmosphere of the moon is much thinner than that of the earth (10 to the 13th if I counted zeros correctly), so the moon is subject to constant bombardment from full sized space objects. A bag full of such dust would be guaranteed cosmic, guaranteed starstuff. Touching moon dust would be as close as you could get to touching the stars. (Metaphorically! Yes, I know stars are mostly energy, plasma, hydrogen atoms — but somewhere in there is “stuff” which makes it “starstuff.”)

How this bag came from the moon into Carlson’s possession and, thus, into a swirl of trouble is a curious story. Continue reading “The Price of Moon Dust”

Inquiring for Work at the Polish Factory

There is an apocryphal story about my grandfather. He was a man of few words and died when I was young, so most of the stories have an urban legend ring to them. I don’t know which ones, if any, are true.

My father told me that Grandpa Chmaj was a young man, new to America, just off the boat so to speak. He was looking for work and saw the big sign POLISH FACTORY so he went in and asked for a job. Because he was Polish. And they made…shoe polish.

20170607 chmajyoungThe year that my grandparents emigrated is a little fuzzy in my mind. When I worked on the requisite eighth grade Family Tree project forty-some years ago, I seem to recall learning that both grandparents came between 1900 and 1910. There was a wave of Polish immigrants between 1905 and 1910 after the Revolution.  Several more waves came at the beginning of the 20th century, as Prussia, Germany, and Russia argued about which of them owned Poland. If the date of my grandparents’ emigration is prior to 1911, they escaped far more strife in their country of origin than whatever hardships occurred here.

Continue reading “Inquiring for Work at the Polish Factory”