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Close Call with an Asteroid
CHAPTER 106 Close Calls and Other Stuff
Last month it was all about the moon and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first landing of human beings on our lunar partner. Here in New Jersey, in the waning days of July, a passing fireball made headlines when it lit up the sky over much of the state for a couple of seconds one night. This passing object made local headlines but earlier in the month another celestial traveler was detected in Brazil and in Australia, where it really stirred things up. I learned of this latter interloper from an article by Allyson Chiu of the Washington Post in our Jersey paper The Star-Ledger. The article was headlined "Yikes! That came `out of nowhere, astronomers say". The object that burst on the scene so unexpectedly was Asteroid 2019 OK. Had it struck New Jersey or anywhere else, things could have been far from OK!
Asteroid 2019 OK is a craggy mass of rock roughly one to four hundred yards wide (picture a rock the size of one to four football fields) that arrived on the scene unannounced and just went sailing by roughly 45,000 miles from Earth! That's only about a fifth of the distance between Earth and the Moon. That's too close for comfort for me. The asteroid's size qualifies it as a "city killer". If it had hit Earth the result would have been similar to the effect of a multi megaton nuclear bomb. We dodged a real disaster. You may recall only a few years ago (2013) Chelyabinsk in Russia had a meteorite pass by resulting in a shock wave that damaged buildings and injured about a thousand people. Fortunately, I'm not aware of any deaths. It was in 1908 that the Tunguska asteroid flattened over 700 square miles of a very lightly populated region in Siberia.
It's interesting to speculate on possible future collisions with asteroids. Would we be here today if it weren't for that huge asteroid hitting Earth 60 million years ago, clearing out the dinosaurs, making way for us humans to evolve? If another big one hit, what manner of critter, if any, would replace us? Perhaps it would be a .creature that would not evolve to invent guns. I've just heard the news of the Dayton shooting, following so quickly on the heels of the one in El Paso. The latter brought back pleasant memories of visiting friends in El Paso years ago. I recall walking across a bridge to have dinner at a restaurant in Mexico and feeling perfectly safe.
What to talk about next? The past week's Old Guard meeting provides some material, part of which is of a sad nature. One member of our group is a physicist, Philip Eisner, who often gives talks on some complicated scientific subject. For example a few months ago he talked about quantum mechanics in a valiant attempt to make it understandable to the lay person. His subject this past week was gravitational waves, which have created quite a splash the past couple years with their detection by the so called LIGO project over a century after Einstein predicted their existence.. I've spent time on them in these columns. Eisner's talk was more about Einstein and the path he took in the work he did that revolutionized the world of science and the concepts of space and time and gravity.
But he started off with a story that must have been crushing. Eisner and a few of his fellow MIT alumni had somehow managed to arrange that Einstein would actually spend an hour with them discussing some subject of interest. The time and place was set. But, before the meeting, Einstein got sick and within a month he died!
The closest thing I can recall experiencing in the way of a crushing experience involving a celebrity was the time when I found myself in Philadelphia on a train platform with the Boston Red Sox after a game between the Sox and the Philadelphia Athletics. I found myself standing next to my baseball hero, Indian Bob Johnson, who had been traded to the Red Sox by the As. I had his autograph preserved for posterity on my scorecard along with the signatures of Bobby Doerr, Joe Cronin and a couple other Sox. I have never forgotten the feeling when the train pulled into Harrisburg and I realized someone took my scorecard when I fell asleep on the trip home! At least I consoled myself with the fact I did not have Ted Williams' signature, he being flying in World War II at the time.
Well, I've veered off anything scientific so let's finish with other stuff from my childhood. This past week I received an email from my brother. Many years ago, unknown to me, when our father was in his 80s, my brother had suggested that he tape his history. My brother's son Sam had found those many small tapes and consolidated them into three hours with a link to accessing them. So, here I am, at 91 years of age listening to my father talking about his life before during and after I was born!
I learned a number of things about my history and my dad's history that were surprising. I'm sure that at least once in these columns I told how I owe my existence to tuberculosis. My dad had TB and moved from Allentown, PA to Denver, CO with his parents. My mother's sister had TB and my mother accompanied her to Denver from Princess Anne, MD.
I did not know that my dad's father, my grandfather, had TB and that when my dad was just 3 years old, they moved to Denver. When my grandfather got better, they moved back to Allentown, where my dad went to school and World War I was under way. My dad was "A-1" but apparently wasn't feeling well and a doctor said that he had a "weak lung". Within 2 weeks of learning of the weak lung, the family was back in Denver! There were no X-rays then; or at least they were not routine. Years later, my dad did have an X-ray and it showed a spot on the lung that had healed - he did have TB.
In Denver he met my mother and the stage was set for my arrival on the scene. I did not know that when I was born my mother was in labor for six hours with no anesthetic. I also learned that I was brought up on goat's milk! Why, I'll never know. In Denver, my dad worked on various jobs such as reading gas and electric meters, sales jobs, notably Fuller brushes or other items. He was diagnosed as being "nervous" and told he should work on outside jobs. Hence the sales jobs. One item, a luggage carrier for a car, carried me to Glendale, California at the age of one for a brief period. My dad had to buy a supply of whatever he was selling and he thought there was a lucrative market for luggage carriers for cars in California. The market for luggage carriers in Glendale was far from lucrative and he had to unload his stock at a loss.
Back to Denver and Fuller Brush. His mode of operation was to concentrate in a business district where he would go into a company, ask to meet the manager, give him a free brush and ask to be allowed to show his wares to his employees. A free brush to all. One memorable departure from that approach was when my father was in an upscale residential neighborhood in Denver and knocked on the door of a house, to be greeted by a fellow who exclaimed enthusiastically "Oh, you're the Fuller Brush man, come in.". Then calling up to his wife, "Come down it's the Fuller Brush man."" My dad spread out his brushes on the floor and got a very good order. It was some time later that he learned the couple had moved to Denver from somewhere in the state of Washington, where the two of them had been tried for murder! They were acquitted!
From Denver it was off to Philadelphia, where we lived in a house owned by my Aunt Edna, who had moved back to Princess Anne apparently not liking city life. My dad kept his car in Princess Anne. There was an 8-month interval where he became a manager of a Fuller Brush group in Atlantic City. Until now I had thought we were in Atlantic City for only a month or two. My dad got fired from that job because he only worked eight hours a day! It was back to Philadelphia where he went into the offices of Brown and Bigelow to sell his brushes and they sold him on a job selling advertising (mostly calendars) in a new territory in the Harrisburg-York area. He had been having a lot of colds and they told him the territory was significantly higher in elevation than Philadelphia, a laughable claim, especially when compared to Denver!
Well, that's where the account ends. There was relatively little in the accounts about either my brother or me. My dad actually had some thoughts on why that was. He said my mother was pretty much running things, seeming to come out on top of any discussions they had. In these columns I've mentioned on more than one occasion no doubt, how she got me skipped one and a half grades in Philadelphia, stopped any attempt in Mechanicsburg to hold me back when transferring from Philadelphia, got me into Dickinson College after 11ih grade and got me into Pitt as a graduate assistant. She did indeed run things and her actions set the pattern and course of my life. One last comment. My Dad only completed school through the eighth grade but did spend some time attending "business college". Obviously, the term "college" must have been used loosely in those days.
Next column around September 1, hopefully.
Allen F. Bortrum