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Maybe It Needs More Calibration

“Wonder what that one is,” I said to the dog as we shuffled along on a pre-dawn walk this morning. “It” was what appeared to be a star, but I’m thinking it was a planet because it was much brighter than the others

I remember when I was a kid, the TV weather person would always tell us which planets would be visible in the sky the next morning. (Maybe they still do that; I don’t know because I rarely watch TV weather people anymore. If any are reading this, please don’t take offense. It’s not you, it’s me.) The thing is, unless I had a telescope, I’d think to myself, why would I care, since to the naked eye, these planets would simply look like bigger and brighter stars. It’s not like they’d appear as the Moon does each evening.

Most often, the planets we could see (albeit simply as brighter stars and how did we even know if the TV weather person knew what he or she was talking about?) in the morning skies were Mars or Venus, our two closest planet neighbors. This morning, I figured that extra-bright star I saw was likely one or the other.

“Too bad we can’t figure out the telescope,” I continued as Sadie sniffed for her own planets and constellations on someone’s lawn. As usual, she wasn’t listening, like she didn’t care at all what I had to say, always preoccupied with herself and her interests.

So, to answer the question that popped into your head after reading the last paragraph, yes, we have a telescope. And that telescope is designed for the sole purpose of not having to “wonder what that one is,” as I did aloud (and apparently to myself) this morning. Thing is, I have yet to figure out how to use it.

We got the telescope a while back. Over the years, Joan had accumulated points of some sort for her years of service at her job, and one day, it was time to cash them in. She received a thin catalog of sorts, with everything from cookware, to luggage, jewelry and yes, presumably fun things like putters, bocce sets and telescopes. Items were priced on a “point system,” and based on the number of points Joan had accumulated over the years, we had made a short list of viable candidates.

Some items on our short list were practical (I think a suitcase was made the list), and others were more fun (i.e., the telescope).

After considering our options, and also being people who have been trying to eliminate extraneous “stuff” from our lives and our home, we decided, “What the hell? Let’s live a little and get the telescope.” And we did.

I, for one, was excited because I saw it as an opportunity to open up a whole new passion for me. I viewed myself spending hours on our deck scanning the night skies for planets, constellations, comets and the odd commercial jet making its way to some faraway place (like Muncie, IN or Butte, MT). Joan, too, seemed hyped for the telescope to arrive, though I’m not sure her anticipation wasn’t born more out of a desire to get the thing just so I’d stop talking about it.

Anyway, we placed our order, and a couple weeks later, it arrived. Now please realize, I’ve never owned a telescope. Fact is, I’ve never even looked through one, so I was starting at Square One. With that in mind (and in the interest of full transparency), my expectation was that I’d open the box to find a fully-assembled, ready-to-use galaxy-gazing powerhouse that I would simply set on its tripod, and within minutes, I’d be “telescoping” like the greatest astronomers in history, folks like Galileo and … well, I don’t know any others, but you get my drift.

That, as I’m sure you’ve already surmised, didn’t happen. What did happen is that I spent the next two hours putting together this Tinker Toy contraption “IKEA style,” with spartan instructions consisting of a single, full-page diagram with hundreds of dotted lines cryptically “explaining” where each piece was supposed to fit. No words. No “expanded view” graphics allowing the assembler to get a closer look at how to affix, attach or screw in “Lens A” or whatever.

The good news is, by the time it was built (which I’m confident in saying lasted just shy of the construction phase of the Hubble), it was dark, so we could move directly from “ribbon-cutting” to “exploration.”

I pointed the lens out the window (hoping to God it was dark enough so the neighbors didn’t see; I think that speaks for itself without further explanation), and into the inky night sky. After a few moments of tweaking, knob-turning and “calibrating” (a word I like to use when I’m aimlessly fumbling with something but don’t want anyone to know I have no idea what I’m doing), I focused the lens on …

… nothing.

That’s right, I saw nothing through the lens except blurry darkness (something I’m pretty sure I could get without the telescope and by simply looking into the night sky without my glasses).

“Let me take a look,” Joan said cheerily and supportively. She looked through the lens, and then, like I before her, also tweaked and turned knobs, adjusted the legs of the tripod, etc. “Oh, Sweetie, I think you’re pointed at the tree across the street.” With that, she dialed in some new coordinates, readjusted some tabs, flanges and rotors, and looked again.

“Hmm,” she said. “Do you have the instructions?”

“Those won’t help because they don’t exist,” I deadpanned, my excitement and energy waning with every passing moment, thinking we had made a terrible decision, letting our “fun” side take over when we should have gone with a known commodity from that stupid incentive catalog.

“What are those?” she asked, pointing to the single sheet of arrows and dotted lines that passed for assembly instructions, but looked more like a page from an NFL playbook, if the NFL changed its rule to allow 100 players on the field at once.

“Oh, that’s just how to put the thing together. There are no instructions on how to use it.” By now, I had already given up, realizing that this fun gadget was on the fast track to becoming just another piece of clutter in our house. I was frustrated and disappointed, like a kid who had hoped for a shiny new bike for Christmas but got snow pants, underwear and socks instead.

For the next 30 minutes, Joan worked at this thing, looking at online videos and articles, some of which did nothing but say what I was thinking about this stupid telescope: “It’s a piece of junk.” Then, she too gave up, as cheerily as she had entered, none the worse for wear. (I like that about Joan; she prioritizes what she allows to frustrate her. I do not possess that gene.)

Anyway, for the past nine months or so, this telescope has made its home in the corner of our living room, a beautiful conversation piece for all who visit, but also a terrible part of our family because while it looks great, it does nothing for us but take up space, a constantly reminder that maybe we should have gone with the luggage or the four-piece saucepan set rather than the “fun” option.

Anyway, I still wonder what I saw this morning as I walked the dog because it was too bright to be “just a star.” However, I wasn’t interested enough to try and figure out that piece of junk telescope and start my day and week on a note of frustration.

Maybe I’ll just watch the local news. I’m sure the TV weather person can tell me what it was. Also, if you have a globe you’re not using, let me know. I think it would be a nice complement to the telescope in that corner of the room.

© 2020 David R. Haznaw

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