Last I knew, Ralph was still living in his parent’s basement—weak, wan and wary.
It began when we were students in the 7th grade. Ralph was a classmate of mine back in the days when parents still occasionally named a kid Ralph—back before the word had become a slang synonym for regurgitation.
Our science teacher that day had just said something so startling, that Ralph looked up in alarm from the spit-wad he’d been carefully crafting at his desk. He stared transfixed at the teacher—Mr. Rood. (Presciently, we called him Mr. Rood the Science Dude.)
“In 1908, an asteroid crashed into Siberia,” said Mr. Rood. “It wiped out hundreds of miles of forest land—and if there were any humans around, they would have been toast.”
Ralph gulped hard as the teacher narrowed his eyes and looked straight at him. “And when I say toast, Ralph—I don’t mean French or Melba.”
We all knew exactly the kind of toast the Science Dude did mean: charcoal black with rising curls of acrid smoke. It was the kind that Ralph’s mom (who was not gifted in the kitchen) made for him and his dad each morning.
As soon as the school ending-bell rang that day, most of our class quickly forgot Mr. Rood’s asteroid lesson. But not Ralph.
As he and a couple of the rest of us walked home from school, he kept looking nervously up at the sky—his eyes darting. He began ducking beneath store awnings and tree branches whenever possible.
Then Ralph made a life-changing declaration.
“Once I get home today—if I get home—I’m not coming back outdoors again! Ever!”
We asked him why. He elaborated. “I don’t want to get hit by an asteroid, that’s why! And I’ll bet a comet would hurt even more.”
I reminded him that a fiery rock plunging toward our planet at blinding speed wouldn’t have any trouble crashing through the roof of a house—especially one like his with composition shingles and skylights.
Ralph was unconvinced. ‘My bedroom is in the basement,” he said. “Maybe the asteroid would be going slower by then.”
I’d been in Ralph’s bedroom. It was dirtier and smellier than most open latrines.
The risk of an asteroid slamming into it? Zero.
The risk of infectious disease? At least 90%.
True to his word, Ralph didn’t show up for school the next three days heading into the weekend. His mom called in reporting that he was in his bed with a mysterious ailment. In fact, he was probably under his bed.
The whole thing happened so long ago that I can’t quite recall if Ralph ever emerged—or was ever seen again. I do remember that his parents moved out of town the next spring—so either Ralph hid in the car trunk—or he came with the house when his parents sold it.
I think of him every time I hear news about yet another asteroid making a close pass to our planet. Reporters call such an incident a ‘near miss.’ But as the comedian George Carlin rightly pointed out, it would be more correct to say ‘near hit.’ A near miss wouldn’t be a miss at all.
But even those harrowingly close asteroid skims of our planet usually miss earth by millions of miles. Still, in galactic scale—that would be the equivalent of a flying golf ball just grazing the top of a man’s hairline. And that’s assuming the man didn’t have a pompadour.
A bunch of scientists once announced that a long-ago asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs when it triggered fires and earthquakes worldwide.
However, there is a small group of contrarians that insist the dinosaurs actually died from a combination of spicy foods and poor posture.
Regardless, many dinosaurs are named after the locations in which their skeletal remains have been found—such as the Afrovenator (Africa), Californosaurus (California) and Dallasaurus (Dallas).
Lesser-known are the dinosaur remains found in our very own area. These include the once-feared Sea-Tacasaurus, Des Moinesaraptor—and the king of all, the Whitecenterasaurus Rex.
They are all long extinct.
Except for those that may be hiding in Ralph’s bedroom.