Blog: A Rocket Scientist

Burt Ross

I am no rocket scientist, to say the least, which is the very point of this column. Read on. Recently, David Dreier, my friend and neighbor until we both lost our homes to the fire, (he is still my friend), suggested I meet another friend of his named Dan Goldin–so far, so good. David thought, “Two great minds will get along.”

I then did what I always do, and I googled Dan Goldin–so far, not so good. Dan was the head administrator for NASA, a real rocket scientist. I know Dreier is always enthusiastic, but to put me in the same category as Dan Goldin is not flattering; it is mind boggling. I think David would have been more accurate had he said, “Two great minds, minus one mind.”

In any case, I intend to get together with Dan and his wife, Judy, because I am a people person and love meeting new people. I do have a problem, though. I have no idea what to talk about with a rocket scientist. You see, I do not know the difference between NASA and NASCAR. I don’t even know how to open the hood of my car. As for the universe, I often can distinguish between the sun and the moon, but that’s about it.

I frequently have difficulty conversing with people who have expertise in areas I know nothing about. For instance, a few winters ago I was attending the annual Christmas party at the home of my neighbors Karen and Larry Goddard. I was introduced to a famous race car driver whose name escapes me, but he had won races I never heard of. 

I wanted to make some conversation, but hadn’t a clue what to say. Finally, I coughed up the following: “When you race around a track, do you drive clockwise or counter-clockwise?” I thought it was perfectly reasonable conversation, but he gave me a look as if to say, “Have you ever watched a race?” which, of course, I had not–still have not.

I decided to ask him another question since the first one was not particularly well received. “Did your mother ever tell you that racing cars was dangerous?” Why I was a morphing into a Jewish mother is beyond my comprehension. This man who faces danger on a routine basis had an expression indicating the conversation that had never really started was over.

And so, when I meet Dan, I will not ask him how people go to the bathroom in outer space, or whether we are going to Mars or the Moon, or why Pluto is no longer a planet. I guess I will fall back on the mundane, and talk about the weather, minus all the stuff about the sky and what’s in it.