Dave Barry

Classic '95: Who took the universe?


This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, January 15, 1995.

I know you probably have a lot on your mind already, but you should be aware that 90 percent of the universe is missing.

At least that's what astronomers are claiming. I personally wouldn't know. My only exposure to the universe was an astronomy course I took in my sophomore year at Haverford College (motto: "We Never Heard of YOU, Either"), and the only astronomical principle I learned was that, because of the rotation of the Earth about its axis, astronomy class started WAY too early in the morning to actually attend in person.

I needed to sleep late in college because I usually stayed up very late working with my roommates, Rob Stavis, Bob Stern and Ken Stover, on important academic projects such as ordering pizza or assembling the legendary Two-Man Submarine. This was a miniature submarine that we obtained by sending $9.95 away to a company that advertised in Marvel comics. It came in a small, lightweight, very flat box, but when we assembled all the parts, we had an actual working two-man submarine in every possible respect except that (1) The two men could not be in it simultaneously, and (2) being constructed entirely of cardboard, it was not ideally suited for the underwater environment.

But it was perfect for the dormitory environment. We used it to impress women. On Friday nights, we'd spray plenty of Right Guard brand deodorant in our armpits, then go over to Bryn Mawr College, pick up our hot dates and bring them back to our dorm room, which was romantically illuminated by an orange flashing light that was originally part of a traffic barricade. The theory was that our dates would take one look at this flashing light reflecting off of the Two-Man Submarine and be driven wild with sexual desire. For reasons that are still not clear, this never happened. Maybe we didn't use enough Right Guard.

But the point is, what with one academic activity or another, I failed to learn much about the universe, or anything else, which is why I went into the field of journalism. We journalists make it a point to know very little about an extremely wide variety of topics; this is how we stay objective. We are also extremely impressed with scientists, and we will, frankly, print just about any wacky thing they tell us, especially if it involves outer space.

For example, we're always printing stories about "black holes, " even though nobody here in journalism (and we travel extensively) has ever actually seen a black hole, which is this alleged object that sucks everything into itself and never lets anything back out, like a vending machine, or Sen. Ted Kennedy. We journalists LOVE astounding astronomical things like that. If astronomers announced that they had detected, in a distant galaxy, by squinting really hard through their telescopes, a harmonica measuring 67 light-years across, we'd print this on the front page, with a little chart converting light-years to football fields so that you, the layperson, would have a better grasp of the story.

This is why many newspapers devoted front-page space to the story a couple of months ago -- you may have seen this -- reporting that two teams of astronomers who have been using the Hubble Space Telescope have announced that they're unable to locate 90 percent of the matter that's supposed to be in the universe.

Of course your immediate reaction, as a layperson, is to say to these astronomers: "Of COURSE you've been unable to locate it, you idiots! You're using the Hubble Space Telescope, which needed $500 million in repairs before it could distinguish between a star and a dead bug on the lens."

Well, I don't think we should be so harsh. If trained astronomers equipped with pocket protectors say that 90 percent of the universe is missing, then I say we should believe them, and I say we should help them find it. I'm guessing that a good 60 to 70 percent of it can be found in my office. I have accumulated a LOT of stuff over the years, including (I am not making any of this stuff up) 12 different types of beer (including "Bone Beer" and "Jumping Cow Amber Ale"); a can of pork brains in milk gravy; a year's supply of anti-flatulence products; several dozen miniature replicas of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile; a toy gun that makes rude bodily noises; and the entire preserved reproductive tract of a cow. (I'm saving this last item for exactly the right prank concept; it will probably involve Newt Gingrich.)

So let's say 65 percent of the universe is in my office; even when we add the 10 percent that the astronomers found, we're still missing 25 percent. I don't know where it went, but I have a pretty good idea who is responsible: dogs. The person who tipped me off to this is Darrell Libby of Spokane, Wash., who wrote me a letter pointing out that, when dogs dig in yards, they produce holes, but they do NOT produce piles of dirt. There might be a little dirt lying around, but never enough to fill in the holes.

Darrell's theory is that "the dirt is being pawed into the ozone layer, " or that "enough dirt is being tossed into the sky that another planet will be formed somewhere between Earth and Mars." Thanks to the Hubble astronomers, we now know that this is not the case; a more logical explanation is that dogs have somehow figured out how to paw the dirt into (speaking of Newt Gingrich) a completely different dimension.

Clearly, they must be stopped before they paw the entire universe out of existence. This is a time for all humans to set aside their petty differences and join together to combat this deadly menace, each of us contributing what he or she can. I'll throw in some pork brains in milk gravy.

© 1995, Dave Barry

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