1. Archive

Collisions, galactic and otherwise

Published Oct. 2, 2005

People who complain that there's not enough good news in the paper just aren't reading closely enough.

For example, many readers apparently missed the good news buried in last week's story about the Hubble Space Telescope's pictures of the violent mega-collision of two distant galaxies.

Astronomers pointed out, in the casual way astronomers usually talk about apocalyptic events, that our own Milky Way galaxy will one day have a similar collision with the Andromeda galaxy, resulting in an incomprehensibly huge explosion that will destroy everything within several hundred thousand light years of its path.

Then came the good news, according to the droll Associated Press account:

"Humans need not worry, said Bradley Whitmore of the Space Telescope Institute. Even though the Andromeda is racing toward the Milky Way at 300,000 miles an hour, the collision won't occur for about 5-billion years. By then, it is expected that the sun will be a burned-out husk and the Earth, if it still exists, will be a lifeless chunk of frozen space rock."

Well, that's a relief.

Still, if I had been covering Dr. Whitmore's news conference, I'd have asked a follow-up question, just out of curiosity:

"When, and under what circumstances, are you expecting the Earth to make that transition to a lifeless chunk of frozen space rock?"

Because I've made these plans that probably would be affected by such a turn of events.

For example, many years ago, back when I was young and impetuous, I made a hefty down payment on season tickets for the Devil Rays (although back then, we all thought the Devil Rays would be the White Sox or the Giants or the Mariners).

Anyway, Vince Naimoli sent me a nice letter the other day to let me know it was time to pay the balance on those tickets, even though the Devil Rays, technically, still don't have any players, or a manager, or a coaching staff, or a schedule, or, according to recent reports, a stadium that will be finished in time for next season.

Maybe they needed the rest of my money before they could move forward with any of those preparations.

In any case, now that I've made such a major investment of time and money in the Devil Rays, it would be just my luck for the Earth to turn into a lifeless chunk of frozen space rock just before Opening Day. (Though, on the bright side, that would be preferable to watching the Marlins win another World Series.)

Such a turn of events would not provide positive reinforcement for my new commitment to plan more assiduously for the future.

Long-range planning doesn't come naturally for me. Most of my life, I thought deferred gratification was one of those oxymorons, like "consensual biting" or "Utah Jazz."

When I was in high school, I didn't plan for college. So I wound up attending the University of Georgia, because I liked the football team, even though I probably could have attended a much finer academic institution, because I did surprisingly well on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which I managed to show up for, early on a Saturday morning, even though I was out really late the previous night.

Then, when I was in college, it never occurred to me to plan for a career. I hung around the college newspaper office because I enjoyed writing and enjoyed hanging around the people who hung around college newspaper offices. I never thought to save clips or send out resumes or start amassing wingtips and power ties.

Meanwhile, I was surrounded by people who apparently emerged from the womb with single-minded plans for careers as corporate lawyers, celebrity spokesmodels or newspaper executives. These classmates never seemed burdened by any self-doubt or second thoughts about the meaning of their lives. None of them daydreamed about becoming farmers or glassblowers or college-town street characters instead. And none of them ever worried that some cataclysmic destruction of our planet might alter their plans before they even finished their apprenticeships.

I felt like I was colliding with people from a different galaxy.

And now, just when I'm finally on the verge of deciding what I want to be when I grow up, I'm being made to feel guilty by all the newspaper and magazine articles chiding me for my failure to plan adequately for my golden years.

It turns out that I should have taken the money I used years ago for a down payment on Devil Rays tickets and put it into an aggressive mutual fund. And, the articles add in an almost gloating tone, it's much too late for me to even think about trying to make up for lost time, thanks to the miracle of compound interest.

My only hope now is that an intergalactic collision or stock market crash will render all those 401(k) plans meaningless and leave me on equal financial footing with my peers.

At least my college years weren't entirely wasted. I still have most of my old vinyl albums sitting in the corner of the living room.

And if I still had a functioning turntable, I could listen to Warren Zevon, who also spent some of his time contemplating the relationship between apocalyptic events and personal finances:

And if California slides into the ocean

Like the mystics and statistics say it will

I predict this motel will be standing

Until I pay my bill.

The check is in the mail, Mr. Naimoli.