Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Two days after the Colorado movie massacre, I stared at my laptop screen, reading one of the endless online commentaries. The media crush of the moment. The outrage around the country. The news cycle playing out…like a reality show re-run from four years ago.
I started the car and waited for my son Riley, now 10 years old, to hop in for a drive to the afternoon matinee of The Amazing Spiderman.
“Dad, I’m scared.”
“I read that article in the paper today about the guy in the movie theater.”
The car idled. I looked at his eyes through the rear view mirror. Asking my son to grab the Sunday morning paper from the mailbox had suddenly turned into a bad idea.
Four years ago, after the Virginia Tech shootings, I wrote an op-ed column published in the Indianapolis Star. I hadn’t read it since. But when Riley and I got home safely from our Sunday matinee, I looked up my column from 2008.
Sadly, it didn’t feel dated.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
When You Wish Upon A Falling Satellite
“Dad, why are we staring up at the sky?”
My 6 year old son Riley popped the question as we cuddled on our back porch for our nightly ritual. Our eyes fixed overhead, we dodged a few flaky snow flurries.
“Riley, we’re protecting Charlie from falling satellite debris,” I explained.
Each night since late February when the U.S. destroyed a failing spy satellite, Riley and I shiver in the minus winter wind chill, waiting to see if a portion of the school bus-sized satellite USA193, soars across the sky and strikes our dog Charlie, a 10-pound schnoodle currently circling the backyard for a place to poop.
“Dad, what’s a satellite?”
“It’s a piece of equipment that orbits the earth. It bounces communication signals down to us. Like television shows and long distance phone calls.”
“Going around and around in a circle, like Charlie.”
“Dad, why would a satellite fall from the sky?”
“It was broken. So we sent a rocket up into the sky to blow it up.”
“It has to do with hydrazine fuel tanks re-entering the atmosphere in tact as opposed to….”
Riley interrupted my broken science explanation.
“So what happened to the TV shows it bounced to earth? Did they get blown up to?”
“Actually it was a satellite that spies on people. It didn’t carry any TV shows.”
“I think they should send a rocket and blow up the America’s Next Top Model satellite. That’s a boring show.”
“Well, it doesn’t really work that way Riley.”
“Would Tyra Banks fall out of the sky and crash into our roof?”
“Well, I don’t want Tyra Banks crushing me.”
As I sat there pondering the possibility of Tyra Banks orbiting 150 miles into the atmosphere, being struck by a missile fired from a U.S. warship, hurling toward the earth, and flattening my son, I thought, “Hey, maybe Riley is on to something.”
Maybe we should shoot down more satellites. The ones that transmit odorous garbage into our daily lives. Like the WhiteBronco32 satellite, launched in 1994, that carries signals from all local TV news choppers as they pursue ambulances, police cars, and runaway ex-football stars. It’s a satellite in decay. We should shoot it down.
Or the Polly Ad satellite, transmitting “I approve this message” ads from political consultants to ad agencies to TV stations during election years. We could all benefit from an accurate missile launch targeting that one.
Or even the RingCell 2000 satellite, sending insidious ring tones to trendy cell phone owners worldwide. Unnecessary and annoying.
“Dad!” Riley woke me from my utopian dream.
“Dad, why do satellites spy on people?”
“Well, satellites don’t spy on people. They just help us keep track of people who might hurt us. If we know where the bad guys are, we can protect ourselves better.”
“Well, some satellites have big cameras on them that take pictures. Some satellites can track tiny chips placed in devices like cars, so we can always tell where the car is. That’s called a Global Positioning..”
Riley interrupted my impromptu technology lecture. “How do we know who the bad guys are?”
“Sometimes we don’t know.”
“Dad, that guy who killed those students at that college with a gun. He was a bad guy.”
“He did a very bad thing.”
“Then why didn’t we spy on him with a satellite?”
“Because we didn’t know he was going to…”
“But he had a bunch of guns. And he walked into that school and killed all those kids. That’s a bad guy Dad. What if he came to my school Dad? Couldn’t we see him with the satellite?”
Riley’s suddenly panicked voice left me silent. My eyes stopped searching for USA193 streaking across the sky, and shifted toward the dilated pupils of my six-year old.
“Dad, answer me. Can’t we put potato chips inside guns so if I’m at school and a bad guy comes, we can stop him?”
“Dad, if they can put chips in cars, why not guns?”
Riley reached over, gave me a hug, and held on tight.
I stared up at the stars, now hoping one might be falling, and made a wish.
“Maybe someday Riley. Maybe someday.”
The Falling Satellite essay was originally published 3-8-08 in the Indianapolis Star.
Ted Mandell is a faculty member in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre. Author of the multimedia book Heart Stoppers and Hail Marys: The Greatest College Football Finishes (Since 1970), he also filmed the documentary Inside The Legends, following Lou Holtz in his final game on the sidelines during the 2009 Notre Dame Japan Bowl.