Sometimes We Don’T Get The Picture Until It’S Too Late


Forty-three years after I first watched “Star Trek,” my son David pointed out something to me I had never thought of.

This is fun to think about, so let’s back into it slowly.

Suppose I put a disk in my computer, contact you over the Internet, and let you copy it. Here’s a question for you: Would you have a copy of the disk or would you have the original?

Obviously a copy, right?

And as long as we had the copy as a backup it wouldn’t matter if I erased the original, true?

Wondering what I’m getting at? Hang in there for a minute.

So far, you and I are in perfect agreement, right?

Now, suppose I stood you in front of a machine that digitally encoded your body, and transmitted it to — say — Bombay, where a perfect copy of you was created.

So far, you’re not having any problems with this, right?

But suppose, as in “Star Trek,” you — the original, one and only you, I mean — disappeared in the process. Would that be OK?


Say what?

Well, that’s what happened in the program. The original Kirk, or Spock, or whoever, just vanished into nothingness. The digital data to create a nice clean copy got transmitted down to the planet, but what replicated down there was made of atoms and molecules from down there on the planet’s surface.

In other words, every time somebody transported he died!

Oh, there was another Captain Kirk running around down there, and that other Captain Kirk thought he was the real Captain Kirk. And he was in a way, but truth is, the original was history.

I almost fell over dead when my son David, a big sci-fi fan, pointed that out to me one day.

Sometimes we miss a little something don’t we?

I don’t know what we all thought back then. Maybe we thought the transporter sucked Kirk in, ground him up, spit one big old Kirk loogie down to the planet, and slapped it back together. But now that I know better, here’s a little sequence we never saw on “Star Trek” that would have happened if I’d been there.

“OK, Cap’n Tom. We’re ready to transport you down, sir.”

“I’ll tell you what Scottie. You wanna beam somebody down to the %$#@! planet, you beam yourself down!”

You know something else? There’s an endless supply of those “I wasn’t really thinking” stories. Take this one for example:

Imagine a junior high kid who has just made a half pound of black powder down in his cellar and put it into a Ball Mason jar. He has a match in his hand. He’s about to stick his hand, lighted match and all, into the jar.

What is going through his mind? Here are some possibilities:

“I wonder if that doggone Sissy Pulowski is really pregnant?”

“Gee! Do Martians worry about meetin’ little pink men?”

“I wonder what a three-legged dog does when he has to pee?”

“Uh-oh! Did I just stain my shorts?”

“Nuh-uh. Sissy Pulowski is lyin’. Just trying to scare me.”

“Hey, if it’s a junior high I’m in, how come I’m only gonna be a freshman next year instead of a senior?”

“I wonder if I can ditch third period tomorrow?”

“I wonder if they’re gonna have any extinct animals at that new zoo they’re buildin’?”

“Yeah! She’s lyin’. She always was kinda fat.”

“Oh man! I did stain them. I can feel somethin’ in there.”

“I don’t care if she is or ain’t. I’m not marryin’ anybody!”

“Oh, boy! I know I can feel somethin’ in my shorts. Mama is goin’ to kill me when she ...”

And so on ...

But here’s something we can be absolutely sure my brother Charlie’s best friend wasn’t thinking as that match descended:

“I wonder if all the cellar windows are going to blow out, and I’m going to be deaf for three days, and they’re going to have to sew my thumb back on?”

And then there was the time the hand mixer ran up my hand.

When I grabbed the blades of the hand mixer that day, trying to straighten them out, I had turned the switch off and pulled the plug, but I wasn’t thinking that Lolly might see the plug out of the wall in the next room and thoughtfully put it back in for me.

And I’m not sure just what I was thinking when I strolled into the living room, where Lolly was now sitting on the sofa, and asked her if she would please grab hold of one side of the blades while I held the other side and bent them off my hand.

After I got the hand out (I couldn’t do it by myself, you see), Lolly looked at all the blood, and frowned, and very sweetly asked, “Gee, doesn’t that hurt?”

Well, yes. Now that I think of it, it did hurt. Having a hand mixer run up your hand, chopping little grooves all the way is a mite painful. And it bends the blades worse than they were.

And yes, I do keep track of where the other end of a wire is before I stick my hand in a machine these days.

Would you like to know what a student aide was thinking one day when he came into my friend Jack Sell’s chemistry lab?

He looked like someone standing in a bright light. You know? One side lighted from head to toe? Except it wasn’t light. It was black mud. And the pail he was holding was filled with mud too.

It seems that Jack had told him to toss a pail of water out the door, but the kid, being very neat, walked all the way around the building and spotted the place where Jack had buried something that by the end of the day would have been quite safe, but was at that moment highly explosive — if it got wet.

Seeing a nice neat circle of fresh dry soil, the kid threw the pail of water at it.

What was he thinking when he came back in the door?

We know because, through two very wide eyes, he told us.

“Mister Sell, the ground blew up!”


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