© 2001 by Marilyn D. Davis. All rights reserved. Distributing or copying this material via e-mail, hyperlink, disk, print, or any other medium is prohibited under U.S. copyright law without written permission of the author.
Congratulations on being daring enough to click to this page.  However, I don't want to bore you with all I know about this topic--the sum total of which could fit into the box below--so instead I'll try to amuse you with essays that didn't quite fit into any other category. 
If you really want to learn about astrophysics, here are some relevant links, but please don't leave until you've first read the writings on this page. Thanks.
The Astrophysical Journal
Stellar Evolution and Death
Your Weight on Other Worlds
Pizza Shack Lawsuit Claims
Decayed Cheesehead in Topping
Pizza Shack, Incorporated, is being sued by the family of a nine year old Oshkosh, Wisconsin, boy who claims that he found in his pepperoni pan pizza the decaying human remains of an actual Wisconsin Cheesehead. The unnamed child is said to have suffered from shock far worse than that experienced by Cantonese tourists when they taste their first American eggroll.

Before the discovery, the boy had already swallowed a portion of the eyes, cheeks and holes of the Cheesehead. The store manager telephoned the police when it became apparent that foul play may have been involved. Two disgruntled former employees were questioned, and all police files involving missing dairy products and/or sports fanatics were being reviewed for a possible connection.

A social worker associated with the case, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that the child has been shunned by his friends, who are all avid Green Bay Packers fans and who do not understand why he would behave so unpatriotically. In addition, the boy can no longer pose for photographs due to a fear of being asked to say, "Cheese."

A lawyer representing the family said that the incident will have even more far-reaching effects. "He has been traumatized, there's no question. And we don't know how long this will continue, although a modest settlement in the range of eight figures would assist greatly with his rehabilitation and my political aspirations."

Family sources indicate that the boy has developed an aversion to all fast food and is now being monitored closely for signs of malnutrition and aberrant growth. Studies show that children in this age group consume seventy-five percent of their calories from food purchased at McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Pizza Shack. Should this condition go unchecked, a medical expert says that it is possible the boy will only reach one-fourth of his projected stature as an adult.

His parents are grieving over the fact that their son's once certain future as an NBA star is now in jeopardy, although they have not yet told him. "We hate to shatter his dreams," his mother said, "but it's difficult to keep up the charade each night as we tuck him into bed alongside his life-sized Michael Jordan doll."

The restaurant has been cited three times in the past year for health code violations, including one incident in which thinly sliced pink pearl eraser strips were used as a substitute for anchovies.

Pizza Shack declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but released a statement saying that cheesicide is expressly forbidden in their corporate by-laws.
Grounded by Dental High-giene:
One Fearful Patient's Story
There are a few things in life that I tend to avoid, due to lack of familiarity or prior negative experience or irrational fear, however going to the dentist isn't one of them. When I showed up recently for my six months' check-up, about nine months after my last appointment, I was guided into the usual treatment room and greeted by the latest dental hygienist.

I don't know how it is at your dentist's, but at mine, it seems that every year there's a new, cheerful, twenty-something young woman who acts like she knows who I am before we've even met just because she spent a few minutes reviewing my most current set of bitewing x-rays. It shouldn't be surprising, I suppose, to find a high attrition rate among professionals whose primary job responsibility is to scrape gross organic substances off teeth.

After I settled into the chair and she had fastened the drool and blood bib across my chest, I noticed a half dozen framed photos on top of the heating register at the window. They appeared to be people wearing colorful coveralls and flying in formation. Without airplanes. I quickly deduced that someone significant in her life must be a skydiver, so I asked for an explanation. Her face lit up and she said they were photos of her, along with a few friends. "That's me in the pink." I couldn't recognize her, with goggles and helmet and eight thousand feet at her feet.

While lining up her assortment of sterilized tools, she told me that she had been married recently at the airfield, since that is where she first met her husband. I scanned the pictures for a view of someone floating earthward in a lacy white gown but saw nothing like that. Still, I couldn't take my eyes off those photos. There's something amazingly compelling about the sight of real people in concentric circles, grasping hands and falling like dead weights over cornfields. Human snowflakes--no two alike. I needed to understand the appeal, so I engaged her in as much conversation as I could before the long handled mouth mirror garbled my speech.

What she didn't realize was that she was talking to a woman who could have written "Fear of Flying" as an autobiography rather than a work of fiction. A woman who holds her breath for the entire duration of cross county flights. One who won't fly anywhere with just her husband until their youngest child reaches eighteen, making it nearly impossible to plan a second honeymoon. Then I thought, maybe she's like me: she can't stand to be in airplanes so she has to jump out.

Each time she wiped the gunk from the tool onto the gauze pad, I'd ask another question and over the course of the cleaning, I learned about her training, and how many jumps she does in a day, and the challenge of it, and the thrill. She flies. She dives. She soars. She and her friends choreograph a formation in advance and then pile into the same plane to carry it off, no doubt assuming they'll all be alive for the debriefing.

As I lay there I was reminded of a billboard I've seen while driving on the interstate, that advertises an outfit called Skydive Chicago. And every time I pass it, I think: there is no way on or above this earth that I'd ever bring myself to jump out of a small aircraft with an alleged lifesaving device on my back. I asked how she keeps track of when to open her chute. She explained that she carries an altimeter and there's also an audible warning tone that is generated within her helmet when she's approaching rip cord time. Were I to take the plunge, neither of those devices would assist me in the slightest, as I'd be falling somewhere well past unincorporated pass-out yet still within the state of shock.

For all her enthusiasm, she did little to convince me that this was an addiction worth considering. The simple fact is, I don't even like getting into an airplane unless I can do it by walking down a hall (PLEASE don't call it a jetway.) When I step across the threshold, I pretend I'm entering a long, narrow theater equipped with a really small screen and acoustics so poor you have to wear a headset to hear the audio portion.

I left the office that day, complimentary toothbrush in hand, convinced that skydiving is one sport I could die happy never having tried. However, bungee jumping, hang gliding, parasailing and cliff diving are a different story, perhaps to be recounted by the adventure dental hygienist who works on me during my next check-up.