The way to a man's heart is still through his stomach, but it doesn't hurt if you can amaze him with some random trivia, too.
We have a rule in my kitchen. You are welcome to keep me company while I am cooking, but you have to sit in the chair against the wall so that you aren't in my way. I don't like people getting underfoot while I am cooking.
So there is a designated chair in the kitchen for visitors. The Boy is now accustomed to being in his special seat while I make him meals. He keeps me company by reading to me, oftentimes something by Dave Barry, an essay on film by Roger Ebert or Pauline Kael, once in a while something about the history of baseball (for my general edification and improvement of character), but lately he's been reading a Bill Bryson book to me.
This morning, while I was making The Boy fresh berries and cream, he was flipping through his book and quizzed me, "So, what happened on October 4, 1957?"
It took me a split second to reply. "That's when the Russians launched Sputnik."
Although my back was turned to him, I could feel the waves of astonishment emanating from his chair. "How did you know that?!!"
"Because I do." (I think pulling that information out of my head at 7am is actually more impressive than knowing the fact itself.)
Challenged, the almost picked for Jepoardy contestant continued, "Okay, smarty. What was the name of the American satellite program created in response to Sputnik?"
"WHY DO YOU KNOW THESE THINGS?!"
Apparently, this little interaction has been impressive enough to launch me into the stratosphere of girlfriends. I may be at the forefront of the imaginary Girlfriend Race.
How do I know these things? The heyday of the American space program happened years before I was born, or at least in the years before I was sentient. When other freshman girls in my English class were deciding what sorority they might pledge, I was reading a galley copy (still don't remember how I got it) of an autobiography of Chuck Yeager and his stories about flying the X-1 into the history books.
I grew up in the era of the space shuttle, the minivan of outer space. But inside I pined for my missed opportunity to see the first moon landing as it was happening, instead of in movies and television programs. Of course I was interested in the Mariner and Viking probes, but they were unmanned and not in the same realm of unadulterated human courage.
Why do I care? Because to me, the space program of the 50s, 60s and 70s represents what Americans can do when they want to. That we can use math and physics and engineering in ways that make science exciting and hopeful. I realize this is a very simplistic and optimistic view of our space program, and intellectually I know that these achievements are driven by military and strategic interests. But the offshoot of this exploration is that it shows us that there's so much more to our universe than the day-to-day lives we lead.
That we might be infinitesimally tiny but we can still do great things.
Right after I finished The Boy's breakfast, I turned on the radio to hear that the space shuttle has a new mission this Saturday: to fix the toilet on the International Space Station. And while the crew is up there, they are going to leave a Buzz Lightyear doll in the space station, "in order to help educate children across the country."
Gone are the days when having a man walking across the lunar surface in a spacesuit, his only protection against the unforgiving extremes of space, would inspire kids to be interested in science, to inspire them to have goals and dreams. Now we have Disney and Pixar to educate them instead.