The Reluctant Townie: Eclipse viewer for sale

The Reluctant Townie: Eclipse viewer for sale

I suppose I should pay more attention to the rotational idiosyncrasies of our solar system, because last week's Great American Eclipse took me by surprise.

I was first clued into this once-in-a-lifetime planetary alignment by a stranger making small talk during my daughter's dance class. She confided that she was looking into taking a train to Carbondale to watch the eclipse but had waited too long to buy her ticket and now found the fare to be prohibitively expensive.

"Why would you go to Carbondale to watch an eclipse?" I asked (and, in my head, finished the sentence "... or to do anything?")

"Because," she said, her eyes pooling wide and her voice reverent, "Carbondale is in the path of totality."

I have some vague memory of watching an eclipse on the basketball court outside of my grade school, being underwhelmed at the result and wishing I were at home playing Sega Genesis.

Before writing this column, I did some low-level internet sleuthing to pinpoint the exact date of that eclipse, but none of the dates seemed to line up with my memory (either having occurred too late in the summer or on a year when I hadn't attended grade school). This may or may not be proof that we are trapped in a virtual simulation of our world, where an omnipotent artificial intelligence is punishing us for resisting it in a previous, corporeal version of our reality.

Or it could just be that I'm getting confused in my old age. I clearly remember making a pinhole projector with my classmates, and I remember being dressed in a pair of checkered Lycra biking shorts and thinking, at the time, that I would someday live to regret such a fashion choice.

While I may not remember the exact dates or times or, in fact, any pertinent details whatsoever of my last eclipse viewing (clearly it was a memorable experience), the one thing that stuck with me was the dire warning that came from my parents and teachers.

"Do not look directly at the eclipse, or you will burn your eyes right out of your head!"

In my life, I have broken a rule or two, and I generally believe in challenging the status quo as a personal philosophy, but I have not, and will not, ever look directly at an eclipse. I prefer my eyeballs just where they are, thank you.

Had I kept track of the Great American Eclipse, I would have been prepared to view it with certified eclipse-grade protective eyewear (including, but not limited to, a welding mask). But as it turned out, I was not prepared and spent most of the Great American Eclipse fretting that my 2-year-old or 6-year-old were going to inadvertently scorch their retinas.

Depending on your level of experience with young children, you may or may not recognize the futility of prohibiting a child from doing any specific thing.

For example, obviously, you would not want a child to stick a piece of silverware in an electrical outlet. But any savvy parent knows that you DON'T TELL your child not to stick a piece of silverware into an electrical outlet, because that is the quickest, most effective way to trigger a self-fulfilling prophecy of curiosity.

So I debated whether to warn my daughters about the potential dangers of the eclipse at all, and if so, the best way in which to approach it.

No matter what path I took, the 2-year-old was going to be a roll of the dice; provided she even understood my warning, her age afforded her very little impulse control. The 6-year-old was a different story — she is open to reasoning (under the right circumstances) and self-aware enough to know she enjoys the full functionality of her eyeballs, but she also has a strong, stubborn streak of independent thought that I refuse to take any blame for.

"You know," I said conversationally, "during an eclipse you aren't supposed to look directly at the sun."

"Why not?" asked Alpha Daughter.

"The radiation from the sun will burn your eyes out."

"No, that's not true."

"Um. Yes, it is."

"No, it's not. I've looked at the sun before."

"Gasp! You have not!"

"Yes, I have. A lot of times. My eyes aren't burned out."

"But you can damage them forever."

"Nobody lives forever, so that can't be true."

"You should not be looking at the sun."

"Well, I do."

"Well, stop it. And definitely don't look at the eclipse."

"It doesn't even hurt."

"Stop. Doing. It."

Without a pair of fancy, NASA-approved eclipse-viewing sunglasses, we were forced to do things the old-fashioned way: Google search.

A few hours later, standing in the backyard with her eye squinting into a cereal box, which she helped me convert into an instrument of science using packing tape and aluminum foil, my 6-year-old was moderately impressed with the tiny crescent-shaped point of light dancing around on the bottom of the box.

"You know," I said, "it's a crescent because the moon is blocking our view of the sun. It's ... eclipsing it."

"Wow, that's pretty cool I guess!"

But five minutes later, she was back inside, playing Sonic the Hedgehog.

Public service announcement: The next solar eclipse is April 8, 2024. I have an eclipse viewer for sale (deluxe Quaker Oatmeal brand), $100 or best offer. Shipping and handling may apply.

Ryan Jackson didn't have to explain to his daughters why the president looked directly at the eclipse, because some things explain themselves. He can be reached at

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