Living in the dark – the life of a planetarian

Seth Jarvis

As I understand things, the point of this blog is to provide readers with a glimpse into the individual thought processes, passions and vexations that merge to explain why the planetarium is the way it is.

I’m totally OK with that.  I completely love this place and the staff who make it such a cool place to be. The folks here all have amazing tales that are worth telling.

Let me tell you one such tale, and then you tell me if you want to hear more of them. If you don’t, I’ll stick to writing about things like cross-quarter dates and the significance of the Orion Nebula to the lives of stars. Those are pretty interesting stories, too.

Here we go.

I was hired as a part-time usher at Hansen Planetarium (15 South State Street) on a Wednesday in the fall of 1978. $2.50 per hour! Woot!

Four days later, Sunday, I was thirty minutes into working my very first shift and helping people find seats in the Star Theatre for the 7:00 p.m. showing of “Springtime of the Universe.” I had a blue plastic badge with my name engraved on it (Seth J.) and the official usher’s flashlight with the red filter and everything. Pretty cool.

As the lights were dimming and the music was swelling and “Jake,” the mechanical robot-like star projector was rising majestically from his hole in the middle of the room, a couple of young guys about my age whom I’d earlier helped find aisle seats near the back became noticeably agitated.  I went over to them to see what the trouble was.

They were dressed in jeans and t-shirts, and began every sentence with an emphatic, “Dude!”

The show’s narration was beginning so I crouched a little in the aisle next to them and whispered to the closest of the two, “Is everything OK here?”

The aisle-seat guy whispers loudly “Dude, what show is this?”

I whispered back, “This is Springtime of the Universe.”

He didn’t like this at all and fairly levitated in his seat, “Dude! What happened to Laser Floyd?” No whispering now, this guy was upset.

“Please keep your voice down. Laser Floyd only plays on Fridays and Saturdays.”

At that point the guy next to him reaches past his buddy, grabs my tie (we wore ties back then) and pulls me down until our noses are almost touching.

He was wild-eyed and trembling. His words formed slowly, but were very loud. “BUT…WE’VE…ALREADY…DROPPED… ACID!”

I escorted them out of the theatre, got them started on refunds with the cashier, and went back into to dark, domed room.

I have absolutely no memory of the rest of my very first shift working for a planetarium.

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