Ruthie in the sky with O’Ryan

Just a few days ago I was wondering how Calvin Trillin was doing — he’s in my age cohort, five years older than me, so I have a certain fellow feeling — and then Andy Sleeper pointed me to a Shouts and Murmurs piece of his in the most recent (May 1st) New Yorker: “The Irish Constellation: Until about five years ago, I was under the impression that Orion was spelled O’Ryan”. Andy was reminded of Ruthie from One Big Happy, who does her best to turn the unfamiliar into something she recognizes.

But good to see Trillin doing what he does so well.

(On the title of this posting: my apologies to Lennon (& McCartney).)

The constellation O’Ryan, as imagined by Tomi Um

Now that everybody’s confessing everything, I’m ready to confess that, until about five years ago, I was under the impression that the constellation Orion was the constellation O’Ryan. I thought of it as the Irish constellation, sort of the way that actors refer to “Macbeth” as “the Scottish play.” Had I never seen “Orion” in print? I had, in fact, but I suppose I thought it was pronounced “oar-e-un.” I thought it was some other constellation that had nothing to do with the constellation people were referring to when they pointed to the sky and said what I heard as “Do you see O’Ryan’s Belt?” This is not so crazy. I know somebody who, not having been read to much when he was a child, grew up thinking that “Pat the Bunny” was a book about a bunny named Pat. These things happen.

My customary answer to the question about whether I could see the belt, by the way, was “No.” I have been called a constellation denier. I don’t accept the term. Like many people who are called climate-change deniers — say, the people in our government who are now in charge of doing something about climate change — I prefer to say that the jury is still out. There may be definable clusters of stars up there which can be seen from Earth as constellations, or there may not be. If there are, I can’t make them out. When somebody asks me if I can see Orion’s Belt, I sometimes vary a simple “No” with something like “No, but if you look a bit to the left I think you can see Penelope’s Pants Suit.”

It was during one of those Penelope’s Pants Suit occasions that the misapprehension I’d been under was revealed to me. When asked if I could see the belt, I said, after shaking my head, “I always pictured an Irish guy wearing suspenders instead of a belt, anyway.”

“What Irish guy are you talking about?” my companion said.

I’d rather not relate the rest of the conversation. It still stings.

It goes on, hilariously, to the International Astronomical Union, the astronomer Leo Szczepański of the University of Lodz (in Poland), and the Irish character actor Barry Fitzgerald.

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