Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet

I blew up the planet today. Twice, actually.

Oh, wait—maybe I’m not supposed to say things like that on the Internet? Let me clarify.

For the past couple of years the shower curtain in our main bathroom has been a world map. It’s been quite useful for things like finding Madagascar, checking the spelling of Namibia, or looking up answers to crossword puzzle clues like “the capital of Eritrea.” But it has its limitations.

For one thing, it’s flat, which means the sizes of land masses near the top and bottom are distorted. I don’t mind Canada or Greenland seeming bigger than they really are, but I’m not sure the wide expanse of Russia needs to loom any larger than it is in reality. And if Antarctica is really the size the shower curtain seems to think it is, I’m not sure why we need to be concerned about global warming.

Besides, the printing on the shower curtain isn’t precisely aligned, which can be disorienting. I do know that the U.S. state labeled “Kansas” is really Oklahoma, but I’m a little confused to see that Cape Town appears to be located out in the ocean about half an inch southwest of the coast of Africa.

What I really wanted was a globe. But not, cool as it might be, a traditional classroom type spin-with-your-finger globe on a stand. It would take up too much space, for one thing. And it would be too permanent. Stuff happens: nations rename themselves, divided countries reunite, united countries separate, national borders change. For someone who ignored geography in school because it was so boring, I’m already confused enough without relying on an out-of-date globe.

The solution, found after a quick online search, was a relatively cheap, readily replaceable, and reliably spherical inflatable globe. Sixteen inches in diameter—big enough to be readable but small enough not to need its own room. I ordered several. Pre-inflation, they would be easy to mail to distant grandkids who might be more geographically curious than I was at their ages.

The trouble with an inflatable globe, of course, is that you have to inflate it. Here are some of the things one can learn in that process.

1. Read the directions carefully. Otherwise you might not know to “blow into valve with mouth only.”

2. There’s nothing quite like the smell of a freshly-unpackaged plastic object. Except the taste of a freshly-unpackaged plastic object.

3. If, theoretically speaking, you’re blowing into the valve of a big plastic ball and you happen to lose your grip on the stem, a partially inflated globe jet-propelled by escaping air might shoot around the room in an erratic frenzy until it collapses. This is not necessarily to be taken as a commentary on the current state of world affairs.

4. When, after industrious effort, you hold the world in both hands, with your left thumb on California and your right thumb on Zambia, you realize it’s smaller than you expected and looks to be in need of respectful handling.

Fortunately, this globe came with instructions for proper care and maintenance. Such as: Avoid contact with hot or sharp objects. Do not attempt to remove every wrinkle. And be aware that, with too much hot air, it “can become defect.”

Not bad advice for a small and fragile planet.

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