South Florida legend Jack Horkheimer died last week, a man known for running the planetarium at the Miami Museum of Science and, more famously, for his PBS show, Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer, begun in 1976 and still available on its own YouTube channel.
Like many people, I always thought Jack was a little more than odd in his enthusiasm for observing the heavens, as much as I enjoyed astronomy myself. More than most kids, I was obsessed with the stars. I had a star chart taped to the wall next to the window in my room, the window that gave the best view of the night sky. I had a telescope, through which, on a really clear cold night in Maine, I might be able to see Jupiter's Great Red Spot. I knew the names of most constellations. I can still find the Pole Star in a few seconds if the night is clear enough here in the burbs. But Jack was in another galaxy as far as I was concerned. I always watched, and I always learned.
The particularly surreal aspect of watching Star Gazer is how in the early days - when it was called Star Hustler -- it used to air as the last show before sign-off -- back in the days when the broadcast day ended with the national anthem, the test card and tone, then white noise and snow. When I stayed up late watching PBS in the late 70s and early 80s, it was always to watch two shows: Monty Python's Flying Circus and Doctor Who, both of which had a profound impact on my sense of humor and taste in science fiction. When, after all the silly walks and robot dogs, Jack Horkheimer appeared, preceded by that electronic cascade of Debussy and the announcer reciting, "Some people hustle pool,/Some people hustle cars,/But have you ever heard about/The man who hustles stars?" -- well, I wondered at first if it wasn't part of the BBC fare somehow. But this guy talked Murican. And Jack sat on the rings of Saturn and laid it all out for us -- the universe. And it was good.
Rest in peace, Jack -- hopefully you're hanging around the rings of Saturn. You were our glorious geek. Now, I gotta figure out where I left my telescope.
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