I have a Venus flytrap named Frankie. He lives alone in a plastic cup on the patio table, happy in the humid air as he nabs the occasional bug. My wife’s nearby garden is boasting fruit, vegetables, and colorful blooms but I’m content to just watch my little tabletop carnivore do his thing. I’ll get to why I named my bud “Frankie” in a minute but let me just say this: At least he’s a live little bud. That’s more than a lot of people can say about their more imaginary friends.
Here’s a morsel of self-discovery for you, extracted from my several years of blog posts. I have a habit of referring to inanimate objects with terms of endearment. My most recent example: two weeks ago when I discovered the SpaceX satellites launching into outer space. I referred to those technological marvels as “little guys who talk to one another”, and, “when their time is done they’ll return home for a proper burial”. Whether this is just cheap entertainment or an effort to elicit empathy from you readers, I regularly inject life into the lifeless (or in this case, a soul into the metal and mechanical).
I didn’t have to scroll back very far to find other examples. My post a week before the satellites, Hail, Caesium, endeared of all things, a lost capsule of nuclear waste. First, I nicknamed the capsule “Little Caesar”. Then I re-nicknamed it “LC” and noted how detection equipment ultimately “…led the search team right to our little friend”. Were you more relieved to know the waste had been contained or that our little lost friend had finally been found?
Conifer Confetti, a post from last fall, lamented the hours I sacrifice to contain the untold number of pine cones on our property. I referred to the cones as “females” (because biologically, they really are) and in one frustrated burst of endearment, said “It’s like having the world’s biggest sorority row above my backyard, and every house is about to disgorge its girls for a giant party on the ground”. So which is it Dave, a whole lot of “yard waste” or thousands of “little ladies”?
Finally, my series of posts on building the LEGO Grand Piano and LEGO Fallingwater were rife with terms of endearment. All those plastic pieces were like little families bagged up in a single box; couples waiting to be married. At times I thought I lost “one of the little guys”, and I felt sorry for the leftovers who’d never realize their destiny of being a part of the completed model.
This topic was inspired by an article in The Atlantic about the spacecraft Cassini. Six years ago, Cassini completed a 13-year data-gathering cruise around Saturn and its moons. Utterly alone and running out of fuel, Cassini turned towards the planet, eventually burning up in the atmosphere. As NASA described the final moments, Cassini “fought to keep its antenna pointed at Earth as it transmitted its farewell”. An entire room of scientists at Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory fell into tears. Cassini is the perfect example of – big word here – anthropomorphism. In simpler terms, the more “alive” a machine appears to be, the more empathetic the response from humans. Some robots are deliberately anthropomorphic, a subtopic we just don’t have enough words for today.
As I watch Frankie ingest another insect, it’s time to reveal the genesis of his name. Maybe you don’t remember Frankie Avalon in his prime but you do remember the 1970s movie Grease. Avalon showed up in a memorable scene, descending a staircase dressed in white while singing “Beauty School Dropout” to Didi Conn’s “Frenchy”. Guess what? Avalon had an even bigger hit: Venus. That song is a plea to the goddess of love to bring him romance; someone pretty and very much alive. Okay, so my Frankie isn’t pretty, but at least he’s alive. That’s more than I can say about all those other little buds who keep showing up in my blog posts.
Some content sourced from The Atlantic article, “How to Mourn a Space Robot”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.