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SHORT STORIES

March 30, 1986|PATT MORRISON

Paint Your Module Lois Cohen, with the stroke of a paintbrush, boldly goes where no man or woman has gone before--anywhere in the universe she likes. The staff artist at the Griffith Observatory paints her visions of the stars scanned by the observatory's telescope. She may turn out watercolors of a constellation, or an acrylic depiction of a Venusian landscape. Most recently, she has whipped out a canvas concept of a neutron star and a painting of what people used to think Mars looked like. It is new to many of us, but it is not new to Cohen. "I did this before, in the motion-picture industry." The movie-industry illustrator moved from down-to-earth musicals like "An American in Paris," launching into space before NASA did with illustrations for sci-fi programs and such films as "Lost in Space," "Time Tunnel" and the most enchanting Jules Verne of all, "Around the World in 80 Days." Then came a "temporary program" job call for the observatory. Twelve years later, she is still there. Unless, of course, she's off to Uranus, this week, to do a family portrait of its new-found moons. It's That Topaz Time of Month Remember mood rings? You gave one to your loved one so you'd know when to keep your distance, right? They've gone med-tech. A New York company is whimsically recycling the idea with a premenstrual-syndrome ring, in "silver or goldtone," to help the wearer "get in touch with those PMS discomfort feelings" and to monitor changes: When the stone turns black, you're tense--what else? When it's topaz, you're anxious. Jade (just the color, not the gem) means tranquillity, and blue means you're at your most charming. But hey--this ring is not just another pretty bauble. It can help to set up "a diary of symptoms, which could be used by a health professional in treatment of the symptoms," the company advises in its press release. (Coming soon: a matching crystal ball to hang around your neck, in case you need a second opinion.) Salisbury Steak Under Glass It entered America's living rooms just about the same time its namesake did, and for 32 years it made wrinkled peas and Salisbury steak the staples of American prime time. Soon the TV dinner in the metal tray, as familiar an icon as Uncle Miltie then and Bill Cosby now, will be no more. Swanson, the company whose hallmarked aluminum logo appeared at the bottom of the tray--if you ever scraped off enough of the gravy to see it--is killing off its aluminum tray for a compartmented PET dish. That's polyethylene terephthalate--dense, microwaveable or oven-ready, but just not the same thing, even if you do eat in front of the VCR. The aluminum tray made its debut in 1954; the granddaddy of all frozen dinners, and the last of billions of them will be popped into an oven sometime this summer. The Modesto plant has already stopped making them. But at least one tray will remain, forever venerated under Plexiglas in the so-called Swanson Museum Collection. And executives at Campbell Soup Co., the mega-mother-food company that owns Swanson, are talking about nominating it for the Smithsonian--probably for a spot on a TV tray not far from Archie Bunker's chair.

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