The Stupid 365 Project, Day 53: Loose Bits

November 22nd, 2010

Just some disconnected pieces.

The worst night’s sleep of my life was in a hut on the Krueger Game Reserve in South Africa.  I was working on a television show called “Scientific American Frontiers” with Alan Alda, with whom I was sharing the hut.  It had thick whitewashed walls and a thatched roof and looked just fine by daylight.  At night, however, the 124 trillion occupants of the thatch directly above us– things with more legs than there are stars in the sky — began to rain down upon us in an orchestrated effort either to eat us alive or else to scare us to death and then eat us.  We wound up under tents of suspended sheets, listening to the little aliens hit the cotton, until the sky began to pale, at which time we were outside in less time than it takes to decide not to buy broccoli.  I have to say, if I ever again have to be trapped in a verminous tent with a star, I hope it’s Alan Alda.  An amazing guy.

The first time I ever went to the Philippines — working on the worst movie ever made, and that includes “Showgirls” — I was just dropping off to sleep in my hotel room when I heard something hit the floor in the bathroom with a sound like a palm slapping a wall.  I went in, and ambitiously trying to get over the lip of the shower stall was a centipede eight inches long.  I could actually hear its 13 zillion legs scraping on the rough-tiled floor.  I called down to the front desk, and they sent up an armed guard who looked at it, looked at me as if I were the wuss of the world, and then pulled out his enormous pistol and pointed it at the centipede.  Then he laughed uproariously, releasing into the air the hearty fumes of a fine Scotch.  Ultimately, he stepped on it, making a sound I will carry to my grave, grabbed some toilet paper, and flushed it.  Not much sleep that night, either.

But enough about vermin.

When I was nine and living in Washington, DC, I was on a Saturday-morning TV show called (anyone who rags me about this is roadkill) “Ask It Basket.”  It was hosted by a very nice woman whom I retroactively realize was a vigorously out lesbian and produced by her partner.  This was pretty early for lesbians to be totally and comfortably out.  Anyway, I was one of four unendurable little smart-asses on a panel, and every week they’d bring in an expert of some kind who would answer five minutes’ worth of questions from the host — just enough to prime the four little camera-hogs in the corner, and then we’d ask questions.

In one corner of the set was a big basket with one of those bubble machines in it and once or twice each show they’d turn on the bubbles and the station announcer, who was up really early for a Saturday, would ask a question — as the basket, you see.  Have I lost anyone?  See, the bubbles would start and the voice — the announcer’s voice would seem to come out of the basket.  Okay?  Good.  Forget it.  One morning we had an actual rocket scientist as a guest and he was talking about super-cold environments, and the basket (the announcer, remember?) asked him something about something, God only knows what.  The important thing is that he answered by taking a carnation and dipping it into some liquid nitrogen and then knocking it against the edge of the demonstration table, and it shattered with what seemed to me like the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard in my life.  I wanted to hear it every morning forever.

This could go on forever, but I won’t let it.

9 Responses to “The Stupid 365 Project, Day 53: Loose Bits”

  1. Larissa Says:

    lol. I dig it. What a random little collection of events-I think–correction–I know I would have actually died staying in that hut all night. Perhaps it would have been ruled Insect-icide? (c;

    Regardless-you should save up the rest of the odds and ends and use ’em for whenever you get really stuck on day 362…(c:

  2. Suzanna Says:

    I hope this isn’t treading on thin road kill ice but I would pay anything to see a clip of you on Ask-It-Basket.

    Your centipede and verminous thatched hut story way outdo my one vivid encounter with, um, wildlife. I’ll tell it anyway. We were in Kauai in this otherwise wonderful little house when I was just dozing off and felt something, something really big, skitter across the tops of my feet. I screamed, threw the sheets back and saw the culprit, a roach the size of an ashtray. I screamed, it ran off the edge of our bed, and I ran in the opposite direction like my life depended on it. Don’t normally get so worked up about bugs when I see them but this was big and ugly and it touched me!!!! In the tropics no insect is dainty.

  3. EverettK Says:

    Well, I know you’re an old fart, but “go on forever” is kind of stretching it…

    Question: is CRASHED only available on Amazon? Or is it available at some other stores in ePub format? I did a search of Barnes & Noble and didn’t find it, and have tried several other ebook search engines with no luck.

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Riss, I like writing these little pieces of bric-a-brac; not everything that amuses or interests me is worth a whole post. I’ll probably do this once ever week or two. (I keep thinking a bunch of categories will suddenly emerge and make things easier, but they don’t.)

    Suzanna, vermin in the tropics are really ambitious. I’ve seen spiders the size of teacups, eight-pound rats, moths with a six-inch wingspan and the horrifying hissing cockroaches. This is why I avoid in the tropics budget hotels I wouldn’t think twice about in colder climates.

    Everett, I’ll bet I can write this stuff longer than you’re willing to read it.

    CRASHED is Amazon-only now but soon to be on B&N and Apple. Won’t put it on Kobo.

  5. Susan Says:

    OK . . . I feel out of my league here, but I’m going to tread in anyway. I’ve never been to the tropics and I’ve certainly never shared a tent with a star (not yet, anyway). I recently learned that I can kill a 2 inch centipede and not die of fright in the process. Tim, I enjoy your ramblings and I intend to read them as long as you can write them.

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Susan, if Everett feels at home here, no one is out of her/his league. Sharing a tent with a star is a variable experience, depending on the star. Sometimes I’d prefer the cockroach.

    Welcome, and please do come back.

  7. Laren Bright Says:

    That frozen carnation thingy is how the congressional panel investigating Morton (when it rains, it pours) Thiacol found out why the O ring ruptured on the space shuttle causing such a catastrophe.

    As I understand it, after hearing a bunch of dissembling blather designed to obfuscate, one of the panel took (I forget what), dunked it into his ice water and shattered it on the desk– illustrating that the temp was too cold on the morning of the launch, those in charge knew it but went ahead with the launch anyway, and the result was the spectacular fireworks in the sky.

    Maybe he was one of the kids on your TV show.

  8. EverettK Says:

    Close Laren. I saw that broadcast of part of the panel, where a famous (and delightfully entertaining) physicist, Richard Feynman, took a piece of the rubber O-ring dunked it in a glass of ice water for a few minutes. When he took it out the O-ring was clearly non-pliable, very easily demonstrating that the O-ring material was not ‘qualified’ for use in the freezing weather conditions at the time.

    A brief recounting of the sad state of NASA at the time, and Feynman’s part in the Roger’s commision, can be read at:

    Rogers Commission and the role of Richard Feynman

    He was an incredibly smart man, a great teacher, and a very witty writer. I have a book of his around here somewhere, wherein he recounts his experiences as a young man on the Manhattan Project, and how he used to drive the government security guys crazy by cracking the safes that were used to store sensitive documents. It may have been, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” but I’m not sure.

    Very entertaining stuff anyway.

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hey, Laren, hey, Everett. Play nicely. Feynman was an amazing guy. I heard a talk by Herman Wouk, 98 years old or something and still writing, and he told two Feynman stories. When Wouk was writing THE WINDS OF WAR, he went to Feynman to learn about the science behind the atomic bomb. He apparently got a little wound up explaining his novel, because eventually Feynman said, “Mr. Wouk. As long as you’re talking, you’re not learning.”

    Later, in preparation for another book, he consulted Feynman again, and Feynman asked Wouk if he knew Calculus. When Wouk said no, Feynman said, “Too bad. Calculus is the language God thinks in.”

    He was also an enthusiastic drummer, I think.

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