Elmer Roasterfoot – Speaking Of The Universe by Alissa Foulmouth
I am at the CERN laboratory near Geneva to interview one of the greatest minds of the twenty century for my poorly sold cultural quarterly Letters&Loathing. I am walking alongside a leaking metal pipe buried a hundred meters below ground level: the Large Hadron Collider, the biggest ever built particle accelerator and the most expensive and fanciest atomic racetrack in he world. The LHC, or Big Doughnut as it is called here, is buried in a twenty-seven kilometers long circular gallery that spans the territories of France and Switzerland sheltering the gigantic particle accelerator. It is here that billions of atomic particles are accelerated nearly to the speed of light just to end up smashing their heads against other particles racing in opposite direction, their tremendous speed makes passport checking at the French-Swiss border very difficult to the customs service and several millions cases of illegal protonic imigrantion have been reported already.
I am heading through these galleries towards the subject of my interview who is working here to prove one of his most interesting theories regarding the color of dark matter that could turn out to be not so dark but just unclean. The well known dedication to science of this man has compelled him to refuse the housing provided by the institution choosing to inhabit a hollow section of the particle accelerator’s tube where he can be closer in his work and heating is for free. Getting there is a twenty kilometers long walk along the interminable tunnel and I begin to regret having showed up with high heels instead of barefoot and with a bicycle. Luckily the route is dotted at regular intervals with rest areas where hotdog vendors and souvenir stands offer their merchandise. I finally reach my destination wishing I was proton that can do the complete tour in a millionth of a second without breaking a sweat, even with high heels. And there he is, the man I have traveled literally kilometers to meet: Elmer Roasterfoot, doctor in astrophysics, Nobel laureate in physics and a very competent amateur quantum mechanic.
In spite of his age, eighty and counting, I found Dr. Elmer Roasterfoot clad in overalls stained with oil and plutonium and with the upper part of his body buried in the belly of the sophisticated machine trying to roast a wiener in the proton beam. He tells me how in spite of the precise forecasts of his equations and computer simulations of cooking time, he always end up with a wiener that looks and tastes like a mummified gorilla penis. I decline to share his unappealing lunch with him and he motions me to join him sitting on two upturned plutonium canisters.
Dr. Elmer Roasterfoot is not only famous among the scientific community for his prodigious intellectual achievements but also for being the only scientist to win seven years in a row the Einstein look-a-likes contest, and it shows. Although he is younger than Einstein at his age for relativistic reasons his hair is white as polypropylene and seems have been groomed by a typhoon owed to the constant use of the accelerator’s particle beams as hair dryer. His features and facial expression give the face a striking resemblance to a basset hound that smokes marihuana a bit too often. His big nose has a bulbous quality to it and a dark stain of oil on the tip that in close up inspection reveals to be a mole. He too shares with the father of relativity an absentminded appearance consistent with his forgetful nature, as we speak he repeatedly asks me about a discount on the price per square meter of red burgundy and I have to remind him several times that I am here to interview him not to lay the carpet. Once he is convinced we begin our chat.
Q: Let’s begin with an obvious question. What are you doing living here? Don’t they want you at home?
A: I am not sure. I believe I have a house somewhere but I have been here for two weeks already and I can’t be sure. I do remember I used to have a place with a bed inside, I guess is still there. I tried to built a particle accelerator in the basement but the neighbor complained of the noise and then his pear tree grew feet and tried to massacre is family due to radioactive poisoning. I had to come here to scape a lawsuit for damages and also to use this big machine here to test my theory about dark matter which is not as dark as many assume, it just have been observed under insufficient lighting, that’s all.
Q: Yes, I know about that. But let’s talk about your written work. Some of your books of popular science like Big Bang For Beginners or Fun With Photons are text books in the schools and had helped many people to understand some of the most puzzling phenomena of modern science like why light never gets speed tickets or why gravity doesn’t get sued more often being responsible for so many everyday accidents. Why do you write those books?
A: I write those books to help the layperson to understand the Universe in which they live and of which they are also an insignificant part. People should understand what laugh science is, specially asteroids, that look like giant rocky potatoes but could obliterate life on our planet without batting an eye. Science teaching should be useful and fun, that is why I always add some scientific practical advice in my educational books like proper subatomic etiquette and quantum jokes. Do you want to hear a quantum joke?
A: Not really…
A: Two electrons meet at party and the firs electron ask the second electron: “Where are you orbiting these days?” And the second electron answers: “I don’t know and the more you keep asking the less of a chance to find out.” Ah, ha! Because the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, you know. Ah, ah…
Q: Okay, whatever… Let’s talk about your personal life. I understand that you met Albert Einstein during your freshman year at Princeton, where he was working as a gardener and was already a celebrity after appearing in Playboy’s centerfold twice in the same year. You became friends after he found you one night under his bed conducting an experiment on his carpet and he even lent you his mustache for the presentation of your doctoral thesis about the electrical charge of lint. Is that true?
Q: Yes, he lent me his mustache because it was the same mustache he was wearing when he came up with his famous equation E=mc2 and it had been his lucky mustache ever since. But I placed it upside down in my forehead thinking it was his eyebrows and I was the laughing stock of the examiners during my dissertation. They had so much fun that they awarded me a doctorate anyway, although in the wrong field. I obtained a doctorate in ornithology and they didn’t rectified their mistake until I disintegrated some geese in an experiment designed to test their reaction to intense magnetic fields and gamma radiation that ended with the whole family atomized. But old Al was great man, he even told me how to iron my shirts using just quantum physics and an empty tomato can.
Q: After graduation you worked for the nuclear program of the United States army and helped developing the hydrogen bomb. How did you deal with the ethical implications of your work for the military?
A: I didn’t like them but they paid cash and let me drive a jeep inside the lab despite my lack of driving license. They recruited me because I had the highest rate of accidental explosions during laboratory work on recorded academic history. They though I was a natural blowing things up, once I managed somehow to blow a pottery workshop I attended by mistake believing it was a women’s nudist colony. I never have any idea the bombs we made were intended for war, I always believed it was a secret project to get rid of the moles that were ruining the White House’s lawn during the Eisenhower administration. When I found out what they were for I began a hunger strike but I got so hungry that I had to give up before lunch time. I resigned but I got a grant after pestering the project director’s wife with obscene calls for six years.
A: Tell us about your childhood. You were born in a poor chicken farm in the Midwest during the Great Depression and your parents believed that Earth was flat and that God could be counted on to help healing sick poultry. That is hardly an environment conductive to scientific inquiry, specially after your grandmother was burnt by townsfolk accused of witchcraft for postponing her payment of the Sunday school’s fee. When and how you decided to devote your life to science?
A: I was one afternoon sitting under an apple tree and an apple fell in my head causing me a concussion. The incident made me wonder why apples in that region had the consistency of concrete. Then I found out some Englishman with long hair named Newton had done some work on the subject before me and I promised myself no to let him get the upper hand next time. I developed an entirely new gravity theory based on pears instead of apples. I did all the research at the farm orchard and got a mention of my paper in the local farmer’s almanac. I won five sacks of manure that I gave to my father, my old man always had a soft spot for manure. The incident made him realize you could make a decent living with science whatever it was and he sold my sister to a neighbor whose ox had died. My father used the money from the sale to send me to college, although he wasn’t sure what a college was. He though it was like our farm, but with more and bigger chicken, which was not far from the truth.
Q: Some of your popular science-fiction books for children, like Hot Chicks From The Sun, Voracious Amazons From Venus and Looking Into Uranus, have been criticized for its lack of scientific rigor and labeled as pornography for teenagers. Do you believe they are suited for children? Why did you decided to waste your time to write them?
A: First I wrote those books for my kids but then I realized I had none. Then I wrote them again to arouse the scientific curiosity of the younger generations and stimulate their interest in space exploration. I believe that since the dawn of mankind, when our ancestors gazed at the nigh sky for first time and speculated about the nature of stars, men have always wondered if faraway planets might be inhabited by more attractive and promiscuous forms of female life. If that is the case it is man’s duty to travel to those planets and have as much fun as possible. I want my books to be a source of inspiration for the youth, my vivid descriptions of sexual experiences with voracious alien women is a way to inspire future generations of space explorers. Crews on exploration missions will feel better motivated to spend years traveling through space, let’s say to Mars, if they believe they will be welcomed by a party of green big-breasted nymphomaniac female aliens than if they have to dig for frozen dead microbes. Don you agree?
Q: I am not an expert in space exploration but I am on men and I agree you have a point. You have always endorsed the idea of intelligent life in other planets in spite of your refusal to admit its presence on Earth. You once were arrested for climbing to the top of the Empire State Building and screaming for hours embraced to the lighting rod in an attempt to communicate with aliens. What other less asinine actions have you taken to achieve the goal of contacting an alien civilization?
A: I spent thousands of dollars in stamps for letters sent to other planetary systems but I haven’t got any answer yet despite they contained enough stamps for the reply. I think the post service is rather slow past the asteroid belt and my letters might take a few billions of years to get to their destinations, but there is still hope to reach them with the new express service.
A: What about space exploration? You have collaborated with NASA for many years until the recent scandal when hundreds of NASA monogrammed pencils were found in your desk drawer and you were accused of stealing government property. Your projects for NASA have been called many names, most of them synonyms of demented, and never seen the light of day. Which one do you believe is the reason among so many possible candidates that makes people think you are crazy?
A: I am not crazy! I am a visionary! The problem is that I only seem to be able to envision crazy projects. First I proposed to NASA a manned mission to the Sun and those bureaucrats said it was too hot in there and the astronauts would likely perish. Fools! They believed I wanted to go in daytime, but my plan was to travel only at night. Then I devised a trip to Jupiter using an electric powered space probe but we miscalculated the cable length. The probe ran out of line and got unplugged just two-hundred million kilometers from the planet’s surface. Two-hundred million kilometers! We were almost there! A bit more cable and we would have made it! It was a shame because that year the electricity bill was enormous. Then my project for a seaside resort in the Moon was cancelled when I found out the Sea of Tranquility was dry as a brontosaurus bone. I had had enough with those people. I rented some office space in Houston and established my own space agency but the building management wouldn’t let me store my Atlas rockets in the utilities room because the insurance company upstairs complained about the noise and smoke of the firing tests. When I accidentally sent their receptionist to Pluto the federal government closed the operation and confiscated my calculator.
Q: Let’s talk about your theoretical work in astrophysics in which nobody seems to have been harmed yet. Your theory that black holes are just glorified sewers has been frontally opposed by most of the scientific community and accused of being a form of intergalactic racial discrimination against black holes by prominent members the African-American community who had expressed their discomfort by machine-gunning your house in several occasions. Are you an intergalactic racist?
A: No, I am not. I love space, and space is black, isn’t it? If astronomers spend most of their time watching white starts is because they are easier to observe than the black parts where you can’t see shit. I spent twenty years studying the darkest regions of the cosmos through my telescope and I never saw anything interesting because I had forgotten to remove the lens cap, but it wouldn’t have made any difference if I had.
Q: You were awarded the Nobel prize for your discovery of the elusive elemental particle called neutrino, although you had wanted it named helmertron. How did this happen?
A: I was one day sitting on my bed getting dress for a conference after the organizers had sent me back home when I showed up in my pajamas. I was putting my shoes on when I felt something odd inside, the left shoe wouldn’t fit in spite of the fact that I always buy oversized shoes because they are the same price as my size and I get better value. Anyway, I looked inside the shoe but I saw nothing, then I noticed something attached to my sock: it was a neutrino in mint condition, it probably got stuck inside the shoe. I put it my pocket and I flied to Sweden the same day after lunch. I got the Nobel Prize that same evening during a dinner with the King of Sweden in a pizzeria near the Royal Palace. It was very romantic, he was wearing a tuxedo and had his crown on. His Majesty instructed the cook to place the gold medal inside the pizza to surprise me and I lost a tooth filling. I was so happy that I insisted to pay the bill myself until His Majesty told me how much he makes a month and then I asked for seconds and let him pay.
Q: That was a good idea. Certainly better that your infamous nuclear-powered toothbrush. What plans do you have for the future? What are you working on lately? Are you writing something I will understand?
A: Yes. I am writing a book on particle physics for retarded children that I believe you might find rather accessible with just the bare basics on differential calculus. It is a cooking book titled 100 Fat-free Receipts With Subatomic Particles.
We finalize the interview with a quick handshake because hair my doesn’t tolerate radioactivity too well and has caught fire. I leave the genius with his brilliant mind absorbed in calculations and equations while the not so brilliant body that carries it around struggles to free his nose from the magnet in which it is stuck.