Another Strange But True Short Story Extravaganza
Nonfiction. Duh. Short and true stories. 'Extravaganza' is just a marketing buzzword, don't get your hopes up.
Random Factoid I Picked Up Watching QI Clips on Youtube Instead of Doing What I Should’ve Been Doing #1
Michael J. Fox’s middle name is Andrew.
Snitches (And Dummkopfs) Get Stitches
Basically, due to the unregulated rise of electronic scooters in Europe’s major cities, on the 28th of July 2019 I was sitting in a Krankenhaus on the northern tip of Germany. As far as I can tell the words that make up Krankenhaus separately translate to ‘suffer’ and ‘house’, which is the worst possible way to describe a hospital that I can think of. The staff do not speak English, as is their right. We do not speak German, which is a huge mistake. Broken, embarrassed Deutsch squeezed through Australian accents endears us to exactly no one, and the ladies behind the desk do not smile at all when I’m introduced as the Boy with the Kaputen Fuss. Fuss is foot. And my foot is kaput. Sliced, swollen and weeping. In some need of medical attention and generating its own heat; a result of both the foot’s growing infection and its seething, indignant rage that the rest of me had e-scootered it into this Stralsund house of suffering.
There is a universality to hospital waiting rooms. They share a purgatory kind of vibe, but that goes without saying. This Krankenhaus also has outdated magazines (except in German); some side-eyeing of fellow patients to try to quantify and rank their infectiousness, and general invalidness, comparative to you; and a seemingly constant cough, the actual source of which is either invisible or imagined. There’s a vending machine style coffee dispenser that doesn’t quite work. A crying child. Chairs designed in the depths of Hell to break your spirit and somehow slow the passage of time, no matter how much you writhe. But there’s no triage. First come first treated, no matter what electronically charged children’s toy put you here. Which is unique, I feel. Methodical. German, maybe, but a little harrowing, because the man in the neck brace and wheelchair, intermittently groaning between bouts of sleep/unconsciousness/a full blow pain coma, who arrived seconds after we sat down, must sit very still (a result of all the braces) and watch as I awkwardly and apologetically limp around him.
I’m given three stitches. My discharge form included the word “E-Scooter” three times in its German medicalese, and I still think about that guy in the wheelchair all the time.
Dinosaurs are older than Saturn's rings.
Did you know that skywriting was done as early as 1915? Pioneered by aerial exhibitionist Art Smith—famous on Wikipedia for being ‘the second overnight mail service pilot to die on duty’—who was said to have finished each of his high-octane, high-flying stunts by writing, in paraffin oil expelled from the tail of his aeroplane, ‘Good night’. Now that’s a cool move. These days skywriting is only used for concise political activism, Subaru dealership sales and marriage proposals that seem kind of demanding because they don’t have question marks. The sky is full of MARRY ME’s, and I think we’ve lost our way. Writing ‘Good night’ was a perfect symbol of the human condition: a whole lot of death-defying acrobatics, ultimately for naught, to really say not much at all, and then one day you die delivering the mail overnight. Art Smith flew an aeroplane at breakneck speeds and angles to offer a basic human nicety. One that was inevitably and nearly immediately blown away by the wind. I just think we could do with more of that.
A person who is invisible wouldn’t be able to see anything.
The View From University
One of the electives that part-time undergraduate arts students often take (for its renowned and practically guaranteed passability) is ASTR178: Introduction to Astronomy. It’s mostly about the geology of other planets, some stuff on the sun and moon, a whole week on Jupiter—and it’s a little boring at times but is nonetheless an easy pass.
The only problem is that, occasionally, without warning, some humongous number is casually dropped into a lecture. Like, the planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old. That’s 4,500,000,000 years. And you thought Avatar went for a long time. Plus Mars is 257.33 million kilometres from us. The next closest star to ours is 4.3 lightyears away, around 40 trillion kilometres, which at the fastest interstellar speed we have achieved so far would take us 81,000 years to reach. Our solar system, in which our Earth is like a small grape adrift in the Pacific Ocean, is just one of tens of billions of other solar systems in our galaxy. There are one hundred billion galaxies in the universe.
Your average part-time undergraduate arts student did not choose a part-time undergraduate arts degree because of their faculty with numbers, and yet even they can start to get some empirical sense of how literally inconceivably, fucked-up massive the material universe is. They’ll probably write a poem about it or something. The student tends to not be entirely sure what they’ve learnt, or what it means, and will finish the semester with a vague feeling of absolute insignificance that part-time undergraduate arts students will soon come to know as ‘a routine Tuesday’.
If you’re in a lift, and the cables snap, and you’re plummeting to your death, your best chance of survival is to lie flat on the floor. For an even better chance of survival, always take the stairs.
Fear and Loathing In Yellowstone National Park
There was no place for gray wolves in America’s oldest and most beautiful National Park, for the wolves were very rude. They huffed and puffed, ate livestock, and really made hiking kinda dicey. So the US Federal Government—and well, God Bless Them—systematically killed every single gray wolf in the park by the Year of Our Lord 1926.
Without any apex predators around, the elk turned Yellowstone into a veritable utopia. They frolicked, probably, and loafed around, and came together in big herds to eat all the trees in their immediate vicinity. Yum. Seventy years of elk heaven on earth, baby.
In 1995 the US Government—and hey, woah, God Bless Them Again—wanted to get gray wolves off their endangered species list because endangered species are very expensive to take care of. So sixty-six wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park, and pretty soon they were back to their old wolfing ways. Mauling livestock, growing their population dramatically, disrupting an array of human industries and activity, impersonating grandmas.
Well okay that last one was a gag. Man, Little Red Riding Hood must be some moron.
And so the beautiful but destructive gray wolf, and the havoc they wreaked on Yellowstone’s ranchers and hikers and grandmas (maybe), became a symbol of the intrusive, misguided, overreaching power of the United States Federal Government—which, I don’t know if you know, is something Americans don’t take much kindly to. For ten whole years wolves were a divisive political issue. Local senators ran for office on pro- or anti-gray wolf platforms. By 2010 there were almost two-thousand of them in the U.S. of A’s prettiest, oldest park.
And while the humans were busy turning wolves into a polarising bureaucratic metaphor, the elk were busy running away. They had to! No more time for frolicking, baby, the goddam wolves are back. The Yellowstone elk had to stay vigilant! Sharp! ALERT! They had to keep moving around, staying in small gangs, nibbling only briefly at the trees in their immediate vicinity before legging it, for fear of the wolves. And like arboreal magic, the willow and aspen trees of Yellowstone National Park got stronger, thicker, more abundant. Trees that had been eaten in the sapling stage for seventy years under the Tyranny of the Lazy Elk were able to grow to their full height, rejuvenating Yellowstone’s mighty canopy and providing habitat for songbirds. Plus the beavers came back. For real. They took all the willow they could carry and built dams and ponds, recharging the water table and providing cold water homes for fish. And all this new food brought out the ravens and the grizzly bears (yikes) and the eagles. Yellowstone exploded with life like it hadn’t seen since the 19th century. All thanks to the apex predator, the homecoming king: the gray wolf.
There’s probably a smug point in there about the value of fear, or the absurdity and stupidity of human politics, or elk mass-psychology, or America, or the beautiful interdependent complexity of the natural world, or some such shit. Feel free to make it in your own time. I’ve got stuff to do.
60% of facts on QI are proved wrong within fifteen years of being broadcast.
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