Last Saturday, my alarm went off at the very uncivilized hour of Oh-dark-early. The incessant screeching from my smartphone at 3AM was even more annoying than usual. Perhaps my having gone to bed past midnight had something to do with it? With considerable effort, I pushed myself out of bed, splashed some cold water on my face in hopes of reviving myself to an acceptable level of consciousness, chugged a cup of coffee for good measure, then quickly grabbed a fistful of nails, a hammer, and got busy. Today demanded multi-tasking by a jack-of-all-trades, in record time. There was no time for self-pity by the sleep-deprived!
The occasion? My workplace was celebrating its 75th Anniversary by flinging its gates wide open to nearly quarter million civilians from the general public, in a grand Open House event. There were loud bands playing, crazy science experiments on-display, 150 roach-coaches (food trucks) offering nearly every ethnic cuisine imaginable. There were “backstage” tours of laboratories and wind tunnels. Surely some kind of world record was broken for the largest concentration of porta-johns on site. This rare act of transparency and sharing at my workplace was particularly unusual, considering that on any other day, the gated perimeter would be tightly secured by uniformed guards wearing a dazzling assortment of devices that can be used to kill or maim you.
Several weeks earlier, StarMan had concocted a brilliant idea: hosting our own exhibit at the Open House that would showcase research that our science team is doing in the field of extragalactic astronomy (the study of galaxies beyond our galaxy, the Milky Way). The previous day, we had designed and printed 2 very large posters highlighting the research areas of each member of our research team. The posters were huge — 5 feet long! Despite StarMan’s annoying skepticism, I assured him that I knew just how to construct some simple stands on which to mount the posters; how dare he doubt my carpentry skills! My morning tasks? Quickly cobble together two wooden stands on which posters would be tacked. And … finish the construction of two “light boxes” in which to place two lovely, laser-etched crystal glass renditions of a spiral galaxy and the Cosmic Web that had arrived in the mail just in time for today’s event. (These light boxes/display cases, by the way, were the reason I had burned the midnight oil earlier that night).
Halfway into the poster stand construction, I made the executive decision to de-scope the whole damn project. I was unexpectedly running out of building materials, not to mention that the design that had seemed so innovative the day before now seemed quite flawed. My poor sleep-deprived brain was simply incapable of producing alternative strategies, and I didn’t want to admit defeat to StarMan. The solution? Slap a poster on either side of the one stand that I had managed to build and declare victory!
We heaved the stand into the Subaru, followed by what was surely a half-ton of food, tools and other supplies. Racing down the highway, we arrived at our destination just in time to be too late: the gates had closed to staff, eliminating the ability to drive on-campus to our exhibit area. We would now have to park in the off-site parking along with the quarter-million visitors, and walk over a mile to get to our designated exhibit site. With all our stuff. Gah! So, we schlepped the hefty wood stand, balanced the toolbox and other supplies — all the while taking care not to wrinkle the posters — through throngs of wide-eyed early-bird visitors. We finally arrived at our canopy-covered table, got set up, and the action was nonstop. I’ve never seen so many people so interested in science and technology in my life! It was nerd-nirvana! It was Wonderful! It was Fun!
… not even an hour had passed before the design flaws of my poster stand profoundly revealed themselves. The pushpins that were supposed to be affixing our posters to the stand were hellbent on and quite proficient at launching themselves as little sharp projectiles at the passersby. This unexpected naughty behavior prompted StarMan to improvise using two of man’s most beloved tools: DuckTape and bungee cords. I’ll bet he even figured out an excuse to work in WD-40 later in the day, completing the Holy Trinity of survival tools:
The overall effect of the hastily-constructed wooden poster stand (now adorned with DuckTape and bungee cords), along with the semi-chaotic arrangement of computers, monitors, laser-etched crystals of galaxies in homemade light boxes scattered across the table, earned us the well-deserved title of “ghetto display”! The most puzzling aspect of all was that our utterly unpolished appearance did not seem to deter the visitors, leading me to the conclusion that the very homeliness of it all just drew them in that much more! Or maybe they just felt sorry for us? Nah … we were just that charismatic!
In addition to staffing the extragalactic research display, I had another major display competing for my attention, as well as a speaking engagement at the event. I believe it was about 10PM when my car finally rolled back into my driveway, finally concluding a very long day. I was unspeakably tired — figuratively as well as literally, as my vocal cords were so sore that I was barely able to emit a whisper! The pedometer indicated I had walked over 6 miles that day, running back and forth between the various exhibits. Perhaps for the first time ever, I could tell a distinct difference between this long-day kind of tired, and the (MS-induced?) fatigue that I slog through on a daily basis: one good night’s sleep made the Open House-induced tiredness just disappear. It was … a good kind of tired!