To get to the gristle of this perplexing question, you first have to delve deep into the wild, wacky and enterprising Van de Graaff brothers.
Little known to the public is the true story behind the Van de Graaff Generator, an awesome particle accelerator, undoubtedly one of the most amazing examples of technology to date, and a springboard to bigger and better things. Its resemblance to a pair of giant, electrically charged testes, is an added bonus.
Sure, there are nowadays televisions, X-ray machines, and other devices that will forever suckle at the teat of the VdG legacy as well.
Robert Jemison Van de Graaff's conception was the product of a three-way between Adrian Sebastian Van de Graaff, mother Minnie Cherokee Hargrove, and deep-voiced screen legend James Earl Jones, whom for reasons known only to himself and the Freemasons, was placed in a time machine set for Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The date: February 1, 1901.
Bastie-Bob and Minnie-Moo, as they were known in Tuscaloosa social circles, were ahead of their time, and hosted lavish parties at their estate. At these parties, the social elite would do lines of cocaine (for their toothaches, of course), drink gallons of bathtub gin (to stave off cholera), and dance to the instrumental music known as "sounds of Satan vomiting in D minor" by the local church ladies' group that congregated up the way.
The partygoers would then place their horse carriage keys into a ten gallon hat, drawing a different key out of the hat to determine their mate for the night.
In a bizarre twist, the mysterious mocha-skinned stranger, known to them only as "Earley James," opted out of the key draw. He would be quickly seduced by Minnie-Moo and Bastie-Bob (who was rumored to have taken a liking to a muscly sharecropper or two in his time, being compelled to share with his one and only on occasion), after the rest of the southern knickerbocker clique went off to their respective mansions to fuck until the candles burned out, and then light another candle to continue fucking in relative un-darkness.
Mr. Earl Jones declined a face-to-face interview, but handed me this statement on a 3x5 index card:
Sugar walls, baby. Early 20th century sugar walls.
ULTRA-SECRET VOICE DEEPENING SERUM WITH HIDDEN UNFORESEEN CONSEQUENCES INVOLVING ZOMBIES AND HALLUCINATORY EPISODES FROM MYSTERIOUS SHOPKEEPER IN CHINATOWN
Upon discovering that he had written his official statement on his shopping list, the card was replaced with a xeroxed copy, the grocery items redacted.
On December 20, 1901, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, fraternal twins Robert Jemison and Alouicious Earley Van de Graaff began their simultaneous stays on the mortal coil.
From the very beginning, the Van de Graaff twins were fiercely competitive.
As Mother Minnie-Moo so eloquently put it in a 1905 diary entry, "it's like I have two delicious fruit pies -- one made from brown sugar and the other from bleached...pies that drive their mother to consuming liter after liter of absinthe to make their constant squabbling bearable...after enough sweet liquid wormwood reaches my brain matter, they literally look like screeching pies jockeying for the confectioner's attention..."
At the age of five, Robert began his primary education at Tuscaloosa P.S. #1, while Alouicious was placed at P.S. #2, also known as Negro Elementary. Times were not easy. The inequalities were glaring.
Writes Minnie-Moo in early 1906:
"...I have been sitting them down across from one another, holding the other's lessons from the day. Bobby shared his arithmetic and spelling, while Al had a rock that was thrown through their front window. A rather ugly word was painted on it, but my little angel knew better than to let it get to him...he corrected the spelling...later that night we caught up with Cranky Old Mr. Butler down at the Aryan Saloon....climbed up onto the roof and gave him his rock back by way of his now cracked open head bone..."
Fiercely determined to offer both their sons the same opportunities in life, the Van de Graaffs hired a housekeeper and apprentice washboard operator, and tutored the children themselves.
Both Bobby and Al showed amazing abilities to craft things from other things. They would constantly try to one-up one another with various explosives, electric currents, implements of pain, and object throwing.
Bobby's favorite method of brotherly torture was the comb-on-pantsuit method. Before there was carpet to rub one's feet on, there were fine-toothed metal combs and silk fabric to rub together. Bobby would chase Al around the house, rubbing one of his father's combs in a rapid fashion, vertically, against a pair of his mother's exotic pantaloons, while grabbing various parts of Al's body, introducing a painful dose of topical static electricity.
Al would in turn use humorous ingenuity. His first gag involved a sawed-through upstairs bedroom floor, put back in place with a glue he engineered using the housekeeper's homemade maple syrup and a dash of nutmeg. The glue was just strong enough to hold the floor in place until a child put his weight on it.
And put his weight on it he did. Bobby, that is. Right into a giant vat of Borax, swamp water, and oogy clothing.
Bobby knew that his method of novelty electric mayhem was highly inefficient and involved way too much time in close contact with women's garments. Plus, he needed a way to harness his painful electrical currents into a device that is easy to build, operate, and transport.
In one major experiment, Bobby installed a lightning rod at the top of the house and connected it to Al's bedframe using copper he melted down from pennies.
Writes Minnie-Moo on August 7, 1907: "...Poor Alouicious! This lightning storm has brought pain and cooking to my precious boy...his hair was standing up right on end, and a bit of steam was coming out of his ears and anus. Oh, I could not help but laugh. In spite of their bitter rivalry, I have no doubt in my mind that my two little fruitpies are destined for greatness. I only hope they can appreciate one another, one day, for the different but equally delicious pies that they truly are..."
By August 10, 1907, the copper had been rerouted to Bobby's chamberpot, and a truce was called shortly thereafter.
This left the Van de Graaff brothers free to perfect their craft without fear or time taken away by pranks.
Al pioneered a piece of equipment that dared to make arms and hands obsolete for purposes of object moving. He called it the Van de Graaff Grabber Gadget (Patent #933,256), which came to life on January 8, 1908. In the simplest terms possible, a gigantic claw-like mechanism is lowered down by a rigid wooden rod, moved around the space in a room by a series of cables and pulleys rigged near the ceiling, and pressure is controlled by an innovative push-button hydraulic system.
Unfortunately, the hydraulics needed some work. Sometimes the claw would drop too fast, or at the wrong angle, and would sometimes not even pick up its target object at all. Perhaps it would just move it a couple centimeters. Perhaps it would pick up the object but drop it halfway to its destination. There was no telling.
Bobby had rigged a device that automated the comb-on-silk method of static current generation. It was crude in its infancy, and involved the loss of one of Minnie-Moo's favorite silk undergarments. A crank was put on a ring of silk, stretched out and rigged against the metal comb, which was contained in a small box with a lid on top. The prototype was designed to open slowly as the current got stronger, to demonstrate electricity's mysterious powers of hair manipulation and non-lethal pain infliction. The lid would gradually open, and a current of electricity would flow gently within a close radius, charging any bystanders, who would then have to engage in electric slapfights or touching of metal objects to release it.
On December 20, 1911, the twins' tenth birthday, a modest gathering of family and friends watched as Bobby tested out his seemingly perfected prototype for everybody to see.
Writes Minnie-Moo: "...He was filled with excitement as he turned the crank, and turned it, and turned it again thusly...the door burst open much quicker than expected and bolts of current attacked those of us who were closest to the device!...Mr. Smith-Jones from up the way was blinded in one eye, and most of us soiled ourselves during the screaming and clamoring for space that contained less voltage...it was such a panic; blood, nightsoil (in the middle of the daytime!), fragments of birthday pies and clothing all over...There is not enough bluing south of the Mason-Dixon line to salvage anything worn within our property today..."
The children, for years afterward, were forbidden from harnessing electricity in any fashion. However, miracles began to take form when Al took the bucket of Mama Housekeeper Jemima's Nutmegged Maple Syrup, Bunsen burner, and year-old "horseless carriage" tires he received on that day as birthday gifts.
Why not make replicas of things out of other substances for novelty purposes, Alouicious asked himself, while grinding the fecal matter out of his hair with a pumice stone.
"...and he ran about the house like a crazed bogeyman of sorts, bouncing objects off of people and other objects, seeding creepy lifelike rubber playthings into our food and trousers. What fright to find the likeness of a large garden spider in between my teeth during supper!...I simply don't understand my boys--the Mopperton boys are so well-mannered. Much less intelligent. Much less creative. Much less heartache...I have found myself continuing to quaff my absinthe as though it were mere whiskey, as Al melts his carriage tires into make-believe florae and faunae...I worry moreso about Bobby, who swears to Heavenly Father Himself that he isn't dabbling in electricity...he is no longer combing my undergarments to generate sparks, but has been dillydallying around this strange belted device consisting of two orbs over a metal rod..."
--Minnie-Moo, March 7, 1911
Fast forward to 1922:
Bobby has earned a BS in mechanical engineering at the University of Alabama, on the path to his master's, which he would earn a year later. He would study in Paris, and then Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.
By 1937, what was originally a panties-and-comb device invented to inflict pain and zapping on Bobby's twin brother is now a pair of positively charged, gargantuan testes being held in a hangar at MIT. He has a patent. He has loved and lost many flappers, science groupies and floozies along the way. He has an unsuspecting wife and two lovely children.
Alouicious began touring the country's larger cities, setting up stands to peddle his replicated wares. By 1924, he had ten patents under his belt for such items as I Can't Believe It's Not Shit and Bouncy Gag Apple, a personal favorite of his. Many a time he had been chased out of a town after an uppity townie attempts to eat a fresh, delicious looking, rubber Red Delicious.
By 1930, Al is living in New York City, giving lectures on object replicating and exchanging dick jokes with Wall Street fatcats in the audience.
"...it is true that I am the twin brother of a high-roller science guy down the river a ways--he fell for the apple more than once, and nothing says 'retaliation' like rubber dung in his trousers for the washboard maiden to find! AW haw haw! Watch as I dribble this loaf of bread! Sure, a genuine loaf would sure help in these hard times. Who here is hungry? Here, ma'am. Have an apple."
Alouicious Van de Graaff, Carnegie Hall, February 23, 1931
In early 1937, Al was approached by Ulysses Q. Bachenpfeffer, full owner and president of Bachenpfeffer Polymers, whose gag gift and joke division ran the local chain of joke stores called "Bach's Gag Shoppe". The two embarked on a joint venture where the company absorbed all of the Van de Graaff rubber replication patents, and Al became part owner of the company.
Al and Ulysses struck it rich marketing and selling items such as I Can't Believe It's Not Shit, Orange You Glad This Only Looks Like Citrus Fruitstuffs, Bouncing Bread Loaf, and Rubber Backside Cheeks.
The true invention was yet to come.
In early 1936, a mishap at the factory in Hoboken resulted in a live chicken being processed through Goo Vat #5-B, ghastly but strangely humourous, rolling down a conveyor belt with the rubber faeces and their initial run of Polymer Phonographs.
A STAR IS BORN.
HILARIOUS MILLIONAIRE NEGRO BROTHER OF SCIENCE STUD STEWS CHICKEN IN POT OF GOLD
--Headline from New York Times-Post-Courier-Gazette, May 5, 1937
Tourists flock from miles around to get their hands on the latest craze: Replicated Animals. Especially poultry.
Coming in close second to the Teddy Bear, the Bachy Chicken sells 50,942 units in the first two years in New York. The United States and parts of Canada are consumed with a replica mania that hits its peak in the late 1950s. By 1960, every household has at least one rubber "thing" replica, half of those at least one chicken, neck and neck with the teddy bear for overnight prepubescent companionship, and third for gags behind the hand buzzer and Thalidomide.
Bobby: A pioneer in nuclear physics with his salty electric balls,
Al: A polymer thing-and-food-and-living-thing replication tycoon.
Both are respected members of their communities. Both have torn through hoes and money like a Texas twister through a trailer park. Both eventually die content and having left their mark on the planet, their brainchildren continuing to spread intellectual seed throughout the world for generations.
But one question begs answering:
Which is cooler?!
No one really gave that question much answering until late 1985, when Devo hit the Billboard charts for the last time, topping at #196, with their single Which Is Cooler???!!!!!!11:
Van de Graaff
Van de Graaff
A shock and a laugh
A shock and a laugh
ONE MADE HIS WAY WITH STA-TIC TES-TES
THE OTHER MADE SHIT OUT OF POL-Y-MER GLUE
EACH ONE STRIVES TO BE THE BEST-ES
EACH ONE IS COOL IN HIS OWN RII-I-IGHT
*17-minute synth bridge*
Each one is cool!
Each one is cool!
EACH BROTHER'S COOL!
But which one's COO-LERRRR????!!!!11
*7-minute synth bridge*
ONE HARNESSED ELEC-TRI-CI-TY
TOOK A SCI-EN-TIF-IC LAS-SO AND TAMED THE VOLT-AGE BEAST
*boomp bump da bum bum ba duduhdssshh*
THE OTHER GAVE BIRTH TO JOC-U-LAR-I-TY
*boomp bump da bum bum ba duduhdssshh*
IN THE FORM OF
*boomp doomp tsssshhh!*
This song gives compelling arguments for both sides of the Van de Graaff debate. Each is cool in his own right; each gave his life to his people, and each continues to affect our lives on a regular basis. One brother starts the wheels in motion for X-ray machines, CRTs, and those glass globes you can get at Spencer's that you can put your hand on and your hair will stand up. The other brother sprung glee on us in the form of laughter, usually at the expense of others. When was the last time you saw a rubber chicken hanging off a rear-view mirror, laughed at a hungry bum on the street who attempted to take a huge bite of the apple you just gave him, or threw a fake piece of fecal matter at a shocked sibling or friend? Recently, I bet.
The true test of Van de Graaff brotherly coolness comes from the events of November 20, 1996, in Seattle, where 28-year-old Damien Garskold somehow mounted a homemade Van de Graaff generator onto a stolen shopping cart. He then stuck a large metal rod through a novelty chicken and welded it to the left teste of the generator.
Stark naked except for a chocolate bar glued over his privates, Garskold ran through the city screaming "Everybody needs some chicken! CHICKEEEN! KA-BONG!! IT'S MILLER TIME!! THE ELECTRIC RUBBER COCK WILL PUT THE SMACK DOWN ON YOUR PUNY CIVILIZATION! AND BY 'SMACK', I MEAN 'WRATH'!!!!!!!"
With every hair on his body standing on end, Garskold stopped in front of a Starbucks, cranked the VdG for approximately 45 seconds, then pointed the chicken at a group of confused onlookers. A bolt of pure energy burst out of the chicken's mouth and inflicted painful burns, electrocution, and traumatic polyester blend meltage among the crowd.
One woman, Estelle Ramass, 45, of Federal Way, died of a heart attack at the scene. It was not known if Garskold was to blame, given that Ms. Ramass was holding a gigantic Big Mac in one hand, and a bucket of loose asbestos shavings in the other.
This leads me to conclude that a particle accelerator and a rubber chicken are equally cool, especially when implemented in such a way as to cause a public scene and as an excuse to tape a chocolate bar to your wang and push an electrified shopping cart of pain through a major city.
OMG OMG OMG OMG TIE BREAKER!@#$
The rubber chicken is cooler.
Cibo Matto never did a song entitled Know Your Particle Accelerator, now did they?
A Footprints Nodeshell Challenge