June 28, 2016
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Journey with us back in time - but also forward in time because this is a new episode, revisiting old topics.
Surprisingly Awesome’s theme song is by Nicholas Britell. Our ad music is by Build Buildings. We were edited this week by Annie-Rose Strasser. We were produced by Christine Driscoll, Kalila Holt,Elizabeth Kulas, and Rachel Ward.
Rikki Novetsky provided production assistance. Additional music for this episode came from The Brotherhood.
Andrew Dunn mixed the episode.
Did you have fun with Wendy? Subscribe to Science Vs. so you don't miss the first episode, out July 28!
Our friends over at Pushpin Visuals made this beautiful illustrated guide to trilobites to accompany our episode (click to make it big!).
Want to see the animated version? Head over to Pushpin's Twitter.
ALEX BLUMBERG: I’m not very good at coming up with good witty insults. And then every time I try they just come out too mean.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Like I don’t know how to do it, I don’t know how to do it, I don’t know how to do it and then I’m like YOU SHOULD DIE!
ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh, that’s probably too far right, is that part of the game?
ADAM DAVIDSON: From Gimlet Media this is Surprisingly Awesome. I’m Adam Davidson.
RACHEL WARD: And I’m Rachel Ward.
ADAM: And this week, our topic is…
ADAM: Follow-ups. We are going back to a bunch of shows we did and we have these open loops, we have these questions, we have these things that we want to follow up on, so that’s what this show is.
RACHEL: We’ve gotten a lot of emails and tweets and notes on Facebook and just, my dad, often, coming after us, wanting more information about something. So we wanted to get you guys some answers to some of your more burning questions.
ADAM: So Rachel, can you tell the listeners what exactly are we gonna talk about today?
RACHEL: Yeah, we’re gonna hit a bunch of stuff. So, we’re gonna take a flight with some cool pigeons, ah, what else are we gonna do … we’re gonna hear some of the Gimlet janks that people submitted to us. And we’re also going to learn about trilobites.
ADAM: Yes, trilobites.
ADAM: So Rachel, you may remember that one of our first episodes was about concrete.
ADAM: And in the beginning of that episode, I very briefly started telling Adam McKay and our special guest, La La Anthony, about concrete’s special relationship to trilobites.
ADAM: Long before there were any earth dwelling creatures, all living things lived in the water. And one of the most abundant things was this ancient kind of creature known as a trilobite. You know those things they kinda look like a horseshoe crab, there are lots of different varieties but they all had these shells made of calcium.
ADAM MCKAY: I’m starting to get a little bored. I’m gonna be honest. Yeah, yeah.
ADAM: Oh, really. Okay, that’s good to know.
ADAM MCKAY: La La, how you holdin’ up?
LA LA: I started running the lines for my audition later. I’m sorry!
ADAM: I started strong but I lost you with the trilobites. Okay.
RACHEL: OK so this moment right here - this may have been the single most unpopular decision that we have made on the entire show. We cut trilobites out of the episode and then we got DOZENS of emails from people demanding to know more about trilobites.
RACHEL: So a really typical correspondence comes from -- uh, I think this person’s name is probably pronounced Neko -- Neko Cortes. So Neko Cortes tweeted at a us very early, like almost immediately after we released the episode this: At Surprising Show, I would still like to know how hashtag trilobites are related to hashtag concrete. I definitely think “hashtag concrete” is probably like a top five hashtag for me. Trending topics.
ADAM: So I wanted to go investigate trilobites and I happened to know an expert on trilobites.
ADAM: Alright Ashy, we’re going this way…
ASH: Trilobites. We’re gonna see.
ADAM: Ash, we’re gonna go meet a….
ADAM: So Ash, as regular listeners to the show will know, is my 4-year-old son. And he loves trilobites. In fact, he has told us many times that he wants to be a paleon-todgolist. He loves dinosaurs but he also loves trilobites. And um, I believe the reason he loves trilobites is ‘cause I was talking about them when we were doing the concrete show and then I showed him some pictures on YouTube and so I took him to the American Museum of Natural History. And just to get the trilobite party started, I bought along with me these little trilobite toys I had brought on the internet.
ASH: But where on the internet? What store?
ASH: [unclear] eatday?
ADAM: Eat they?
ADAM: Come on Ashy!
ADAM: Ash, this is a secret part of the museum, no one else gets to come here.
ADAM: Cause it’s not for the public.
ADAM: We took the elevator up another floor to a place I’d never been before, through some secret doors and it’s exactly what you think the back rooms of the American Museum of Natural History might look like: just office after office filled with bones and microscopes and we walked a long, long way, and we ended up in the offices of Dr. Melanie Hopkins. She’s the assistant curator of invertebrate paleontology at the museum. And she is a BIG FAN of trilobites.
MELANIE HOPKINS: I think these are mostly just pieces down here. Oh actually, I can show you some fun stuff, I just need to go grab the keys.
ADAM: Now I’ve heard trilobite and trillo-bite.
MELANIE: I’ve heard both as well. I personally say trilobite but I think it’s whatever you personally prefer.
ADAM: I prefer trillo-bite.
MELANIE: Well, there you go.
ASH: Me too!
ADAM: Tomato, tomato. Now I call them trilobites cause the one trilobite scientist I’ve ever met calls them trilobites. And just a quick refresher for those of you who don’t remember your high school biology, they’re these kind of weird, large bug-like looking things with big exoskeletons and lots and lots of legs that lived in the water back when everything alive lived in the water.
ADAM: Is there anything alive today that's descendent from trilobites?
MELANIE: No, they're entirely extinct.
ADAM: Is there a chance that one day someone's gonna find under the bottom of a weird lake in a remote area, a living trilobite?
MELANIE: I guess I can't say it's impossible but it's really, really unlikely. You know as far as the fossil record goes they went extinct 250 million years ago and if they hadn't gone extinct at that time we would have found them somewhere in the fossil record since then.
ADAM: Yeah. Makes me sad. Although they had a really good run, right?
MELANIE: They did, yes. Yeah.
ADAM: Ash, you had a bunch of questions about trilobites and now’s your chance.
ASH: Can you tell if they have eyes?
ADAM: If trilobites have eyes?
MELANIE: They do have eyes, they actually have compound eyes similar to what insects have. So the eye is made up of a bunch of little lenses BUT the trilobite eye was very unique actually because all of those lenses were made of calcite, a mineral.
ADAM: And then Ash you had another question this morning about trilobites.
ASH: How do they walk?
MELANIE: Ah, they have many, many pairs of legs. Under each one of these segments was a pair of legs, and they would walk in a similar way, as centipedes and millipedes do.
ASH: What I really want to know is how do they eat?
ADAM: How do trilobites eat?
MELANIE: So the, right behind this plate on the back is where the mouth was.
ADAM: So like, under their chin kind of?
MELANIE: So underneath. They had a bunch of legs right there, and the base of the legs has little spines on it, and they would kind of mash up whatever they were eating and then stuff it in their mouth.
ADAM: So, when do trilobites appear in the history of life?
MELANIE: So the trilobites first show up around 520 million years ago.
ADAM: So this is way before dinosaurs.
ADAM: Way before mammals.
ADAM: Way before flowers?
ADAM: And so at their peak, are trilobites the dominant life form?
MELANIE: They appear to be. The fossil record in this respect might be a little deceiving because every time an individual molted, that exoskeleton had the potential to be preserved, so each individual actually contributes many fossils, potentially.
ADAM: So there might be one trilobite who lived for 250 million years and just kept molting.
ADAM: You can't prove that's not true. Yes you can, easily. But there could've been like 6.
ADAM: So, the big question: why was I talking about trilobites on a show about concrete? What do these weird, spiny, exoskeleton-y animals have to do with the foundation of the house I live in? Well, to make concrete, you need cement. And to make cement, you need limestone.
MELANIE: Limestones used for making cement do often contain um trilobites but they also contain a lot of other shelly material too. It can be any number of fossils. Piles of basically broken bits of shells, but that includes, I mean, which includes trilobites, which uh the exoskeleton was impregnated with um calcium carbonate, um, but also a lot of other fossils like brachiopods…
ADAM: Sorry. [to Ash] Let’s ask the doctor, let’s ask the scientist.
ADAM: I do like that Ash is constantly injecting his opinion into the paleontodgolical conversation.
ADAM: So, just to explain, when you see a concrete wall, when you see a concrete floor, here’s what happened: Over hundreds of millions of years, they died, they fell to the bottom of the ocean, they were pressed together, crushed together, through the force of gravity, through earthquakes, et cetera. And that became the layer of limestone that exists in all sorts of places all over the world. Today, we dig up that limestone, put it in these huge furnaces, heat it up to thousands of degrees and it cracks it, creates a chemical process that creates this remarkable material called cement. It turns this powdery substance into instant rock. So every concrete wall you see, every concrete floor, that is hundreds of millions of years in the making.
RACHEL: Trillo-bite graveyard.
ADAM: No! The trilobites live again.
RACHEL: Oh, that’s a nice redeeming narrative, Adam! It’s good.
ADAM: It’s good, the trilobites live again.
RACHEL: So for our episode about insults, we introduced the idea of of janks. And janks are essentially insult jokes. So snaps, yo mama jokes, disses. And then we asked people to make up janks about Gimlet. And I thought the best person to read some of these Gimlet janks on air would be Mr. Gimlet himself--
ADAM: Alex Blumberg.
RACHEL: Alright, so what we wanted to do with you today was to have you read some of the janks that our listeners sent us.
RACHEL: So we asked people in the episode to send us, to use the hashtag Gimlet janks.
RACHEL: Did any of these like organically like come through to you?
ALEX: No, I saw them, yeah.
RACHEL: How did that make you feel?
ALEX: They were very hurtful to me.
RACHEL: And you can still use that hashtag. Uh, we can’t stop you.
ALEX: Hashtag Gimlet janks.
RACHEL: Here you go.
ALEX: Alright, alright ready? Jeremy Houle -- hoolay?
RACHEL: Not sure.
ALEX: Adam Davidson’s momma is so fat Neil deGrasse Tyson declared her a planet and she’s now the real life Planet Money.
RACHEL: I think that one’s good.
ALEX: Very specific.
RACHEL: That one would also apply to you. A Planet Money jank could also be used on you.
RACHEL: And, for the record, I have met both of your mothers and that is not accurate.
ALEX: Right, take that Jeremy!
ALEX: Ah, Twit McTwitFace said, at Surprising Show, your breath is so bad I can smell it through your podcast. Ha!
RACHEL: Alright, these are specific to the company that you, Alex Blumberg, founded.
RACHEL: These are the ones about Gimlet.
ALEX: I’m ready. Ah, Mike Smith writes, Gimlet Media’s so weak I question if it’s only lime juice. Ohhhh I see.
ALEX: Referencing the mixed, the cocktail, the gimlet, which is made of gin or vodka and lime juice. So now he’s wondering if it’s just lime juice. Yeah, I get it.
RACHEL: That’s a thinker.
ALEX: That’s a thinker. Ah, Tim Chambers: You are really not so much of a hasbeen but more of a definite won’t be. Oooh, just in the hard, cold -- you suck.
RACHEL: Well so we thought, like, I don’t want you to stay in that place, so we thought that a way to maybe bring your spirits back up after this would be….
ALEX: Uh oh.
RACHEL: ...to do a follow-up on our free throws episode.
RACHEL: Let’s go play basketball.
ALEX: Are you serious?
ALEX: Alright! Oh my god there’s somebody outside, Kaylee’s out with a hand-held mic, seamless transition. Here we go. Wow you guys really planned this didn’t you? Alright, I wore my shorts and everything.
RACHEL: This way…
ALEX: Best part of my day so far. I wanna bounce the ball but there’s no bouncing inside.
KALILA HOLT: Is that a rule of basketball?
ALEX: It’s a rule. It’s a rule that … yes, if my son would somehow found out, find out … Alright.
RACHEL: Alright, so I’m giving Christine, our new Associate Producer, my phone, so she can time you. And you’ve got a minute to shoot as many free throws as you can. Quickly before you do this, can you tell us what your basketball experience is.
ALEX: For, there was a period of like about maybe two decades where there was always a basketball in the trunk of my car and I would always play, every day.
RACHEL: OK, let’s go.
CHRISTINE DRISCOLL: Ready, go!
RACHEL: One! Two! Three!
CHRISTINE: Thirty seconds!
RACHEL: Pause the timer!
KALILA: Um the basketball has bounced over the fence into a garden that does not belong to us.
CHRISTINE: I would maybe just describe it as just a trash pit.
KALILA: I prefer to think of it as a garden. Oh, we got it back.
ALEX: So where are we?
CHRISTINE: 5 seconds. 4, 3, 2, 1 - Uhhhh.
ALEX: 5 outta like 10. It’s horrible. It’s a horrible, horrible free throw rate.
RACHEL: Do you want to just play a little longer?
ADAM: Coming up after the break, we answer a very urgent question: Is your mattress killing you? Tonight on the six o'clock news.
ADAM: Welcome back. From Gimlet Media, this is Surprisingly Awesome. I’m Adam Davidson
RACHEL: And I'm Rachel Ward.
ADAM: And this is our very special follow-ups show.
RACHEL: Right, and we’re looking back at open issues from previous shows. And for me, one of the best ones, was the episode about mattresses because in that episode, my mattress buying strategy was totally vindicated.
ADAM: And we concluded that, if you get a mattress that costs between 800 and 1500 bucks, you’re fine, that’s a good mattress. And several people wrote in to say no, that's not true because many mattresses, particularly these new foam mattresses, are impregnated with chemicals to make them flame retardant and that is killing us. Googling “flame retardant mattresses cancer,” you can be pretty well convinced of any position you want, there’s a very vocal view out there in the internet that they’re killing us; there’s a very strong view, no they’re not. And you and I realized we don’t have the expertise. So we have decided right now, this is very special Gimlet moment, we're gonna hand our show over to Gimlet's soon to be newest show…
RACHEL: Science Vs.
RACHEL: So this is the theme music for Science Vs. This is a new Gimlet show that is going to be coming out on July 28th and we have with us in studio, the host of Science Vs, the show that pits facts against everything else, Wendy Zukerman.
WENDY ZUKERMAN: Thanks for having me.
RACHEL: Thank you so much for coming and helping solve this problem for us.
ADAM: My first question is, is this the first time you are on a Gimlet show that human beings are hearing?
WENDY: Yes, I think so. This is exciting. Yeah.
ADAM: It is exciting. So as I understand the question, these foam mattresses that are increasingly popular are impregnated with, is it formaldehyde?
WENDY: They’re impregnated, I like that, with a whole bunch of chemicals. One chemical that has been studied a little bit, not necessarily in mattress form, is formaldehyde though.
ADAM: And that, I will say, having kind of went into the hole of reading websites that tell me my mattress is killing me, formaldehyde is the one that comes up the most, they tell us formaldehyde is going to give you cancer. So what do we know?
WENDY: So when we look at the studies on formaldehyde you find that, because you can’t do the perfect study, right, if you wanted to really find out whether particular chemicals in a mattress were killing people, we'd have to like build a little town for them in Idaho, or whatever, and make sure that we feed them, these people, the same food for maybe 50 years, send them to the same schools ‘cause there's obviously like furniture and formaldehyde in schools, and we want to track them and then after 50 years we want to find out who has cancer and who doesn’t. And surprise, surprise, the ethics approval for setting up a little mattress town in Idaho is very, very difficult. So this study has not been conducted. There have been studies done in lab rats and guinea pigs and things like that. So we can set up little mattress towns in labs.
RACHEL: With tiny mattress… tiny rat mattresses?
WENDY: Well, they more like set up formaldehyde chambers. So they give...
RACHEL: Oh, that’s terrible, no! I was imagining there was a tiny mattress, manufactured to the same specifications as humans, about the size of a sponge, and then there’s a mouse and he’s wearing a nightgown, and a night cap.
WENDY: No, unfortunately in this study that I read, there was no little nightcap mentioned, but you never know. But they do sort of, so in one study, the one I’ve got right here, they expose these rats to different levels of formaldehyde—low, medium, high—and then they follow them for several weeks, which in a rat’s lifetime is pretty significant. And when you do this, you find that if you give rats the highest dose of formaldehyde and they’ve been smelling this for quite some time, they have an increased risk of nasal cancer. But of course a rat is very different. One of the big problems in this case is that rats can only breathe, they need to breathe with their nose, whereas humans can like alternate between mouth and nose. And so that means in terms of like formaldehyde, it means these guys are like constantly, if you give them like a dose of formaldehyde, they have to take it up all through their nose. We like, at night, we might like breathe through our nose, we might breathe through our mouth; we might like mix up the dosage. Plus, you still leave the room. So these rats would like live in it, pretty much. Whereas we would still go outside, and go to the park, and then we would not have our formaldehyde dose, so it's like, it’s really hard to be translating this stuff.
ADAM: And when you say increased risk, was it one of those things from 0.01 to 0.013? Or is it a significant increase?
WENDY: It was actually quite significant, so it was 18 percent of the rats who were exposed to the high dose got nasal cancer.
ADAM: I’m gonna be honest with you Wendy, you’re freaking me out a little bit. Like, you know...
WENDY: You’re thinking about your mattress. You’re not gonna get nose cancer.
ADAM: No! I mean...
WENDY: I tell you, if in 50 years you get nasal cancer, I will eat my hat, on radio, I will eat my hat.
RACHEL: She's not wearing a hat.
WENDY: I’ll put on a hat and then I’ll eat the hat.
RACHEL: The way to avoid this is not build a house out of mattresses and spend all of your time in it breathing through your nose.
WENDY: And you have to keep in mind, this study I really should emphasize was conducted in 1980 and science moves slowly but it doesn’t move that slowly. So if formaldehyde in the doses we are getting it was a big problem, it would have been picked up by science. And you also have to keep in mind that the levels of formaldehyde and all the chemicals in your mattress do get emitted when you first buy it but that will drop over time. So it’s not like with this rat study where they kept giving these rats the same dose of formaldehyde over and over again. I mean this is the thing, people have this assumption that if something is bad in high doses, then it is going to inevitably be bad in small doses. But there is a very high chance that people breathe in the formaldehyde and it’s like in these doses that are fine and your body just deals with it. So that is where the scientific knowledge is at. It's not good in high doses for rodents, but what we do know is really bad is smoking, drinking too much and eating crappy food. It's not big mattress that’s killing us at the moment, like, let's sort out the big ones.
ADAM: Alright, so if I could summarize. Put this way down on your list of worries.
WENDY: I think that’s fair.
ADAM: Go out. Take a walk. Take a jog.
ADAM: Put the fries down.
WENDY: Absolutely, put the cigarette down, which also has formaldehyde in it by the way.
ADAM: And is your show, could it just be called, calm down hippies?
WENDY: Because one of the first episodes is on organic food. Um, I think it’s calm down everyone.
RACHEL: Wendy Zukerman’s NEW Gimlet show, Science Versus debuts on July 28. In addition to organic food, they’re gonna take a look at fracking and the g spot.
ADAM: Hey Rachel. Someone else is here.
RACHEL: Who are you?
KALILA: Um, I'm Kalila Holt, I've been helping you produce the last several episodes of Surprisingly Awesome.
RACHEL: And one of the tasks that we gave you was to be the keeper of the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. And in the course of that role you have been listening to voice memos that people sent us.
KALILA: I have. So I picked a couple of my faves.
RACHEL: Okay, what do you have for me?
KALILA: The first one that really got my attention is from McKall.
KALILA: This is from when she was in high school.
MCKALL: My best friend was dating this boy and they were dating for about a month and every day that they were dating I was just like I hate him, he's a jerk, dump him.
KALILA: Surprise, surprise, the guy is terrible. The friend calls McKall one night in tears.
MCKALL: Turns out he'd been cheating on her the whole time with this other girl at our school and blah blah blah blah blah. And she was really upset and I was snickering.
KALILA: So the next day at school McKall's friend's like a total wreck, her face is all like puffy from crying, and McKall like a bratty high schooler makes her a funfetti cake…
MCKALL: And in frosting on the top of the cake I had written "I told you so."
RACHEL: Oh McKall, oh girl. That's kind of a dick move.
KALILA: I know.
RACHEL: She doesn't sound like super proud of - like she's tell not telling it to us like, “Check out this amazing thing I did.”
KALILA: No, but she doesn't sound remorseful either. I feel like everyone is kind of a brat in high school so I'm willing to cut her a little bit of slack but...
RACHEL: What should I write on a cake for you? You’re the best?
KALILA: Great style. I love your Twitter.
RACHEL: I love your Twitter! @kalilaholt
KALILA: Yeah. Um okay. Do you want to hear the next story?
KALILA: I think the one about the person sh**ting their pants is my favorite.
ANONYMOUS: I told you if you didn’t pull over I was gonna sh** my pants.
KALILA: But this is like my second favorite. This one I like cause it's like it’s really like, spooky. It's kind of creepy, I don't know. I was just really into it. Okay, so this is Valerie.
RACHEL: Ooo, I’m excited.
VALERIE: My fiance had a very painful and very drawn out separation with his previous partner and they had been together for about 14 years. She couldn't accept that they were separating. She lived halfway across the country when they finally split.
KALILA: So when Valerie started seeing this guy she was like, this other woman has threatened you in the past, she's threatened to kill herself.
VALERIE: I know it's painful to think of someone that way when you had loved them for so long but you need to change the locks on the door.
KALILA: And the guy didn't do it
RACHEL: Oh my god.
KALILA: Because he just couldn't bring himself to do it
VALERIE: A few months later we got home one night and walked in to discover that the apartment was trashed. Most everything was destroyed, all of his clothes were cut up. And her hair was on the kitchen counter and in our bed.
RACHEL: [gasps] Her hair? She cut her hair in their house? That's so creepy!
KALILA: Yeah, it's like very spooky.
RACHEL: Did Valerie actually say I told you so?
KALILA: She did, yeah, which is like a bold move. Like, I don't think I would say it.
RACHEL: Valerie is like grown up McKall. She’s like I don't care if the circumstances don't dictate it, Imma do me.
KALILA: I mean she does sound very regretful in the message which is why I think it's kind of a curveball that she's like -
VALERIE: I didn't like saying it, but I turned to him and said I told you so.
KALILA: I love how people are always like I didn't like saying it, it's like, you didn't have to.
RACHEL: Well Kaylee, these were amazing and thank you for curating them for us.
KALILA: Of course, and thank you for having me in the studio.
RACHEL: Oh, any time.
KALILA: Just kidding I'm always here. I'm just not on mic.
RACHEL: So Adam, when we were doing the episode about pigeons there was one story that I really really wanted to do but because of some boring logistic stuff that is not important, I was not able to get it reported in time to get into the episode. So I thought oh, perfect, the follow-ups episode.. but I was on another deadline because the thing that I wanted to do was ending. So on the very last night that I could participate in it, I went down to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
WALKING ON PLANK
RACHEL: Okay so what’s happening right now is that Meredith Johnson, she is a curator, she’s leading me onto the boat to see a show, and it's a light show. And the star of this light show has also been a star of our show.
MEREDITH JOHNSON: And this is the Baylander which is a helicopter aircraft carrier that was built around WWII and we were lucky enough to get it, to convert it into the biggest and best pigeon aircraft carrier in the country.
RACHEL: Now this ship is a launching pad -- and it’s a temporary home to the 2,000 pigeons with LEDs strapped to their ankles that make up this performance: “Fly By Night.”
KITTY JOE SAINTE-MARIE: So this is the aviary side of the coops.
RACHEL: This is Kitty Joe Sainte-Marie - she’s the project manager. She helped build the set and train the performers for tonight’s show.
KITTY JOE: They have like, you know, the best real estate in NY in my opinion, the waterfront looking at the Williamsburg Bridge, it's beautiful.
KITTY JOE: We fly them during civil twilight.
RACHEL: Tell me about civil twilight.
KITTY JOE: There's 3 levels of twilight, it's civil twilight, nautical twilight, and then astronomical twilight, and then it's night. Civil twilight is when the sun has already gone down but you can still see without the aid of artificial light. As nautical twilight comes in - that's when you have to turn on your...lights on boats so there's still light in the sky but it is darker.
RACHEL: What's astronomical twilight?
KITTY JOE: I don't know, it's the one before night and it's just darker.
RACHEL: For the record, “astronomical twilight” is when the sun dips between 12 and 18 degrees below the horizon. At the end of astronomical twilight the sky is completely dark and celestial bodies start to appear. But this show is at civil twilight. So it’s still light out about an hour before it begins, when the pigeon handlers walk up and down the decks of the boat, opening coops, and shooing the birds out.
SOUND OF BIRDS FLUTTERING
RACHEL: Tell me what's happening in the sky right now.
KITTY JOE: So right now we've let two coops of birds out and they're just joy riding really. They're just flying for fun.
SOUND OF PIGEONS FLYING BY
RACHEL: That was amazing.
KITTY JOE: They're pretty magical.
RACHEL: So after a few minutes of like swooping over us, the birds are settling in on the roof of the boat, and they’re just waiting to perform like actors in the wings.
DUKE RILEY: You know, I wanted them to fit in really well with the aircraft carrier and sort of look like they were always here. Sorta make it look like maybe the pigeons walked into a recruiting station drunk and woke up here with a hangover and buzz cut or something, you know.
RACHEL: Duke Riley is the artist behind this whole project. It’s his head that all of these boats and pigeons and LED lights sprung out of. He is covered in tattoos, but he also loves animals. Actually Kitty Joe showed me a tattoo that she has on her shoulder of Mr. Squirrel. It’s apparently a squirrel that they nursed back to health and then he gave her a tattoo of it. He also gave her a pigeon on her forearm.
DUKE: You know I think it started when I was a kid, I found a pigeon that I rescued and took care of and eventually it got better and I let it go and it kept coming back. I was always just sort of conscious of pigeons and thinking about them as these other creatures out there that were struggling to survive in the city as I was. You know even if I was in kind of like a compromised living situation and might be living in a place where I didn't actually have running water or something like that I may still have a small coop with a couple birds, I was flying out of a bedroom window, and then for a while I was flying out of a bathroom window and you know it was always one of these things you were kind of doing on the sneak.
RACHEL: The show begins when Kitty Joe rings this old-timey school bell.
SOUND OF BELL RINGING
KITTY JOE: Which is the signal for Duke and the trainers to get up on the roof and start signaling the birds.
SOUND OF WOOPING
KITTY JOE: They get up there and you hear a call which Duke makes which I describe to the volunteers as kind of a cross between a cowboy and a hawk.
SOUND OF WOOPING
KITTY JOE: And the birds start to fly overhead - like a lot of them will fly in like one kind of funneling circular cloud, but then there will be some that'll shoot way up high and some so high that you can't really tell like is that a star, is that a pigeon up there, there's ones that really end up looking like shooting stars and then some kind of look like fireworks. And then five minutes before the end of the show I’m going to turn the lights on in the coops and open the shutters. And the birds will just start flying into the little light holes.
SOUND OF BIRDS RETURNING TO COOPS
KITTY JOE: And I'll ring the school bell.
SOUND OF BELL
KITTY JOE: And Duke will start whistling for the birds to come down.
KITTY JOE: We also play this one kind of dancehall reggae song by Sister Nancy called “Pegion Rock” and the birds always know that that means dinner time
DUKE: Once they hear that song they know it's definitely time to come down. Most of them hang out on the roof for a while afterwards and get into ah, you know, various sexual scenarios. After that they pretty much they all come down and take it easy for the rest of the night.
KITTY JOE: And that’s the show.
PEGION ROCK PLAYS
RACHEL: Surprisingly Awesome’s theme song is by Nicholas Britell, normally, but this is of course “Pegion Rock” by Sister Nancy.
ADAM: Our ad music is by Build Buildings. We were edited this week by Annie-Rose Strasser. Hey, I wanna welcome our newest member of the staff, Christine Driscoll, our new Associate Producer, welcome Christine. And I wanna say with sadness that we are losing Kalila Holt, we’re not losing her very far, she’s gonna stay at Gimlet working on the new Jonathan Goldstein show. But we will miss working with her and the fabulous work she did on this show. So goodbye, Kalila. I do wanna thank Elizabeth Kulas, who has also been new to the team and helping out enormously, and Rachel Ward, I always want to thank you.
RACHEL: Andrew Dunn mixed the episode. And Rikki Novetsky provided production assistance. Additional music for this show came from The Brotherhood.
ADAM: And hey we're trying an experiment. A lot of you give us really great ideas for the show, but sometimes it's just not quite enough information for us to figure out whether it's a fit for us. So we have created a form that we have linked to on our Facebook page, so if you have an idea for the show, please go there, fill out the form.
RACHEL: Also there’s another Gimlet show that we love — Reply All — they are looking for a fall intern and the application deadline is July 13th. So, if you’re itchin’ to make great stories and you want to join a hardworking, creative team, you should apply! You can find more by going to the website — gimlemedia.com/careers.
ADAM: And Kalila, you said that was a great internship?
KALILA: I’m not on mic but, yes it was the best internship ever and it changed my life.
ADAM: Wow, that’s a huge endorsement. Surprisingly Awesome is a production of Gimlet Media.
RACHEL: Alright Christine.
CHRISTINE: Yeah, I’m ready.
RACHEL: Alright Christine Driscoll, new associate producer, go!
CHRISTINE: Alright, that’s two.
CHRISTINE: How much time do I have?
RACHEL: 13 seconds!
CHRISTINE: Did I get seven?
ALEX: That’s amazing!
RACHEL: What a great hire!
ALEX: So what’s your basketball experience?
CHRISTINE: Went to basketball camp once for a week and it was like my only experience being bullied actually. And it was because I was so bad.
KALILA: So this is really a story of redemption.
CHRISTINE: Yeah it is. I feel redeemed.