Jon de Vos: A funny thing happened in downtown Las Vegas
It is staggering to consider what people will do, left to their own devices. We know only two things about the person who first wrote in tiny letters (obviously) on a grain of rice: A) they had too much time on their hands, and B) they had great eyesight.
Far from the first, but certainly notable, was “Bly the Rice Writer”, Ernest Blystone. He was born in 1887 in the hills of Pennsylvania and was described by his friends as “irrepressible”. When he was 19, Bly got squashed in a railroad accident, breaking most major bones and cutting off much of his left hand. The doctors gave him only hours to live but he walked unaided out of the hospital a month later. He busied himself during his recuperation by fashioning an artificial hand to replace his lost limb so he could play baseball again. He also developed an elegant miniature penmanship. He’s in Ripley’s for the feat of inscribing 2,871 letters on a single grain of rice. He later improved his skill to a disturbing 14,164 characters on a . . . well, I keep adding the qualifier, “a single grain of rice”, when I’d still be awfully impressed if he’d slopped over onto a second one.
I knew nothing about Bly and rice-writing just a few weeks ago as my wife and I were standing in old downtown Las Vegas at the Fremont Experience. In my ignorance, I was moderately impressed by a steady-handed young man at a kiosk charging 20 dollars to write “up to 22 characters” on a grain of rice (single). For that price he would also encapsulate it in a magnifying ankle bracelet. I paused, taking all this in, when this weird marriage thing happened again. My wife and I have developed an odd knack of speaking up simultaneously with diametrically opposing views.
Watching the guy writing tiny messages on a grain of rice, I say, “What a gimmick!” while she said, “Gimme 20 bucks.”
As he wrote, spectators watched his progress on a screen above his head for all the world to see what schmoopy thing you were going encircle your girlfriend’s ankle with. Personal reminders like, “We’ll always have Pittsbur”, or “You’re the wings beneath my” (remember, only 22 characters).
When he was done, he extended the grain on his open palm for my wife’s inspection. We watched, aghast, as in seeming slow motion, it rolled off the edge of his hand and disappeared off onto a sticky Las Vegas sidewalk. We stared after it for a second, then whirled and looked at him. He grinned and pointed to the newly-inscribed rice kernel, safely mashed into the clay in front of him where he had deposited it by sleight-of-hand. Big laughs.
So, fast forward to last week when my wife hands me her sunglasses in two pieces, and a screw about the size and shape of a single grain of rice, “Would you fix these, please? Luckily, I found the screw in a seam on my dashboard. I had to get tweezers to get it. Be careful,” she said, setting the screw into a little dish.
“You shouldn’t worry so much,” I said, reaching for the screw and upsetting the dish, ejecting the screw into a low sub-orbit. We watched as it vanished from sight, only to fall to earth in some remote, uninhabited part of our kitchen floor.
She turned slowly and looked at me, “That wasn’t the fake grain of rice, was it?”
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