Get a Tan While Riding a 60,000-Mile Elevator

Last month a group of scientists in France announced that they had successfully cloned a rat. Not a useful animal, like say a German Shepherd that could lead a blind person, a snail they could cook in garlic butter and eat while you'd say "Ewww!", or a tiger to help keep the population of Las Vegas magicians down. No, they chose a rat. While I'm sure genetically identical rats have uses in the lab other than dressing them in matching costumes at Christmas and Halloween so people in the labs down the hall can ooh and ahh over them, it seems that if scientists are going to put that much time and energy into making a discovery, the least they can do is choose something more practical. You know, like a 60,000-mile high elevator.

It's true. The Los Alamos National Laboratory (motto: "Want to know a secret?") recently held a conference so scientists could discuss the possibility of building an elevator that will haul cargo to a space station. A 60,000-mile high one. To put this into perspective, that's like driving across the country 20 times, circling the Earth two and a half times, or making it two-thirds of the way to the moon. Hell, that's even longer than Louis Anderson's belt, if you can believe that, and you'd better since this gets even stranger. The scientists say the elevator will run up and down a ribbon that's three feet wide and thinner than paper, carrying up to 13 tons at a time. And no, I'm not going to make another comment about Louis Anderson. One per column is enough.

As incredible as this project sounds, they say it could happen because the ribbon would be made from nanotubes, which are super-strong cylindrical molecules of carbon that are created when scientists smoke a lot of marijuana. Just kidding. Actually crack works better. The only problem at the moment is that no one's been able to make a nanotube longer than a few feet long, but I'm sure they'll get it figured out. After all, they've already conquered such age-old problems as the common cold, blatant sarcasm disguised as humor, and the spray-on tan, so I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

Yes, you can actually get a spray-on tan. No more sitting in the sun sweating while you feel your skin cells metamorphose into cancer. Say goodbye to that blotchy, uneven orange color you get from the bottle that makes you look like a stonewashed George Hamilton. This is the 21st century. All you have to do is step into a metal box and strike several poses while a carwash-like sprayer covers you with hot wax--I mean, sunless tanning lotion. Hot wax is extra. Then you buff yourself with a towel and -- voila! -- instant Aztec sun god. Why they don't use those hanging strips of fabric you find in a carwash to buff you is beyond me, but they didn't ask me, which is a good thing because I would have told them not to waste their time since an airbrush tan is all anyone really needs.

In case you've been too busy hiding in the attic trying to maintain that fish belly white look -- I mean, porcelain skin -- to hear about it, airbrush tanning is the now passé way to get a golden glow. The process is simple: someone who used to paint customized vans airbrushes you with tanning solution, hopefully fighting the urge to paint "If this tan's a rockin', don't come a knockin'" on your stomach. The big attraction of the airbrush tan is that they can give you contour lines to give you the cut and definition of California's new governor while still being able to brag to your friends that you're helping support an artist. Well, as long as you don't mind using the term loosely. It's a natural. Well, in a false sort of way. I guess if you were not bothered by people knowing your tan is artificial, why would you care if your muscles were too? Besides, isn't it about time trompe l'oeil came out of the art museums and onto our bodies?

But back to the cloned rats. If scientists are going to put that much time, money, energy, and irony into their research, why are they using it to copy something that already exists rather than come up with something entirely new? Rats have been around for 54 million years, what we really need is a new animal. You know, like the one Douglas Herrick created in 1932 -- the jackalope. Herrick not only created it, he and his brother made a living by selling thousands of the half bunny, half antelopes. Which means they didn't need a government research grant to survive. Or why not create a brand new food product, like the new fat-free half-and-half? Yes, you can really buy this amazing new oxymoronic product that, judging by the list of ingredients, gets its name from the fact that it's made of half natural ingredients and half chemicals you can't pronounce. You know, like Cool Whip if they were to add a touch of real milk by mistake. Come to think of it, maybe scientists should figure out how to clone whipped cream. Could you do me a favor and pass that research grant application this way?

Mad Dog's compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation.

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