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Sunday, April 9, 2006

Great Men of Genius Debriefing #3: Nikola Tesla

Posted by on April 9 at 12:24 PM

Featuring alpha geeks! And war with Thomas Edison!

Mike Daisey (performer): Today’s preparations were hard—the rain got to me, because I needed to walk and think, so I got very wet and miserable. I do another monologue called MONOPOLY! that is also about Tesla, as well as Microsoft’s antitrust case, Wal-Mart, and the board game Monopoly, and I was determined not to reuse any material I’ve done before: a friend who had seen MONOPOLY! was amazed that no material was repeated, so I feel the effort paid off. I had vocal strain right at the top from a poorly judged “BWAHAHAHAHHAH!ā€¯ but recovered as the show evened out. At one point I used the word “amplitudeā€¯ incorrectly and I saw an audience member scowl—probably an electrical engineer. Someone took out a Sidekick right after I made a statement about Tesla, and I’m certain they were googling my statements—fact-checking in real time—which I thought was simultaneously lame and awesome.
Anthony Hecht (audience member): Mike Daisey is really starting to get to me. I knew his selection of geniuses was right up my alley, but even more amazingly, the order of geniuses is perfect for me. Each night presents a subject I’m familiar with and fascinated by, and each night I feel more connected to Daisey’s narrative. Tonight he talked about his stints in the Gifted and Talented Program in elementary school (check), as a Star Trek nerd (check), and having thoughts of the end of the world while hanging around Loring Air Force Base (check). I can only assume that tomorrow night he’ll recount how his Scientologist aunt tried to indoctrinate him and his wife as they passed through Clearwater, Florida in 2003.

Tonight’s subject was Nikola Tesla and Daisey was in top form. Tesla is dear to Daisey’s heart, as evidenced by another of his monologues, MONOPOLY! which deals with Tesla’s war with Thomas Edison over whether the nation would be powered by alternating or direct current. Tesla is a verifiable genius and someone who has a profound effect on our lives, but most of us don’t know anything about him. Some people—Daisey calls them the alpha geeks—know a lot about Tesla. Like your favorite teacher, Daisey plays to the uninformed and the geeks. You get the feeling that Daisey is coming to new conclusions and realizations all the time, right there on stage—that his delving into the minds of these men is never complete, and that it’s deepening before your eyes. (Though Daisey claims he’s no longer a geek, he has a picture of a MacBook Pro booting Windows XP on his website, and if he’s in the 0.64% of the population who thinks that’s in any way interesting or noteworthy, he’s definitely a geek, but in a good way.)

Over a couple of whiskeys after the show, I went on and on and on to a friend about my experiences with Scientology, and met with the usual response: “You have got to be fucking kidding me.ā€¯ And I didn’t even get into the really weird shit. Needless to say, I’m very excited about tomorrow night’s final performance. If there’s one thing I like more than the history of science and technology, it’s cultivating a frothy loathing for Scientology.