Adventures with a mad scientist's lightning machine.

The latest gadgets and tech toys.
Nov. 2 2005 5:42 PM

The Coil and I

Adventures with a mad scientist's lightning machine.

(Continued from Page 1)

"Mike," he says, very deliberately. "You'd better know whether you have any metal in your body."

By now I'm sure that my body is metal-free, but I'm still nervous as Jaime flips two switches and then turns an enormous knob. A high-pitched schreeak fills the room, like sheet metal getting torn. Lightning pours out of the toroid and writhes around like a cat on a short leash. Arcs leap out and dance across chairs, the ceiling, and the floor.

Advertisement

Jaime gestures for me to get closer to the coil. As I do so nervously, he crouches lower behind the control box, continuously adjusting that one knob with the intensity of a Trappist monk. He is very proud of the coil, and touches it constantly as he tells us he will need a great deal of money to bring it to performances. When we regretfully decline, he abruptly reverses and says he can do it for free, so long as we provide him with dinner. This sounds too good to be true, and, in fact, it is. A few days later, he changes his mind again and calls demanding compensation.

It's a lot of money, but I've decided to fight for the coil. I've become enchanted by it. I want to be the mad scientist, bringing a terrifying and glorious new machine out in front of the masses. Just once, I want to shout, "Bwahahhahahaha!" and really mean it.

Just a day before the opening, Alex the artistic director tells me that the designers and technicians have demanded a meeting to discuss the coil. He explains that the designers and technicians are totally freaked out—they fear it will blow out all of their electronics and who knows what else. Tech has already been going poorly—the live rabbits are dying of an unknown ailment and the multimedia is on the fritz. The last thing anyone wants is a lightning-throwing death machine.

We all meet in the theater: designers, technicians, me, and Jaime, the Keeper of the Coil. Alex tosses out what should be a softball question: "Jaime, what's the worst thing that could happen with the coil?" I turn expectantly, eager to hear his impassioned defense. He thinks for a moment, his lips moving, and then says, slowly, "Well ... it could kill someone."

The designers are horrified—they were worried about the multimedia getting ruined and now we're talking about murdering audience members. "Jaime," I say, hurriedly spinning his answer, "what you mean by that is that the coil could kill someone if they doused themselves in water and jumped on top of it, right, which is why we have a safety zone, right?"

"Yes, that's true," he responds. "And it's also true that sometimes electricity does whatever it wants. It's hard to predict."

The theater management hears about our meeting and wants us to get supplemental insurance that covers lightning-throwing death machines. The Tesla coil is axed. It sits offstage during the performances, disassembled and inert in a paint closet. It's the loveliest, most frightening, and saddest machine I have ever seen.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?