“A towel . . . is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough”
—Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
I think I know what when wrong this past Monday — I didn’t have my towel with me.
Luckily,today is Towel Day, so everything is gonna be just fine. Because now I have my towel.
For those of you who are wondering if I’ve snapped,* Towel Day is a celebration of the late Douglas Adams, author of many marvels, including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, from which good memes come:
Life . .. don’t ask me about life . . .
Flies like a fish, steers like a cow.
Is there any tea on this spaceship?
Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters
The knack [of flying] lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.
“A learning experience is one of those things that says, ‘You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”
“Ford… you’re turning into a penguin. Stop it.”
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
What I need… is a strong drink and a peer group.
And of course, Don’t Panic, which is always a useful bit of advice, even if you have no intention of following it.
This is how I first encountered Douglas Adams and his Guide:
I was riding the school bus home from my first day of seventh grade with a bunch of kids who had gone to other elementary schools—they’d redrawn the boundaries over the summer, so all my friends were on the other bus. So naturally, I had my shy nose stuck in a book, the title of which has passed out of memory.
This red headed boy leaned across the aisle and propositioned me in particularly graphic language. I was duly horrified, but knew better than to show it. So I rolled my eyes, forced a smile, and said something like, “No, thanks. You’ll get me all dirty,” and went back to my book, trying not to spontaneously combust from mortification.**
The next day, on the way to school, this same boy asked me what I was reading, as if we were old friends instead of bully and target. Suspecting a trick, I showed him the cover and braced myself—but he only dug around in his backpack and pulled out a paperback with a giant thumb and a rude little green planet on the cover. “You ever read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ?”
I hadn’t. He passed it over. “You can borrow it if you want. And sorry about yesterday. I thought you were stuck up, but you’re all right.”
That kid became one of my best, if weirdest, friends*** and Douglas Adams became one of my favorite authors.
Mr. Adams was irreverent and sly and witty and twisted language into pretzel shapes and science fiction (among other genres) into something both convoluted and brilliantly, elegantly, simple. The imagination of the man!
I’m sure he opened mine to the possibilities, including the possibility that I might be able to play with words, too, in my own way. And he certainly did a lot for my reading comprehension—if you can follow the Dirk Gently stories, AP English is a breeze.
I think I fell in love with my husband, in part, because he could quote back lines from most of Mr. Adams’ books. it was proof that he was one of my kind. Someone who would remind me to miss the ground and Don’t Panic.
*Years ago. And you must be new — hello!
**I’m convinced that if human beings actually could die of embarrassment, few of us would survive puberty.
*** There was never a repeat of his initial suggestion, or any like it, in all the years I knew him. To this day, I have no idea why he chose the , ah, pick-up line he did, but I have to admit, it worked.