Excerpt from the essay "The Slowest Drop," first published in Mary: A Journal of New Writing, Winter 2015.
The two girls beside me had decorated their white T-shirts in alternating green and gold markers. ELLEN, the shirts said, the five letters corralled inside a hand-drawn outline of Australia. Ellen DeGeneres was in Australia to record some shows, and she was staying at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne. That’s the short explanation of how I found myself waiting out the front of the hotel at 7 a.m. on a Friday alongside about six teenage fans.
As explanations go, it’s both entirely complete and entirely inadequate, I know. But bear with me. We’ll get there. Maybe.
The girls were called Lauren and Kate. They were both sixteen, and had been celebrity stalkers for two years. Next to them, but not with them, was Tayla. Also sixteen, she had long brown hair, a sprinkle of acne, denim cut-offs, and the radiant intensity of a doorknocking evangelist. Her grey hoodie was emblazoned with the word Belieber. If she had been an evangelist, Tayla would have spread the word of Justin Bieber, her one true faith.
And me? I was waiting for many things that day. The kinds of huge, ordinary things you wait for and worry about in your mid thirties. The kinds of things you can do nothing about. Amid all this waiting, a few hours on a pavement seemed like a waste of time and nothing at all.
In 1927, Professor Thomas Parnell of the University of Queensland set up the world’s longest-running laboratory experiment. He heated pitch until it was liquid, then poured it into a sealed glass funnel. He left it to settle for three years, snipped off the tip of the funnel, and waited.
Pitch is hard. If you take to it with a hammer, it shatters. But at room temperature, despite what your eyes might tell you, pitch is actually fluid. Since 1930, the pitch in Parnell’s experiment has slowly moved through the funnel, forming drops that take a decade to build and drop. Since the experiment began, nine drops of pitch have fallen. You can watch the experiment by webcam now, watch the seemingly static pitch sitting in a glass box in Brisbane, nothing happening. Except it is.
Waiting for Ellen gave us plenty of time to talk. Lauren and Tayla told me how they’d
met loads of famous people.
“How?” I asked them. I was impressed. When I was sixteen, I hadn’t met anyone. In my
small hometown, you would be more likely to see a dingo than a celebrity.
“Airport,” mumbled Lauren.
“Yeah, airport,” said Tayla.
They tracked celebrities’ movements on Twitter and Facebook and hung out at the
airport to wait for flights to arrive. Sometimes they loitered outside hotels, like they were
Tayla’s ultimate encounter was with Justin Bieber. She met him in a parking lot at
midnight and was so overcome by emotion that she started to hyperventilate. “Oh my
god,” she said, bursting into tears. “He’s coming, he’s coming!”
Bieber hugged her. “Aw, sweetie,” he said. He put his arm around her as she took a
selfie. After that, she banned her mum from calling her sweetie. It was Justin’s word
Read the whole essay at Mary: A Journal of New Writing.