Friday, May 25, 2012


So today is Towel Day. If you don't know what that's all about, I suggest you go and read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Seriously. It's only like 200 pages. I'll wait. Otherwise, this won't make a whole lot of sense, and it's slightly more serious than funny today, so this whole thing may just end up getting lost on you. At the very least, read this (from the third chapter of the book):
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.
     A towel, it says, 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 vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft 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 to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindbogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you—daft as a bush, but very ravenous); 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.
     More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit, etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker may have accidentally "lost." What the strag will think is that any man that can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
     Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in
"Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is." (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)
I first picked up a copy of HHGG at the age of twelve. It was a small stroke of luck that I even came across it in the first place. It had been cleverly hidden away in the A section of the fiction area of my school library which, in turn, had been even more cleverly hidden away in a town of 100 people in North Dakota. (Actually, it was the Omnibus Edition of the trilogy that was published about a year before "The Hitchhiker's Trilogy" became a misnomer. FYI, and such.) The cover bore a cartoonish planet with a wide mouth and lolling tongue. This planet was juggling three similar planets. Ten years later, a face like this one (except with eyes) would come to be known as the Jake Face, and would become the exclusive facial expression used in pictures of me.

Apparently I wear that hat a lot. And that jacket.
The book had only been checked out once or twice before, but I would go on to add my name to its card (remember those?) several times before I graduated. I started reading it immediately, and had already finished the first chapter before I even reached the desk to check it out. My initial impression was that this may have been the single greatest combination of words ever assembles. As I progressed through the book, I would discover that this may have been an understatement.

I remember thinking—because I was twelve and American—that the error in Ford Prefect's attempt at adopting an inconspicuous name was merely orthographic in nature, and that misspelling "Perfect" was simply an entertaining irony. At some point not long after this, I read in the introduction that the name was actually a mistake on his part regarding the dominant species on the planet, and suddenly I began to understand that this was a book I was going to be reading very many times. It's the first book I remember reading in which I was not only being told a story, but also learning a lot about How To Write. Before that, most of what I'd read took itself far too seriously. Douglas Adams was the first author to show me it didn't always have to be that way. He somehow managed to blend Telling The Truth and Making Shit Up in a way that was funnier than anything I'd ever read before (or since), but also incredibly intelligent. He was one of my very first literary influences.

In 2001, at the age of 49, he joined my ever-growing list of authors whom I deeply regret having the misfortune of never being able to meet in person. I was just about to finish the first year of a Bachelor's degree in English at the time. $20,000 of higher education had equipped me with the ability to go "oh, shit" and feel a deep sense of loss, which is as good a tribute as any of us who Make Shit Up can hope for—that it meant something to someone, even someone we never met. Especially someone we never met. Two weeks later, some people who were not me created a holiday to commemorate his life and his work. That's Towel Day. That's today. That's why I spent the past two nights making this:

Just the towel. I didn't make the book. That was Douglas Adams.
Honestly, have you been paying any attention at all?
Also, I think I just made it through a whole post without saying "fuck." Except for there. Fuck.

Anyway, happy Towel Day.

1 comment:

I Eat Words said...

Awesome post, Jake! I first read HHGG when I was in college and loved it. Every time I see the number 42 I can't help but think of it. And I kind of want that towel.

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