Interlude: Bill Nye the Science Guy

Remember Bill Nye the Science Guy? If you’re in your thirties, then you know exactly who  I’m talking about. If you don’t know, then….shame.

Well, it turns out that the Planetary Society, which the late and glorious Carl Sagan founded and of  which Bill Nye is a member, is staying at the hotel where I waitress. When I heard that Nye was going to be at the restaurant on the night of January 25th, I choked on my own saliva in excitement.

[I’ve noticed that my mother’s side of the family suffers from some kind of oversalivation condition. We are constantly choking on our own saliva, especially when we get excited about something awesome {Evolution Fail}. Curiously, we don’t get cavities {Evolution Win?}. Also, we are born without appendices {definite Evolution Win}. In addition, when we get excited, we get an overwhelming need to fart {Evolution Win or Fail, depending on the social situation}. I tend to get overly excited in bookstores because I love books so much. I’ve farted in many a Barnes and Noble and Borders. Oh no, RIP Borders.]

Since I don’t work the night shift, I make sure to let one of the waiters working that night to let me know when Bill would be leaving.

At 8:50 p.m., while I’m watching a rerun of Tabatha Coffey terrorize the lazy staff of a hair salon on Bravo, I get the following text: “Pola, come now! Bill is here! He’s taking pictures with people! Hurry! He’s leaving!”

I was still wearing my waitress uniform, which consists of a black shirt, black jodhpurs, black boots, black fingernail polish, along with round tortoise glasses. I have no time to change.

I burst into the restaurant at 9 p.m. looking like a steampunk jockey about to mount Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.

Bill Nye is all debonair, nursing a bloody Merlot, and I hear a voice say: “I grew up with you! I grew up with you! Oh my God! You look like BILL NYE.”

I then recognized that voice to be my own.

I was a tornado of black clothing, bad breath with braces, glasses, and cystic acne. But he was kind. He took a picture of us on his iPhone. I need him to forward me this picture so I can prove to you this actually happened.

So we begin talking about science. There are other scientists there, one being a  doctor in ecology who studies eels. Somehow when eels migrate they stop eating (actually, they stop eating because their guts automatically close up completely when they begin migrating). They burn all their fat just like salmon do when they swim upstream? After they finish their migration, they’re really thin? Right. My palms are sweating. I’m looking at Bill Nye while the weight of eels pre-migration and post-migration is being discussed. He looks exactly as he did on T.V. The man must be using some kind of age-defying face cream. I feel an urge to ask him, then I stop. That would be strange. But then I burst out with:

“Did you know that Secretariat lost almost 400 pounds after he won the Triple Crown? He went from 1600 to about 1200-something. Can you imagine?” [At the age of 32 I have yet to master the art of social interaction; I’m blaming the fact that I was a complete nerd in high school and college.]

“I didn’t know that,” Nye replies. “But he’s Secretariat. Imagine all the women he got after that.”

Bill Nye is KINKY. The doctor in ecology gives out a jolly laugh. The doctor in ecology also looks like a cross between George Lucas and ZZ Top.

“You mean….,” ZZ George says.

“Well, you know what I mean….those ponies…what are they called, fillies?” Nye asks.

“Mares?” I propose.

“Right, mares. But he probably got a lot of women too.”

Bill Nye has a bloody sense of humor, who KNEW?

“Did you know that Secretariat sired over 600 foals?” I said with my acne resplendent in the lights of the restaurant.

“Wow! I’m sure Catherine the Great would have been thrilled to have Secretariat in her bed,” says Nye, sipping his Merlot. With his bowtie, he looks like he’s been plucked from the University of Cambridge, circa 1950s, or from The Dick Van Dyke Show.

“Oh yes,” ZZ George. “What ever happened to THAT horse?”

“I think he broke his back when he fell on her when they were lowering him down from the ceiling onto her bed?” I said. [That’s what I learned in high school, ok? I seriously have no idea what happened to that horse. I do know that the horse is (in)directly responsible for her death, and I also know that the horse story is a total myth? I hope it’s a myth, not Cathy’s sake but for the horse’s sake.]

The conversation quickly turns to what the Planetary is going to be doing tomorrow.

Ok, so it turns out the Planetary Society is in Puerto Rico to go visit the Arecibo radio telescope and get this, pay a visit to a SETI outpost there. (SETI = Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. If you’ve seen the movie Contact, then that’s where Jodie Foster is first seen working at the beginning of the movie).

ZZ George, the leader of the pack, tells me: “We have to get up really early tomorrow morning. At what time do you open?”

“7:30 a.m.” I already know I have given the wrong answer by studying ZZ’s facial expression.

“Do you think you could get here a bit earlier, since our bus for Arecibo leaves at 8:30 a.m.?”

“Sure!” Anything for scientists that are looking for aliens. “I can be here at seven, if you like, to start serving you coffee.”

He smiles warmly. “7:15 a.m. would be fine, actually. This group gets a bit grumpy without coffee.”

A few scientists overhear this and let out a collective laugh.

“I understand,” I said, nodding like a Justin Bieber fan.

Bill Nye then ays, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t quite catch your name?”


“Pola, if you can remember, and if it’s not an inconvenience to you, I take my coffee decaf.”


He nods.

[No one in Puerto Rico drinks decaf. Puerto Rico is famous for its coffee crops, so famous in fact, that at one point in the 20th century, the Pope in Rome only drank Puerto Rican coffee. No one in their right mind here drinks decaf. If you drink decaf, you’re either a foreigner or a pussy (in which case, we will beat you up in a dark alley and leave you for dead after you drink your “decaf.” I kid, we won’t beat you up; we’ll just stop talking to you and your little “decaf” personality.)]

But, in order to find decaf coffee, you have to go to an American chain store, such as a Walgreens, and hope to God that you find some dusty Nescafé decaf bottle tucked behind an equally dusty Taster’s Choice coffee crystals bottle, and even at the Walgreens, they probably won’t have it. Finding decaf in Puerto Rico is like trying to find a bottle of water at Oktoberfest.]

“Wow, um, ok.” Where the heck am I going to get decaf? “You know Mr. Nye, Puerto Rico is known for its coffee.”

“Ah yes, but when I got to the airport, I saw a sign that read ‘Cuban coffee’.”


“I was wondering whether you could tell me what that is.”

“Oh, I know what they mean. It’s not coffee per se. Cuba doesn’t produce coffee anymore, not after they saw the great profit they were deriving from tobacco, and their cigars are quite fantastic. Cuban coffee is just a style of preparing an espresso. I think what that sign meant is ‘un café cortado’.”

His eyes twinkle. “Oh! How do you pronounce that?” Apparently, Bill Nye the Science Guy also loves languages.

I repeat it. He repeats it back to me.

Bill Nye’s Spanish needs a bit of help, that’s all I’m saying. But he gave it the good Cornell try.

“Right, and what that means is an espresso with a splash of milk. ‘Cortado’ means ‘cut’ in Spanish. When you throw a dash of milk in an espresso, it looks like the milk has physically cut the coffee.” I am sweating now. I am so nervous, so I decide to leave.

“Interesting!” He sips Merlot. “Do you think I could have that tomorrow?”

Being a fierce nationalist, I hear myself say: “No sir. I think it would be to your cultural advantage to drink Puerto Rican coffee while you’re here.” Then I add, “I only serve Puerto Rican coffee.” And it is then that  I realize that what I had just said, and the way in which I have said it, has sounded bitchy, and I amend with: “I think it would enrich your experience in Puerto Rico if you drank actual Puerto Rican coffee.”

He laughs kindly at my moment of social gaucheness. I decide I need to leave. My belly is rumbling.

“Well, I don’t want to keep you, since I know you have to get up early tomorrow, but I’ll see you tomorrow morning!” I say chirply. I’m shy, and I don’t want to wear out my welcome, especially with Bill Nye. I walk over quickly to Nick, the chef, and ask him whether we have decaf.

“Hahahahahaha!” That was his answer.

“Do you think we can get some?”

“Hahahahahahha!,” and he goes back to sipping his own Merlot.

The real reason though why I wanted to leave is that when I get nervous, I get an urge to fart luxuriously, and if I don’t get to a bathroom soon, I feel awful, my belly distends, and my soul panics. And I can’t hold on to an unfarted farts. I tried it once, with terrible results. I think almost died.

[Once, I held in a fart for more than 10 minutes, and I got so dizzy I almost fainted. I was 16 years old and standing in the middle of Harvard Yard at night next to a guy I had a crush on. Without any warning, I started running away from the guy as fast as I could and started crop-dusting the Yard. Otherwise, if I hadn’t run and farted right there, he would have been subjected to eau du caca.

He had no idea what had come over me. The thing was: I was so full of gas, so incredibly full of methane, that I had to keep running and running and running. I directed the fumes at every single tree I could find. When the guy came running after me to see if I was ok, I had no idea how to explain my behavior so I said: “I like to sprint at night, unannounced. It relaxes me. You should try it.”

Our burgeoning relationship didn’t last long.]

Once outside the hotel, I release and feel so much better. That night, I dream of exploding beakers and eggs thrown at the floor that don’t break.