Sunday, October 5, 2008

364.4 Smoots and One Ear

Today, a high school friend of mine and Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumna drew my attention to the fact that MIT was honoring former chairman of the American National Standards Institute and the former president of International Organization for Standardization Oliver Reed Smoot, Jr. for also being the basis of a unit of measurement: the smoot, fifty years ago when the young Smoot was used by his brothers in the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity to measure the Harvard Bridge that connects Boston and Cambridge on Massachusetts Avenue.

The Boston Globe has run a story on the ceremony honoring Smoot.

In the intervening decades, the story has became such an important part of Boston area folklore that in 2003 that when I premiered my performance piece, "Beacon Hill Panorama with Paper Airplanes" (a piece inspired by James Van Looy's habit of flying paper airplanes off of Bill Barnum's roof during Cosmic Spelunker Theater rehearsals) at Green Street Studios, the passage that received the strongest audience reaction was:

Paper airplanes trace arcs
dragging eyes over the Longfellow Bridge
as it sends red and white 01700s to and fro
a Cambridge cityscape sunset silhouetted
under mammoth crane-hoisting scaffolds
and then towards the
three hundred and sixty-four point four smoot
and one ear length of Mass Ave Bridge
spanning the Charles meander meander waters
and past the defunct Citgo sign still flashing
marking Kenmore Square under a Venusian firmament pin-prick.

The full text of the poem later appeared in BOOM! For Real edited by Ian Dooda and Steven Coy and published by Better Non Sequitur.