3.22.2010

Magpie Tales Photo Prompt No.6-"Nails To Feathers"

Nails to Feathers

It was becoming rather tedious, but it was a good paying job, and I still had another year of grad school, so beggars can’t be choosers, right? My job was to lie on a bed of nails, which I did in a staged performance five days a week and weekends at the Museum of Science in Boston. I also did my “act” several times a month in the labs at M.I.T. for the students majoring in Physics. There were mistakes and injuries in the beginning; it took many hours of training and a calm patience. I didn’t have many friends, they couldn’t quite grasp what it was I did, and for the most part, they thought I was weird. Yes, it is an unusual practice, but one that has been a cultural tradition for meditation and relaxation in India for thousands of years.

One might think of the freak show at carnivals or the circus; that dark ominous tent, full of the strange and bizarre, but it wasn’t anything magical or mystical at all. Most of those acts were exaggerated to be shocking, but were totally phony. Changes in entertainment led to the decline of these human sideshows, and some states banned or outlawed them all together. The exhibition of human oddities, “freaks of nature”, can be traced back for centuries. Strong man, tallest, oldest, shortest; then there was the elephant man, spider boy, camel girl, the bearded lady of Geneva – and, the man who sleeps on a bed of nails! This act was to express bravery and lack of pain, when in fact, it was a simple physics demonstration on the principles of pressure.

Freak shows were popular in the United States between 1840 and the 1970s, and in many states one can still find them. In the 1630s, Lazarus Colloredo, and his parasitic twin brother, John Baptista, who was attached at Lazarus' sternum, toured Europe. The early 19th century brought Chang and Eng, "the original Siamese twins", to an exhibition in America. P.T. Barnum arrived in London with Tom Thumb, the famous midget. Coney Island was the sight of the World Circus Sideshow,” operating from 1922 to 1941 by “Professor” Samuel Wagner, known as “The Godfather” of the Coney Island Freak Show. These bizarre anomalies were eventually scientifically explained as genetic mutations or diseases, and so-called freaks were no longer feared, but given sympathy instead. Lying on a bed of nails, however, wasn’t all that freaky, it just took practice, and it was actually beneficial to the body.

In Russia, in the 1980’s, physicians found that the effects of the bed of nails showed great results for the immune system, metabolic rates and decrease in stress levels. Psychological changes also occurred; with aggression levels decreasing, alleviation of depression, and a sense of well-being developing.

The trick is getting on and off the bed; my technique was to roll onto the bed in one quick motion, once the body weight is evenly dispersed, there is no risk of injury. If you try to sit, or put a hand down, that area will receive the brunt of pressure and cause the nail to puncture your skin. In early training, three pieces of plywood are set on top of the nails; once I am stretched out, an assistant removes each board from under me, and I remain balanced on the nails. Other methods have beds with railings, so you can slowly lower yourself onto the nails. I have a few scars and puncture holes here and there, but I have it down to, well, a science, and rather enjoy the stimulation, my body very accustomed to it now. Overall, I rarely have emotional issues, being quite calm and balanced, and I don’t suffer from any health problems, so I would recommend the bed of nails as extremely therapeutic.

This job has helped me earn a living while in college, a “hit the nail on the head” kind of idea, because I will soon earn my doctorate in Physics after eight long years of studying. It has been hard as nails, I’ve bitten my nails, I could have spit nails at times, and of course, it's been a real bed of nails. When I go home each night to my single dorm on the top floor of an old brownstone, the one item dominating the room is a giant featherbed!

©2010, Janice Stiles-Boults
http://www.5min.com/Video/Physics-in-Action-A-Bed-of-Nails-174070816
Information courtesy of Google Searches & Wikipedia
Photograph courtesy of Willow
@ http://willowmanor.blogspot.com/
Willow, of "Life at Willow Manor", began Magpie Tales in February. Every week writers sign up and then post a poem or fictional story to go with a photograph prompt that Willow provides. Check out http://magpietales.blogspot.com/ to join in the fun!

23 comments:

  1. Good for the body in an acupuncture kind of way? Hope the pay was good! Super tale!

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  2. Ah, good last line! Actually did the bed of nails thing in Orlando a few years ago and the myth was debunked!

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  3. Walking on burning embers next. Well, as they say, written.

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  4. I loved it as well and have read that your character's experience was real. Fascinating!

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  5. nails, nails, nails -- this was a fine read...
    ...rob
    Image & Verse

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  6. dont know if i would have the hutzpah to try that...afraid someone may try and jump on the bed...smiles. nicely done.

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  7. Ahh! Happiness on a Bed of Nails... I think not, my friend. Great story about a true to life application.

    Joanny

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  8. One word "ouch!". Well researched and very humorous take on the nail prompt. You must be a yogi by now Dr. instead of ouch it's "om" that feels good, alright!

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  9. Great information there. I love to read histories of things I have no idea of. I did not realize that was a common type exhibit since I am not too familiar with sideshows, but only knew it was associated with India. Good job.
    QMM

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  10. Endless info..in the best way! I think of the nails as super acupuncture..which did me worlds of good!

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  11. Awww ... this was brilliant! Loved this piece!!!

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  12. Oh, so many nails. So glad there was the comfort of a featherbed at the end. Beautiful.

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  13. Wonderful Magpie Tale! Those old freak shows were beyond bizarre. Well done!

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  14. What an original and interesting piece. Nice piece of writing Janice.

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  15. This was very intersting to read. I remember the freak shows, and am glad they are gone.
    OM....is right

    -thank you for your words
    of connection on my take
    of this prompt
    they touched me
    a thousand bed of nails
    to one nail of grief...

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  16. I had the opportunity to lie on a bed of nails at a local museum exhibit. The lying part was fine; it was the getting off that was tricky.

    I visited your "Year of Mourning" blog and I am entranced. I'm in my second year of mourning for my dad.

    Kat

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  17. i am following all my blogs privately now, wanted to let you know that is why my avatar will not show openly in the google reader. i am continuing to deal with a nasty stalking issue, and so i must take this action, rest assured, i am here ... :)
    and so glad to be...whoa, a bed of nails...! i have to admit that thought or phrase passed my mind when i glimpsed the prompt but i could never have compiled or created the tale you have made...i applaud you!

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  18. Ummmmm, ouch. I think I can think of easier things to improve health and lower stress levels. I much rather like a feather bed. :)

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  19. I always wonder about the bed of nails.. hmmmm very interesting read. I hope the nails are close together! hee hee.. :) The Bach

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  20. Wow, you clearly got your point across! Good work!

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  21. Dropped by for Magpie #7 -- so guess I'll stop by later...
    ...rob
    Image & Verse

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