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کتاب: زندگی در چند بخش / فصل 49

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متن انگلیسی فصل

Hal

It became a running joke among the Malcolm in the Middle writing staff: What won’t Bryan do? We already know Bryan will run up and down the street in his floppy tighty-whities. Will he drink a morning shake that consists of raw eggs, raw ground meat, soy powder, and juice? Sure. Will he wear a coat of live bees? Not just a bee here and there, mind you. We’re talking a second skin of bees. They didn’t want to write it if I wouldn’t do it.

So they asked me: are you allergic to bees?

Nope.

Will you do it?

Absolutely I’ll do it.

Then the writers worked backward. They reverse engineered the story. How could Hal get himself into that position?

Malcolm and his Krelboyne classmates are entering a battling robot competition. The boys are arguing about what type of robot to build as Hal passes by. His interest is piqued. “Go ahead and play, and I’ll get you started here,” he says.

“Dad, what are you doing?”

Hal has a lightbulb moment: “We’ve already had bots with chains. We have never had an empty-cavity robot. We’ve never had a robot with . . . bees!”

Hal is up all night with his creation, tinkering, testing, trying to figure it out. Suddenly he notices a laser pointer on him. Oh no. An army of bees swarms out of the machine and blankets him.

I’ve always liked bees. My grandfather had bees on his farm. And from that experience I knew that bees are quite docile. Bees will only land on you for two reasons. One: to rest. Two: they mistake you for a flower. So even though I’d have fifty to seventy-five thousand bees on my body, I wasn’t scared.

Still, we had to prepare carefully to get the shot. The bee experts made sure that my long-sleeved shirt was tucked in. They duct-taped it at my wrists and then taped my pant waist and cuffs. They taped down my collar from the inside. They put cotton in my ears, so the bees couldn’t crawl in.

The queen bee emits pheromones, chemical messages, to her drones, her worker bees. Pheromones bond the drones to the queen; they give the colony a sense of being “queenright.” So now with a little eyedropper the beekeeper doused my arms and torso with pheromones, my hair and my ears and my chest. I was a bee magnet. I was their queen.

Once I set a position I wasn’t going to be able to change it. Seventy-five thousand bees don’t give you a lot of mobility. I picked a comfortable position. Standing. Knees loose. I was ready. The beekeepers were ready. Cameras ready. The beekeeper used a nontoxic smoke to make them mellow. Smoke relaxes bees. He opened the boxes and took out a screen full of bees, and then with a big scooper he gently lifted the bees off the screen and placed them on my waist. The beekeeper instructed me to let them maneuver. Let them find their own route. They did. They crawled up. I was soon covered in bees. The beekeeper warned me to keep my breathing steady, remain calm. It turned out there was no need. I discovered that being covered in bees was like sitting in a vibrating chair at a Brookstone store, warm and rather soothing. I completely let go. I closed my eyes.

In the scene, I had to turn around. As I moved, a bee crawled between my legs. I said, “I think I got stung.”

The beekeeper was at the ready, waiting to flick the bee away. “Where did you get stung?”

“In my nuts.”

He paused. “Sorry,” he said. “Can’t help you there.”

We got the shot. Everything good. People applauded. The bee expert explained that to get the bees off me they’d reload the pheromones onto the screens, and I was to squat as low as I could and then jump up. When I landed, half the bees would fall off and then follow the pheromones onto the screens and into the boxes. The beekeepers would gently whisk off the rest with a broom. They’d lose a few, but it would be fractional.

I got stung again when they were whisking the bees off. It wasn’t too bad. But I knew from the horror on everyone’s face how monstrous I looked. After all the bees were back in their boxes, Linwood walked over. “Remember when I said I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do?” he said. “I wouldn’t do this.”

As Hal, I was strapped to the front of a city bus like a bicycle. I spent a hell of a lot of time dancing around in my tighty-whities, including one episode where I sang a song and danced a dance in praise of bacon and its effect on my body. I was doused with water balloons. Fake bird shit plopped on my head. I was covered in blue paint head to toe—everything but my eyeholes. Hal is depressed in that episode, so he takes a painting class, and he paints himself blue—his “blue period”—and splats his body against the canvas. Except for a modesty patch, I was entirely nude, so they turned up the heat onstage. The human body regulates heat through pores. If you close off the pores, you cut off the ability to regulate. Covered in paint in a hot room, I slowly started to overheat and become disoriented. Before we finished shooting everything our director wanted, our producer, Jimmy Simons, called it off and rushed me into a shower to scrub off the paint so my body could regulate temperature again. It turns out painting yourself head to toe is dangerous. Live and learn.

I did roller-skate dancing. I trained for two straight weeks on roller skates—hours upon hours. I could shoot the duck, spin, balance on one leg, all kinds of things. The only thing I couldn’t do was leave my feet. I tried a cartwheel once on my own, and my expert skating coach Greg Tallaksen said: “Don’t do that again.”

I loved Malcolm. I loved it. It was always: What’s the next script? What do I get to do with this one? It was so much fun. We did 151 episodes over seven years—so much time to explore, to build a character, to develop a kind of symbiotic relationship with the writers. Once, after something happened to Hal, some big achievement, I said Hot-cha! Soon I saw it written in a script. Next thing you knew, the writers were making it a signature expression, a Hal-ism. And then I riffed on what they did. The relationship between actors and writers on a television show can really be a beautiful creative partnership.

Jane Kaczmarek, who played my wife, Lois, was also a creative partner. We had a wonderful TV marriage, a genuine intimacy. When we were in a scene, kissing or cuddling, we could hang out in bed and talk between takes, completely at ease. If you’re going to work together over 151 episodes, it’s nice to have a connection, a comfort, and Jane and I did. We were lucky.

And my boys were just that—my boys: Chris Masterson, Justin Berfield, Erik Per Sullivan, and of course Frankie Muniz. I shared a significant part of their lives growing up, and they were good kids one and all. And they made it through the gauntlet of life as child actors and became decent young men.

In the last episode of the series, Malcolm goes off to college. The shooting schedule called for filming the last scene last. (It’s customary to shoot out of sequence.) When we finished that last take, not one member of the cast or crew had a dry eye. Seven years. We had become a family. And we didn’t want to let it go.

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