Yankovic has sold millions of albums, played 1,616 shows and outlasted so many of the stars he once spoofed. [...] “Comedy recording and funny songs go back to the earliest days of the record industry,” says Barry Hansen, better known as Dr. Demento, the radio host who introduced Yankovic to the public 40 years ago. “But Al is unique. There’s nothing like him in the history of funny music.”
Not a lot of research has been done on how our minds perceive and comprehend large orders of magnitude—big differences between the size of, say, a cell and our sun. But one academic outwardly passionate about it is David Landy, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington. Landy has done several studies on how well people understand very large numbers—namely, the millions, billions, and trillions—in relation to each other on a number line.
We pull up to the farmhouse to find a courtly white-haired man trimming the hedge with a set of clippers. “It’s him!” Dad whispers. He rolls down his window and leans out. “Hello, good sir!” The man seems a little nonplused. “I have a car full of young readers here who’d give anything to meet their favorite author. A word from you, and they’ll remember this moment for the rest of their lives.” What choice does the poor man have? Within a few minutes, the famously reclusive E.B. White is demonstrating to a cluster of little girls in bathing suits that when you crush pine needles between your fingers and hold it to your nose, the smell is as strong as patchouli. And Dad is right — we never will forget it.
They offer opportunities for unobtrusive observation, stolen glances and frissons, anticipation and nudging possibilities. And when the sensible realization strikes that a thrilling plan is better left unaccomplished, they might also become sites of abandonment.