Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that gets stuck in your head and hopefully not an orifice.
I’m your host this week, Shea, and with me is…
I’m Aaron, and this week I got new networking equipment which is cool. Also, “my wifi is down” is officially the new “I was stuck in traffic.”
I’m sure you have all heard by now about the Ever Given super freighter being stuck sideways into the Suez canal. In case you haven’t, on March 23 shipping traffic through Egypt’s Suez Canal was grounded to a halt after a large vessel called the “Ever Given” got stuck in the passageway. You have probably seen the memes all over the internet or have heard jokes about how one backhoe worked tirelessly alone to help extricate the ship from the shore. Luckily the ship was finally flushed this past Monday. Either way, it really got me thinking of being stuck, stuck on what to write, stuck in my house, stuck in the arm with my last covid shot. So today I bring you stories of stuck, fastened fascinations, and cemented comedies. So glue yourself to your seat and let’s have some fun.
Our story starts in the quaint German town of Tübingen, home to a research university and plenty of campus “art.” The art in question is from a Peruvian artist Fernando de la Jara, Pi-Chacán is a 32-ton sculpture made out of red Veronese marble meant to signify “the gateway to the world”. The sculpture’s name is from the native Peruvian Quechuan language. According to de la Jara, the word chacán means “place where the action of water has tunneled through a large rock or a mountain”, or alternatively “lovemaking”. Pi is both a Greek character and a mathematical symbol, π, that looks similar to a door or a vulva. Now, why vulva? Well, I probably should have mentioned but the statue is of a huge stone vagina. By itself, it is a very interesting piece but it wasn’t until June of 2014 when an American student (why did it have to be us) studying abroad in Germany came across the striking anatomical depiction and decided to pose for pictures with it along with some friends. Like many exchange students, stupid decisions were made and the best angle for the shot was determined to be inside the genitalia, a sentence I have never before written. The student quickly realized that without the soft cartilage bones babies have he would have trouble extricating himself from the stone canal and thus was hopelessly stuck. 22 firefighters came to help remove the boy. It must have been a slow day, and it was reported that firefighters turned midwives were able to remove the student “by hand and without the application of tools.” A c-section would have been hell by the sounds of it. The mayor of Tübingen told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that he struggled to imagine how the accident could have happened, “even when considering the most extreme adolescent fantasies. To reward such a masterly achievement with the use of 22 firefighters almost pains my soul.”
The last laugh was had by the artist, De la Jara. He said he was working to create a sculpture even a blind person could appreciate by using different textures and appealing to the tactile senses. “It’s not only visual,” he said. “It’s not only with the eyes.” Basically, de la Jara intended for people to check out the sculpture up close. “The principal part of the work isn’t outside.” So the American might not have been totally off-base, a small consolation for the sheer scale of his embarrassment. “It’s participatory art,” de la Jara said. “It should be entered.” It’s just that, since the sculpture was installed in 2001, no one’s actually gotten stuck. “I believe [he got caught] because he had a lack of coordination” de la Jara said. “Or maybe it was a lack of sensibility.” “It might also be a little bit the fault of the work,” he added. De la Jara quipped that it was almost as if the sculpture had taken revenge on the kid. “Instead of jumping in, if he had gone in carefully, he wouldn’t have had a problem.”
An easier way to get stuck somewhere is to commit a crime in front of a cop, then you can be stuck in a cell. This became too much for Rafael Valadao, an inmate at a jail in Ceres in the central Brazilian state of Goias. Raf and his three cellmates devised an escape plan that would surely get them unstuck from this situation, or so they thought. The plan was simple, break through the holding cell wall with a stolen length of pipe, then go over a 16.4-foot perimeter wall and one electrified fence, home-free. The plan worked for the first cellmate, who after smashing through the wall quickly slipped through the hole and never looked back, But now it was our friend Raf’s turn, Raf was a bigger guy clocking in around 230lbs and he was anxious to go next, after shimmying himself through the wall to his stomach it became apparent that he couldn’t fit. Incapable of moving in or out, the police caught him in the act. The act of screaming for his life too, apparently. According to Brazilian newspaper Jornal Populacional, after badly injuring himself trying to pass through the hole repeatedly, the prisoner realized it was an impossible proposition. That’s when he began to scream and cry for help. At that moment, the guards came in and discovered the surrealistic scene. They even took photos of him as they waited for the fire department. The fire department used a hammer and drill to free the felon. A police spokesman said: “He seemed to have underestimated the size of his stomach.”
It’s stories like this that highlight how I’m not a good friend, and even if I was skinny I wouldn’t help you with this problem, Aaron. Cato Berntsen Larsen decided he would be the super friend when his buddy accidentally dropped his phone into a toilet while trying to pee and text at the same time at Hillside River Park in Drammen, Norway. Mr. Berntsen Larsen said he had volunteered to enter the tank, which is not connected to the sewer and which is only emptied once a season. “My friend said I was thinner and could fetch it. I did not take time to think, and jumped down legs first.” Cato immediately regretted his decision
“I was apparently thin enough to get down, but not thin enough to come up again. “It was damn disgusting – the worst ever experience. There were animals down there too. I was bit several times. “The sh*t was up to my thighs. I was sick. Then I started panicking because I hate confined spaces and couldn’t move.” The 20-year-old became sick as he stood thigh-deep in its contents, and had to spend an hour completely enclosed in the small area. “I panicked because I hate confined spaces,” he told Norwegian newspaper VG. “It was damn disgusting – the worst I have experienced. There were animals down there too.”
To make matters worse, Cato quickly threw up after entering the tank, which was standing room only. Firefighters were forced to destroy the toilet, which is now out of service. Cato sustained injuries to his upper arms and said he believed he had been bitten several times. He was treated at a hospital and given antibiotics and is now forever unclean. He did retrieve the phone – but it was smashed in the fall.
I’m trying not to judge people on looks but if this crawled out of my toilet I would probably have a heart attack and die.
Only Have Eyes For Glue
Now, this is a friend I can stand with. One Florida woman’s eye was glued shut after a friend accidentally passed her super glue instead of eye drops. Katherine Gaydos told WPBF-TV she asked her friend to get her a bottle of eye drops after she felt something blow into her eye. “Something blew into my eye and I screamed for someone else to get eye drops out of my purse and they brought Super Glue.” “As soon as I felt it in my eye I felt it burn and I closed my eye and screamed ‘Call 911.’” Gaydos went to her doctor, who was able to pry her eye open after applying anesthetic to her eyelids. She will have to come back Friday to get the glue removed. “He said I should get my sight back, and not have permanent damage,” Gaydos said.
While Gaydos’ injury could make almost anyone cringe, experts say people mistake eye drops and Super Glue all too often. Dr. Pankaj Gupta, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, said he has seen multiple cases where people accidentally glued their eyes shut but that there are simple treatments to help them. “The first thing I think everyone needs to know is don’t panic,” Gupta told ABC News. The eye cells will slough off and eventually loosen the grip of superglue, he explained. “There is not a single thing that is permanent that will not slough off on its own,” he added. “In time it will go away.” Gupta said if someone gets glue in their eye they should see an eye care doctor immediately, but not panic about permanently losing their eyesight.
Getting stuck with a bad date sucks but getting stuck while on a date sucks more, at least it did for Liam Smyth’s date, she wished to remain anonymous and you’ll soon see why. A few years ago, Liam, a grad student at the Britain’s University of Bristol, had a nice dinner with a woman he met on Tinder. The night was still young, so he invited her over to his house to drink wine and watch a documentary about Scientology, hot date if you ask me. At some point, the woman asked to use his bathroom. When she returned, Smyth said, she had “a panicked look in her eye.” Dates always go best when someone has a panicked look in their eyes. Smyth said the woman told him: “I went for a poo in your toilet, and it would not flush.” He then claims the woman confessed to reaching into the toilet bowl, wrapping the dookie in tissue paper, and throwing it out of the window. Wanting to be a gentleman, Smyth suggested going outside together, bagging up the offending poo, throwing it away, and then pretending “the whole sorry affair had never happened,” he recalled, (it must have been a really good date).
Unfortunately, the story gets crappier. Smyth’s bathroom window doesn’t open to the garden, but into an 18-inch gap that is separated from the outside world by another non-opening double glazed window. “It was into this twilight zone that my date had thrown her poo,” he wrote.
According to Smyth, when he went to get a hammer to smash the window, his date decided to climb in headfirst to retrieve the poop herself ― which she was able to do successfully.
That’s when they realized she was stuck upside-down.
“I grabbed her waist and I pulled. But she was stuck. Stuck fast,” Smyth wrote on his GoFundMe page. “Try as we might, we could not remove her from the window. She was stuck fast, upside down in the gap.” At that point, he called for help and an emergency crew drove up within minutes. About 15 minutes later, the woman was free. Although the woman was rescued unharmed, Mr. Smith said his bathroom window was destroyed.
“I’m not complaining, they did what they had to do,” he said.
“Problem is, I’ve been quoted north of £300 to replace the window and as a postgraduate student, that is a significant chunk of my monthly budget.”
Mr. Smith originally set a crowdfunding target of £200 but has already raised more than £1,200. He said he and his date had decided to split the extra cash between two charities, one supporting firefighters and another that builds and maintains flushing toilets in developing countries. Unsurprisingly, the woman does not want to be named but Mr. Smith said he had seen her since and “who knows what the future holds”.
“We had a lovely night on the second date but it’s too early to say if she’s the one. But we got on very very well and she’s a lovely girl,” he said.
“And we’ve already got the most difficult stuff out of the way first.”
Hide and Go Seek was a great game to play when we were kids, it’s even fun now! As we get older and bigger we start to run into some physics problems that often need professional intervention. Well, that’s what happened when Australian police got a call to help a man stuck inside of a washing machine. Bankstown Fire and Rescue were called out to the home in Lakemba a few years ago to find the man had been trapped in the front loader for at least three hours. The 22-year-old man was struck in the machine up to his waist and apparently, this wasn’t the first time the washing machine had caught him. His parents first called paramedics, who sought help from NSW Fire and Rescue. “This job was interesting as the crew had not performed a washing machine rescue before,” the Bankstown crew posted on their Facebook page. Under the direction of station officer David Cross, the D Platoon crew implemented a plan to extract the patient by disassembling the washing machine, the post said. They had to dissect the machine carefully and stabilize the washing drum while the outer mounts of the appliance were removed. Once the exterior had been removed, firefighters cut away the stainless steel drum to free the man. The rescue took just over an hour and the patient was taken to hospital as a precaution, maybe do a mental health check too.
The Tables Have Turned…
We started this story with people stuck in strange places but I want to end with strange things stuck in people. Many people around the globe have felt that moment of panic when we accidentally lose something in an orifice. I know when I was young and dumb I stuck a metal BB up my nose, much to my mother’s chagrin, and had to take a quick trip to the ER to have it fished out. I’d like to believe that I am done sticking things in orifices but who knows what the future may hold. Thanks to the internet and the record-keeping talents of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission we have a comprehensive list of everything stuck in Americans this past year. This is a great list broken down into orifices so we know exactly where the strange item was plucked from. I have cherry-picked a few good items from the lists and here they are.
From your Ear:
- 2 wireless earbuds—I thought they belonged there
- Decorative seashell
- Slime—I need more information on this one??
- Christmas ornament
From the Nose:
- “Bug tried to remove with a bobby pin, bobby pin now stuck”
- Small heart sticker
- Sunflower seed
- Christmas ornament
From the Throat:
- Tropical breeze detergent pod—I thought we were over this stupid fad
- Capsule that expands into a foam dinosaur—to be honest, I have always wondered what they tasted like too
- Cleaning solution, razor blade covered in toilet paper, broken plastic soap dish- this guy was hungry
- Drill bit
- Christmas ornament
From the Penis:
- Coaxial Cable
- Bobby Pin, “unable To Achieve Erection & Thought It Would Help”- I’m Sure…
From the Vagina:
- Toothbrush—she had great dental hygiene
- “Was being arrested by the police so she took her cell phone and hid it from them – stuck it in her vagina”
- Toy action figure
- “Jumped Off Couch Landed On Spoon”
From the Rectum:
- “Patient states he states slipped in the shower and landed on a metal-air freshener can and it went into rectum”- seems reasonable
- Toothbrush holder—not sure if this was the same person
- Coat hanger, “patient unsure how it got there”
- “Accidentally got a dildo lodged in rectum & cut the end of the dildo off”—lots of sex toys in butts this year
- Christmas ornament- because why not, we stick it in most of the other holes.
In Your Butt
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The recent blockage of the Suez Canal may have cost the world something like 10 billion dollars a day in global shipments but it was far from the longest shut down in the canal.
This is the eight-year story of a utopian, communist, floating, micro-nation.
Oh yeah, it’s micronation time!
First, a brief geography and history lesson. In case you’ve been living under a rock, there’s been some trouble at the Suez Canal. A big-ass freight liner, the 400-meter MS Ever Given, got all confused, sailed in circles until it drew a dick with its GPS, then jammed itself sideways in a narrow part of the canal blocking other ships for a week until it could be unstuck and moved into the Bitter Lake. Bitter Lake is a heavily salinated (about two times that of the ocean) lake roughly a quarter of the way through the canal.
Satellite image by CNES
The Suez canal itself is a shortcut from the Arabian Sea to the Mediterranean, without which one would have to sail all the way around the horn of Africa to get from, say, Spain to India. And extra 10,000 kilometers. (8 vs. 18k)
Entering the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and Ethiopia one sails up the Red Sea until you reach the Gulf of Suez located between Egypt and Israel. then you enter the Suez Canal and very, very carefully boat your boat to Port Said north of Ciro. Once you’re out the other side it’s a quick left to Alexandria, a right to Jerusalem, or straight on ahead to Greece, Italy, and if you keep going to Spain, then the North Atlantic.
This is why it was such a big deal when, on June 5th of 1967, the canal was shut down because Israel preemptively bombed Egyptian airfields starting the “Setback” or as it’s more commonly known the Six-Day War.
A Google Map View of The Great Bitter lake
The war itself might be a story at some point but for now, it’s sufficient to say that following World War II things in the area were… not great. The Israeli offensive, which also included a push into the Gaza Strip, won Israel the Sinai.
Egypt and her allies pushed back and with Jordan agreed to a ceasefire on the 8th of June, Syria on the 9th, and Israel on the 11th. Still, the war had killed some 20 thousand Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian troops (Israel having lost about a thousand), and displayed 300,000 Palestinians, give or take 20k.
It was a shit-show for sure and obviously had wide-reaching effects on the area that can still be felt. But for our purposes, all we really need to know is that the Six-Day War blocked off the canal. Egypt had barricaded it with wreckage and sea mines to cripple Israel’s economy. They also trapped 14 cargo ships in the Bitter Lake until relations between the warring nations improved enough to re-open the canal… eight years later.
So, now we have the Great Bitter Lake cut off from both ends and 14 ships—British, French, American, German, Swedish, Bulgarian, Polish, and Czechoslovakian—huddled in the middle trying desperately to stay out of the crossfire. And then, quiet… and waiting. So. Much. Waiting.
The ships were described in an NYT article at the time as “clustered in the middle of the lake like a wagon train awaiting an Indian attack.” This formed the parameter of the micronation when a memo came from the Israeli side saying that any lifeboat seen outside the parameter would be fired upon. Fortunately, the Red Cross had negotiated with Israel and Egypt to allow all but a skeleton crew to go to Athens and fly out. The rest of them… tucked in.
From Captain Miroslaw Proskurnicki of the Polish ship Jakarta:
“We were in a very comfortable prison. The first month was like a holiday. The second month was very hard. By the end of the third month, it was terrible.”
Eventually, the ships got tried of puttering about doing… ship… stuff… and banded together, figuratively and literally, on the deck of the UK’s MS Melampus to create the “Great Bitter Lake Association,” now known as the Yellow Fleet—so-called for the yellow sand that constantly built up in the boats. The crew met regularly to maintain the association and share resources among the trapped ships.
The ships divided up national tasks. The Polish freighter served as the post office—Egypt and Israel wouldn’t let the ships leave, but they did allow home countries to send supplies. The Swedish Killara had a pool that, in the scorching summer heat (up to 50c), I’m sure was delightful.
Seriously though, apparently it was regularly hot enough to cook steaks on exposed metal surfaces. The British ship MS Port Invercargill, was the longest ship, so that’s where they played soccer. The German ship, Nordwind held church services. Captain Paul Wall told the Los Angeles Times in 1969 “We call it church, but actually it is more of a beer party.” Because the Germans received free beer from breweries back home, because of course, they did.
“In three days we tried Norwegian beer, Czechoslovak beer and wine and Bulgarian beer and vodka,” Captain Zdzislaw Stasick told The New York Times in 1974. British captain of the Invercargill, Arthur Kensett, said: “One wonders what future archaeologists in a few thousand years’ time will think of this.”
Many ships carried tons of food products, so to quote John McPherson of the Melampus “there was plenty to eat […] there was thousands of tons of tea.” They were told the cargo was a total loss so they were given permission to open the cargo and have at. One of the ships had thousands of tons of frozen shrimp from Vietnam, another veg from Australia, and of course, most had booze from basically every coastal country between them. I guess the shrimp did eventually go bad so they had to toss containers of it… sad. Lots of ye-oldie footage of BBQs from the Al Jazeera archives. So that’s nice.
Fun fact, the postage stamps were hand-crafted on the ships and because the Egyptian Postal Authority recognized them, so did the rest of the world. The ships were eventually set into three postage groups, kinda like zip codes and post came and went regularly. The stamps are now keenly sought after by philatelists (collectors, though the term philatelists are specific to those who study stamps rather than collectors).
G.B.L.A. Stamp featuring a dude playing soccer and the Olympic rings
Of course, you mix free beer with nothing to do at your lake-front… and back… and both sides, villa and what you get is… a series of great ideas.
For the shipmen, and single lady, there was little to do but clean and eat. So they started having bingo nights, dance parties, movie nights on the Polish freighter Djakarta, and of course, the Great Bitter Lake Association Olympic games.
Held 10 days before the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games the GBLA Olympics featured all the usual events: diving, sprinting, high jump (Al Jazeera has footage of this one and), weight lifting, archery, water polo, sailing, swimming, and so on. The Polish crew minted medals of lead and painted them for the winners of each event. The Swedes won the high jump, the Poles rowing, and the French won sailing—their only gold.
The English won soccer and German Franz Klofik won the fishing contest… not sure what they were pulling out of that water, but he was the best. And, of course, the Germans won weightlifting, because of course, they did.
German weightlifter picking up a heavy thing
The bestest medal went to the bestest competitor ever. Yes he is. Bullbul, the football-playing dog from Sindh (largest province in Pakistan) won’t the… best… being a dog stuck on a floating micronation medal.
All in all, this was one of the most successful micronations I’ve read about. They had stamps that the international community recognized, proper international sporting events, their own internal (trade-based, and apparently, beer-based) economy. All in all, things went about as well as they can for 14 ships stuck in an unofficial no-man’s land.
The ships would eventually be given permission to move out of the canal some six years after the Six-Day War. Unfortunately, by that time all the ships had serious mechanical issues… also the canal was still full of mines, some 750,000 of them.
It took two more years to clear the wreckage and explosives and only the two German ships could leave under their own power. Because zee Germans understand mechanical efficiency. Upon leaving they went directly to deliver their cargo of minerals and steal, winning them the world record for the longest sea shipping voyage: 8 years, 3 months, and 5 days. They interview the German engineer who is as German about it as one could possibly be. Hats off.
I’ve linked the Al Jazeera feature I mentioned earlier in the show notes. You should have a look. They interview a handful of Great Bitter Lake citizens and play footage from the time. It’s a good product and you get to watch a legit yee-oldie German strong-man, mustache, and striped sarong, win the lifting gold.
- https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/643213/history-by-mail-subscription-service?utm_content=infinitescroll1 (they got the Olympics wrong, the article says Tokyo, the 1968 games were in Mexico City)
- https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/great-bitter-lake-association/ (the episode is specifically about the GBLA stamps)
I’m Shea, and before we go, this week I learned that there is not one canary on Canary island, the same goes for the Virgin Islands, not on canary. I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-host Aaron.
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