HOST: Penn & Teller, the comic magicians, were in the Bahamas shooting an underwater magic show.
While Teller was waiting for a shot he had an unexpected encounter:
I’m 25 feet underwater, standing on the floor of a lagoon on a tiny tropical island. I’m wearing a dive mask,
a SCUBA tank, and lead weights over my designer business suit and polished dress shoes.
I’m waiting for the cameraman.
The water is warm and a little cloudy, like summer fog. A fossil on the sea floor comes to life:
it’s a sting-ray peeling itself off the sand. Oblivious, it glides past my face and vanishes like a ghost.
Suddenly a dolphin rockets by me, almost knocking me over. It’s huge -- the size of a torpedo. Before
I can catch my breath, it’s gone.
I turn and find myself looking straight into the face of the dolphin, now hovering, horizontal,
dead still, nose to nose with me. Forget Flipper. This is an alien life form. A huge hunk of
The dolphin’s mouth curves, in a calm, eerie smile. The dolphin is happy to see me! No.
That’s not a smile. It’s just the way its jaw is shaped. That hard, sharp beak is strong enough
to snip off my head.
I am not in my element. I am the guest. My host is floating in front of my face. What is
the polite thing to do? What is the etiquette for meeting a dolphin?
Look it forthrightly in the eye? That’s impossible. The dolphin’s eyes
are so far around on the sides of the head, there’s nothing to stare straight into.
I try waving, in a “Hi, howaya?” kind of way. Um,no. I try humming, [hum “Girl from Ipanema”]
No. The dolphin is still and silent as an iceberg.
Finally, I reach out and pat its side. My warm hand taps cool leather, taut as a drumhead.
Still, the dolphin remains unmoved, its cartoon smile fixed.
Suddenly I like this moment very much. It’s uncomfortable and honest. I’m not pretending to
understand the dolphin – as humans claim to do with pets and other humans. I’m just sharing the
same sea, and trying to be polite. There’s no empathy – just etiquette. And that’s enough for me.
HOST: Teller is the shorter, quieter half of Penn & Teller. Their television special,
“Penn & Teller Off the Deep End” will be broadcast on NBC next Sunday night at 7 p.m.