The Boys in the Room
(from the last edition of the Bar Room Writers Offensive reading series)

The current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is unprecedented in the both the size and scope of destruction. It’s important at a time like this that the victims of this tragedy, those on the frontlines and beaches, understand that British Petroleum is fully committed to finding a solution.

Within nearly a week of the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 men, representatives and interns from BP were tasked with finding the most qualified individuals to stop an oil spill nearly a mile under the surface of the Gulf. They searched the world for the best and brightest minds in the field of underwater spill suppression and brought them together to pool their expertise in finding a solution. Absolutely no expense was spared in setting up headquarters at the business center of the Houston Airport Ramada.

“I want you to know that nobody in this room has complained. Not once,” says Kevin Kezmin, a vice president of public relations for BP, who has agreed to give us a peek at the center of crisis management. “They’ve been here for almost eight weeks working like cheese waffles—excuse my language I’m very tired—to get a handle on this situation. They’ve been away from their families, they’re tired, and not one complaint. Frankly, I’m about to introduce you to a roomful of heroes.”

As Kezmin leads us into the conference center, one is first struck by the sheer amount of activity, a “buzz” if you will, of the amassed brainpower. But looking around the room, you can also see that searching for an end to the Deepwater Horizon spill has taken its toll on all of them.

We watch one man, his hair sticking up, shirt untucked, push an office chair angrily back from the center table. He rips a piece of paper from a pad and tears at it with his teeth it, muttering, “Dammit, Bill, think…”

Bill Chambers smiles tiredly when we’re introduced. He’s characteristically blunt when asked what he is working on, “The solution, obviously. I’ve been looking at the data from the spill everyday and I honestly believe that if we could get a sea creature, a dolphin most probably, to jam itself into the pipe, we could seriously hamper the flow of oil. What I’m working on right now is developing a process to A) get a dolphin to swim fast enough to lodge itself in the pipe and B) have that dolphin be willing to commit suicide.”

“It’s too bad we don’t have Aquaman to talk to that dolphin,” says the famed director James Cameron, from across the room.

Chambers, the writer on the Aquaman comic book, chuckles. It’s easy to see that the men that BP feels are most qualified to stop a mile-deep oil spill have an easy camaraderie, strengthened by the time they’ve spent together.

“Jim and I kid around,” explains Chambers. “But actually, Aquaman is physically, very powerful. He could crush the pipe closed with his arms, if he, in fact, existed.”

Cameron motions us over to an enormous high-definition display running an incredibly realistic animation of the underwater gusher. We compliment Cameron on the crispness of the image, telling him that it almost feels like we’re watching 60,000 barrels of oil a day escape into the Gulf of Mexico.

“No, it’s not… Here, put these on,” Cameron says, passing out 3-D glasses.

The second we put the glasses on, it is immediately obvious how right Cameron is. The difference is striking. It’s as if we’re literally drowning in a swirling cloud of darkness. When we start screaming, Cameron turns off the display and chuckles.

“Eventually, we’d like to use this technology to come up with possible solutions,” he explains. “But, I need to perfect it first. There is no use skimping on the visuals.”

As we thank Cameron for his time, we are a drawn to a side of the room dominated by white boards. Just the sheer number of dry-erase boards indicates how serious BP is about finding a solution. At one board, Paul Coffey, former defenseman for the Edmonton Oilers, is diligently working. Coffey’s tongue sticks out of his mouth slightly, as he slowly and patiently draws question mark after question mark around an image of a gushing oil pipe.

“Keep at it, boyo,” crys noted actor Daniel Day-Lewis as he slaps Coffey on the shoulder.

Day-Lewis is a handsome man with a bright smile, a smile made even brighter by the fact that he has covered his head and naked torso with crude oil. He takes a moment to sit cross-legged on the conference table and explain a bit about why he is doing what he is doing.

“This oil is part of my thinking process, to give me a feeling of the immediacy needed with this problem. If there is one thing I learned during the filming of There Will Be Blood, it’s that oil is a pet boa constrictor. One moment it’s curling itself sensually around you at a disco as a circle of dancing ladies applaud, and the next moment, it’s strangled the cabana boy. You have to be wary of it, respect it, but you cannot allow yourself to surrender to its oily seduction. By covering my body with oil, I’m empowering myself, and by going up to my room every night and vomiting for hours as my personal assistant bathes me in Dawn dishwashing liquid, I’m also acknowledging the oil’s power.”

Kevin Kezmin tells me that the actor’s intensity has been an important addition to the room, “Here you have this Oscar-winning actor and, on occasion, he acts just like a normal guy.”

If the crisis headquarters has a class clown, it’s Denny Scafaldi, lead singer of 12 am Black Gold, a Midnight Oil cover band from Providence, Rhode Island. As we watch, Scafaldi hides a banana in the lace-up crotch of his ostrich leather pants and then insists that everyone in the room look at his groin. Day-Lewis claps delightedly.

Giving us a little background, Kezmin tells us that BP had originally contacted Peter Garrett, the original singer for Midnight Oil.

“As it turns out, after he left the band, he went on to become a lawyer,” Kezmin explains. “Now, if you can believe it, he’s Australia’s Minister for Environmental Protection. I mean, that’s great for him, but BP felt that having Mr. Garrett here would have skewed the group dynamic a bit. I mean a “Minister for Environmental Protection” is going to come in with preset ideas on how to stop an oil spill, we were looking for people who were more open minded to a journey of discovery on how to stop an oil spill.”

When Kezmin introduces us to Denny Scafaldi, the singer makes a point of telling us that he would have not done the “banana crotch bit,” if Maggie was around.

At our confusion, Kevin Kezmin explains that Scafaldi is referring to 8-year-old Maggie Jacobs, who is at a local Gymboree gymborcizing. Maggie’s gift for stopping oil wells was discovered when she sent BP an image of a unicorn plugging the hole with a gigantic cork.

“From the minds of babes. It’s almost unbelievable that we didn’t think of it,” laments Kezmin, who explains that they are still trying to obtain a large enough cork, as well as find a way to genetically weld horses and narwhals.

Scafaldi, now putting a second banana in his pants, says that he feels that it’s his responsibility to keep the mood in the room light.

“Especially since I know absolutely nothing about stopping oil spills,” he tells us.

“You shut your ugly gash of a cake hole, you two-bit ditchdigger,” roars Daniel Day-Lewis, as he stalks across the room, droplets of oil flying from the ends of his mustache.

“I will not allow you to denigrate yourself like that,” the actor loudly continues. “You know just as much as anybody else in this room.”

“What is the one rule we have in the room?” Day-Lewis asks quietly, poking Scafaldi in the chest.

Scafaldi smiles sheepishly before muttering, “You can’t call an idea stupid until it doesn’t work twice.”

It’s hard to reconcile the sight of the whites of Daniel Day-Lewis’s angry eyes contrasting against his oil-soaked body with the media-driven perception that BP doesn’t care about the current situation. Impossible, really.

We notice one man sitting off by himself in the corner. Kezmin explains that it is Darnell Tapp, who wrote for the show MacGuyver. Tapp was the mind behind the Junkshot attempt to stop the well.

“He’s been really hard on himself the last couple days with the Junkshot not working,” Kezmin tells us. “But I’ll tell you this, Darnell’s got to keep his chin up, because everybody thought it was a winner. I mean how is pumping rope, old tires, and golf balls into a broken underwater oil pipeline not going to work?”

Tapp has gained the attention of the newly-energized Daniel Day-Lewis, who has perched himself on a chair next to the TV writer. “Laddo, as the good Lord is my witness, I will turn that frown upside down. And if we both perish in the process, I will still sleep at night.”

As we are getting ready to leave, we take a last look at some of the white boards that are filled with the proposed solutions that may turn out to be the answer, from “Invent Oil Magnet” to “Some Sort of Laser” to “Wait Until It Stops, Then Pounce.”

We notice that at the top of the list is “Tactical Nuclear Device.”

“It’s the first thing we wrote down,” says James Cameron. “And, if necessary, it’ll be the last thing we cross off. We are that serious about stopping this spill.”

We ask Daniel Day-Lewis if he has any words for the suffering people of the Gulf Coast region and he doesn’t hesitate.

“I’ll tell you this, friendo,” says Day-Lewis, defiantly gnawing on an oil-stained bagel. “I don’t care if every creature in the Gulf is floating belly up, the people need to believe that we’re going to stop this spill. Even if it takes us 100 years to find out how, we’ll do it.”

“Right now, we’re looking at a minimum of 100 years,” Kevin Kezmin says, clarifying Day-Lewis’ comments. “But if we can get our hands on that giant cork, who knows?”

(Author's note: You can also listen to a recording of the earlier version of this story read at the Bar Room Writers Offensive at Barca Lounge on 6/26/2010. I think the newly edited version is better, but I can't tell you what to do.)


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