Thursday, February 22, 2007

Mr Wizard

As my fellow boomers well remember, the decade following Sputnik was the "Space Age". Back then science was the magic key that would unlock wonders untold. Mom, keen on her sons' devotion to Don Herbert's "Watch Mr Wizard" TV show, foolishly bought us educational toys for Christmas. Joel, #1 son (as Charlie Chan would have called him), got the chemistry set. Roy, #2 (which in the context of this story is not merely his birth order), got the weather station. I don't recall what I got, maybe Chinese Checkers (or are they Asian-American checkers already?), but that's beside the point. The "major award" during the Christmas of 1960 was the chemistry set - hands down.

The manufacturer had provided saltpeter as one of the compounds of Joel's dazzling "Mr Wizard"-like scientific feats, though I'm pretty sure the toy maker had the good sense to leave out the requisite sulphur and charcoal. But even lacking the rest of the gun powder's components, one could still make a pretty impressive "poof" with just a sprinkle of potassium nitrate. Still Roy, having long since set up his weather station and captured all the weekly rainfall that El Paso has to offer (of its 7-inch yearly average), was not impressed.

"Heck, that's nuthin!" Roy scoffed.

"Oh yeah? Can you make a big flash like that with your weather station?" Joel mocked.

"Heck, I can do better than that."

"Can not."

"Can too!"


"I could build a bomb."

"Suuure you can. So how do you build a bomb?"

Roy, never at a loss for a smooth line of BS, answered without hesitation, "Gasoline burns, right?"

Joel, "Yeah."

"And oil burns, right?"

"Yeah ..."

"Well, if you mix them together, they explode!"

Joel bit the hook, "Really?"

Roy, "You bet!"

So as I'd done before, Joel stored away for future reference one of the amazing (nay, incredible) facts that Roy had shared. But more about my gullibility at some later time.

A few weeks after Roy let his bomb-making formula slip, Joel and a neighborhood kid named Carlos decided to put their new knowledge of explosive ordnance to the test. They poured off half a quart-sized can of use crankcase oil and filled it back to the top with gasoline. The pint-sized EOD team then equipped their device with a rag fuse and began searching the back yard for a test target. Our old couch (the one Mom had finally quit patching with our worn-out blue jeans) hadn't yet made it over the fence into the alley where the garbagemen (er, I mean, sanitation workers) would pick it up, so in the minds of Albert Einstein and Tonto, this looked like an expendable item. One with the added advantage of a high back that would likely shield the house from the full force of the detonation.

The two budding scientists gingerly set their bomb on the center cushion, lit the fuse and ran around the corner of the garage, expecting massive destruction to ensue. Just as Joel and Carlos were plugged fingers in their ears, Roy walked up.

"Wucha doin?"

"Blowin up the couch," came the hushed answer.

Roy looked around the corner and, upon seeing flames beginning to lick the back of the sofa, decided that this was something Mom might be interested in. Without comment Roy went into the house and did as all good children should do when they see other children misbehaving.

"Mah-ahmm! Joel 'n Carlos are blowing up the couch in the back yar-erd!" he bellowed.

Now understand, my mother wasn't a high-strung woman by nature, but apparently (with five children age five and below in the house) she didn't take well the news that her outside children were playing with explosives. By the time Mom had disengaged herself from the suckling masses, Joel and Carlos were busy throwing dirt on the couch. Mom grabbed the garden hose and gave it a thorough soaking, but for several days the sofa's soggy stuffing smoldered. Thus the only thing that got exploded that day was Roy's inventive formula for WMDs. As I remember it, Joel got more than a harsh reprimand. Roy? Well, I don't recall his getting punished, but my memory may be flawed. My memory probably is, since as Roy tells me: (1) nothing even remotely like this ever happened; and (2) I got all the details wrong.

1 comment:

chou said...

i do love selective memory. i suffer as well.