Did Ernest Rutherford Start Off This Way?
As a kid I had a fascination about how things worked. My parents would indulge me by giving me cast-off alarm clocks to disassemble. I somehow had the notion that after disemboweling a clock, I could put the 302 screws, gears, and springs back together. I never did. I suppose that field dressing a clock was better than subjecting the neighborhood cats to the same fate.
Along with alarm clocks, golf balls were of particular anatomical interest. Once you peeled back that pesky white rind, you were rewarded with 1.87 kilometers of tightly-wound rubber band. Unwinding it had all of the pastime allure of pulling all of the dental floss out of that little white plastic box. But, it was something to do during the summer.
After unwinding the band, the next step would be to get a friend to grab one end and then pull it to see how far it would stretch. The good portion of the long side of a city block is the elasticity I remember. A more vivid recollection, however, is when wed reached the maximum stretch of the band. It would break and recoil with the force of a rifle bullet. It could raise a welt the size of an egg roll on your arm.
At the heart of the ball was the equivalent of a Superball hedgehog. A spiky, little nucleus of rubber that bounced as if were alive. It was as dense as neutronium. A collection of these bouncy little quarks could amuse a kid for minutes at time until he found out that they fit into slingshots well.
My middle-brother envied my innate quest into science and tried to emulate me. With tragic results.
I came down to the kitchen one Sunday morning and set about putting my breakfast together. When youre 12 that means finding the milk and the cereal with the highest sugar-loading. I noticed something vaguely wrong. There was dried white spatter on the kitchen walls and ceiling. It looked like someone had sprayed chalk-water around the kitchen at high velocity, but only above four feet.
Mom came down and I pointed it out to her mostly to keep from being blamed for it. Assignment of blame was a big deal for my parents. Somebody was responsible for this!
My two younger brothers came into the kitchen in their PJs, hair tousled, rubbing their sleepy little eyes in the cutest and most studied manner.
"Do you know anything about this?"
They both did their best impressions of the art of Walter and Margaret Keane: childlike innocence with eyes the size of saucers..
"Noooo, we dont know anyyyyything."
Dad came down in search of coffee and a newspaper.
"What the hell is going on?"
I pointed out the Mystery Of The Fluid.
Since the house wasnt on fire or in immanent danger of collapse, he ignored us.
Since my mother knew that neither she nor my dad had spattered the stuff around, the three of us were assigned to clean things up. It wasnt too hard, the spatter came of with a damp sponge. It remained The Mystery Of The Fluid for two weeks, until my middle brother could contain himself no longer and broke the story to my youngest brother, who immediately ratted him out to me.
Seems Middle Bro' wanted one of those bouncy golf ball nuclei. So, he scavenged a golf ball and started unwinding. Hed come down to the kitchen early Sunday morning because he wanted to use one of the big carving knives to get things started and our parents werent keen to let kids play with butcher knives. They were soooo repressive that way.
Nearing the core, my brother discovered that some golf balls had liquid centers. Liquid under high compression. Once hed hit the inner layer, the center started squirting out like blood from a hypertensives jugular. First there was panic. Hed tried to wipe of the spray, but couldnt get the stuff above arms reach without moving furniture around and waking everyone. Besides, some of the spray had gotten into his eyes and he was afraid that hed go blind.
Children, let this be a warning to you. There are some things kids were not meant to know.
My brother cleaned things up as well as he could and then went back to bed to await either lessons in Braille or some fall guy to find the mess: me.
Not much else to do but put my hand on his shoulder, look him in the eye, and laugh in his face. It also gave me wonderful blackmail material. The three of us had a wondrous amount of blackmail stuff on each other and would never fail to trot it out when needed, such as when a particularly nasty bit of upkeep was assigned to us.
Out second venture into the world of science was Fun With Adhesives.
For some reason kids like stickers. Dog knows why. Bubblegum card producers learned this early-on and in my childhood released a set of stickers packaged like baseball cards. The stickers had some vaguely science-fictional content. It wasnt so much the stickers that interested us as the adhesive on the back. Through a concerted effort of rubbing, you could pull off the adhesive. I think Dale Tischler on of the proto-Nelsons in my class discovered this when we were in 4th or 5th grade. The more stickers you collected, the larger your wad of adhesive. The point? Well, it was kind of like Silly Putty, but stickier. Yes, we were easily amused as children.
I had a wad about the size of a ping-pong ball and was the envy of Middle Bro'. I could stretch the stuff, and then wad it back into a ball, ready to stretch again. Share it with my brother? Hah! Do you know how many stickers it took to get a wad this size? Do you know how much of my thumb cuticle I had to separate to get the stickum off the back of the sticker?
My brother, not having the immense amount of funding I had at my disposal, cadged a local beer and wine shop owner out of an old adhesive Pabst Blue Ribbon tin foil sign. He then stripped it for his own wad of stickum. But there was something wrong, very very wrong.
This adhesive wasnt the benign white goo I had. It his was an amber-colored, transparent mass with evil intent. It had an affinity for nylon frieze and hair. The only way to remove it from both was with scissors. While Mom didnt mind chopping chunks out of my brothers head, it broke her heart to trim the sofa.
The end finally came with a note from school.
Dale always brought his adhesive wad to school and would play with it at his desk when Sister Frances De Salles wasnt looking. One afternoon, Sister De Salles had to excuse herself for a moment probably for an emergency summit with Pope Paul the XXVI since we all knew nuns never had to go to the toilet and appointed Rachel Sozouski as class monitor. Rachel was big into Girl Scouts and would wear her uniform to class every Wednesday because her troupe meeting was in the cafeteria after school. She had so many merit badges that she had to wear two sashes.
As soon as Sister De Salles departed, the class erupted into barely-contained whispering and Dale started bouncing his stickum. After once particularly-good spike onto the top of his desk, his stickum hit the acoustic-tile ceiling and stuck. We watched with horror and became silent and intensely interested in our books.
Sister De Salles came back to a quiet room. Thats when I learned never to trust goody-twoshoes. No sooner had the nun returned that Rachel ratted-out Dale by telling the teacher hed stuck a wad of gum on the ceiling. The nun eyed the white mass with little pleasure. Mr. Tischler was taken to the front of the class and had the backs of his calves warmed by the nuns yardstick while being told to offer up the pain to the Holy Mother. I guess shes short of kid agony and must be fed regularly.
The next day a letter was sent home with each kid in the school, telling parents how evil balls of white sticker adhesive were and they should check their children for such offensive materials before another tragedy occurred. The only tragic part, for me, was that Dale got caught.
The afternoon of Dales downfall, I took my wad and stuck it up inside my dresser drawer. What adhesive? I never had any of that stuff anymore!