Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Explosive Education

I heard today that a University of Texas had an explosion in a student’s lab. I felt for the school and the kids as I remembered my own fiery past. No I am not another Uni-embalmer (Now that would be an interesting modus operandi) or mole. I was just an amazingly unlucky and dumb kid with fire and electricity growing up.

For some odd reason adults trusted me when I was young? Most of the time I was genuinely trying to be helpful, it is just that good intentions do not always fix the havoc that I would cause. Twice I blew out the school circuit breakers in two consecutive years when I was in 7th and 8th grade. The first time was innocent enough. While other kids were doing what they were supposed to be doing, I noticed an in-ground electrical outlet box that was ajar. Naturally knowing better, but prepared to do the wrong thing anyway, I picked up the box and immediately it sparked and spat and shot flames out into the class. Kid’s screamed and shouted and of course the power and flames went out almost immediately. I can honestly say I was startled but not in a panic. At the time I had remembered seeing a fire extinguisher around the room but I could not remember where – it was right behind me at the doorway.

The second incident was when I was actually working on an experiment of which my 8th grade science teacher was aware. She was very gruff to all kids but a great teacher. She however, made a mistake and gave me free reign of the lab. Of course I proceeded to short circuit some equipment and blow out the electricity in her classroom wing with more than a puff of smoke. Her room never smelled the same after that, and I swear she would glare at me over those chained horn-rimmed bi-focals during tests. I assume she had gotten an earful from the principal and probably a reminder of why I was not to be left alone with electronic equipment. Oddly that same year while working away from school on an oscilloscope, I was digging around inside the powered beast and working in a metal chair. I crossed a couple of wires and instantly ended up on my back with my hands in tightly clenched fists. I was fine but it brought back early childhood memories of a paperclip and an outlet. I was determined to find out why electricity did not like me.

I have had a few encounters with fire too. I once tried to connect in 100 feet of coiled wire to fog lights on my truck. Of course the resistance from that coil proceeded to melt through my floor mat and start to smolder nasty plastic and carpet smoke. As a youngster I was playing at a neighbor kid’s garage when visiting my Grandparent’s house and somehow I ended up igniting a large patch of yard with gasoline fumes. It instantly browned the lawn and probably my Grandparent’s hopes of being liked by any neighbor while I was visiting. Still my Grandmother thought I was just such a good kid and could not understand why nobody was allowed to play with me. So you can see why I feel a tad more kinship with the Texas students who blew up their lab. Despite my frequent run-ins with rockets, fuel, fireworks, gunpowder, and electricity, I happily still have all my fingers and toes. Friends usually know how to find me – just follow the wake of acrid smoke and stench of the burning hair and flannel.

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