Thursday, July 14, 2005

Shocking. Chapter Two of Dial "D" for...

By the time I was fourteen, the wildfire episode was only raised at the dinner table when my math tests fell below a score of 80.

In other words, we talked about it. A lot. In addition to my math test scores. Oh, and I wasn't doing too well in science either. My reasoning there being I couldn't see protons, neutrons, electrons so I was having a hard time conceptualizing that they even existed, much less did things. Plus you needed a fair dollop of math skills to excel in science and, well, see exhibit one.

One of the academic interests I did have was the theatre. It was highly tangible, required a fair amount of personal insight and an abject lack of numerical gymnastics and what was more, the discipline was populated by a collection of characters that seemed like the handful of parts left over when you build any useful machine. They exist, but don't really have distinct purpose. Yet, you are loath to throw them out. You never know where one might come in handy.

How like that was I?

I fit right in with Benny, who would stuff his face with Oreo cookies and then claim he had eaten potting soil. There was David who was a class senior and was most un-senior-like in that he was also gentle and kind to us sophomore pukes. Oh, he also had a girlfriend who was well suited to David's disposition and as such, could be hung out with despite the age difference. David also had the cutest of sisters, our age. That didn't hurt in the least.

One of the more bizarre characters was my friend Patrick. Patrick was my age but seemed to have flown in from some universe I could only conceive of. He was an artist in that he was exceptionally graphically talented and had an irreverent and sometimes wiseass sense of humor. This mix sprung forth episodes like his creating an orange-flannel clad deer hunter mannequin that he tied to the hood of his sister's Subaru and had her drive through town with. He also grew his own cannabis which made him popular in other circles.

Whereas most of us would spend weekends avoiding our homework, hanging around, and watching too much TV, Patrick was up to some wilder experiments. One of them was the effect of electric current on insects.

I wanted to be kind of like Patrick in his disdain for authority, devil may care attitude and creative weirdness.

I got as far as being obnoxious and disrespectful, lazy and strange in personal appearance.

I didn't realize my limited potential at the time so I didn't have enough sense to stop and not go certain places. Electricity and bugs was one of those places.

I came into the story just in time to hear Patrick finish the tale with "...they blow up when the juice hits them."

"What blows up?"

"Bugs on the window screen, you hit them with a jolt of electricity."

"Gotta try it."

I am not a journalist in that I lack sufficient curiousity to fill in the gaps of the story. I just make assumptions. That makes for passable fiction but lousy reality and, frankly, dangerous setups.

This was one of them. The rest of the story had Patrick baring telephone wire hooked up to a hobby transformer and running low voltage through bugs. It caused them to do any number of things such as fly away or jerk awkwardly. They did not "blow up" but, as I say, I did not and still don't have any natural journalistic instinct.

The next weekend I set out to be as cool as Patrick and to re-create his experiments in insect detonation. I had to make sure I had enough power to work with so I headed off to the old man's workshop to dip into the extension cord collection.

My old man had enough extension cords to run the vacuum across town. I figured he wouldn't miss one. I figured wrong but that's a story for another day. I clipped the plug into part of the extension cord off, split the wires, bared them and neatly twisted them into a bundle. Pretty snazzy wiring skills. My old man would have been proud of me if he ignored the fact that I had just destroyed a perfectly good extension cord, assumed that I was not engaging in wanton destruction as I was and finally had the capacity to be proud of anything I did, which he did not.

I rolled the cord up under my shirt and walked softly past the den where my Mom was watching TV back to my room. I closed the door gently since we had an open door policy at home, the idea being that closed doors just led to no good behavior. At least on the part of the children. This of course would be right but, being a child I was still living on Planet Defiant.

There was an all metal screen on the window. What ho! There was also a most handy bug on the screen. This was going to be so cool. I plugged the cord in, grabbed the ends of the wire by the insulation because, electricity can be dangerous, you know. I then very gently touched, so as not to alarm the bug with a sudden motion, the ends of the cord to the all metal screen.

Whatever happened to the bug became immaterial in the two foot blue electric arc I kicked up when I short circuited the extension cord.

"Holyfuckholyfuckholyfuckholyfuckholyfuckholyfuckholyfuckholyfuckholyfuck!" I had to get the cord unplugged. I had to keep the two wires from ever touching ever again, there now being an actual consequence to that action I had not fully counted on.

I did and rolled the cord up and hid it where it would never be found under my mattress until it was actually found two weeks later.

I did not notice the thumb sized holed I had blown out of the metal screening until the next morning. "The rain must have hit it." was not an accepted excuse.

My mom did notice the brownout I caused in the house when the wires touched but, this being the pre-cable seventies, figured it was just the twentysomething next door driving his muscle car home.

I was caught the next morning, confessed, tried and sentenced to a good talking to. Usually my folks, as punishment deprived me of something. As a result I would seek the deprived something with a vengeance and find secret ways of getting more of the something until they found out and deprived me of something else. Then the cycle began anew.

In this case, since I had almost electrocuted myself, they figured a good talking to about the power of electricity might be more prudent than taking away extension cord priviledges.

It worked. That and the fact I never wanted to see one of those miserable things again. Oh, and I took a distinct "live and let live" approach to insects that I carry with me to this day.


Blogger Kathryn said...

"My old man had enough extension cords to run the vacuum across town." - this made me spit out my coffee

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Sara said...

"My old man had enough extension cords to run the vacuum across town."

Your dad and my dad must have been brothers.

3:29 AM  

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