Sunday, March 13, 2011

The burning of items.

I always hated science. I enjoy reading summary details of research that has some bearing on my life, or that The New Yorker can convince me raises philosophical implications about the way we live. The results of science can be eye-opening. The details of science, the equipment and the math part of it and many scientists themselves, are eye-closing. So when we were told in 7th-grade science that we had to do a research project and present the results in front of the class I decided to put it off until the last minute. I consciously procrastinated it.

We could pick a partner, and me and Andy picked each other, maybe by default. I had got it in my head we would build a hot air balloon. We would use rubber balloons. We would find a way to hang candles off of them. In the abstract part of my mind I could really see the idea working. That is the part of the brain where cartoon physics apply. These are the only physics I understand.

The science teacher Ms. Johnson (I can still hear the way she tried to get control of the class, "Uh, you people....") required that we show official sources of research for the project so I took a book out of the school library about building flightless model aircraft using household supplies. It was just for the grade because really, we wouldn't be needing the book. The idea was solid.

The night before the project was due Andy and I had all the supplies spread out on my mom's dining room table, where normally we used Ouija boards or spent hours drawing medieval battles. And cartoons. Cartoons that I'm guessing would still be funny to me now, because my sense of humor stopped right there, at 13.

We tried several different ways of getting the stems of the balloons to stay open long enough to let the heat from the candles get through. I tried using toothpicks to stretch them open. Nothing was working. We turned to the library book for inspiration. Andy flipped to a chapter titled, "Build your own Hall of Fame."

For the next several hours, every time we hit an obstacle in planning our project one of us would say, "Maybe we should just, you know, build our own hall of fame." As the hours left to work on the project shrunk we were reduced to finding more ingenious ways of slipping that expression into the conversation. (Andy and I became Facebook friends about two years ago, 21 years later. His first message to me read something like, "Hey, Eric, you know what you should do? Build your own fucking hall of fame.")

We finally had something rigged together, a paper cup with a tea light in it suspended by strings from a balloon with its stem cut off. Someone lit a match. The balloon melted instantly. The next day we presented the results of our research titled "The Burning of Items."

Referencing a piece of oak-tag with columns labeled "crayon," "pencil," "potato chip," "action figure" Andy and I stood in front of the third-period science class in safety goggles holding tongs and a Bic lighter, marking down the time it took for various items to burn. I was the MC. "And now, a crayon... 20 seconds."

Kim Gambin, an angry little girl with red hair, freckles, and a penchant for calling people "faggots," was sitting in the first row of lab tables. "This project sucks!" she screeched.

"Uh... you people," said Ms. Johnson, still trying to restore order. But Kim was right. The project was scientifically proven to suck.


Anonymous said...

At that age I would have added little Kim to the list of things that took longer than 30 seconds to burn.
Also, in the world of cartoon rules all your project supplies would have come from ACME along with a bonus "anvil" for later use.
You and Wile E. Coyote have more in common than you think.

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