Saturday, July 5, 2008

Curiosity can be a blast

I’ll never forget the experience – it had to be the dumbest thing I ever did while growing up. As a teenager I enjoyed taking things apart – mostly electronics – exploring the tubes, capacitors and resisters, then soldering any loose connections. A chemistry kit also was fun, creating a lot of smoke and once firing a homemade rocket a few feet off the ground. A long extension cord was used for ignition with a small strand of copper wire across the ends, which glowed red hot and once blew a fuse in our home. I also enjoyed shooting with either a bow and arrow or a 22. The nearby woods offered plenty of targets.

I never owned a shotgun. The shells were out of my budget and it was not the kind of gun that a kid would normally have, at least in our area. But one day, at the shooting range, I found a red 12-gauge shotgun shell lying in the dirt – it had not yet been fired. I remember rolling it in my hand with fascination, considering the power and danger that was contained within the shiny wrapper. The more I studied it, the more I wondered what it looked like inside…

Soon I was standing at dad’s workbench, slowly tightening the small vice around the red cylinder. Very carefully, with a knife, I pried open the crimped end and removed a piece of padding. I tapped the shell lightly and watched the tiny beads of shot roll out. Peering inside I could see nothing. It appeared empty. I knew there was powder, so I prodded at the inside eventually loosening a second pad. Again I tapped the side and out came a small pile of powder. Now it was empty for sure.

I stared at the metal cap on the end of the shell – the part that the firing pin would contact to make the explosion – which was undented. I looked at the shot and the powder which had been emptied out on the bench and figured that I had done a thorough job. There was nothing left to explode…just one small cap.

Alongside my dad’s screwdrivers was an ice-pick. Still focusing on the shiny round cap, I lifted the pick and positioned the point like a firing pin against it. With my right hand I held the hammer. It was a small work room with one window and I had closed the door to keep the experiment private. So far, everything had gone well, and I had no reason to suspect any problem with disarming the little cap. I had played with paper caps, striking them with the same hammer on the cement floor. No big deal.

Very lightly at first, I tapped the pick handle…nothing… perhaps it had gotten wet, I thought, or would not work without the powder.” …but before giving up, I lined up the point again – right on the center – and, with the hammer, gave it a good whack!

I had never thought about the benefit of normal hearing until that moment, when suddenly such a loud blast came that everything else was utterly blocked out. My ears not only rang but experienced deep penetrating pain. The only comparison I could make was a cherry bomb – one of the most powerful firecrackers we could buy – exploding two feet away, something that had never before happened. This had to be worse. It was much later in the day before my hearing returned, and I began to meditate upon my stupidity.

Now that I’m a little older, I’ve learned how to avoid some of the dangers that I used to flirt with, but I still retain my curiosity about how things work. That can be a good thing as long as we’re careful – and get some good advice before looking into anything new. Every now and then my ears still ring, which I guess is a reminder.

Enjoy wisdom, and if you like a good adventure, check out my recently published novel, The Ninth Generation. It just may satisfy your deepest curiosity.

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