My Dad has never been a subtle man. His steps were very recognizable as he ascended the steps to the second floor. It was uncanny. How in the world did he know I was connected with this? How did he know to come to my room first? Why was my name the first thing on his lips? Through the door he came. “Reid! What did you do?” was the question.
I am a man of blunders. And nowhere has this tendency shown itself self more than in my various experiences with electricity over the years. I can tell you from first hand experience, that you cannot make a Jacob’s ladder (one of the single most intriguing things to ever be presented before my young and fertile mind through the medium of a Science Fiction movie) by stripping the ends of the rabbit ears from the TV and inserting the naked wires into an outlet. It doesn’t work. Don’t try. Operating a piece of heavy duty construction equipment after the ground wire has been removed is not wise either. When I woke up, I understood just how unwise it was. But my first encounter with the magic of flowing electrons was in my early years.
I think it was fourth grade. The last year we lived in the manse connected to the church my Grandfather had pastored before my Dad did. That in and of itself was a cool arrangement I’ll have to leave for another time. But you could exit a door from our kitchen, proceed down a short, dark hallway, and emerge through a side, sharply arched entrance directly onto the platform in the sanctuary. Right next to the giant, unused, spectacular pipe organ with the hand engraved ivory stops. Sad to say, someone in an inventive mood had painted the brass pipes with gold paint. Gold paint won’t tarnish, don’t you know? No, they no longer sounded very good. Back to electricity.
Whether it was my third or fourth grade year I cannot remember. If it was my third year, that would have been the year of my first crush – on Miss Joy, my teacher. How aptly named this raven haired beauty was. I can still remember her perfume and that white sweater she wore so often to this day. Fourth year would have been Miss Houston. A stately, dignified black woman whom I both loved and feared a little, but who was greatly encouraging to this tender mind. She made me love poetry. Either way, my older brother Kenny was practicing his clarinet on the other bed in the room we shared. This was just before he switched to the saxophone.
Night had fallen early on this winter’s day, and I was entertaining myself with another one of those inexplicably fascinating items I so readily enjoyed in my young days – a pair of tweezers. Someday, perhaps someone with deep analytical powers might be able to tell you why certain objects of this sort were endlessly interesting to me. I’m sure it is worth diving into the murky depths of my prepubescent psyche to figure it out – but why bother? In any event, these were not just regular tweezers. I had a pair of those too. Upon the remembrance of which I am at a loss as to figure out why my parents would indulge my strange elation at possessing – but none the less, these tweezers were my favorites. I had no idea actual tweezer engineering was in full swing. At that time, the thought that my favorite pair were not scientific tweezers didn’t bother me. I now know my other pair were in fact scientific tweezers. Long, flat arms with pointed tips. These, were probably run of the mill cosmetic tweezers, without the now popular “biased tweezing surface.”
So, short, with flat blades across the bottom, I truly delighted in what must have been nothing more than a random bit of design work on the outside of the arms – or perhaps the engraving was meant to prevent slippage – but the design itself was like superlative art to me and I adored it. I loved running my fingers over the surface, trying to make sense of the art deco design on the grip, and picking up infinite numbers of little things I would have no other use for – other than to exercise my finely honed and increasing – tweezing skills.
As Kenny squeaked his way through that night’s lesson however, something of an epiphany swept into my child’s mind. There, on the wall, on the left hand side of the bed – near where I lay my head each night – was something of sudden, magical interest. The electrical outlet. My lamp was plugged into it, and I had seen Dad and Mom and others plug and unplug countless appliances into such receptacles all over the house before – but it had never struck me like this. And what was most amazing was – that as I contemplated the two, identical, vertical slots positioned so perfectly without anything obstructing them below the plug which powered my lamp – how perfectly conceived and constructed they appeared to be, to accommodate the twin engineered tweezing surfaces of the tweezers in my hand. Joy! I thought to myself. Not only are they shaped the same, they are spaced nearly identically. Surely they were meant to interact – were they not? Inductive reasoning gone horribly awry.
Rolling up the bed to the head – I thought about it carefully at first. What would the result be? I couldn’t imagine. Would sparks fly? Oh my, I could only hope so. Would something else happen? It was too much to contemplate. In such moments, too much analysis can spoil the excitement altogether. I decided that experimental science called for bold leaps into the unknown, not a little boy’s insufficient musing. Now was the time to act. To strike out and make a name for myself. To try the forbidden and dangerous. To plunge the blades of my mystically powerful flat bladed tweezers into the waiting, electrically charged slits.
There was a blue flash. Before the lights went out. In what was perhaps an even bolder, though by far a more impulsive move, I reached back down and grabbed the tweezers, removing them as quickly as possible from the outlet. I lay there silently. Kenny stopped playing the moment the lights went out. I don’t know if he saw the blue flash. Perhaps that is what prompted his query a few moments later. I don’t know. The few seconds seemed so long. When all of a sudden, my brother’s quivering voice spoke into the still darkness. “Reid? Are you alive?” I didn’t know how to answer. My mind was racing a million miles an hour. What did all this mean? “Yeah” I answered hesitantly.
My Dad has never been a subtle man. His steps were very recognizable as he ascended the stairss to the second floor. It was uncanny. How in the world did he know I was connected with this? How did he know to come to my room first? Why was my name the first thing on his lips? Through the door he came. “Reid! What did you do?” was the question.
At that moment, as all children instinctively know at moments like this – tears are the best response. Sobbing and weeping are very useful tools at times. Times like these are what those tools are made for. Seeing me so visibly shaken, he talked until at last he got the truth out of me. In the process, as Dad’s are wont to do, he made certain I understood the gravity of what I had done. The physical gravity was still a complete mystery. Death by electrocution was not a concept I could readily imagine. Though, I nodded my affirmatives appropriately. The real gravity had much more to do with knowing Dad was pretty smoked. And incredulous when he found out I had removed the tweezers after the big blow.
In the end, Dad replaced the fuse. The lights came back on. Kenny finished practicing his clarinet and I turned to a much safer and non-conductive activity with a comic book.
But every time I see an outlet, I must confess, I do get the urge to try it again.
Maybe they should have called me Sparky.