Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Man Moments" and The Exploding Lava Lamp

I have a confession to make: the breakdown of my old TV caused me to have a "man moment". OK, not too shocking, right? Because, truth be known, I am (and I am very careful to whom I admit this) a man. (Being male is now illegal in about 4 states, BTW.) Although I am certainly not the stereotypical American male (to say the very least) the fact is that "man moments" are not nearly as common to men as you might expect. If they were the human race would've died out centuries ago.

A "man moment" is any action based on the fundamentally male thought process that begins "I wonder what would happen if...?" Although present in all human beings whatever their gender, I have yet to meet a male of any background that wasn't, on some level, a tinkerer. This is, occasionally, a positive attribute. I cite the well-known examples of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Far more often, however, it is a curse. In this regard I cite the example of one 24 year old resident of Kent, Washington who, according to a press release issued by that municipality's police department on November 29, 2004, was found dead in his trailer home by his parents. I quote:

"It appeared that something had exploded on the stove top sending shards and splinters of glass in all directions. Remnants of a lava lamp were found around the kitchen area. It is believed that for some unknown reason the deceased placed a lava lamp on the stove top to heat it up which led to the explosion of the fluid container part of the lava lamp. The deceased has several lacerations and one large shard of glass embedded in his chest."

I suppose the police must refrain from speculation and thus refused to ascribe a motive to the young man's placement of a lava lamp on a hot burner. Being under no such stricture I can confidently state that this incident was the sad result of an extreme "man moment". The young man simply asked himself what would happen if he increased the heat applied to the contents of a lava lamp significantly. I am also confidant that the question has formed in the minds of many males while watching the "oil" rise and separate into balls and then rejoin the mass at the top of the lamp. I know I have. (If you would like to know more about what's actually in a lava lamp click here.)

Now before the non-males start condemning me as a lunatic, let me explain that I didn't start planning to place a lava lamp on a stove the first time I set eyes on one. I, like most males, initially pondered how exactly the thing worked. After making the profound discovery that heat is the enabler of the process, I was logically and naturally led to the proposition that the higher the heat, the faster the transfer of "oil" from the bottom to the top of the lamp. And all males know that once a reasonable proposition has been postulated it is perfectly reasonable to design an experiment to test it out.

At some point, before the male places the lava lamp on a burner and turns the knob to "High", hopefully an image of his Mom will appear in his brain screaming: "Dan you idiot, how many times have I told you NOT to PLAY with FIRE!!!" .

Sometimes the self-preservation reflex carefully planted in the male brain by a mother (since the future of the human race has been entrusted to her care) doesn't dissuade the experimenter and either injury, death or progress will result, sometimes simultaneously. I know it's happened to me.

When I was in my early teens, I conducted a series of experiments involving fire. Unfortunately, I did not have access to a well-equipped laboratory at that time so I had to make do with the bathtub in my parents apartment, the alleyway behind the back of our apartment building, and a garbage dump in the bungalow colony we lived in during the summer of 1966. Here were my findings:

1) Plastic shower curtains do not burn; they melt in hot globules that can burn exposed flesh and are very difficult to remove from porcelain once they harden.

2) Plastic shower curtains also produce an inordinate amount of dark, acrid smoke that will attract considerable attention as it billows out of a 4th floor bathroom window.

3) The updraft on a windy day can cause a shoebox filled with burning newspaper and model airplane fuel to hover outside an apartment window for extended and unnerving periods instead of simply dropping to the alleyway below.

4) Setting fire to a week's worth of garbage at a large bungalow colony requires planning, fortitude, skill and a reckless disregard for property values.

Now if that wasn't worth a visit or two from the fire department and several screaming jags from my Mom, then I don't know what is.