Thursday, August 10, 2023

Better childrearing through chemistry

TINY TYRANT TIME: Me, doing my morning paper route
Here's what was going through my  mother Huena's head when she bought me my first--and only--chemistry set. And oh no, it was definitely not, "this should spark young Peter's interest in science so he'll grow up to be a health-care professional like me."

I'm pretty sure mom was like, "A chemistry set! Peter will have a great time!" 

Huena was fun-oriented that way.

She spoiled me. Something perfect. 

The chemistry set? Just another example of how she seemed to take great personal glee in watching me try new things.  When I arrived home with my first motorbike, a gold '72 Honda 250, Huena said she wanted a ride. 

(Incoming late brother Ed channel: "Yup," said he. "I always say, try anything once. Once is research, twice is perversion.")

SNEEZY RIDER: During allergy season, the
fairing on this, my first Honda, was both
 a curse and a bless-you-ing. 
I didn't start writing this blog to tell you about how spoiled I was but--before we return to the story of the exploding chemistry set--that's what you're going to get.

Exhibit "eh?" of Peter's indulgedness? When I was a little kid I whined one Spring day that I had to wait ALL THE WAY THROUGH SUMMER UNTIL late September to have my birthday. Chimes in my darling older  brother Tom, who was born May 17th: "You can have my birthday. I'm not using it." Pretty spoiled, eh? 

Not once did I hear "You are going to eat everything on your plate, young man." 

Neither did Huena--a registered nurse--discourage me from pouring, on to a bowl of Sugar Frosted Flakes--spoonfuls of grade-A granulated white refined Redpath sugar.

Throughout all of elementary school, whenever I wanted to stay home from school, all I had to do was tell my nurse mom that I had a sore stomach, and she let me.

Did it happen a lot? When our grade eight class put together a yearbook, my classmate Michael Kohut or maybe Tim Gallagher wrote something along the lines of, "Rumour has it Peter actually attended one full week of school this year." 

I had an early morning Globe and Mail paper route; but whenever I didn't feel like getting out of bed Huena shanghai'd one of my older brothers or sisters to do it for me.  I still got the pay. 

Jeopardy answer? "The House." Jeopardy question?"Growing up, what did Peter have run of?"

My nickname--as invented by one of those same older brothers or sisters--was "Little Hitler." 

My parents never yelled at me..

POLYMATH-A-MATIC: Not only do I design scientific experiments,
I draw badges for people like me. (Prototype by the author.)
Even the day Mike Blondin and I set the house on fire.

We were playing with the  chemistry set I was just talking about. (Hadn't mom seen the word set right there on the box? As in set a fire? Hahahaa.)

I can't remember what grade we were in. I'm thinking six. Mike and I were in the boys' room on the second floor of our one-and-a-half-storey home, farting around with the chemistry set's so-called Bunsen burner. I use "so-called" because that one-and-three-quarters-inch-tall and one-by-one-inch-square glass jar with a screw-on cap was no closer to a real Bunsen burner--the scientific device invented by the German Chemist Robert Bunsen in 1855--than this blog is to real journalism.

If anybody recalls what else was in those chemistry sets, besides test tubes, I'd like to hear it. Who knows what might have been? Given the chance, me and Mike coulda built Northern Ontario's first meth lab!

But the only thing we were interested in was fire.  

One of us decided he wanted to see what would happen if you poured alcohol directly on to the flame . Here's the answer. It splashes on the bedroom wall and the whole thing lights up.

Fortunately, our laboratory had a huge workng sink in it. 

The Carter household had three bedrooms. The bedroom facing our street was the girls'; the backyard-facing one was the boys', and my parents slept downstairs. Way before I and most of my brothers and sisters came along, my parents rented out the second storey and that's why there was a sink.

So when the house wall started burning--there was at least four square feet of wall aflame--I ran downstairs yelling "fire fire!" and Mike turned on the water and blew his lungs out and miraculously doused the flame. (It could have something to do with the religious statues and icons my mom filled all the spare space with. As I believe Ed once said--except I think he was talking about the hired help-- "every cook and nanny." We had more holy pictures than did St. Clement's, our local.) 

The outcome could have been worse.

Still, I didn't get reprimanded. 

Maybe my mom, after having raised nine kids before me, was just  tired. Perhaps she was secretly hoping the place would go up in flames and she'd get a bigger replacement.  

My sister Mary was on hand that day.  And she still lives in the same house. 

I could phone and ask her if she remembers what ensued, but what good would that do? She'd probably just tease me and laugh.  

More at than with, but that's what siblings are for.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Where the eavesedropping meets the eavestroughing

WORK WORK WORK, that's all I ever do. 

I'm going to tell you a true story that could-- if things went really wrong-- get at least two people into trouble, and I sincerely hope nothing bad happens. But too bad if it does; the story's just itching to be shared. I'm mean that way.

First, you have to know that I am lucky enough to have a job I can do on my front porch, comfortable in a Muskoka chair that my son Michel built. I love my work and enjoy the passing scenery and sometimes, I even get jealous of me.

The houses on my street are close together. A space of about two feet separates our home from the neighbour to the east.  

Two Thursdays ago, at 1:00 in the afternoon, a tradesperson showed up to do some work on the house next door. They (we're sticking with non-identifiable pronouns as much as possible here) had to squeeze in between the buildings and fix something immediately beside where I was sitting, though they were crouched on the ground and I was up on the porch.

When they arrived, I greeted them, offered a bottle of water and even treated them to a joke about their particular line of business.  Trade-specific jokes are useful tools. (If you can't be handy be funny right?) I once met a guy in an airport lounge who was on his way to a flooring convention."What's the difference between an exploding kitchen and a famous French emperor?" I asked. And then I answered: "One of them is linoleum blown apart." 

That is not the joke I told last week but the tradesperson laughed then got right to work. Two feet away from me. 

After they started working, they phoned their spouse. Who was at home. And they wanted to chat. On speaker. 

(I know.... you're getting ahead of me, aren't you?)

Shortly after the conversation started, the spouse started tending to a baby. Turns out the little girl was less than a year. The young family had recently attended another child's Christening and are invited to yet another. 

The worker agreed to go but added "it's going to cost us a gift, and money's not growing on trees, so the spread better be good."

And they were planning a holiday.  

I also -- and this is important -- kept scraping my chair and clearing my throat and harumphing to remind the tradesperson that I was right there. They did not care.

The spouse was heading off to Walmart and wanted to know if they should buy special diapers for going to the beach. I did not know such diapers existed. The spouse suggested making a list before going to Walmart and then broke out into "I'm making a list; checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty and nice" and their voice was beautiful.  I wanted to say "whoever you're talking to there could be a professional singer," but I held back. 

Then the conversation turned to how exciting Christmas was going to be with the baby this year and the tradesperson said they are going to have to work hard to make sure their little girl doesn't grow up too influenced by "social media and Instagram and all that crap." 

The entire conversation was very cheerful and, in fact, downright reassuring. This was a happy little family. And just so you don't think I'm awful, I kept reminding the tradesperson that I could hear. At one point I started whistling 

They just kept on talking. 

Until another phone rang.  

That call, also handled on speaker phone, was from a colleague, a younger person involved in the same trade. 

And that younger person asked about how to handle a certain professional procedure because they'd had a problem on the job the day before. They actually said the address where the foul-up had taken place.

Still on speaker phone. 

Tradesperson number one heard their colleague's concern, explained what could have gone wrong, and said the equivalent of "whooaaa! You didn't follow the right procedure. You're lucky nothing bad happened."

SPEAKING OF CRIME: I just swiped this image off 
the Internet. It's actually for something called "Rear
Window, The Board Game." I know people who'd kill 
at the Psycho version.

And then...

"This stays between you and me, okay? Don't tell anybody about what you did. You're lucky but it stays between you and me."

I felt like I was in a Hitchcock movie.

Because I  know exactly what they were talking about, I can assure you everything's okay. A step was overlooked, the person got away with it and can go "Phew!" with a great degree of relief. Things could have gone way wrong but didn't. I've been there myself many times. 

Then it was back to the spouse, who was told, "sorry. I was coaching a rookie," and "what he admitted to me just now that's grounds for getting fired." 

About an hour had passed since the tradesperson arrived. The job was almost done. But not before one of my favourite comments: "These young guys think they know everything. When I graduated five years ago, we had way better training."

During the convesation, I was working on how I was going to tell the worker that I'd overheard the conversation and they might want to be a bit more discreet in the future but I had to take a work-related call at the same time as they got into their truck to leave so I missed my chance.

In the end, no harm was done; the neighbour's house got fixed, the younger tradesperson learned a valuable lesson; the older one got to be a hero and good spouse.

And I--who knew all the details and could, if I so chose, let the tradesperson's company know what happened and provide dates, names and details--suddenly felt a lot like Google, because that's what Google knows about me.


I'm sure glad I've never made any mistakes.