T h e N o t e
Stop me if I've told you this story. In the summer after my senior year in high school, I got a temporary job at a plant, thanks to my father who was a foreman there. This facility mined clay out of the earth, fed it into one end of a gigantic rotary kiln (like, the length of a couple tractor-trailor rigs, if my memory serves), rendering giant chunks of clay into a gravel that was then used to make heat-resistant bricks. This job lasted about 10 or 12 days, with no days off, working about 12 or 13 hours a day. I had to collect samples of the clay and the gravel in two heavy buckets, take them inside into a makeshift lab, and run tests on the samples. One of the tests involved putting samples in laboratory glassware, and filling this glassware with mercury to accurately measure the displacement volume of the material. I think I was calculating specific density. (Speaking of specific density, keep reading.) I had on hand something I would guess is hard to come by now. A sizeable bottle of mercury.
Let me preface what I'm about to write by saying this incident happened on the last night I worked. After working 10 or 12 days, double shifts, with no breaks, in what now would certainly get the plant owners arrested for something--or-other related to the federal government and safety. That and the bottle of mercury.
I'm trying to say that I was tired. Sleepy. Impaired. Not my best. Foggy of mind. (After you finish reading this, please come back to this part and re-read that bold part.) So, I put the bottle of mercury on the table and went to a nearby vending area to buy a 6-oz bottle of ice-cold, refreshing Coca-Cola. This is a very familiar product to many of you. Maybe you've had a Coca-Cola. Maybe you've even had one in the very cool 6-oz bottle.
For those of you thinking ahead, this is story of how, as a young man, I came to stand, sleepy and numb from fatigue, with a large bottle of mercury in one hand and a bottle of Coca-Cola in the other. The Coca-Cola probably cost, I don't know, 35 cents. The bottle of mercury must have cost hundreds of dollars, and nearly cost me my life.
In retrospect, if I was going to make a mistake, the one to make would have been to pour Coca-Cola into the glass lab equipment. That would have been a cheap and easy clean-up. Instead, I took in a big mouthful of mercury. Quicksilver. Quickdeath. Deathsilver. I had enough mercury in my mouth to shave ten IQ points off the entire faculty of the high school from which I had just graduated. And trust me, some of those people needed every IQ point they had. As do I. I have none to spare.
The good news is that the feeling of mercury on one's tongue is significantly different from the delightful, fizzy, bubbly, burn of Coca-Cola. Fortunately, this moved me to spit a couple of hundred dollars of mercury onto the dusty floor.
I swept it up and disposed of it in a way that would probably now make the entire part of that county in Arkansas a Superfund clean-up site. In fact, if there may now be a number of 40-year-olds in that vicinity who don't read very well and maybe walk "different." Nothing wrong with walking different. It's not a bad way of walking, Honey. It's just different. And reading is overrated.
I hope you enjoy Issue 74 of Right Hand Pointing. As always, my thanks the F-Troop, F. John Sharp and F. J. Bergmann and all of you who submitted or have work in this issue.