Culture, Science

Birthday Buzz

        Why did Benjamin Franklin think it a good idea to fly a kite in the rain? And why did he further believe that tying a key to the kite string was a helpful experiment?
        Never understanding the whole event, I learned that he really was determined to prove that lightning was electricity. The kite string was hemp, which was soaking wet in the rain, but contrary to many depictions of Franklin standing, drenched to the ears, in the middle of a field, he was not. He was standing dry in the doorway of a barn, where he was holding onto a dry piece of silk string tied to the wet hemp. He tied the key to the hemp.
        What happened next is important in preserving life. As the winds tore around the kite, it collected static electricity that was transmitted down the wet hemp cord. When the charge began to accumulate, Franklin saw that the strands of the hemp bristled like a brush. Impressed, he moved to touch the key with his knuckle, and got a little buzz for his curiosity. This was enough for him to conclude that there was electricity in the air around the kite. Had he hung in there for a lightning strike, he would have been a cindered lump, incapable of later writing up his findings.
        I present the true events of this mythical story because I am not good with electricity. I do not understand the relationship between amperes and watts and volts. I have experience with volts, but limited at that.
        I hate electric shocks. Like scrubbing across the living room rug and zapping yourself on the stereo. Once, I stepped out of my car and the shock was so strong I nearly welded my hand to the door. I cannot imagine the blind temerity of electric car owners who drive about, sitting on top of twelve hundred pounds of lithium battery, the same stuff that spontaneously ignites laptops and cell phones in one’s pocket.
        My electric experience was early in life, but indelible. There was a time in history, before the advent of digital cameras, that I was charged with taking a family picture at a birthday party. The flash extension on my camera used disposable flash bulbs. As the crowd grouped together, I called cheese, and at the critical moment of a united smile, the flash did not work.
        So off I went to the photographic shop—remember those? With the old flash battery in hand, I entered the store, and placed it on the counter. It was a small metal cube about the size of a thimble. The girl across from me looked at it.
        “I think it’s dead. Can you test it?”
        “Yes sir,” she responded and pulled out a contraption with wires and a needle under a plastic window, “let’s see what we’ve got.”
        The needle wavered lethargically.
        “Yep, you need a new battery. This one’s flatter than a hat on a highway,” she smiled.
        But I wasn’t so sure. “Just hang on,” I said. “What if I just do the old taste test?” With that I placed the little cube on the tip of my tongue, and touched its other end with my finger. It felt a little warm on the tongue, which meant the battery still had some juice.
        “I think it still might be good.”
        She looked at me like I might stick a pen into an outlet, or put my thumb into a light socket. “No, it’s dead. You need a new one.”
        “Well, just wait,” I countered, and lifted the battery again to my mouth. “Let’s give it another go.”   With that said, I touched my tongue to the bottom of the battery, but inadvertently my lip touched the other end.
        Shazowee!!
        The shock arced through my brain like a giant blinding klieg light with tinsel exploding in all directions. For a moment my eyes froze wide open like Buick hubcaps in a car show: bright, spinning and impossibly shiny. I had never seen stars before. The jolt was so strong I nearly swallowed the battery. Then my eyes slammed shut and I spat the battery onto the counter. It skidded to a rest beside her calculator.
        “You okay?” she asked, incredulous. I jiggled my head.  My mouth was limp.
        “Could you teth it again? I hink it thill hath thome juith lef.”
        She picked up the little brute and studied it closely, and then the tester.  “Oh! No wonder,” she chuckled. “It’s fifteen volts. I set it for one and a half! Hah! Sorry!”
        I pointed out that you can start a Mack truck with twelve volts. She tested it again, and it registered “replace”. I took her word for it, and bought a new battery, which was egregiously expensive I thought.
        “Eight bucks?? That’s adding insult to injury,” I protested.
        “Would you like to test it?” she countered.
        “Ha ha. Wrap it up.”
        I stomped out of the store and returned to the party which was in full session. I had missed the cake and candles, and the ice cream was relaxing in a pool at the bottom of a crystal serving dish. I installed the battery, and again herded the partiers to the couch for the birthday shot. Everyone retrieved their smile. The camera clicked, but no flash. A collective groan followed.
        “Hey maybe you bought a dead battery!”
        “Yeah, did you test it?”
        “Yeah, why don’t you test it now?”
        “Yeah, just put it on your tongue…”
        I cut them all off.   “We are going outside to the picnic table, now!” I instructed. “Out! Out! And when we’re done, you can all go fly a kite!”




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2 thoughts on “Birthday Buzz

  1. Leslie Lorenz says:

    Hey Phil this experience could explain a lot about your state of mind. It’s still very charged up 😜🥰😜. Hope all is well with you!! Leslie

    Like

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