In my younger years, I thought my father had the best job out there; he did scientific research, specializing in advanced electroplating processes. Much to my fathers’ disapproval, I sought a job and a lifestyle much like his. Accordingly, I did everything I perceived him to be doing, which included mixing chemicals with really long names I didn’t understand.
At one point, my father gave me my own lab, complete with beakers, test tubes, and a microscope. I was also provided with baking soda, vinegar, distilled water, and anything else that was harmless that my mom was willing to give me out of her cupboard. It was a half-assed attempt at keeping me out of my fathers’ real basement laboratory.
My own lab of sorts satisfied my interest for a short amount of time, that is of course, until the baking soda and vinegar reactions ceased to hold my interest.
I was back in his lab and in no time at all, taking samples of the really interesting stuff he had access to. His response to this was to counsel me as to just how hazardous and dangerous his chemicals were. Unfortunately for his sake, this only made me want them more. Gradually, locks started to appear on his lab door, starting with the classic hook and eye. Then, the hook and eye were moved out of my reach, and suddenly, two hook and eyes. I was a crafty, curious kid and the simple hook and eye was easily defeated by standing on a chair, or by unlatching them with a broom or yardstick.
Suddenly the easy hook and eyes were replaced with drywall screws. What my dad failed to realize was that I was a smart kid with an intellect well beyond my years. I was back in the lab in no time since adjacent to the lab door was my dad’s collection of screwdrivers.
Much like my father, I have a collection of tools. Some tools, I have more than one of, just in case the one I’m using, for whatever reason, ceases to work in the manner I wish it to. My father, on the other hand, took this simple backup strategy to the extreme, having somehow held onto every tool and screwdriver set he ever owned. On his work bench sat a multitude of screwdrivers dating back to a time when only nails existed. He had screwdrivers with wooden handles, screwdrivers with metal handles, several screwdrivers with modern plastic handles, and one screw driver I might have just as well overlooked because for some reason it had no handle. I’m not sure why my father would hold onto a rusted screwdriver with no handle, but that’s just something he liked to do.
While I was busy unscrewing the two or three drywall screws from the door, my father just so happened to come down the stairs and catch me. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem too upset, perhaps because this time he didn’t keep me out of the lab, but instead, delayed my entrance just enough so as to catch me trying to enter.
He helped me remove the third screw and then we took a trip across the street to the hardware store where I helped him select a lock with a safety hasp. Not being skilled at traditional turning combination locks, he selected a brass lock which allowed the user to select their own 4-digit combination. I had to help him install the lock on the door and later on, he locked the hasp with the lock.
This new lock stared at me for a long time, seeming to spitefully put an end to my adventures in laboratory land. I tried everything from 1-2-3-4 to 4-3-2-1. I even tried 0-0-0-0, thinking that my dad was too lazy to even set the combination on the lock. Nothing worked, the lock and the door remained closed. Just when I was about to give up, I tried the last four digits of my home telephone number, and I was in!
My father finally gave in, and let me in the lab to let me watch from a safe distance while he mixed his chemicals. Watching your father mix chemicals in bottles without any sort of chemical reaction or excitement can only hold a youngsters attention for so long. I must have bugged him by asking too many questions, because he set his work aside and opened up a triple-layered cardboard box filled with gallon-sized glass bottles.
On each of the glass bottles was pictured a skull and crossbones and then a stick figure representation of a hand with a drop of water eating a piece out of it. There were also several symbols and warnings that appeared alien to me, like a guy in some sort of space suit and a mask over his head.
My father sternly instructed me to wait outside the lab while he opened the rest of the box and pulled out one of the bottles. He then proceeded to tell me that what he had I was never to touch because it was full-strength sulfuric acid. Throwing caution to the wind, using his bare hand to unscrew the tightly sealed gallon size bottle and poured about 2 ounces of acid into a small jar. At this point I was only slightly impressed by this display of more chemical pouring. He then took a penny out of his pocket and dropped it into the sulfuric acid as I stood there.
Much to my surprise, it quickly dissolved into a green cloud of nothingness and disappeared into the acid. In went another penny, and then another, and another, one by one getting eaten away by the acid. My father explained that sooner or later, the acid would get weak from all of the work it was doing and it would no longer be able to dissolve any more pennies. To prove his theory, he proceeded to drop in still more pennies, then a few more.
Much to my surprise and delight, the acid was still working just as strong as ever. Unfortunately my dad was running out of pennies and he was burning a hole in his pocket, literally, one penny at a time. He concluded the experiment with a quarter, which was gobbled up twice as fast as the pennies were, at which point he gave up trying to prove his theory and dumped the entire experiment down the drain.
Unfortunately, my fathers’ eyesight wasn’t the greatest, and a few droplets of the used acid somehow splashed onto his shoes and pants. Almost immediately, the acid produced little wisps of smoke as holes appeared in his clothing as the acid got exponentially weaker as the reaction on his clothing drew to a close.
Terrified by the thought of having acid on my shoes or clothes, I immediately ran upstairs and never returned to my fathers’ lab ever again, in fear that the acid he had might burn holes in my pants too.
I swore off pursing a career in Science. My father could not have been happier.