Tales from real life
|Well, if they're not true, they oughta be!|
|A secret is something only one person knows.
I took a chemistry class during my junior year of high school. One of the big topics was the ionic bond, and the powerful attraction between atoms with opposite electrical charges. Our instructor, Mr. Foulis, hit the subject hard, focusing on sodium chloride. He explained how the positive sodium ion combines with the negative chlorine ion to produce one of the most abundant materials on earth, salt. He ran through some of the other substances with ionic bonds, and I perked up when he mentioned hydrogen sulfide.
“Isn’t that the rotten egg smell?” I asked innocently, knowing full well that it’s the ‘active’ component in both natural and human gas.
Mr. Foulis explained that hydrogen sulfide was intentionally added to natural gas to help detect leaks.
The anonymous stage whisper cracked up the entire class. Mr. Foulis struggled to keep his composure and moved on with the lesson.
A couple of weeks later, we had a substitute teacher for chemistry. Mr. Foulis had given us strict instructions to stay out of the lab, but he neglected to tell the substitute.
“What are you supposed to be doing today?” she asked.
“Oh, we’re working on our lab projects,” we all assured her.
Some of the kids amused themselves by dropping bits of sodium metal into a wet lab sink. Sodium is highly reactive, and it smokes and pops nicely when it comes into contact with water. My thoughts drifted back to ionic bonds and a light bulb flashed on. Hydrochloric acid plus sodium sulfide powder! The sodium and chlorine would bond powerfully to make salt, and the byproduct would be hydrogen sulfide gas. This was too good an opportunity to pass up. I didn’t say a word to anyone as I quietly filled two beakers with the raw materials for my ‘experiment’ and placed them on the lab table nearest to my desk. When the bell rang, we all scooped up our things and headed for the door. I surreptitiously tipped the powder into the acid as I left.
Success! The experiment worked well enough to cause a general evacuation of the west wing of the school. Dozens of students milled around while the vice principle, Mr. Gallagher, called the woefully unprepared volunteer fire department to deal with the crisis. It took more than an hour to use up all the raw material and for the odor to dissipate. Then it was time to place the blame.
The lab beakers were pretty obvious, the substitute was chewed out, and then Mr. Gallagher turned his attention on me. His pool of suspects wasn’t large, and I was the most likely candidate. He knew by my casual indifference to the excitement that his guess was correct.
“Mr. Fisher, would you like to explain how this happened?” he asked.
‘No, I wouldn’t like that at all,” I replied truthfully.
My red face gave me away, but I didn’t break down under his interrogation. Mr. Gallagher was actually quite competent and a pretty decent guy. He knew I was guilty, but he wouldn’t punish me without solid proof or a full confession. He laughed when I told this story many years later at a class reunion. My wife, who attended the same school, reacted indignantly.
“That was you? I should have known, it was just the sort of thing you think is funny.”