Wednesday, June 13, 2007


I think I got my love of how the world works, commonly called "Science", from two Air Force vets.

The first one was my Dad, who thought one of the coolest things going was to make hydrogen balloons with a glass jug, Draino, and some other stuff I'm not going to mention here. Nothing dangerous about that, right? Let's see...a balloon full of hydrogen gas, Mom and Dad lighting cigarettes for each other, while Brother and I balanced the weight of the balloons so that they would hover head high inside the house. We used string and a book of matches, tearing them off one by one until liftoff was achieved... House, hydrogen filled balloon, matches, two boys aged 7 and 10...Nothing dangerous about that, right?

Years later in high school chemistry I blew up a beaker full of hydrogen mixed with a bit of air... on purpose and well controlled. Years after that, I had a balloon in my hand and thought about Dad and the hydrogen and the matches and then, after all those years, I connected the dots and realized the possibilities...My own personal Hindenburg moment on Lockland Avenue in Winston Salem, NC, in 1960.

"Coulda been on da News!"

Dad was a "Kiddie Cruiser" in the Air Force at the end of WW II and never flew a plane himself. We hung out at air shows a lot and flew model airplanes he made. I wrecked some really cool flying machines, since I never did get the hang of landing one after spinning around in a circle for five minutes with a raging little motor attached to two wires and a handle that wanted to get away form my hand which was really tired and I was dizzy and then the gas would give out and I would get really scared because I might wreck the plane and Dad would say, "Damn, Son."

I really liked helping to build the planes, which took a long time in kid time, but not so much the un-building, which was pretty much instantaneous in a kid's life. It took longer for Dad to say, "Damn, Son" than it did for me to un-build a model airplane.

The other Air Force Vet that taught me science was Don Herbert. He flew B 24 bombers in WW II and was much better known as Mr. Wizard. I revered him even more than Roy Rogers. In a world that only had two TV stations, I would watch Mr. Wizard on Saturdays instead of the cartoon on the other channel. Most kids did, back then. Today, Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and Beakman's World use all kinds of flashy gimmicks to keep kid's attention. All Mr. Wizard had to do was say, "Ok, Kids. Watch this."

Then Mr. Wizard would perform some kind of miracle, like showing us the vapor trail of cosmic rays in a glass chamber he had set up right there on a table that looked just like the one in our kitchen. Sometimes afterward I would be out in the garage trying to repeat the miracle and an electric motor I built out of a can and a battery won the science competition at school, even though all the other boys knew where I got the idea. They couldn't make it work though, so "Nya, Nya.."

Bob Herbert flew 54 missions over Mussolini's Italy and received the Distinguished Flying Cross and a bunch of other medals, but Mr. Wizard was my hero...Still is. He taught me that science is what god is talking about and that the real world is far more amazing than anything a mere human can make up.

Bob Herbert died the other day at the age of 89.

Peace, Friend...Would that there will ever be another!


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