Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Metropolitan insights and avant garde culture alert!

[I wrote this thing about halfway done, and then read it back, and came to the realization that it’s probably the most challengingly disjointed thing I’ve ever written. Extreme caution is urged—please keep a finger on the back button.]

Funny how the brain works.

Got through yesterday and headed back to the swingin’ burg of Trussville, picked up Boy from Grandmom’s and headed over to swap kids with Reba at the soccer park. Despite the downpour we had yesterday, Middle Girl’s team was indeed having practice, so I got her and her stuff from Reba and exchanged Jonathan for it, then Reba was off to take Oldest to band practice. (All that thrill-a-minute action and drama—take that all you 2Fast2Furious kids!)

Anyway, as Bec got her cleats on we discovered she didn’t have her water bottle, so I told her I would be back in a minute and drove to the Citgo station down the road a piece. Interesting place, to say the least—it’s a log building with a pool supply place on one side, and a convenience store/restaurant/curio shop on the other. (The big news? New prices on dip and cigarettes!) Got Rebecca a Gatorade, then figured I had better get something to occupy me for a while, so I picked up a Coke and some Tom’s pistachios and a little paper bag of roasted peanuts.

Dumped it all on the counter and the lady started ringing it up then did a double take—“Where’d you get them pistachios!?”

What an odd question—“Over yonder by the rest of the nuts.”

“Hmph. A feller come in here last night and just had a fit ‘cause we didn’t have no pistachios. Just kept going on and on. He got loud! I didn’t have time to go look for none, so I figured we musta been out of ‘em.”

“Well, I’ll be. Was he drunk or something?!”

“Nah, I guess he’s just one of them kind that like to hear hisself.”

Yeah, I know how he feels—he needs to get a blog.

Paid for my stuff and went out the door (pausing to look at the case full of custom Bowie knives) and went on back to the park to find that only three of the girls had shown up, the rest apparently put off by the rain. But, the field was in good shape and the coach is a real game fellow and loves to play with the kids, so they did their whole practice session that they normally do. He would have done it even if there was only one girl there—he’s not a martinet or anything, but if there’s a kid that wants to learn, he’ll be there to help. Good guy. Full of energy, too—he’s at least ten years on past me, but he’s as bouncy as Tigger. All the time. Every day. Me? I exhausted myself prying open the pistachios.

Sat on the bench and vegetated for the hour and a half and threw nut shells into the fence line. The pistachios were fine, but beware of little bags of nuts from some Aunt Something-or-Other lady in Attalla. Maybe I’m a snob or something, but when you buy little homemade-looking sacks of roasted peanuts, you figure they’re going to be the best things you ever tasted. These were crappy quality nuts to begin with—all different sizes and condition, and half didn’t seem to have been fresh roasted; rather, they tasted as if they had been allowed to age in the hold of a Bulgarian freighter and allowed to turn rancid first, then roasted. And the roasting was inconsistent, too. Some were right, some weren’t. For the peanut snob, it’s hard to beat the Peanut Depot here in Birmingham. Been in business in the same spot on Morris Avenue since 1907, and they use big, iron, gas-fired rotating drum roasters that were made in the ‘20s—smells like absolute heaven every day. Good nuts, properly roasted. (They also boil some.) They mostly sell to vendors, but they also pack up little brown paper bags for folks off the street, too. Which is sure what I wish I had been eating. Blech.

Got through with practice, got back home, waited a bit for Reba and the rest of the kids who had gone back up the school to get Ashley from practice, sat us all down and had some supper, after which I was ready to go get my work clothes off and read. Just then, Ashley leaned over and whispered to Reba, “Mom—I need some…pads.” ::sigh:: Late night trip to the store? Daddy job. ::sigh:: And feminine hygiene products, to boot.

Oh well.

Not that I mind that, in particular. As I’ve mentioned before, the comedian Rich Shydner used to do a bit about being glad about getting to buy monthly supplies for his wife as a way to validate the fact that he could, in fact, find a woman—“LOOK EVERYONE! I have KOTEX! That’s right—I’m buying them for MY! WOMAN!” So, I’ve never been embarrassed by having to stand there holding sanitary napkins. (Although, I gotta say having to buy them for my daughter feels weird and icky, so I just pretend in my mind they’re for Reba.) So, back out one more time and off down the hill to the grocery store. Spend several minutes trying to decipher all the various packages and looking for the best bargain, then stopped by the magazines. You know, many people seem to avoid you if you are a large man reading Shotgun News while holding two 24 count packages of Always Regular Maxis. Go figure.

Put back the SN and went on to the only cash register which was still open, which happened to be staffed by one of the usual complement of big tall corn-fed Amazon high school girls they hire. It was at this moment, as she was giving change to the customer in front of me, that an incident came back to me that I hadn’t thought of in years, and likewise prompted this long-winded exercise.

I was nonchalantly standing there, being so proud of myself for being such a modern, non-embarrassed-by-womanly-stuff-even-when-I-have-to-purchase-it-from-a-supermodel kind of guy, and suddenly it was 1982. [Insert dreamy violin music and make your eyes go all watery like it’s a dream sequence on TV. It will take a while to actually get to the point of the story, so you may want to go out for lunch or something then come back.]

A long time ago, in a completely different other life, I had enrolled at UAB to study engineering. I wasn’t doing that well in math, and didn’t much feel like going to school, so decided to get myself a job at Southern Research Institute. They hired me as an engineering technician trainee (which is one half step above a lab rat, by the way) and assigned me to the materials testing department. Actually, this was a pretty cool place (if you were a real engineer)—we did a variety of testing of carbon fiber and Kevlar rocket components for NASA and their various contractors. They would send us an experimental fabricated part (like an entire rocket nozzle or nose cone), the machine shop would cut it up into coupons, then we would put instruments on the pieces and stuff them into various ovens or cold boxes and pull and twist and expand and crush them and see how well the various methods of construction held up. As I said, for engineers, the results were probably fascinating to study, but for a laboratory rat the job was hot and dirty and dangerous. Which suited me better than studying math, by far.

In any event, we had one particular test apparatus that was pretty incredible. A big circular metal washtub looking device, up on angle iron legs, with soldered-on cooling lines all around the outside. This was a furnace and we used it to test large diameter rings cut out of carbon rocket nozzles. In the center was a set of hydraulically activated wedges, over which a test ring would be placed. The wedges could be pumped up to expand the ring and measurements of the deformation would be made. Complicating things was the fact that there were also heating elements inside the thing to get it to the necessary several thousand degrees, which meant that there also had to be some sort of insulation to keep air out of the center of the oven and damp down some of the heat. This was done with scoops and scoops full of powdered graphite. Dirty nasty stuff that got on everything. Including long-suffering trainees who got to put the stuff into the furnace.

One day we were scheduled to run a hot test and everything came to a halt.

“We’ve run out of rubbers.”

You see, in order to test how much the ring expanded, we had to loop a very fine carbon fiber tape (like black dental floss) around the nozzle ring. The ends of the tape were then threaded through graphite tubing which tunneled through the furnace and the graphite filling to the outside of the tub where they connected to a couple of little micrometers. As the ring expanded, the micrometers would be spooled down to see how much it moved. Now, remember we’re trying to keep the hot gasses inside, and the outside air outside. No use having a gigantic explosion of 1,000 degree graphite everywhere. In all of the great engineering necessary to conduct these tests, it was found that the best way to seal the end of the graphite tube and the tiny carbon fiber tape was to use a condom tied to the tube, with the fiber running out of a pinhole in the end. And not just any condom would do. Plain, no reservoir, unlubricated.

“Oglesby, go get a purchase order for two boxes of 36 plain prophylactics and run down to the drugstore.”


Got my purchase order, which was an experience in itself, then walked up to Birmingham Apothecary. This being in the far long ago time, condoms were still kept hidden lest children and old ladies be mentally deranged at the sight of them, so I went all the way to the back counter.

Nasty blue work shirt covered in graphite, big steel-toed brogans likewise covered in graphite, fingernails like a coal miner. Was met by a cheerful little blonde girl who was probably about my age. A fine bead of perspiration formed on my head.

“Hello, uh. Um, I need two, 36 count boxes of plain prophylactics.”

She looked like she had been struck by a car.


Oh crap. Someone turned on the sweat gland motor full speed.

“I, um, I work over at Southern Research, and we ahh, need to purchase two boxes of plain prophylactics. For what we’re working on. There.”

Still with the dazed look, “Just a minute.” Then she called over the PHARMACIST and whispered to him, “This man says he needs two 36 count boxes of prophylactics—can you help him?”

He stepped to the counter as she hid behind him, “Hello…you need two 36 count boxes of prophylactics?”

Full melt down mode, as there are now other people waiting. Including a little old lady.

“Hmhck, Um, yes sir—we have a machine over at Southern Research, and the plain prophylactics are to seal the ends of a tube, and we need the ahhh, plain type without any sort of lubrication or um, anything.”

“Alright.” He went into the back and brought out two giant, white, 36 count boxes of plain, latex, unlubricated, non-reservoir tipped, male prophylactic devices. “Is that all?” Oh, you better believe it, chief. “Yes sir, that’s it for today.” And then I got to hand him the purchase order. Which he had to call and verify. Finally, clutching my scientific supplies, I turned and walked briskly back down the street.

I got back and provided much joy for my coworkers in the retelling of these events.

All that, just because I went to the store last night to buy something for someone else.

As I said at the beginning, funny how the brain works.

Anyway, no condoms to purchase today, but I do have to go back and let the refrigerator guy in again, and I really do need to finish my other work, so I’m going to go ahead and sign off for today. The weekend, as usual, will be jam-packed with stuff, so stop in again Monday, and you will be once again regaled with a wide variety of balderdash and flibbertygibbit!

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