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State of Mind: Spring Cleaning

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It is not easy to come up with humorous ideas for columns week after week. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “But Lare, you make it look so easy!” Perhaps. (And I want to thank the two members of my fan club for that comment.) But often what seems like a great topic just doesn’t have legs after a paragraph or two. Those attempts end up on what we professionals like to call “the cutting room floor.” That should not be confused with “the circular file,” which was the euphemism for the trash can back in the days when you typed your drafts on paper. 

Nowadays abandoned ideas just create clutter on my hard drive, and it being spring, it is time to do some cleaning. But before I hit the Delete key, I thought I’d review some of these columns one more time.

A column I started last spring was about my wife’s increasing fear of ticks and focused on a baseball cap of mine that she appropriated for her daily walk in the woods. This cap was originally navy blue, but after heavy and daily applications of DEET, it is now a dingy and crusty gray. Large flakes of the repellent often come loose and float to the ground. Even though she is a clean freak, she has no fear of this hat. I will only pick it up with a stick. I suspect, however, the ticks in the woods move away from her as she walks, sort of like Moses parting the Red Sea. 

Another column that went nowhere was about my grandson informing me he was ready to go back to school at the end of JULY! I initially thought he was confused because the supermarket already had mountains of Halloween candy on display. 

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When I was young I would have preferred going back to school after Christmas or maybe even Arbor Day, if at all. That’s probably why I now work at a newspaper instead of in some profitable industry.

I suspect my dread of school comes from growing up in Florida, where summers are endless and air conditioning back when I was there consisted of opening the windows to allow the humid, 98-degree air to waft through the classroom. If you’re in the lower grades, that’s warm enough to melt your Crayolas. And I remember ninth grade algebra classes just after lunch. It was probably just the sweat in my eyes, but the classroom clock would appear to be melting as I struggled with quadratic equations. Again, that’s probably why I now work at a newspaper and not NASA.

And speaking of NASA, back in July of 2019 I began a column celebrating 50 years since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin turned the surface of the moon into the first extraterrestrial “bouncy house.” I went on to mention all the great things that NASA gave us as a result of the space program, such as Tang. Well, okay, Tang was around way before the first astronauts, but it wasn’t very popular because it was just artificial flavor and sugar. Then John Glenn insisted it accompany him on his first orbital flight and it became famous. And what about freeze-dried ice cream? Well, okay, that was never sent into space. I’ve tasted it, and I’m sure generations of astronauts were grateful for it being deleted from the menu. 

It also led me to wonder, if we humans can send Tang into space, why can’t we come up with something better than asphalt for paving our highways?

Another topic came to me while drinking a bottle of “spring” water. As I was sipping away I noticed the bottle’s label said “Fun Size.” That got me to thinking, what makes it a fun size? This was a 10-ounce bottle of WATER! Is a 16-ounce bottle of WATER not a fun size? And would an 8-ounce bottle of WATER be more or less fun than a 10-ounce bottle of WATER? If smaller is more fun, I would probably not be able to contain myself if I could find a 4-ounce bottle of WATER. And did I mention this was JUST WATER!?

But perhaps my favorite unfinished column came from my favorite science news magazine. A few months ago its cover carried the bold headline “Uranus Smells like Rotten Eggs.” In spite of the “dad” joke inherent in that pronouncement (put finger on nose; yell “Not It!”), it made me wonder, “How do they know?” Does NASA have a spacecraft with a large, schnozzola-like apparatus (the Durante II?) traveling through the solar system from planet to planet sniffing their atmospheres? Turns out that astronomers, from the olfactorily safe distance of Earth and using only a telescope, determined from spectrographic analysis that the clouds on Uranus contain a lot of hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is what gives rotten eggs their bad smell. Here on Earth we have to contend with the greenhouse gas methane, which is odorless, unless it mixes with other gases (such as hydrogen sulfide). By the way, methane should always be pronounced the American way — mĕth-āne. The British pronunciation, MĒ-thāne, refers back to the aforementioned “dad” joke.

I just hit Delete. It’s Spring.