Two men from the local utility company visited our classroom in 4th grade to teach us about electricity. They looked like a comedy duo: one the lanky, clean-shaven, slick-haired straight man who did all the talking and the other one the funny man, shorter with a big gut that untucked his shirt from his low-riding jeans every time he bent or turned. The funny man seemed to stifle giggles every time he set up a demonstration to show us electricity’s dangerous side.
The straight man started with a brief history of electricity and overview of how it’s produced. His history lesson focused on usefulness, mostly on the convenience of home appliances, then his partner jumped in with speculation about the potential of electricity. He must have been a Star Trek fan because his vision of the future included androids and interactive entertainment that reminded me of the Holodeck.
“I Wanna Be Your Dog”
“POP!” The funny man’s word jumped into the air like we were in an old episode of Batman. “That’s what you get if you catch an underground power line with a shovel.”
“You gotta be careful about letting your dogs dig too much, too,” the straight man added.
“Yeah,” funny man continued. “You have to stop them because they won’t stop themselves, and you don’t wanna hear the sound they make.”
“We Will Fall”
There’s no way for a person who comes across a downed power line to know if it’s live. It might jump around like you expect it to, or it can appear calm. In the video they showed us, a man lost control of his car and ran into a power pole. You get the idea from these types of safety videos that running your car into some kind of utility equipment is inevitable, something every driver does at least once. I hope I’m not due. Of course, after the man’s car hit the pole, a power line dropped onto his hood where it hummed while he made several attempts to escape his car. We saw him “die” repeatedly until he finally jumped out of the car without turning his body into a ground for the wire.
We kept watching him die; the humming continued like meditation.
The straight man only needed to point north out of our classroom window to show us what a substation was. University Boulevard separated the school from the substation. Beyond that, the new hospital.
“See that big fence around the substation? That’s there for your safety,” he said.
Questions went to the funny man, who knew exact figures for voltages and amps. He also had a story ready. A friend of a friend of his who worked for a utility in California told him about a man who broke into a substation to steal copper.
“Imagine. Close your eyes and imagine with me. Imagine an arc of electricity like I showed you earlier from a battery magnified and shooting from one corner of the substation all the way around, back and forth, zigzagging all over the place. Exploding transformers exploding with that big shotgun KERBOOM!”
The straight man jumped back in. “And the man is now in prison. Maybe an example where someone miraculously didn’t get shocked ain’t the best one.”
“Oh, right. Well, you might get zapped. You might get locked up.”
“Real Cool Time”
“You really don’t want to get zapped by lightning,” he added, then popped the VHS tape back in for the next segment, a general piece about thunderstorms that wasn’t necessary for all us kids who grew up in tornado alley. Everyone in Oklahoma has an honorary meteorology degree.
If you learn to smell the storm that’s brewing, you won’t end up being the tallest object in the prairie or underneath branches of the tallest tree. Nothing short of storm chasers reporting in on the TV or radio that a tornado was on the ground nearby sent my family to the storm cellar. Every March, my dad and I pumped the water out of the bottom of the cellar that it collected throughout the rest of the year. Usually we had four to eight feet of water to pump out. I don’t think an electric water pump ever survived more than two years.
She sat one row up and two seats to the left of me. By the beginning of 9th grade I found the courage to ask her out. She and her family had moved away during the summer.
I hate when butter doesn’t melt properly on a piece of toast, and I like a lot of butter on my toast. That’s how I started an electrical fire. After a run of warmed and crisp bread with cold blobs of Parkay on top, I needed better toast in my life.
Instead of toasting the bread then buttering it, I slathered two slices before dropping them in the toaster and walking back to my room at the other end of the house.
I guess the comedy act couldn’t warn us about all the possibilities of indulgence. Too bad I had no way to contact the funny man to add the tale of butter dripping onto heating elements and bursting into flames to his repertoire. I can see them clearly, the straight man holding a fire extinguisher while his partner goes WOOSH.
“What you really want to know is what would happen if you were electrocuted,” the funny man said as he set a car battery on the teacher’s desk.
“We’re going to show you using a little doll made out of toothpicks and canned sausages, but being electrocuted is serious business.”
The funny man couldn’t hold back anymore when the doll split open and shot pieces of itself off the desk onto the floor. He snorted.