I went to a science fair this evening. I haven’t been to a science fair since I was in 8th grade, and let me tell you something: They haven’t changed a bit. How America retains its ranking as the top destination for technological and scientific advancement is beyond me, because as far as I can tell, our budding scientists-to-be only perform experiments involving static electricity, vinegar and baking soda, or rock candy formation. Oh, and Coke and Mentos. I saw four separate entries dealing with Coke and Mentos, each of which had a hypothesis along the lines of, “My hypothesis is that adding Coke to Mentos in my brother Tyler’s room will be hilarious.”
Not that I have any room to talk. My one and only science fair entry had to do with telekinesis, or the ability to move objects via mind power alone. I was thirteen at the time, and telekinesis would certainly have come in handy, so I wanted very much for this experiment to prove that I had some sort of psychic power. Alas, my experiment was a failure, which in retrospect was a good thing. You do not want to know what a thirteen year old boy would do with those kind of powers. (Hint: It involves a tongue bath and every living female under the age of 30.)
I remember that my experiment was broken down into different telekinetic techniques:
- Quiet, focused attention – I sat there, flipping a coin, looking every bit like an escaped mental patient whose meds had worn off long, long ago.
- Relaxed effort – I sat in my room, listening to music, idly flipping a coin, and often falling asleep. If I had known about pot back then, this experiment might have lasted for months.
- Active participation – I screamed “HEADS!” or “TAILS!” at the coin after I flipped it, but before it landed. Later on, when I repeated these experiments with my younger brother assisting, my father walked in while we were yelling ourselves red in the face at a bunch of change. He just shook his head and walked off.
The experiment was the fun part of science. The bullshit part was, as it remains today, writing it all up. My first attempt was roughly equivalent to a piece of paper that said, “Telekinesis: That shit don’t work.” But my science teacher told me that it was important to list my hypothesis (“My hypothesis is that telekinesis is a bunch of bullshit”), my experimental techniques (“Act like a fucking lunatic for an entire afternoon”), and my conclusion (“There are better ways to spend an afternoon than screaming at pennies”) so that other people may learn from it. Apparently there are deeply retarded people elsewhere in the world for whom this research would benefit.
I didn’t know it then, but a failed experiment can tell you just as much as a successful one. For instance, the first experiment that demonstrated that the ancient medical practice of bleeding was not a good idea for patients that had recently lost a lot of blood probably saved a bunch of lives, subsequently allowing people to live to the ripe old age of 23. But back then, I figured I was screwed at the science fair because not only was my project kind of fucking stupid, but it didn’t give me the results I had hoped for.
Of course, I hadn’t taken into account my competition, which included experiments such as:
- The home made volcano (Hypothesis: My dad made a volcano.)
- The potato battery (Hypothesis: If the power goes out in Ireland, they’re all fucking set, assuming they’re sober enough to round up some potatoes.)
- The effect of light on seedling growth (Hypothesis: Remember this face, because you’ll be buying weed from me in college.)
- Dissolving an iron nail in Coca-Cola (Hypothesis: Don’t store your nails in Coca-Cola.)
There was a lot of the same old shit in that science fair, and frankly I think that I was rewarded for thinking outside the box, even if my thinking was the kind of thing you’d tend to discourage in someone older than three years of age. I got an honorable mention.
I bet the kid whose project involved the stopping power of 9 millimeter rounds versus 45 caliber rounds got more than an honorable mention, if the judges knew what was fucking good for them. Seriously, that was one of the projects I saw tonight. There were pictures of the kid popping off rounds at targets along with pictures of him brandishing sidearms in as badass a pose as you can muster when you’re in your early teens. I’m not sure why that project didn’t alarm anyone, although this is a public school, so maybe people had just assumed that the students were already proficient with handguns.
But no science fair would be complete without the inevitable denouement: We folded up the project with care, brought it home, and I placed it in the kitchen as we walked in the door. “Now, honey, if you want to keep this, make sure you put it in the back of your closet where it won’t get bent,” I said to my daughter. Of course, she was busy jamming it into the trash by then. I guess in the future if she needs to know what happens when you put a drop of soap in a bowl of water with pepper flakes floating on top, she’ll have to rely on the more prestigious peer-reviewed publications.
My further experiments with telekinesis were limited to mentally undressing attractive classmates, and the occasional drug freak-out in college, but every now and again, usually as I’m lugging a jar of stray coins to cash in at the bank, I’ll think back to when I was thirteen and I had this crazy idea that I could change the world with my mind. I was right, as it turns out. But what I didn’t figure out until much later was the pesky detail that I’d also have to get off the couch to do it.