I Go Blind

I Go Blind

Suddenly in the transition from third to fourth grade, I went from being a straight-A student to being a marginal flunky. Because of my preference to sit in the back row, it was soon discovered that my sudden academic decline was due to two factors; I couldn’t recognize the teacher and I was no longer able to see the blackboard.

My eyes were so near sighted, also including astigmatism that the proverbial coke-bottle-bottom-lenses would be a requirement that would once again allow me to properly visualize and focus on the world around me. The ophthalmologist referred to myopic astigmatism as though it were some sort of ocular leprosy. Although I still don’t know what it means, except for the fact that presbyopia has also been thrown into the mix, the bottom line is literally ocular mysticism. He should have made it simple by telling my mother:

  • Your son is as blind as a nocturnal marsupial.

After being outfitted with a horrendously heavy pair of thick horn rimmed glasses, which my mother said made me look “so handsome” while at the same time being outfitted with a nifty set of old fashioned metallic braces which made me afraid to ever smile again, I was ready to once again tackle academia.

Making up for lost time, I soon moved back from column F to column A in grades.

It was easy. With four eyes and a metal mouth, I developed such little confidence in an appearance instilling such a monumental lack of self-esteem, that without any burning desire whatsoever to socialize, I just went home to my room every day and studied or fiddled around with toy trains, model airplanes, or my chemistry set.

Beside the horrible physical appearance of the old style glasses there was something else about them that bothered me to the point of distraction until I finally solved the mystery.

When someone else looks squarely at your face, near-sighted lenses will cause a refractory distortion making the facial lines at the level of the orbit become discontinuous. The lenses pull the eyes closer to the nose, thus enhancing the beady-eyed rodent like aspects of the encumbrance. The stronger the lens, the more the facial distortion and the beadier the eyes become.

As a natural consequence of this ocular stigma, the blind mice of a feather at school began to flock together creating a local scientific geek community.

Several years later with the help of another introverted scientifically oriented friend, Richard, the home chemistry set passion blossomed to the point that I became an expert on making gunpowder out of powdered sugar, granulated charcoal, and Saltpeter.

Being enamored with scientific names, but also with rudimentary sophistication on scientific terminology Richard gave it the secret code name: “phithle-phathle-phithalene.”

The Saltpeter was obtained at a local pharmacy from my father’s druggist friend Henry Nash who always handed it over with a skeptical look in is eye.

  • You know, Sal, there isn’t a lot you can do with this stuff except to make bombs or dissolve tree stumps.
  • It’s OK Henry. These kids don’t know what they’re doing anyway. Just let them have all they want.
  • You’re the boss, Sal.

An ancillary rumor spreading around the High School at that time was that if one drank a solution of Saltpeter, it would make a person so horny he would not be able to live with himself and might go crazy if he didn’t masturbate.

I never tried it, because I was more interested in making rocket fuel, didn’t want to waste it on an experiment in masturbation, didn’t have a girlfriend, didn’t know how to get one, and then wouldn’t have known what to do with her anyway.

It is also fortunate that my shy diffidence and lack of self-confidence,  would have never allowed me to approach a girl in the first lace, because if so I might have taken my friend Eddy’s advice on sexual intercourse in his distorted interpretation of “The Facks a’ Life”, and asked her if I could piss in her ass.

Nevertheless, it remains fascinating that Saltpeter is a sodium nitrate and that modern drugs like Viagra designed to enhance male potency have nitrate like effects; meaning that many rumors actually do have substance, credibility and a ring of truth to them.

Richard was fascinated with rocketry and the German V-2 program. He idolized Werner von Braun; so between the two of us, we traded recipes on making gunpowder.

Over time the gunpowder mixtures started to become more efficient to the point of achieving the manufacture of a few small functional firecrackers that we used to blow up neighborhood mailboxes. Still we never did quite attain the ultimate intended goal of making a successful solid fuel rocket.

Our Amory already included CO2 gas powered plastic rockets with little plastic astronaut capsules on their tops, in which we placed honeybees for manned sub-orbital space flights.

We were sadistically entertained after blasting the bees into subsonic space; retrieving them and then watching them spin around in hopelessly disoriented circles because their sun focused navigational sensors had been scrambled up.

But the science lab was forced to close down when my mother, then in her mid thirties, had a prolonged hospitalization for beast cancer surgery. Aunt Polly had to come up from Virginia and moved in temporarily to take care of us three children while my father went to work. Because it was during the school year, Byron had to stay home under the care of his father; which meant that he was being only partially supervised and probably having a ball, while my siblings and me, under the scrutiny of the mother-clone, were not.

One day Aunt Polly did a giant load of wash, including all the bed sheets, towels and pillowcases. With the weather being bad, she couldn’t hang everything outside to dry, so instead she strung some makeshift clotheslines in the basement, and then put all of the laundry up on it to dry.

At that time, I was working on obtaining a lower flash point on my gunpowder and was using the basement bathroom as a temporary laboratory.

Having mixed quite a large amount of the stuff in a big bowl, while trying to get a small portion on the side to ignite quickly, the entire batch suddenly caught fire and burned itself completely into aerosolized soot, which then filled the basement with a smoky ash akin to a small pyroclastic volcanic explosion.

Needless to say the soot landed on and imbedded itself into the newly washed whites which completely wrecked the laundry load beyond salvage.

To put it in perspective, it took Tom Sawyer all day to cajole his friends into helping whitewash his Aunt Polly’s fence, but it had taken me only less than thirty seconds to blackwash my Aunt Polly’s entire laundry

Polly was furious at having to do the whole laundry over again and banished any further experimentation from the inside of the house. She said:

  • Not only did you ruin my entire laundry, but think what could happen if you set the house on fire. And why are you playing with that stuff anyway. What are you going to do, grow up and be some kind of bomb maker?

When my father got home from work he put an end to the gunpowder business for good by calling his friend the pharmacist, Henry, to forbid him from letting me have any more Saltpeter.

Perhaps I would have been better off, if I had embarked on the search for refining a male potency drug, instead of trying to launch miniature insect astronauts or blowing up the neighbor’s mail boxes by making progressively bigger, ever better bombs.

In the over all scheme of things then, perhaps it was Aunt Polly’s whitewash hanging  on a makeshift basement clotheslines that may have saved the world from the Unibomber II. Or instead, it might have been the proscriptions against continuing to experiment with Saltpeter that delayed the development of what would eventually become the world’s most famous nitrate based wonder drug: Viagra.

H Bomb


Make love. Not war.

And don’t stare directly into the sun. It will make you go blind.


Photo source © National Archives


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