Why I Am Not an Astrophysicist

A story of revenge, lost redemption, tragedy, humiliation, and broken dreams

Fourth grade. Time to learn all the states and capitols, play kickball, read novels, draw maps, play new instruments, and compete in scientific agility challenges. I had finally moved past giving myself haircuts, putting on “shows,” and dressing the cat in doll clothes. This was MY time. Finally, my pension for catching things on fire with my chemistry set would give me a leg up. At last, my daily notes on how my captured caterpillars behaved (prior to their unfortunate demise, which, it should be noted, was not related to my chemistry set issues despite the rumors) was an advantage. The fact that I brought my microscope to school to use during recesses at least twice a week put me ahead of the curve, and my rock collection and knowledge of our solar system was going to make me a STAR. It was going to be glorious.

Foiled Boat

The year began with a controversial tin foil boat competition. The rules, as they were given, were simple. Everyone gets one square foot of tinfoil with which to craft a vessel. This vessel will be placed on water in the sink, and nails will be added one at a time until the vessel is completely under water. Note the “completely under water” part, because that was my queue.

Sizing up the competition began immediately. The majority of my classmates made raft-like vessels, presuming that there would be more space for nails, and therefore more nails on the boat before it sinks. Au contraire mon frère!

However, one boy—who was already known for his odd braininess, for his home-sewn shirts, and for taking off his dead fingernail and showing it to girls—was crafting a mighty ship out of tinfoil. He obviously knew what he was doing. But I had one advantage…the “completely under water” part of the rules. I knew that I couldn’t beat Fingernail Boy at a ship construction, but I could surely beat him at loopholes. No one could topple my logic. NO ONE. Or so I thought.

So, I checked out the sink and measured how deep the water was. Fingernail Boy was giving me the birdeye, but I was unphased. I then built a tinfoil raft, but kept enough spare tinfoil to form a large pole and attach it securely to the raft. This way, my boat would never be “completely under water.” BRILLIANT, if I did say so myself.

I kept my boat hidden until after fingernail Boy had beat out all of our classmates. Then, BAM! Didn’t see that coming did you? SUCK IT 9 year old dummies.

What I didn’t calculate was the complete lack of enthusiasm of my teacher. He told me I was very clever, but it didn’t really get at what he was trying to teach. SO….he awarded the first place prize to Fingernail Boy. FUUUUUUUUUGE KNUCKLES.

Naturally, this caused a divide among our classmates. Team ME and team Fingernail Boy. A mighty nemesis relationship was born, the likes of which I had never felt before. BRING IT.

 Let Down the Straw Bridge

Next challenge: a bridge made out of drinking straws. Everyone was given the same amount of drinking straws with which to create a bridge. The person whose bridge held the most weight would be the winner of untold fame and fortune, a.k.a the ruler of the fourth grade.

This time, after the boat challenge taught me that I lived in a cold and callused world that did not appreciate my particular form of intelligence, I decided to play by all the becrippled rules. I was going to make the best motochucking straw bridge that Cherry Valley Elementary had ever seen. This badasterisk bridge would hold two dead Italians if it had too. Heck, it would hold two dead Italians AND the car that had them in the trunk.

However, even the best laid plans are sometimes met with forces that are out of our control.

First, my scissors were subpar. SUBPAR I tell you! I continuously had to even out the cuts on my straws, thus rendering my perfect measurements imperfect in results. Second, my initial choice to use staples to secure the straws together was doomed from the start, and I was forced to use structurally compromised straws. Did anyone at NASA have to work like this? I doubt it. But I would not give up. I would persevere. I would rise like a phoenix.

Even with so much stacked against me, I managed to make a bridge that my forefathers would’ve been proud of.

Sure, I could beat the girl who once said the most important invention of the last century was “a blender.” Of course the boy who never seemed to bounce back from a peeing-in-his-pants incident was no competition. I knew I would leave all those kids in the dust who were wasting their time with paint and otherwise trying to make their bridges look good. BUT, Fingernail Boy was turning it OUT. Damn.

I refused all social interactions so that I could get my business together before the weigh-off. And together it was.

This time, I was up before Fingernail Boy. My bridge performed like a champ. It held eight staplers. EIGHT. This was obviously a new world record for straw bridge stapler holding. And, I suspect that it could’ve held even more staplers (had there been any more).

When it was Fingernail Boy’s turn, the crowd went quiet. Would he prove that his tinfoil boat was not just a default victory? Or would he break under the pressure. Well, he didn’t break, but his bridge did. Seven staplers.  PATHETIC.

Team ME went nuts. Even team Fingernail Boy had to respect my victory this time.

We now both had one victory in the world of fourth grade science-offs. Not only that, but I was beginning to suspect that Fingernail Boy had become aware that we were in a battle of wits.

Egg Drop Hiroshima

So, it had come to this. The final and most grueling competition of them all. The one that could make men out of boys and heroes out of fourth grade girls. The one with a distinguished lineage dating all the way back to our ancient parents. I have to admit, this was the big time—and I was feeling the pressure.

This one was a homework assignment. We were to come up with a way to throw an egg off the roof of the gymnasium without it breaking. My mind was spinning with ideas. Jello? Packing peanuts? Parachute? Box in box in box? There were a billion angles for this challenge.

How did I come up with my idea? I can only say this. When I got on the school bus that afternoon I didn’t have a plan, but when I got off of the bus at home I did. And it was spectacular. I couldn’t let team ME down. It was a nerd faceoff that I refused to lose. Me versus Fingernail Boy in a battle royalle. We could’ve sold tickets. This was like our double-overtime (or maybe it wasn’t. I didn’t know much about football, but that seemed right). Anyway, whoever scored this time would be the ultimate winner, and would head into the summer knowing that no one, NO ONE, was a better fourth grade scientist at Cherry Valley Elementary.

But I digress…

At home, I explained to my mother my plan for the egg drop: a somewhat complex suspension system using a small box, rubber bands, super glue, toothpicks, duct tape, bubble wrap, a parachute made out of material from a windsock, and some rubber cement. It was fail proof.

Let me preface what happened next in this way: I always had elaborate science experiment plans, most of which involved deconstruction of electronics that my parents did not want to be deconstructed, tools that were dangerous and probably not okay for a 9 year old to use and often destroyed our furniture, stuff from the kitchen that made huge messes and usually turned into some sort of gelatinous paste that was nearly impossible to clean, and, just occasionally, my experiments ended in me calling my parents from quite some distance away in the woods because I couldn’t get down.

Now that it’s been prefaced, here’s what happened.

My mom was not especially committed to my egg drop plans. My ‘blueprints’ didn’t bring it all home for her as I had expected them too.

“That’s awfully extensive. Can you figure out another way?”

I had to compromise my plans all the way down to jello. But, by that time, it was too late to make jello. My mom, totally sick of me yammering on and on about it and pestering her to the high heavens all weekend, and sensing my desperation, had a suggestion.

“Why don’t you fill this box half way up with flour, put the egg in, and then fill the box up the rest of the way. Then GO TO BED.”

Let us not forget that I was 9. I did not pick up on this as my mother’s Hail Mary pass to get me the heck out of her grill (again, a football metaphor—just saying.).

I asked, “Won’t that be too heavy?”

Her reply (handing me a plastic grocery bag), “Here. Put a parachute on it.”

It was past bedtime. This is what I had to work with.  A box of flour with an egg in the middle and a grocery bag strung to the top. SHIITAKE.

The next day, just carrying this box of flour to class was difficult. I knew I was done for. Obviously, I would spend the rest of my life in a fugue state. I had let myself down, but even worse, I had let team ME down.

Sitting in class. One hour goes by. Two. Three. What’s the point of even being in school when I’m such a scientific failure? Four, five.

It’s time.

Our teacher took all our contraptions to the roof of the gym. We stood below; I prayed for a miracle.

It was about 50/50. Lots of eggs made it. Even the egg just wrapped in socks survived, and that egg drop owner was a paste sniffer.

Soon, Fingernail Boy’s was up. He had used popsicle sticks, paper plates, and a carved balsawood egg cup to create a marvel of modern science. His egg plane glided down gently to the pavement below. Not only that, but when the legs touched down, the egg was gingerly moved up to a paper cup on a second level. That egg couldn’t have been happier. Team Fingernail Boy rejoiced, and I must admit that even I was impressed.

A few egg drops later, my teacher picked up my box. He made an audible grunt. He leaned over the roof, yelled “Watch out for this one,” and let er rip. The box dropped, and I mean DROPPED. The horrific grocery bag parachute just flopped around under the force, totally sad and useless. The weight of the box was extraordinary.

You know how people say that time slows down when they’re in a car accident? Well, the time it took for the box to go from teacher hands to pavement was all in slow motion.

When the box hit the pavement….EXPLOSION. Flour everywhere. There must’ve been a six foot sprawl of flour. The egg bits could barely even be found. The crowd gasped. This was not just a failure, it was an epic colossal disaster.

The humiliation of this moment was almost too much to bear. I didn’t want to claim that box. “Woah. Who’s is that?” I didn’t move to get it until my teacher said, “Whoever created that one needs to go pick it up. Now.” Team ME wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.

My head was on fire. I had never been so embarrassed, and that includes the time my grandpa took out his teeth, dropped his drawers, grabbed some salamis to use as nunchucks, and started following me around the grocery store yelling, “That’s my granddaughter!”

The rest of that day was a blur of quiet desperation and deep angst. On my way home from school, though, the disappointment turned into anger, and the anger turned into unbridled rage. How could my own mother think this would be okay? I had never been so let down in my life—this was even worse than when someone stole four of my pegacorn stickers and she didn’t even care.

By the time I made it home and into the house, I was ready to let it fly…and I did.

“How was your day today honey?”

“You want to know how my day was? Do you really want to know? It was THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE!”

“Goodness! That bad?”

“YES, that bad! Do you have any idea how heavy a box of flour is or what happens to it when it’s thrown off a roof? Do you have ANY IDEA?”

The lightbulb went on for her. “Ohhhhh. Yes.”  She was just realizing what she’d done. However, instead of falling to her knees to beg for my forgiveness or writing me a check for a million dollars as I would’ve expected, she just said, “Whoops!” and started to laugh.

“MOM! Are you serious? You ruined my life FOREVER.”

It seemed that the more angry I was, the funnier it was to her. She said, “I’m sorry” of course, but the smile never left her face.

Needless to say, I died a little that day. So, out of spite and a fear of future humiliations, I never became an astrophysicist. I did, however, develop a crush on Fingernail Boy. So there was that.The end.



This entry was posted in Battles, Childhood, contest, Drawings, Parenting and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Why I Am Not an Astrophysicist

  1. Girl meets boy, girl faces off with boy in contrived science settings, girl flours herself, girl loves boy. It’s a blockbuster in the making!

  2. Keegan says:

    PEGACORN?!? Don’t you mean UNIPEG?!? Also, please tell me that story about your grandpa is totally legit. As for the eggs, we never got to do that sort of fun stuff in elementary school. We germinated lima beans, and marveled at the water/oil “mixture” we created. I am looking forward to more of these stories! You rock!

  3. Roolie says:

    For those of you who saw the recent Modern Family episode about egg drop competitions, don’t be thinkin we’re unoriginal. Joolie has been regaling me with her story of unrequited nerd-dome for twenty frickin years. NBC has nothin on this tale of a fourth grade nermis.

  4. Heeb says:

    Tragically awesome.

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