Friday, February 3, 2012

The Vacuum Cleaner and the Fish Tank


When I was a kid, I had a bunk bed. I remember sharing it with my little sister for a while, but at some point I got my own room and still had the bunk bed, which was awesome for forts and having friends over.
My room had a sloped, wooden ceiling, and if I carefully leaned out from the top bunk, I could just touch it.
One morning, my sister was in my room for some reason I’ve forgotten, and I was on the top bunk, because I had noticed something odd about the ceiling and wanted to get a closer look.
About six square inches of the ceiling was afflicted with hundreds of tiny holes. I couldn’t get close enough with my face to really get a good look at it, so I would have to rely on my sense of touch to explore this anomaly.
Of course, the second my finger touched the punctured ceiling, a significant portion of it crumbled to dust and fell to the floor. I couldn’t see it, but I imagined the resulting hole had hundreds of terrified termites clinging for dear life to its sides.
My sister made a remark about the trouble I would be in when Mom saw the hole and the mess on the floor, and I knew she was right.
But like any kid, I had a wonderful sense of self preservation, and hoped that by cleaning up the obvious mess on the floor, she would never think to look up. So I scrambled off the bed, ran downstairs, and lugged the machine back up to my room.
After sucking away all of the debris (and possibly a large population of termites), I bent to turn off what I hoped was a life-saving device, when out of the corner of my eye I saw my fish tank.
Here were Freddy, Angela, and Sputnik swimming peacefully in their sheltered ecosystem of bubbly water, brightly covered gravel, and (real!) seaweed.
Ah, curiosity! Lover of discovery and flattened noses!
“I wonder,” I said aloud.
“Wonder what?” said Em.
“What would happen if I did this,” I said, as I plunged the still-sucking vacuum nozzle into the fish tank.
The fact that I did this proves to me that children can be thoughtful and thoughtless simultaneously.
There’s a Calvin & Hobbes anthology entitled Scientific Progress Goes “Boink”. Not in this case.
The slurping noise caused by this action was terrific. A little too terrific for my own good, I thought, and quickly jerked the hose from the tank and turned the power off. My lucky fish seemed none the wiser.
At this moment, my sister made a remark about my stupidity.
Still possessing a healthy sense of self preservation, I knew that I had better get that vacuum cleaner back to its closet downstairs as soon as possible, so I retracted the cord and began to haul it back downstairs.
While on the landing half way down, my sister looked over the banister from above and drew my attention to the puddle of black water forming at the vacuum’s back side.
Panicking, I raced down the stairs and put the vacuum away, hoping against all hope that somehow this situation would rectify itself before my mother discover any of my wrong-doing.
As with so many other crimes committed in my childhood, my hopes were not realized, and I was corrected by a mother who no doubt wished for me to find more positive outlets for burgeoning sense of curiosity.
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