My father passed away from cancer in ’94. I was 14 years old. He was one of the smartest people on earth, and I’m not just saying that because he was my father and every kid thinks that, except for mine. He really was. If there was something he didn’t know, he’d most likely heard something about it and had a good idea of where to find the information, which he would do, and get back to you in a few days. This was before the Internet of course.
He worked for the MIT Magnet lab as a technician, and he’d take me into “The Lab” every now and then on weekends. He’d set up at his bench, and explain to me that I had to keep it clean, cause he ate his lunch right off of it.
He’d set me up with wire, magnets and a soldering iron, and I’d twist wires up and solder them to other wires and such. Sometimes he’d give me a motor he had laying around, and let me take it apart. I’d leave the parts in a pile that he’d reassemble some other time. Other times, we’d go down to the loading areas, and he’d lift me into the air on a fork lift.
He had a magnet that had an on / off switch, and he’d set me up with a bucket of nuts and bolts, that I’d stack high on the magnet, and then I would turn off the magnet, and let the nuts and bolts all fall to the floor, which of course, I cleaned up and sorted back into the right containers.
When I got a little bit older, he let me play on the metal lathe. …and by “a little older” I’m talking like 6 or 8 or so… and I’d make little more than piles of metal shavings. Sometimes he and his coworkers, who happened to be around on a weekend would dunk things like leaves and apples into the liquid nitrogen, all for my own amusement.
We used to have long talks about things like organizations, and systems, and cycles, and Mr. Wizard types of things, like electrocuting hot-dogs and such. One day I was sitting in the car with him and we were heading down Memorial Drive in Cambridge MA heading somewhere I don’t really recall. I remember sitting in the front seat, no seat belt cause that’s how we rolled in the 80s, thinking about how we had these talks all the time. I think I enjoyed listening to him talk, more than I really enjoyed listening. I started thinking about all the different things he’d known and explained to me, and I tried to think of something that he might not know.
“What’s in Jet Fuel?” I asked.
And son of a bitch, he knew everything about it. He spent the next thirty or so minutes telling me about the different kinds of jet fuel and how it changed over the years, and how it came from whatever side of the earth it came from and why it burnt the way it did and how it was stored, and how it was transported and how some jets were refueled while in the air, and on and on… I remember shaking my head and rolling my eyes to myself. What could have possibly made me think I could find something my father didn’t know about.
I sometimes think about how the tables would have been turned now that I’m a computer geek. I finally have something I could lecture him about! Alas, I’m about 20 years too late.