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Sunday, December 07, 2008

A December Sky

I saw the 1999 movie October Sky for the first time a few days ago. For those who are unfamiliar with the movie, it is the generally accurate story of a Virginia mining town youth and his struggle to escape the lifestyle (and black-lung) of his elders. The late 50's were the fledgling years of the space race, and the sight of the Sputnik satellite fly-over was the impetus for a group of teenage friends to adopt the science of rocketry as a hobby. This leads to scholarships for the "Rocket Boys", one of which ends up working for NASA. It is a G-rated, engaging story.

It was also a startling reminder of my own youth from about 8 to 15 years of age. The movie version, of course, omitted the chain-smoking shrew mother, drunken father, white trash neighbors, drunk driving, felony hit-and-run sailor trash from the local Naval Air Station, the meth addicts, coke mules, psychotic southern women, pedophiles, men who slept with their daughters when they were 14, incompetent, thieving employers, drug dealing lawyers, corrupt judges, crony politicians, and serial arsonist school board attorney sons. The real life version also omitted the scholarships as well, although I did win 3rd in the state Science Fair. The pissing and moaning related to having to drive to Tech pretty much ended any future science fair submissions, however.

Don't you just love polite southern society. Not. Actually, the aforementioned dysfunctional human debris was primarily from Cobb County, a nasty, trashy, corrupt suburban county of Atlanta; which explains why I concentrated my late-teen, early twenties efforts into North Fulton. They were educated, displaced northern leaders of industry - and civilized; unlike their inbred neighbors to the west. I've been in thousands of homes in my life, most of them quite well-heeled, but never have I witnessed the degrees of bizarre, insulting, adolescent, and criminal behaviour as I have in Cobb - and this would be from the people who RUN it.

Model rocketry was a hobby I embraced due to an innate desire to get away from what I was surrounded by. Ignorance, intolerance, dishonor, and criminal collusion. My inclinations towards controlled explosions started at a young age, as I was mixing chemicals in a bucket in the carport of my home. Something didn't go quite as planned, and the bucket spontaneously combusted. Everything was under control until one of the idiot neighbor's kids in his early teens saw the fire in the bucket and came running to "rescue" me. This moron kicks the flaming bucket onto the side of the house where it proceeds to scorch the siding before being extinguished. I was silently accused of trying to set the house on fire. Lovely. I thought it most curious that no one ever bothered to ask what actually happened.

Some years later I nearly blew up his younger brother as he volunteered to manually ignite one of our early rocketry experiments. The resulting flash lit up the neighborhood like the midday sun, and he was thrown backwards from the blast. I didn't see much of him after that. And no, we were NOT trying to kill anyone. It was a miscalculation in nozzle size vs. burn rate. We could neither afford nichrome wire nor fancy battery packs back then. But with the money I subsequently earned repairing TV's in my father's shop, I bought the parts and constructed the apparatus for remote electric ignition. It took all summer. Suddenly, someone with a car (and the attendant 270 amp/hour battery) became extremely valuable. That is how I met another sci-fi/ astronomy oriented kid a few years older, and a few miles away. He had a car, and a similar interest in rockets. He is also one of the few native southerners I know that isn't an utter imbecile, although he DID set his back yard on fire with a rocket gone awry. I could have found like minds in the local scout groups, but the parents wanted no part of this or any other "involvement" with their children's development. As long as TV's got repaired so the sot and his family could eat, they were done.

The movie also conveniently avoids depicting the circumstances surrounding a rocket which has just apogee'd at 250 feet and its resulting hasty return to earth. Can you say embedded 11" into hard-packed red clay? Not if it hits you... But I digress.

Anyone who leans towards geek should enjoy this movie and may possibly see facets of their own youth depicted.


Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

Oh boy! And I thought my big brothers got themselves into trouble...

I'm glad you survived your own growing up!

(Teenage girls never did anything so outwardly hostile or obvious as trying to set one another on fire.)



Happy Christmas!

Thu Dec 25, 03:00:00 AM  
Blogger Dr. Know said...

OK, Laura,
We weren't TRYING to blow each other up, it just worked out that way. Watch the movie and you'll better understand... Science can be a dangerous undertaking. ;-)

Be glad I didn't tell the story about driving a car through the garage wall.

As for teenage girls, take a look around you these days and repeat that statement with a straight face.

Ho, Ho, Ho.

Thu Dec 25, 04:53:00 AM  
Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

Tell the story, please...



Mischief-making is so fun when it's almost innocent, don't you think?

Fri Dec 26, 02:25:00 AM  

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