Selves, Part II

What kind of damage could this thing do? Should we lock that door? One hundred million mega-tons, he responds. So, that’s a yes to the lock? Sure, if it makes you feel better, he shrugs and turns away to further inspect his nightstand-sized remote, leaving me to make a decision about protecting our lives. I’m excited to watch an explosion, but I’d rather not die doing it.

I follow my uncle to the rear of a tiny observation room. It attached to the experimentation room, which actually is hardly a room and more like an airplane hanger. My uncle, he’s what all my friends call the luckiest guy in the world. He gets to blow things up for a living. His actual job description has never been explained, but I do know that somehow somebody hired him, trusted him with some pretty intense chemicals, and at the end of it all pays him to do it. I brought him to school for Career Day when I was in 5th grade. After that, every kid in the class wanted to befriend the guy with the awesome uncle. This was step one of the nerdization process, and once step one is in place it’s hard to reverse it. Unfortunately, no one forgets the weird uncle who asks you what you weigh when he shakes your hand, and then tells you how much TNT it would take to blow you up. Ever.

A few times a year, my uncle picks me up in his Volkswagen van he’s owned since long before I was born. He doesn’t have any kids and his girlfriends never last long enough to remember their names, so I’m the best audience he could find at short notice, because I never know I’ll be tagging along until I actually am.

Uncle Paul has been planning this particular explosion for a few years. It’s supposed to replicate the comet that hit earth and whipped out the dinosaurs and nearly everything else on the planet. I can’t keep up with the technicalities, in part because the descriptive words are long and vague. But mostly because the answers come in quiet mutters stuffed between head scratches, punching buttons on the remote and pulling on safety suits. Those safety suits were the worst part of the whole day. The outside gives the appearance of astronaut-wear, like twenty boxes of aluminum foil have been wrapped around us. But the inside is basically a wetsuit, thick rubber spandex that is nearly impossible pull over you calf, much less the rest of your body. Oh, and did I mention that you need to be naked before you put it on? One rule should be generally agreed upon: you shouldn’t need to be naked in order to ensure your safety.

You already know that I dig science, and you can guess that these surprise mandatory field trips are right up my alley. There’s one thing I’ve learned about myself during Uncle Paul’s projects; I love results, but I hate the actual experiments. They are terrifying. No one knows what will happen, not even the creator of the experiment. My uncle certainly didn’t. This is a fact I can’t overlook. The first time he stole me from the haven of my G.I. Joes, my arms stiffened, my legs shook, and tears streamed from my eyes. I’m doing to die, I’m going to die, I’m going to die. When it was over, this is afterlife. I’m stuck in this hellish place forever. I wasn’t. The experiment had ended and it was time to celebrate. Thankfully, in those awful suits, my uncle didn’t see any part of my panic.

I’ve figured out a way to make it through the horrifying process until we high-five to a completed project and share a six-pack of Heineken. Don’t tell your Mom, he says every time as if I’ve forgotten. I used to close my eyes and echo a tune over and over until I couldn’t think of anything else. But that stopped working when any loud noises happened, which happened a lot with Uncle Paul. Then I tried memorizing soliloquies to focus, that didn’t work either. Listening to my iPod. Nope. Staring right at the experiment the entire time to face it head on like a man. Major failure. Finally, I started to hypnotize myself.

Missed Part I? Find it here.

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