Friday, July 30, 2010

Sacrificing minnows for seventh-grade science

Discovered some papers in a crate in the basement. It's Box No. 10, according to my mom's impressively detailed catalogue of the junk room's possessions. School papers, graduation stuff, the results of my driver's test, taken on July 19, 1991. I pretty much aced it, scoring "good" in every category except for right turns, where I performed poorly when approaching and entering the lanes. How did I screw up one of the easiest things on the test? I don't recall.

Driver's training had been challenging. We took a class in the fourth quarter of our freshman year and received on-the-road training during the summer. I was partnered up with a kid who'd been driving since he was like 11 years old, when he stole a car and took a joy ride around town. He became something of a rebel legend after that incident. He had such confidence behind the wheel. I envied him. He all but cruised the bad streets of Janesville with his right arm draped around our instructor's neck, as if the teacher was his girl on a Friday night date. The kid owned moves behind the wheel Earnhardt Senior couldn't have pulled off. My car experience consisted of bumper cars at the Janesville Hay Daze - which once ended with a carnie rescuing me because I couldn't operate the vehicle - and a disastrous incident where I backed my parents' car out of their tiny garage and drilled the driver's side door as my dad stared in disbelief and, well, fury.

But by the time the driver's test came a year later, I had conquered my demons, and the exam.

The box in the basement also holds all of the science experiments I conducted in seventh-grade. There was a "soil lab report," which I decorated in blue cardboard paper and a front-page drawing that looks like something scribbled by a blind child or a troubled one. My group concluded that "our soil was sand. Day six was the ribbon test. Our soil did not make a ribbon which also means it's probably sand. Our texture again was gritty." Salk's seventh-grade reports showed similar insights. We scored a B, due to some shoddy explanations, though our final conclusion was absolutely correct. It was sand, damn it.

There was an experiment involving a hamster and a maze. Again, a B, as we didn't adequately explain how "Martha" learned over the course of 20 trials. Without interviewing Martha, how exactly were we supposed to discover her thought process?

Finally there's a report I conducted alone. I titled the paper "Good Vibrations," an homage to the Beach Boys and lovers of bad puns. On the cover I drew a rough facsimile of a minnow, complete with a thought bubble that read, "Oh no it's the dreaded telesacoil." A telesacoil? Google telesacoil. There's no such thing. Did I mean a Tesla coil? I don't know. The other materials for this experiment were "1 minnow, 2 paper towels, faucet, soap." Thankfully, I spelled all of those words correctly in my paper, though I did break AP style by using figures for numbers under 10.
The extent of the paper:
PROBLEM: To see if the Minnow will react to electricity. (Why did I capitalize minnow?)
INFORMATION: The minnow is a small river fish. It's used for bait and trout food. It has small scales shaped like tiles. (I'm assuming all of that's true, but after seeing telesacoil littering my paper, who knows what other information I made up.)
HYPOTHESIS: I believe that the fish will die when it's shocked with electricity. (Heh.)
PROCEDURE: Step one: Take the minnow out of the jar and lay the minnow on the paper towel. Step two: Take the telesacoil and test it on the faucet then shock the minnow every minute. Step three: record the results. Step four: Clean up.

The fish died. It took eight minutes of torture. He was survived by 445 siblings and a poorly punctuated science report.

Minnow showed no reaction after a minute, before finally beginning to "wiggle around" in the third minute. At minute five, "there is the first sign of blood on the minnow." Blood appears on the head at the seventh minute. Dies at eight. That's it, that's the paper. If I had ever been arrested as a juvenile, the prosecutor would have presented this paper as proof that I needed to be locked up until I turned 21.

"Look at how he enjoys torturing animals, your honor. Yes, we consider the minnow an animal. He even used a perverted version of the scientific method and documented his findings. He combined science and sadism. He needs help."

But this was a real paper. The teacher - the school's volleyball and softball coach who was sort of my nemesis, while also being my family's friendly neighbor - gave me an A-/B+. He liked the work, at least better than my breakthrough studies on sand and mazes.

My conclusion:
"I accept my hypothesis although after the first few minutes I didn't think the minnow would last as long as it did because the minnow was showing no reaction after the first few shocks, but after several other shocks the minnow started to show signs of reacting to the shocks such as bleeding and wiggling around so my final conclusion is that the fish died."

A sixty-five word sentence, with one comma. I was in seventh grade when I wrote that. I was 12 years old, but that writing would be below-average for an 8-year-old. Was a classmate shocking me with a "telesacoil" when I penned my conclusion? Yet I got an A-/B+, which makes me wonder just how bad some of my classmates' experiments and papers were if they received Cs or even Ds. Did my Good Vibrations title impress my teacher so much he ignored my paper's countless faults and questionable taste? On the back of my paper I again drew a fish - poorly - with the words "May He Rest In Peace" written above. I was obviously glib about my involvement in the torture and death of the minnow. My paper even had a dedication page, which I used to thank my friend Brandon, who apparently gave me the idea for the experiment (I don't recall the conversation or setting when he first brought up this idea. Were we watching a documentary on Ted Bundy at the time?).

I'm glad I still have this paper and my other groundbreaking reports. They bring back good memories. But this minnow one might have to be destroyed. I still don't want any prosecutors having access to it.

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