September 7, 2007
It seems like children’s toys are being recalled every day now, either because they have lead paint or sharp edges someone just realized that the new improved Bild-O-Briks (now with 30% more arsenic!) were a bad idea or maybe the toys just too darn fun and had to be taken away from children who might experience happiness. I’m all for these recalls, but at the same time I wonder why no toys were ever recalled when I was a kid. Then again the toys I played with, even the ones with thirty-seven thousand tiny detachable parts and a high rate of spontaneous combustion, were probably the least dangerous thing I played with. Rocks, sticks, old car stereos, black widow spiders, razors, and a snakebite kit were just some of the things my friends and I would throw at each other, and when playing hide and seek I discovered that an old refrigerator is almost as good a hiding place as a garbage can. One kid in my neighborhood had a treehouse that was twelve feet off the ground and made of drywall and cardboard held together with duct tape, chewing gum, barbed wire, and one or two rusty nails to give it stability. Then there was the chemistry set I spent hours playing with. In spite of including chemicals like sodium cyanide and sulphuric acid I guess it wasn’t recalled because it was an educational toy (and came with 30% more arsenic!). And was it ever educational.
Among other things I learned that when you set a block of styrofoam on fire it’s really hard to put out, and will leave a permanent mark on the carpet. Also a rubbing alcohol flame is hot enough to melt lead. My parents were pretty sure that if I survived I was going to grow up to be a chemist, although my approach to things was less scientific and more, "Hey, what happens when I pour sulfuric acid on the driveway?" If I grew up to work in a laboratory my colleagues would probably take everything dangerous away from me so I’d never be able to come up with anything really exciting. We’d be called into the boss’s office at the end of the week and asked what we’d discovered, and one guy would say, "A cure for male pattern baldness!" Another would say, "Deep fried mushrooms that have zero calories!" And I’d say, "If you put vinegar and baking soda in a test tube and put a stopper in it really fast the test tube will explode all over your pants!"
But I digress. When I used up all the chemicals in my chemistry set I started making trips to the drugstore to buy new ones, and to stop for a lime phosphate or maybe a sarsaparilla or a chocolate malt. Remember the good old days when you would go to the drugstore to get a Moon Pie and a Doctor Pepper? Now a drugstore is a place you go when you need pool toys shaped like Spongebob, scented candles, Halloween costumes in April, patio furniture, old car stereos, paperback books, black widow spiders, and a map of Belgium. Occasionally you can even get drugs there, but they’re getting harder to get, especially cold medicine. A while back some people who obviously got the wrong kind of education from their chemistry sets discovered that cold medicine isn’t just for curing colds–it can also be used to make methamphetamine, which will clear out your sinuses, your esophagus, your hypothalamus, and your duodenum. What’s wrong with these people? I can’t figure this out. You have to have a brain to be able to do the kind of advanced chemistry needed to make drugs in your kitchen, but you also have to be unbelievably stupid to turn your kitchen into a toxic waste site that could explode at any time. As Albert Einstein once said, the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has limits. I’m pretty sure people who make methamphetamine started out with brains but, at some point, they were recalled.