Once a year, just to prove that democracy is dead in America, the local grade school has a science fair.|
I say this because if they called a vote there is not a single parent in the entire school system who would vote to have a science fair, except maybe some guy who is an engineer for Hewlett Packard and thinks everyone would be interested in his son's homemade particle accelerator.
Want to make a million dollars? Come out with a bunch of products called "Instant Science Projects - Just Add Water." Sell them at ten PM the day before school science fairs and desperate Dads will come pouring into your parking lot, ready to spend all the money in their pockets.
Desperate Dad: How much is this Just Add Water Chaos Theory Simulator?
I know this because last year, on the eve of the science fair, I was at the drug store, crashing my cart into other Desperate Dads as we pondered what was available. Everyone was muttering to himself, trying out various project titles. "Let's see, um, Feed the Dog a Laxative... Wash the Gerbils with Head and Shoulders...Cane Tips: Pro or Con?...How much Cough Syrup before Mom Passes Out...Would Cats Rather be Blond?"
What I eventually settled on--What Happens if You Take Geritol and Run it Through a Room Humidifier?--was deemed by my son to be the dumbest thing he ever heard of, and he was in second grade at the time.
By third grade, the competition is even more intense. Weeks before the fair, Dads start eyeing one another with open hostility when they run into each other at the store, abruptly turning their backs on each other. Wives profess not to understand what this is all about.
Wife: Let's have the McCauls over for dinner Saturday.
My son mistakenly thought he wanted to grow crystals in a jar. No son, I said, that is a second grade project let's do something with plutonium. Eventually we settled on a project to genetically alter the character of plants. Dad can we really make a corn stalk grow tomatoes my son asked. I don't see why not I assured him. With cloning, after all, scientists were able to take a laser and cut out the nucleus of a sheep egg and replace it with some other bits of sheep, like maybe a piece of leg of lamb or something, and clone a sheep that wound up on the cover of Time magazine. With a little luck, I figured I could pull off something similar. (Time Magazine Cover: W. Bruce Cameron, Dad of the Year. "I always thought he was smarter than me," says envious neighbor Jim McCaul and his stupid kid.)
So I got a soldering iron, burned a hole in some corn, super glued some tomato seeds in the middle, and planted them in four jars of dirt.
How does one actually get nominated for the Nobel Prize, anyway--is there a postcard you send in or something?
Two weeks later we went to the science fair. Jim McCaul's son's project had something to do with containing fusion using electromagnetic fields--like that's of any practical use!
My son had four jars of dirt with absolutely nothing growing in them. He entitled his display "What Happens When you Let Your Dad Plan Your Project."
We didn't win.
Copyright W. Bruce Cameron 1997
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