A Story – Chapter 2 – Bad Chemistry

The explosion was thunderous, rattling the windows on the east side of the building.

The sound, deafening, drowning out the mix of screams of surprise and laughter.

A water spout shot some twenty feet into the air, emptying out the crater in the parking lot that had filled with rain water.

That center-lane, parking hazard had taken out a few oil pans because, once it filled with rain, you couldn’t tell how deep it was.  It could have swallowed a Volkswagen.  Students would slam through it on a dare for a momentary thrill but pay the price later, or their parents would.  The school had long ignored it.

But we had creatively drained it.  Uncovered its secrets.  Through science 🙂

The water retraced its flight and rained back down on our circle of friends and the surrounding cars.  Jumping up and down.  Hooting and hollering.  The “experiment” was a success!

Vice-Principle: Running up to the scene, “Stearley, what in the hell was that!?  What did you guys do?”

Me:  Hand gestures synched – over eyes, ears, and mouth, “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

VP: “That does it, God Damn it, you, you and you, to the office with me!”

Out of the ten of us standing there, he had singled out myself, my best friend Mike, and another friend, Jim.  Always grabbed me and Mike.  Always assumed we were behind it.  And maybe for good reason.  We often were.

It wasn’t good when Mike and I were together – bad chemistry.  We just brought out the worst in each other.  An infinite, unspoken dare between us to outdo the last stunt.  Jim was just standing there between us and got sucked in.

After the march down to the office, we stood there waiting as the VP took his chair.  He appeared to have calmed down a little.  We couldn’t have that.

VP: Looking at me, “Now when I ask a question, I expect an answer.  I don’t have time for your crap.”

Me: “Well, you had time to bring me down to your office and tell me you don’t have time for my crap.”

VP: Turning a nice shade of purple, “That does it!  Five detentions for all of you!!!.”

Me:  Sort of starting out innocently, “You run the detention hall, don’t you?”

VP: “Of course!  Be there! 7 am tomorrow.”

Me: Smiling, he walked right into it, “Well, I guess you’ll be in detention too.”

VP: Throwing a stack of papers across the room, “Get the hell out of my office Stearley!!!!!”

To say we disrespected authority would be a gross understatement.  There was no authority to respect in our minds.  If anyone was to have authority over us, it was us and us only.

Further irritating the VP just played into our hands.  He was so upset he forgot to ask what caused the explosion.  He wouldn’t have been happy.  We had used some pure sodium, stolen from the school’s chemistry lab.  So volatile it combusts and bursts into flames when just coming in contact with the air.  It’s immersed and stored in oil to prevent that.  If you get it to react quickly or in a confined space, the gases produced expand so fast you get a nice explosion.  And the quickest way to get the oil off it to get it to react – throw it in water 🙂

No, he forgot to ask what, and he forgot to ask how.  How did we get the sodium?  Well that was easy too.  A small distraction was needed for the chemistry teacher.  So, before he got to the classroom that morning, we had flipped off the circuit breaker in the hallway panel controlling the electricity to the room.  Lights out.

Then all it took was a paperclip bent in a U shape, placed between the pages of a book to safely hold it, and then plugging it into an empty electrical socket.  The classroom rang out in continuous chorus of laughter as the teacher tried to switch the breaker back on.

Meanwhile, no one noticed me slipping into the storeroom to procure the sodium we would need later.

Each time he flipped the breaker to restore the electricity, the paperclip, now electrified, created a short that tripped the beaker to shut off again.  Finally, he came in from the hallway laughing, “Alright what did you do?”  We showed him and he gave us credit for our creativity, not knowing it was a diversion that would lead to our lunch time “experiment.”

We were reasonably smart and very bored.  A typical day in a small-town high school.  It started out with smoking pot at the bus stop before class and ended smoking pot somewhere else.  Smoke, school, smoke, sleep.  Repeat with each cycle of the sun.   There even were days we walked into the school smoking pot and Mike would discard the roach on the carpeting, grinding it in with his heel.*

You have to understand the time.

It was the early 70’s.  Sex, drugs and rock and roll still spilled over from the late 60’s.  And we lived in close proximity to a major city where you could walk through the park and people, like carnival barkers, would be hawking their psychedelic merchandise.

“Acid, I’ve got Orange Barrel.”  “Purple Haze!” “Blotter – come grab a sheet!” “Weed, I’ve got the best Michoacán you’ll ever smoke right here!”   “Crystal!”  “Mini-whites!”  “Christmas trees!”  “Reds!”  “Vs, I got Vitamin Vs!” “Tuies!” “Shrooms here!”  “Tai sticks, you won’t see these too often!”  “Hashish, from Turkey!” “Got the Big O and H over here!” “Ludes! Quaaludes – Come on over!” **

You name it, it was out there.  And here we were, teenagers, raging hormones.  We tried it all.  Sampled the entire buffet.

And we were wheeling and dealing too.  The people in the drug culture back then were sort of like a fraternity.  They weren’t trying to get rich and they didn’t poison you or try to rip you off.  No they, and we, would sell just enough to pay for our own stash.  That’s all we wanted.

And we didn’t engage in this illicit activity blindly.

Maybe we were a step ahead of the average teen-aged drug user. But Mike and I had a PDR.  The Physician’s Desk Reference with pictures and descriptions of the most prescribed drugs of the time.  We also had a friend working at the local drug store, another source even better than the park.

So we knew what drugs we encountered were true pharmaceuticals versus street drugs.  We also knew the correct dosages and the LD 50s.  The LD 50 was the “Lethal Dose” for 50% of test subjects.  We may have pushed our luck a few times, but we had a sense of limits.

And there was no shortage of alcohol either.  A few short miles west of town was a bar that would serve minors.  Totally out in the sticks, we were their prime customer base.

And while there were numerous contacts with law enforcement on those back roads, we always managed not to get caught in the act.  Somehow, luck was on our side.

It’s been said that teenagers think they’re immortal.  Bullet-proof.  And young males are the worst, which is why their insurance rates are so high.  But the reasons behind this feeling of invincibility may vary.  It was backwards for me.

You see, I had been close to death a number of times as a kid, and been told by doctors that it was doubtful I’d live to be 18.  So, while my friends may have been acting crazy and taking risks because they thought they’d never be hurt, never die, I had let go because I knew time was limited.  Death was imminent.  Better have some fun now.  In the moment.

And the adults of the time didn’t quite know how to deal with it.  With us.  I think there were times where they simply elected not to.  They didn’t want to know.  After all, we were pretty brazen then.

Fear was something we didn’t seem to have, and while that led to a lot of poor decisions, I still made some good ones.

As part of my rebellion, I was an A-B student.  I was determined to disprove those TV commercials frying eggs and saying, “This is your brain on drugs.”  And I planned on going to college.

And it wasn’t long, and many a death-defying tale later, that we reached that time.  Graduation.  And the administration was glad to be rid of us.  They had expelled my brother Ray when he got busted the year before – he was in the Marines now.  Vietnam and all.  And now the school was totally free of the Stearleys.

I had never asked Mike what he planned to do after high school, but he, along with a fair number of fellow students, when into the military.  Others went to work at local factories.  Assembly line workers, forklift drivers.  They may still be in those jobs for all I know.  I was kind of surprised at just how few of my high school class went on to college.

But Mike and I didn’t know when we went our separate ways that we’d be together again before long – bad chemistry rekindled – and be on a collision course with Officer Pond . . .


More to come . . .

Disclaimer:  My same disclaimer applies as was with Chapter 1.

Photo: I found this image on the Internet in the public domain.  It traces back to the University of Omaha’s Department of Chemistry.  I had a couple of other pics I could have used, but I didn’t want to implicate anyone, not even from the past 🙂

I had set my own lab up.  Yep, our parents got us a chemistry set when we were kids and I had two years of high school chemistry under my belt – soon to be in college chemistry.  You could do ethanol extractions on low quality pot to make a very potent “hash oil” – the semi-liquid form of the plant resins.  And the pharmaceutical companies, and the laws that sort of controlled them, made things easy back then too.  You could buy paregoric over the counter.  Moms used to give it to their infants to control diarrhea.  It was also used as a cough syrup.   Paregoric is a camphorated tincture of opium.  People could just soak their pot it in for a week, then spread it out on a tray to let the ethanol evaporate and leave their pot with a nice coating of opium.  No need to buy anything illegal, except the pot, of course.  You could speed this process of evaporation along with a Bunsen burner, but that could cause a fire.  Patience 🙂

*I’m not sure how many readers know the vocabulary here, so at the risk of providing a definition when none is needed, the term “roach” refers to the butt of a joint, where you’ve smoked it down so small you can’t hold it any longer without burning your fingers.  It sort of looks like the bug if you use your imagination.  You either need some “roach clips” to hold it and continue smoking it, or a pipe, or you can just throw it away like we did in those days.

**Rather than interrupt the flow of the story, I’ll define the slang terms here.

Acid, Orange Barrel, Purple Haze, and Blotter were nicknames for types of LSD. Orange Barrel and Purple were pill forms.  Blotter was where the liquid chemical as placed on paper to soak it up.  Squares would be drawn on the paper to outline a dose and you’d only chew up that square or as many as you thought you could handle.  A page would have multiple squares or doses.

Michoacán – a Mexican variety of marijuana from the Michoacán province in Mexico.  Said to be stronger than other Mexican varieties because of the growing conditions in the mountains.

Crystal and mini-whites were forms of methamphetamine.  Crystal is as it sounds, the crystalline form and mini-whites were tablets pressed with homemade pill presses with the letter “M” embedded on them.

Christmas trees – Green and white capsules.  A great blend of dextroamphetamine and sodium amobarbital, a hypnotic barbiturate.   The perfect speed with the amphetamine to get you buzzing and a barbiturate (depressant) to take the edge off.  Doctors used to prescribe these as diet pills.

Reds – pure sodium seconal.  A true “downer” barbiturate.

Vs = Valium.  Not so controversial then.  A commonly prescribed sedative.  5 milligrams was equivalent to an ounce of alcohol without the side effects of alcohol.

Tuies were tuinal capsules – a mix of sodium secobarbital and sodium amobarbital – the downer and the hypnotic.

Shrooms – psilocybin mushrooms – psychedelic like LSD, but much easier on the body.

Tai sticks = very potent marijuana grown in Thailand, the flowers of which were tied to a stick and then sold that way.

Hashish – marijuana’s psychoactive resins in a solid, tarry-like or brick form.

Big O was opium.

H was heroin.

Ludes – methaqualone – another type of sedative hypnotic that was prescribed for insomnia.

This is most probably not a complete list of what was in circulation.


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