Thursdays at gym are in many ways the best day of the week. Part of that is that it is the day I complete my weekly exercise cycle and get my five hours in. Part of it is also that the diligence of the teacher taliban is flagging faster than mine so there are fewer arrogant auras polluting the atmosphere. And part of It is that I get to listen to rather different podcasts.
Well, as I was warming up the trainer who opens the facility, Vector Potential, who controls the television remote control like a queen her scepter, flipped the channel over to one of the morning news programs where they were plagiarizing news from the print media. Normally I do not pay much attention to television. What is on is banal and vapid, the news readers generally match the content, and the bogs and teachers squabble like small children over which void they display on the tube. I suspect the latter is why the trainer is a television nazi.
Anyway, the newspaper extractions included a mention of development in England of a small iron designed for the purpose of toasting cheese sandwiches. A photograph of the device being applied to a sandwich held in some model’s hand was displayed. I must admit that my first thought was to wonder what burn ointment tastes like? After all, if one holds a sandwich in one’s hand while applying an appliance whose temperature is well above the boiling point of water to that sandwich, and despite the insulating qualities of the bread, one may expect considerable heat to be transferred to one’s hand in the processing of browning the bread and melting the cheese. Cheese, incidentally, has a relatively high heat capacity. Not as high as many jellies and jams, but higher than, for example, peanut butter. It is definitely high enough to melt the fats in most preserved meats which is why most toasted hoagies and heros are extra greasy. It is also hot enough to partly cook pork, hence burn a human’s hand.
Hence, derivatively, one has to wonder if the iron comes with an insulated glove and how one cleans it of the oils that separate out of the cheese through the bread? Or is that something the English never worry about rather like whether they should be the subjects of tyrants rather than citizens of some real democracy. Or is there such a thing as a real democracy that doesn’t self-destruct in a few years?
I was rather quickly reminded of my experiences as a freshman in college. I went off well equipped by my parents with a small refrigerator – purchased from Sears Roebuck and I am told still working by my younger brother who borrowed the appliance when he went to college and never returned. But we were forbidden hot plates as fire hazards. Upperclassmen jauntily ignored such rules but freshmen had not yet learned about rules that could not be enforced but occasionally, or even better, not at all. This rule was of the former type.
I had also been provided by my parents with an inexpensive iron to dewrinkle my shirts with, but scant instruction. It did not take me very long to realize that college students were not graded on the basis of absence of wrinkles in their shirts and the iron languished for a few weeks until the weather turned cold.
At that time there was a complex of six men’s dorms with a single short order grill and fountain in the largest dorm. This place was mobbed evenings, especially on the weekend when the cafeteria was closed, and the hot item was toasted cheese sandwiches. Sadly the wait for a sandwich was about a hour or more on these occasions.
One evening after we had wasted over an hour of study time on queue for sandwiches, one of our number offered a wish that we might make out own sandwiches. This stuck and on Monday between classes I visited the student shop, wrangled some nails and screws, caged some scrap wood from the remnant bin and built a cradle for that iron.
The following weekend we made our usual Saturday morning group march into Tuscaloosa proper to purchase what necessities we needed that could be carried. This time the necessities included a loaf of white bread, a block of process cheese, and a jar of mayo. That evening, instead of marching to a local greasy spoon, we turned the iron over, placed it on the cradle, plugged it in, and set about toasting sandwiches. It is well we invested in more materials than we should need for there were some spectacular failures in the path to our simple dinner, but we got there, and arrived thereby, truly, as college students and incipiently, as scientists.
Unlike our peers who still bought their toasted cheese sandwiches at the grill, and were frightened of lab apparatus like bunsen burners and test tubes, we had made equipment and performed actual practical thermochemical experiments. And survived! And no more were we unsure freshmen waiting to burst into flames but confident freshmen ready to burn fingers and smell nasty odors.
And even better, we did it without a hot plate. After all, irons were not forbidden, just unimaginable to the establishment to be something other than wrinkle removers.