L. M. Bryski

My Scientific Beginnings

Short story

September 1, 2015

My interest in science began when I stepped in some dog poo. I was a feral four year old, roaming the neighbourhood streets in hopes of finding someone’s pet dog unattended. I wanted to steal the dog - ethics and morals came much later to me - and take it home with me and ask my parents if I could trade one of my brothers for the dog. I found a dog candidate for my new pet, a cute little cockapoo, all white and nose shiny. As I approached its yard, I distinctly remember the squishy sound and feel of something on my shoe.

Yep, dog poo.

Squealing like a little girl – forgive me, I really was a little girl – I ran all the way home. With no regard for my mom’s clean floor, I hop skipped to the garbage can and kicked my shoe off into it.

“What’s this?” My mom later asked. She was hunched over the garbage, holding the forever destroyed shoe, clump of poo clinging to it like a scatological refugee avoiding a flush.

“It’s no good anymore.” It was perverted now, that shoe. No longer virginal pristine and deserving of cupping my foot. I was perfect, of course, and a poo shoe ruined my carefully cultivated preschool image.

“It’s just dirty. We can clean it.” She picked it up using the ends of two fingers and carried it to the sink. She gave it one scrub and rinse before returning it to me.

“See? Good as new.”

I was skeptical at first and refused to touch it as grownups had fooled me many times before. I still harbor a dislike for being told ‘We can do that afterwards.’ She was right, though. The big tall lady who made my food was right. The shoe looked as good as new, though it didn’t smell quite the same. I have a talent for smells. And yes, I mean the other way, too. But the shoe looked and felt the same.

Date: preschool.
Aim: Can a shoe defiled by the vilest sort of cute doggy turd be restored to immaculate susception?
Equipment: 1 poo shoe, 1 parental overlord, dish soap, 1 kitchen sink (a complete list of equipment, obviously). Oh, and mop and bucket (more on that later)
Method: Watch as shoe is cleaned.
Results: Dramatic! Shoe is sparkling to near perfection. Still a slight wiff of woof.
Conclusion: Yes. Almost.

I was hooked that day with this accidental experiment with surprising results. I also learned how to mop my shoe poo stains off the kitchen floor because, as with any scientific discovery, there is always work to be done. Unfortunately, my attention span was limited by my age and I quickly forgot about science and moved on.

Science and I didn’t pay each other any more attention until probably the third grade. Before then, I was mostly fascinated with art and drama, putting on plays about Batman and Robin in my backyard. I charged admission to the neighbourhood kids and then jumped and climbed trees saying “Pow” and “Wham”. The big lady who made my meals made me give back the money anytime she found out.

But midway through third grade, we moved: different city, different province, different school. I left a religious education system and entered public school for the first time. New kids… scary as well. That first recess, I panicked and bit one of the more socially aggressive kids. Not the best start to making new friends, but at least I made an impression (overbite). I was forgiven by the end of the day but the episode was not forgotten. That was okay. I had more interesting things on my mind. This new school brought new activities, new ideas. This school was big on science and there was a science fair happening next week.

The whole school was a buzz about the upcoming science fair. Everyone had secret plans for their project that would be hinted at and whispered over in corners during recess. Being new, having bitten someone and yet to redeem myself, I could only watch from the sidelines and wonder what it was all about. I was envious of the attention science got. Perhaps I could redeem myself with my own science project. I pictured myself, center of attention beside my project, receiving ribbons and accolades from teachers and students alike. A science project. Science. I didn’t know what it was, having had only one class in it where we looked at a picture of a snake in a textbook.

But I figured I could handle it. Didn’t ask the teacher for help as she had already had me in her crosshairs for the bite. Didn’t want to rock the boat anymore.

Science. How hard could it be?

I set to work on my project. Only a few days left until the big show. My ideas started forming and swirling, stirred both by my previous experience with education (half listening to nuns while looking out the window at my old school) and by that fear-inspiring photo of a viper about to attack. Eureka! A project was born.

It was the big day. Kids milled with poster board backdrops, homemade volcanoes and fading bean stalk plants. Teachers and the rare parent roamed the aisles, smiling and encouraging as students set up. More parents would come (maybe) later once the show had begun.

Each child had to stand by their project as the teachers came by to judge. The pear-shaped boy next to me stood proudly beside his volcano. He turned on some switch and a frothy white lava burst forth, bubbling over onto his army of green guys and mini dinosaurs below. The first time you see one of those homemade volcanoes is pretty neat. Don’t ever deny that moment to your kid, even if you’re jaded beyond belief.

Bubbles and seismic action aside, I was feeling pretty confident in my own presentation. I stood proudly as the teachers came by, paused, walked on, then came back again. This time, they were in groups. Groups that avoided eye contact with me but smiled to each other and said “Very nice” before hurrying on, clutching their clipboards and hiding their mouths behind their hands.

Nobody else stopped by to ask questions about my offering, though the pear-shaped boy took pity and said he’d watch my stuff when I went to the bathroom.

The pear boy beside me got a ribbon for 3rd place. I got nothing. I didn’t understand it. It looked like I was a shoe-in (see how I subtly referenced the poo incident there) for a prize. After all, my presentation had been quite popular with the teachers. I decided to do some investigating for myself. Walking the aisles, I saw a variety of projects. Does coca cola destroy teeth? How much fertilizer is too much when growing plants? How do you make a magnet?

Ah! I suddenly saw where I had gone wrong. Every project that won had asked a question then showed an experiment to answer it. I hadn’t thought of that despite my previous life experience with science.

I ended up back at my own project. I still thought it was pretty good. I mean, I had worked hard on my theme. And the little clay people I made had a lot of detail and emotion. It should have won for uniqueness. No one else there had such a detailed project. Even the title was awesome.

“Shoebox diorama of the Garden of Eden.”

The clay snake was particularly well done. I had rolled it to perfection with two small clay dots for eyes, then curled it around Adam as Eve ran screaming to the edge of the shoebox. Perhaps there was something else missing about the project that I hadn’t thought of. Maybe the genre was too controversial within the subject of science.

Date: third grade.
Aim: To produce an elevation in social status at new school by effecting a spectacular science project.
Equipment: shoebox, clay, imagination.
Method: use knowledge of cartoons captured through Looney Tunes obsession to enact a scene of danger and terror in the Garden of Eden.
Results: Attention received, although of dubious intent.
Conclusion: More study needed to figure out this subject called science.

At the end of the day, a teacher got up and gave a speech to the whole school calling the winners forward for congratulations. Needless to say, my name wasn’t announced which was probably for the best, considering my artistic offering. As I sat there, cross legged on the gymnasium floor amongst my peers and colleagues, I resolved that I would be up there next year, preening and happy under the beam of scientific recognition. It was my goal. It was my thrust.

I’m happy to say I did get my place in the sun, but it took two years, a smart science partner, many abused bean plants and a kick ass poster background that I hand lettered and drew.

Science. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.