Little minds are fascinated by big talk. So when Charlie said he could make a bomb out of apple vinegar and baking soda, I took notice.
Of course, I had good reason to believe Charlie’s claim. He was in the sixth grade, and that meant he was at least twice as smart as we third graders. I was just lucky he was going to include me in on the whole thing.
The day before the scheduled blowup, Charlie called a playground meeting of the atomic minds. The group consisted of Charlie, his brother Larry, and me. After checking to make sure no spies (mainly the principal) were lurking nearby, Charlie proceeded in bombastic fashion to explain the technical details of his creation.
“Here’s the key to the whole thing,” he informed his wide-eyed colleagues. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a glass test tube with a cork stuffed in the end. “When this is full of VBS (scientific jargon for vinegar and baking soda), you’ve got a powerful explosive on your hands,” he said. The somber tone of his voice made us realize the danger with which we’d be flirting.
“But how does it, you know, explode?” I asked Charlie. (Until then none of my acquaintances had built bombs for a hobby, so I was a little ignorant on the subject.)
Charlie’s steely gaze now locked on me. “Impact,” he said with an intensity that sent shivers down my spine. “Whatever this bomb hits, you can kiss goodbye.”
I couldn’t quite understand how I could kiss a demolished anything goodbye. But Charlie’s talent lay in bomb-building, not logic. And that’s what really mattered.
“OK, guys, I guess that’s about it,” Charlie said just before the end of recess.
“Not quite,” I corrected. “I have another question.”
“Well, all right,” Charlie conceded, just a bit irritated. “What is it?”
”I was just wondering what we’re going to blow up.”
A sly smile crossed Charlie’s face. Silently he turned and pointed at the old barn just across the fence from the school’s playground.
“Kiss it goodbye,” he said.
Larry and I looked at each other, mouths agape. Would the barn really become a vacant lot tomorrow afternoon?
Just then, the bell rang, alerting us that recess was over. Keeping a reverent distance, we followed Charlie back inside. As I watched him head off to his home room, I sensed that I had been in the presence of an elementary genius.
The next afternoon during recess the three of us met off to one side of the playground. My heart began to pound as I watched Charlie gently pull a now-full test tube from his shirt pocket. By its color I knew it was full of VBS.
“This is it, guys,” Charlie whispered, glancing around.
“Be careful with that stuff!” Larry warned. “I don’t wanna be kissin’ myself goodbye.”
”All right, all right!” Charlie shot back. “Now let’s get to it.”
Our fearless leader began shaking the vial with all his might.
“What are you doing?” Larry screamed, although in fact he was still whispering.
‘Tm gettin’ the VBS activated,” Charlie explained. “You want a big explosion, don’t you?”
“Yeah, but not here!” his brother responded, his voice now laced with panic.
But Charlie could not respond to his brother’s concern just then, for he was winding up for the fateful toss. With a mighty heave he let the bomb fly. We held our breath as the missile sailed out over third base, across the fence, and toward the barn. We braced ourselves for the explosion.
A few moments lagter, however, we found ourselves still braced. Maybe it’s a time bomb, I thought to myself, and it just takes a little time to explode. But when the recess bell rang and it still hadn’t gone off, I had to admit that Charlie’s bomb was a bust. Disappointed, I unbraced myself and turned to the mastermind himself.
“So, Charlie,” I said, fighting back sarcasm, “what do you think went wrong?”
“I dunno,” Charlie replied dejectedly. “Maybe the vinegar was spoiled.”
I decided not to weaken Charlie’s self-concept any further by telling him that even the finest vinegar is made from rotten apples.
I don’t know what Charlie does these days. But I’ll always have him to thank for teaching me one thing: the importance of delivering on my claims. Charlie would probably be the first to admit there’s nothing worse than a boast that bombs.