Monday, July 1, 2013

The Cat Who Could Fly

     This past school year, I was enrolled in CP Chemistry, taught by Mr. Kusterer. This is pronounced Kust-er. No one really knows why there's an extra -er at the end.

     When I was talking about my redneck segway, I may have exaggerated a little when I said that that particular teacher was the coolest ever. Mr. Kusterer actually is, if you're on his good side.

     Mr. K spent several years serving for the military, and old habits die hard. He still keeps this flat-top haircut, with the little hair that he has left. He is particularly short, and very old. Very.

     He got side tracked quite often. His topics ranged from the economy to conspiracies, but sometimes, he would tell us stories from his life.

     This is one of those stories.

     My memory isn't the best, but I'll try to tell the story as accurately as possible.

     "Quite a few years back, it was my oldest daughter's fourth birthday. The wife had asked me to prepare for the party, with decorations and such.

     "I loved my daughter, and wanted her to have those fancy floating balloons that were all the rage. Helium was certainly not available at the time, so I had to resort to my knowledge of chemistry to get the job done."

     In the class, we had just done this experiment where pure zinc nuggets are put inside a beaker full of hydrochloric acid. This combination makes the acid boil and the zinc melt, which releases a white gas. We quickly put a latex balloon over the mouth of the beaker, and filled the thing up with the gas. The gas is less dense then the composition of the surrounding air, so it floats. In fact, it floats much better than helium does.

     This is what Mr. K used to fill the balloons.

     "I whipped up some of the gas to fill the balloons with, and got around fifty big ole' ones put together in the shed in the backyard. At this precise moment, our cat walked by me.

     "Inspiration struck me. We happened to have a harness of sorts in the shed, and I managed to get it onto the cat. I received wounds in 'Nam, but those had nothing on that cat. After getting the harness on the cat, I attached the balloons onto the harness!

     "I left the cat in the shed and went outside to find my daughter. After asking if she wanted to walk the cat, she followed me back to the shed.

     "When I got back, the cat was hovering. Just floating slightly off the ground as the balloons bounced around along the ceiling. I tied some twine to the harness, and gave the other end to my daughter.

     "She walked the cat outside, as he gently floated along. As I watched her as she giggled at her flying cat, I figured that this was a perfect moment to take a picture. I ran inside, looking for the film, and then I came back outside.

     "My daughter had let go. The string that she was holding onto was about seven feet off the ground now, and I couldn't reach it, as you can see by my stature. I ran back into the shed to grab the ladder.

     "There was a slight breeze, and the balloons had better lift than I thought, because the cat was getting a little higher and farther away. I chased the flying cat with the ladder around the yard. Eventually, the string was out of the reach of the ladder, and was going toward the power lines.

     "It was barely by a whisker, but the cat missed the lines. Went up above them. Perhaps there was an updraft, because the cat started to fly up and onward at a much higher pace now.

     "Only one option was left. I would have to shoot the balloons down. I ran back into my attic stash to find my 12 gauge. By the time I got back, the cat and balloons were little more then a speck in the distance. Even I couldn't make that shot.

     "So we said goodbye to the cat as she floated away. Oddly enough, my daughter wasn't even disappointed. She thought the whole thing was a game, and barely remembered the whole incident.

     "To this day, I still wonder what killed the cat: the altitude, the cold, or the drop? And if it somehow survived the height and temperature, will a cat still land on it's feet from 10,000 feet?

     "There must be some kind of term for this, but I have this continually haunting fear that one day, I'll be driving along, and suddenly this frozen chunk of iced cat will land on my wind shield and end my life early."

     And THAT is my crazy chemistry teacher. There are many more things he shared with us over the course of the year, but I think that's enough for now.

     I know that some of you will be skeptical that this is even possible. But even if it isn't, why not just humor the thought and call it plausible?

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