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Why I know nothing about the Canary Islands

By John Gould / February 5, 1999



Boxing day meant more than usual here in Yankee land this time, as it led me to ponder on solutions for a small planet, a subject I have sensibly resisted with great success. We take notice of Boxing Day here, but do not implement it as is done in England, for reasons too parsimonious to mention. This time, the day seemed propitious, and I stepped from our residence for antiquated senior has-beens onto the institutional porch to find our management had taken up all the cushions and put them in storage until daffodil time brightens the periphery again. That's when "Solutions for a Small Planet" came to mind.

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Simple human understanding, even of the long-handled wooden-spoon kind, realizes that a Maine winter is hard to convince and that a steel porch chair on an institutional porch, duly attuned to the mean temperature, needs a fundamental cushion on Boxing Day a good deal more than it does in torrid August before the mosquitoes wane. If IBM is serious about solutions for a small planet, let them consider the chill factor of a steel porch chair on Boxing Day in the State of Maine.

I did not linger. I refrigerated my lungs with a couple of bracing gulps of recycled atmosphere, reversed direction, and reached to activate the "Manually Operated Automatic Door. "

I wouldn't wonder one bit if this contrivance be a product of IBM. But short as my outing was, I did have time to notice a boy of about eight years exercising a new toy. Had there been a cushion, I could describe it in detail. It seemed to be a model automobile, about the size of a banana split, painted a fire-engine red.

It was racing up and down the parking lot, remotely controlled by a box with a wand that the young man twisted and turned somewhat, but not much, as a conductor before a symphonic orchestra makes his wishes known. As the automatic door closed behind me, I wondered if a good many solutions for this small planet aren't generated by problems brought upon us by IBM and other benefactors.

I speak in infinite jest, of course. Ed Gilligan used to tell how he was in Rockefeller Plaza and came upon two small boys gazing up at the sculpture of Prometheus bringing fire down from heaven. One of the boys asked, "Is that Mr. Rockefeller?"

"Oh, no," said his friend. "Mr. Rockefeller wouldn't pose like that!"

I agree that IBM would not stoop to make a child's frivolous toy, and if they did it would not need a corrective solution. I'm glad to get that settled, but I caution you that IBM looks only ahead, and to get the good of a radio-controlled automobile (batteries not included), that is the wrong direction.

I can date this close enough; I suggest maybe 1914. England had developed the "tank" and had deployed it on the battlefield against Germany with the same intent of Hannibal with his elephants. To foil espionage, England secret-coded these cleat-track monsters as "tanks," as for water or fuel, and that name stuck and still prevails.

I was a long away from the glad days of IBM and wonders, and the auto itself was far from perfected, let alone able to run by itself. But I did make a toy tank, and in 1914 or so the world still had a tendency to be amazed.

Starting with a spool (coarse thread) from Aunt Liddy and a lollipop stick (used), I put a rubber band through the spool and anchored the nether end. Putting the nigh end over the lollipop stick, I could now wind up the rubber band inside the spool and demonstrate, rather than opine, that energy equals mass times something or other squared. My tank, wound up and set down, would go maybe an uncontrolled 30 feet.

I cut notches in the rims of the spool, and these simulated the noise of a real tank o'er hill and dale in combat. At the moment I suggest that I had infinitely more fun in 1914 with my home-made tank than any kid is about to have in 1999 with any radio-controlled midget Mercedes. Imitating the cleat-track power of a true tank, my tank would climb over a book (enemy battlement), and I found (inadvertently) that it would scatter a flock of hens so they'd be three days coming back.

MY FINEST battlefield success came in school (also inadvertently) on a day well cherished in memory by my peers. I had a joggerfy book open at the Canary Islands, to screen my belligerent pleasures, and I would wind up the rubber band then let it run free. It made no noise to notify Mrs. Weaver, our teacher, that I was not really studying the Canary Islands about which, today, I know nothing.

Carried away with my small toy, I lapsed into carelessness. Somehow I let my tank, wound and fully competent, fall to the schoolroom floor. It advanced down the aisle in the direction of Mrs. Weaver, who was putting the weekly honor roll on the blackboard with bright-orange chalk.

The noise of my advancing tank came to her attention, and she supposed the evening milk train was crossing the wooden bridge over Royell's River. My tank thus passed between her feet, and she leaped straight up to avoid destruction. Mr. Allen, the janitor, came in with a stepladder to get her down from the chalk tray.

Then she told Mr. Allen to heave my tank in the furnace, and she removed my name from the honor roll. As to solutions for a small planet, IBM will want to know I made me another tank.