Life and death of my Dad – part 6

Tap water in San Diego tastes really, really bad, and it has for a long time.   Of course, taste isn’t everything, and taste doesn’t tell us anything about whether or not water is safe to drink.   But that’s easy for me to say as one who has lived in the Pacific Northwest for many years.

When I was a kid in San Diego in the 1950s, we had water delivered to our house a couple times a week.   Kirby the delivery guy could carry two of the five-gallon glass bottles on his shoulders as gracefully as you please.   He also made it look effortless to open a bottle, swing it up onto his shoulder and quickly lower it into the water cooler in one smooth, single motion.  The guy was a pro.

Kirby hurt his back in a fall on someone’s driveway.   Whoever substituted for him just left the bottles on the back porch.   That guy was an amateur.

My Dad had seen Kirby refill the water cooler many times.   Now that we had to do it for ourselves, my Dad fell for one of the age-old fallacies to which men are especially prone:   “It can’t be that hard.”

I can picture my Dad rehearsing the motion in his head.  As an engineer he could calculate approximately how much effort would be required to lift that amount of water, the momentum its weight would create and how to control it, and the speed required to produce enough centrifugal force to keep water in the moving bottle from spilling out.  Three simple steps:  swing it up and onto the shoulder, lean forward and lower the shoulder over the cooler while tipping the bottle down, and place the bottle into the cooler.

Okay.  Remove the bottle cap.  Ready?  1 – 2 – 3.

It seems to me that water started gushing out of the bottle before my Dad got it onto his shoulder.  And those momentum calculations must have been off because he quickly lost control of the bottle altogether.

There are many ways to familiarize ourselves with various quantities, and that day I came to appreciate the enormous amount of water symbolized by the term “five gallons.”  Similar thing with broken glass.  I’m often surprised by how many slivers of glass or ceramic are produced by even a small broken glass or dish, and by how far away they can be found from the point of impact. A five-gallon bottle contains beaucoup de glass and breaks into an unimaginable number of pieces when it hits a ceramic tile floor.  For all I know, the current owners of that house may still occasionally sweep up a little shard.

If there’s a moral to the story, it’s a simple one:  Some things really aren’t as easy as they look, even for your Dad.  And even if you’re an engineer, some jobs are best left to the pros.


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