“Waaaaaaaaaaaaell, Mr. Andrews, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaI can't say that I understand why a man can't looooooooooove chemistry,” said the crew-cut Mr. Flannery, a severe man who had dropped out of med school and into high school chemistry-teacher school, and now was nearing retirement. Mr. Flannery was meeting with my father and me, so that we might discuss how it was that I might be drawing a "D" in his beloved chemisrty class. I could tell them – quite simply I hated chemistry and found the class boring. I really did not care to be there, and I did not put any energy into it. Mrrrmmmph.
“Naaaaaaaaaaaaow, what is it that you want to find yourself doing after caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaollege, Thomas?” asked Mr. Flannery. I think he wanted me to say something about using the chemistry skills I was learning.
“I was thinking I might be a writer...a journalist maybe. I like to write,” I responded. I would like to have said that I just wanted to win the lottery, live on an island and drink Tanqueray and tonics for the rest of my life. I had a discerning palate, even at age 17.
“Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaell, now aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaI have never had much use for journalists, Thomas, and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaI just know one thing about journalism.”
I wondered, almost aloud, why he drew out certain vowels and not others.
“I know that if aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaI ever find myself out of a jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaob, I know that aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaI can always cook over this traaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaausty Bunsen burner.”
I had absolutely no idea where Mr. Flannery was going with this one. I glanced at my father, who had an uncomfortable look on his face, as though he was trying to pass a whole turnip.
But aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaI don't think that if I put a can of soooooooooooooup over a naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaewspaper, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaI don't think I could get it to baaaaaaaaaaaaaaoil. Could I?”
Dad just fidgeted a bit. He was not one to normally fidget, so I figured that turnip must be well on its way out, or something else was making him uncomfortable. He glanced at me and gave me one of his trademark “eye lifts.” God, how I miss my dad and how he used to do that.
Mr. Flannery chuckled to himself quite a long while about the thought of trying to boil a can of soup over a newspaper. I never got around to asking how an unemployed chemist would ever pay for the natural gas to make his Bunsen burner work any better than a newspaper for cooking. Nor did I suggest the word “matches” to him. Dad just thanked Mr. Flannery for his time, and we got up and headed out of the sciences wing of the high school.
Dad waited until the doors had closed behind us before he just said “well, just buckle down on that chemistry homework a bit harder, OK?” I agreed and we went out to hit a bucket of golf balls. On the drive home, Dad asked more than the usual number of questions about what I was writing for the school paper that semester.