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Saturday, April 12, 2008  


I think I'm unofficially a fully qualified skydiver after today.

Yesterday, Trash took M. Small to the hobby store and let him pick out a couple of toy rockets. One of them is an inflatable Saturn V, the kind of thing a nerd might win at the State Fair for his online girlfriend. The other was an actual Estes® model rocket, the kind with a pop-out nose cone and little plastic parachute and a space for a little cylindrical rocket "engine," which is actually little more than a thick cardboard tube filled with solid propellant. You ignite the contents of one of those things and it sends the model rocket into the air with a hiss instead of a roar, but you wouldn't want to mistake one for a cigar.

I didn't even know they made these any more, but here's my three-year-old, playing with something I don't think I've seen since the early eighties, during that brief lacuna between the Atari 2600 and the Apple IIe.

I was never into model rockets that much myself; my entire collection consisted of the tiniest, cheapest rocket you could buy, which was a clear plastic tube barely larger than an engine, topped by a balsa wood nose cone. Model rockets have different kinds of "recovery systems." M. Small's, as mentioned before, has a "parachute" system. Smaller, lighter rockets simply have a "streamer" system. Mine had a "you paid ninety-seven cents for this piece of shit, so consider it your money's worth if it doesn't self-immolate on the launch pad" system. I don't think that thing ever left my room, let alone the ground.

But I knew kids who were way into them. Everyone did. Back then, every time some classmate's junior high brother and their dad showed up in the field behind the grade school with a launcher and a fleet of high-velocity toys, the whole class had to troop out to the field and watch them zoom straight up into the air for a half hour. It's kind of cool, for the first couple of launches. Fortunately, misfires were fairly common, and useful for breaking up the monotony.

I don't think M. Small realizes that it's possible to rig his new toy up with an Estes® engine, a few bits of Estes® brand wadding, set it up on an approved Estes® launcher system complete with Estes® blast deflector, and send it dozens of feet into the air above the park. He did, however, realize that the nose cone came off, and expected us to keep putting it back in. I duct-taped it on for a while last night, but he quickly got bored with that and took the tape right back off again. And then today, he found the parachute, and wanted me to attach that to the little rubber band that connects the nose cone to the fuselage (the "snock cord," according to the instructions, and how was I not previously aware of that gaping hole in my vocabulary before today?). So I obligingly looped the chute's "shroud lines" (there's another one) around the snock cord; "spiked" (that's three), folded, and rolled the chute as described in the documentation; and packed it into the fuselage. Whereupon M. Small would pull it out again and ask me to pack it in again. Repeat until one's long-forgotten interest in model rocketry returns with a vengeance, at least to the extent that it makes one want to jerry-rig a multi-stage system that'll send the damn thing into the asteroid belt. By the end of the day, that parachute had been deployed by him and repacked by me so many times that I feel ready to go up into a plane and jump out of it alone, strapped to a chute that I packed myself.

It's win-win, really. Either my skills transfer and I accomplish something amazing, or they don't and I never have to pack that damn toy parachute again.

posted by M. Giant 9:15 PM 0 comments


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