I haven't been to the thrift store in a week or two so I figured it was time for some "Goodwill Hunting". I probably spent about two hours digging around through stuff with the kids and we all found a couple of neat things.
As I was digging through an enormous bin of toys I saw something deep down at the bottom that I recognized right away. An original Wham-O Superball!!
You might think it's odd to get so excited over a rubber ball but if you ever see one that is pitch black and about the size of a golf ball you might want to check it out.
The Wham-O Superball is the worlds most powerful rubber ball and was created by putting 50,000lbs. of compressed energy into a small ball formed out of a special Zectron rubber. The first time I ever heard of the Superball was in science class in Jr. High when my teacher Mr. Groothuis (pronounced groat house) was discussing potential energy.
The company Wham-O started in 1948 in California when two childhood buddies (Rich Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin) started selling mail-order slingshots. One sunshiny day in 1957 they spotted a guy on the beach throwing a plastic disc he invented and called the "Pluto Platter". They bought the idea from him for one million dollars and started selling them. In case you didn't figure it out already they changed the name to "Frisbee".
A year later they heard a story about Australian children spinning wooden hoops around their waist. They started producing plastic versions in the factory and called it the "Hula Hoop". Within 16 months they had sold 100 million of them.
You can also thank Wham-O for the hackey-sack, the slip and slide, and silly string.
Here's the advertisement for the Superball:
The Superball is unique from other rubber balls because it's actually made out of small chunks of the Zectron rubber that are compressed into a ball with enormous pressure. Most rubber balls lose thier steam quickly when dropped and maybe bounce half a dozen times when you drop them. If you drop a Superball from shoulder height it will almost bounce right back to the same level. When I found it today I was trying to explain to my 11 yr. old son Jack why it was a cool find. He seemed pretty unimpressed until I told him to test it out. Sure enough after 30+ years it still worked like new.
Now this is awesome, but it was also one of the major problems with the Superball. If you threw it at the ground with any force whatsoever you may as well say goodbye to it because it's long gone.
Back when they first came out Wham-O warned that if you threw it at the ground it would most likely bounce over three or four houses away. Also there were quite a few injuries with kids and adults throwing them indoors and not being able to catch them until they had caused plenty of damage and injuries.
This is one of the things Mr. Groothuis was telling us kids about back in Jr. High.
He told us a story that I confirmed over the internet about kids hitting the Superball with a baseball bat or throwing it at the pavement to hard. Since the balls were formed out of smaller chunks of rubber they had a tendency to explode into pieces like little grenades if hit with enough force. This is also the reason they are so damn hard to find nowadays because if they didn't explode they eventually chipped after heavy use.
I remember Mr. Groothuis telling us there was also a recall of some type but I can't find any evidence of that on the internet. He said that he witnessed one explode when hit with a baseball bat and that the pieces were cube shaped and about the size of small dice.
Mr. Groothuis was the weirdest science teacher I ever had but if you ever doubted anything he said he always backed it up.
One time in class this fat kid named Cody was misbehaving and Mr. Groothuis told him that if he didn't knock it off he was going to make him kiss a two-headed baby pig that he had frozen in a deep freezer in the storage closet. Cody continued to be a little bastard and without saying a word Mr. Groothuis walked into the storage closet and came back a moment later with a two-headed frozen pig and put it right up to Cody's lips.
Another time Mr. Groothuis claimed to have a jar with human heads in it at his house. He said that while they were doing construction on a house once owned by a doctor the workers knocked down a wall and discovered a collection of jars with human body parts preserved for medical dissection. A friend of mine Wade asked Mr. Groothuis to bring it in to class and he said he would check with the school to see if it was alright with them. Nobody believed it until we came in one morning and saw it sitting on the counter. I can still remember what it looked like. It wasn't a whole head like I expected but a a jar about the same height and width of a gallon of milk with large chunks of multiple human heads inside. You could see faces and hair and everything. Some were from men and women, mostly black but some white. As you turned the jar around you could see all the parts of heads and the jar had a small crack in it where a little fluid had dripped onto the table. The jar sat there for a few days leaking and Mr. Groothuis said that he was considering putting it all in a new jar but was afraid it would all be mush so he just kept topping it off.
I totally got off topic but I could go on forever about how bizarre this teacher was. It's like something out of a Goosebumps book.
There was another time when Cody was being obnoxious and rude after the pig incident when Mr. Groothuis got frustrated and said, "Hey Cody, if you don't knock it off I'm going to have to introduce you to my three-peckered monkey". He pointed at the supply closet and everybody laughed.
That's the way it goes, I started blogging about the Superball and now I'm talking about Jr. High memories, oh well.
The year I went into High School I found out that Mr. Groothuis started teaching some science classes there also. He ended up being my first hour teacher and I was surprisingly pleased because after having him in Jr. High I was intrigued. Most of the other students hated him but I got a kick out of his strange sadistic behavior towards his students. the science room had these thick black lab tables with a Bunsen burner mounted in the middle and I sat in the front row. My table partner was this obnoxious guy named Jeff who had one of the worst cases of acne I had ever seen. His entire face was red and inflamed and you just wanted to reach over and pop these ripe festering zits he had all over his face and neck. One time I did see him pop a zit in the bathroom between classes and he said, "Hey Steve, watch this". He squeezed a zit between two fingers and the puss shot about three feet and splattered on the bathroom mirror. Then he smiled at me like he just accomplished something spectacular. Every time I see the comic "The Zit" by Tom Bunk it reminds me of Jeff because I've seen the same exact thing in real life.
He also was obsessed with letting off these little glass stink bombs on a daily basis. They are tubes that you break open and the sulfur stench (which smells just like a fart) would fill the entire floor of the High School and everyone would walk around bitching and moaning. The uptight preppy girls would be the worst, they would pretend to gag and act like it was mustard gas and refuse to go on that floor until the janitor found the source and removed it. Jeff always did the same thing, he set the capsule under the garbage can in the bathroom (his zit popping bathroom) and pushed it down to shatter it. After a while you think the janitor would "get wind" of his prank location.
Having Jeff as a science class partner didn't do anything for my popularity status in High School either. He was one of the biggest perverts I've ever met and for some reason didn't even try to lower his voice when making sexual comments about girls. There was this girl who sat a couple tables behind us named Stacia and whenever she walked into class in the morning Jeff would make a crude remark to me about her that she would undoubtedly hear like, "God damn I would like to shove my face between those titties!!"
I'd tell him every day to quiet down but he'd just give me that manly elbow jab and say, "Oh, I know you were thinking the same thing."
Lots of times I'd glance back at Stacia and she'd give me a nasty look like I was a scum bucket for being his friend. The truth was the more bizarre and entertaining a person was the more they caught my interest. Even though I had a lot of "normal" friends I had a strange following of freaks and geeks that latched on to me. I can remember my best friend and the guys I played in a band with getting pissed off at me constantly when I would associate with misfits and weirdos like Jeff. They would move away from me when some dweeb would come walking down the hall and stop to talk to me. I just refused to stop seeking out rejects all the way through school.
At that time I remember I was reading this book about serial killers and I was convinced that Jeff was somehow related to Richard Speck not only because the photos I saw of Speck with his severely pock-marked face resembled Jeff but the story of how he broke into a building full of nuns and raped and killed them all. I could see Jeff becoming Richard Speck in due time.
I guess he ended up getting in deep shit later on when he slipped a perverted note into Stacia's locker. I don't remember exactly what happened but I think he got a sexual harassment charge. That is one thing that must really suck about being an attractive girl in High School is having every hormonal psycho boy drooling over you.
There was this other guy in my gym class that went to jail for stalking one of Stacia's relatives. I think her name was Erica. The guy was named Mike and I remember he was seriously fucked up. In the locker room these jock guys would call him "Grover" and beat him up every day. I don't think he was mentally retarded or anything but he would sit there making all these odd Muppet-like sounds and after the guys would whip him with wet towels and pummel him he'd just go right back to the bench by his locker and make weird noises. I tried to talk to him a couple times but he would just look at me with these wild sunken eyes and giggle. He was too weird even for me. The gym teacher had an office right there in the locker room but he would just turn a blind eye the majority of the time.
After the stalking thing, one of my friends Luis shared a cell in jail with Mike when he got arrested for theft. I found out later that they both fed off each others stalking obsession and broke out and ran to Texas where they got caught by police. Mike was still attempting to stalk Erica and Luis had started writing strange inappropriate letters to a friend of mine, Rachel. I wonder if she ever kept those letters or if they became evidence. I'll have to ask her. I suppose Mike is probably in a mental institution somewhere. I went to visit Luis in jail once with his family and he was always real shady about what they were up to during that time. He did tell me once that sharing space with Mike had rubbed off on him in a bad way.
Now I've got to tell you about what happened to Cody the pig kissing guy. I had him in my art class also and he was a huge pain in that class also. The art teacher Mr. Streed was always losing his temper and threatening Cody for disrupting class and causing fights. There was more than one time I can remember Mr. Streed smacking Cody with a meter stick after warning him again and again. Cody had a serious problem with respecting adults. He was also in a lot of after school fights. I remember this one time where everyone at school knew that Cody and this other kid were going to fight by the bleachers after school. As much as I wanted to see the fight I had to get home to do my paper route so I missed it. I found out the next day that a large number of kids gathered around them like they usually do and began the classic fight chant. The other kid punched Cody right in the gut and Cody threw up. That was it. After I heard about that I was kind of thrilled in a way that someone finally gave it to him. I wish I could remember who that was. Years after we graduated Cody was on some hardcore drugs and ended up shooting an elderly couple at an intersection when they didn't drive fast enough. I'm going to have to see if I can dig up the article from that on the internet. After I found out about that I kept thinking about his behavior in school and wondering why nobody did anything way back then. He was obviously severely troubled.
I want to go back and tell a couple more stories about Mr. Groothuis. I remember sitting in the front row and watching this little glob of spit that would stick to his bottom lip when he spoke. It was there every day and I'd sit there wondering as it hopped from lip to lip and stretched and popped if he even felt it there. It's kind of like when someone is bent over with their butt-crack exposed and you just wonder why they can't feel the draft. I can state as a fact that no one has ever seen my butt-crack hanging out like that. First of all I wear an undershirt tucked in and if I ever feel any sensation of breeze I immediately re tuck my shirt and tug up my pants.
Mr. Groothuis always reminded me of a slightly overweight Indiana Jones. I mean the scenes where Indy is a teacher instructing his class. I always said that if I had to be stuck on an island and had to pick one person to help me survive it would be Mr. Groothuis. He was an virtual living textbook.
He had this jar which sat up on a high shelf behind him all semester and when someone finally asked him about it he said it was home-made sour kraut and it had to sit there with enzymes or bacteria or something in it to be just right. Originally it was shredded cabbage with the enzymes added and sealed in the jar airtight. He said the process took months but by the end of the semester it would be finished.
Everyone thought the idea was disgusting and as soon as he saw the nasty faces everyone made his eyes lit up and the sadistic nature in him took effect.
At that time the majority of the class was failing or to close for comfort and the tests he would give us were abnormally difficult. I remember even the nerdiest students in the class struggling. After bitching at us all countless times he changed his grading scale to a curve towards the end of the semester to account for it.
So he gave us a last chance and passed out an extra credit sheet with three options for extra points. You could get 100 extra credit points if you ate a spoonful of the sour kraut. You could get 200 extra points if you made your own yogurt in class and ate the full cup. Or you could get 300 extra points if you ate a 3mm square slice of hot pepper.
Most of the class including myself thought this was excellent. If eating yogurt or a tiny little piece of hot pepper was the difference between passing or failing it wouldn't be tough at all.
The thing is that there was a check box next to each choice and once we had made our decisions there was no going back. It was a one time offer and once we made our decisions and signed the slip if we didn't follow through it was an automatic failure. Now that I think back the guy was a fucking genius.
Almost everyone in the class accepted the offer. Most of the class in order to pass checked all three boxes including myself. Everyone was willing to make the yogurt. We just figured that was an easy 200 points.
Mr. Groothuis said we would start on the yogurt right away and that it was a lot like the sour kraut and needed time in the refrigerator to curdle or ferment or whatever. We added the ingredients as instructed by our science books and sealed our mixture in cups marked with our name and stored them in the refrigerator in the lab.
When everything was finished in the last week of class Mr. Groothuis would get to watch us eat our chosen items and tally up the points.
This was at least ten years before Fear Factor but ended up being a nice preview to future television programming. Eventually the day arrived and we all showed up to class that morning ready to commit to our contracts. Mr. Groothuis came to class with a box of supplies. Even before he unveiled his box of tricks the class could see by the look on his face that we were going to pay for those extra points.
He walked around the classroom handing out plastic spoons and told us to get our yogurt cups from the refrigerator. As soon as everyone returned to their seats he said that we could open the lids and take a look at our creation. We were completely disgusted to discover what time and nature had done to our homemade snack. We had all eaten yogurt at one time or another in our life but what was inside my cup didn't look like anything I had ever seen before, and from the sounds that were emitted from my classmates neither had they.
It was lumpy, runny, chunky, yellowish-white glop that looked nothing like what we had put in the refrigerator to begin with. The smell was foul and filled the classroom instantly. It was like one of Jeff's stink bombs.
Mr. Groothuis explained that all store-bought yogurt was processed with artificial flavor and colors to hide all of this but what we were looking at was yogurt in it's pure state and was completely edible, healthy, and safe. To prove the point he picked up the cup of one student who chose not to show up that day and lifted it to his lips. He tilted it back and the yogurt slid in one sloppy mass into his open mouth where he proceeded to mash it around and swallow with a slow gulp. Just watching him eat it was stomach turning.
He then explained that we would take turns going from table to table watching each set of lab partners finish their entire cups. This was actually pretty exciting for me because getting to see my classmates suffer through this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I looked around at some of the Jocks and preppy girls in the class and couldn't wait to tell me friends about what I was about to witness. The only thing I was worried about was that I was in the front row and would most likely have to go first.
It ended up I lucked out and Mr. Groothuis chose the other side of the room to start out. I don't remember a lot of specifics after that but it was a slow and knuckle biting process. Everyone did their best not to show a reaction but there were a lot of watery eyes and green faces. Surprisingly the girls seemed to do the best and even back then I knew girls were troopers. The class learned by trial and error that it was best to stir the mixture as much as possible beforehand, and chugging it all at once was ideal to eating it one spoonful at a time. Plugging the nose just made it worse when you took your hand away. The aftertaste sent us running one by one to the drinking fountain. Mr. Groothuis just sat there at the front of the class in sadistic ecstasy eating a grilled cheese sandwich.
Then came Wade's turn. This one I'll never forget. Wade was a North Cedar kid so you knew he was from the rougher side of town and could handle shit. He didn't stir it up or anything, he just lifted it up and started. I'm sure he intended to drink it Groothuis style but it didn't work out so well. He got about halfway through the first gulp when it came right back up. His stomach just wouldn't accept it. He gagged and his eyes welled up with tears. He now had a mouthful of curdled vomit but refused to let it loose. After countless body lurching muffled gags he swallowed it again for the second attempt. The entire class was hysterical. After collecting himself he went in for another chug and repeated the spasms again. He just couldn't get it down. The juice was trickling down his chin and he threatened to burst at any moment. After a good minute of sloshing that load in his mouth he finally gave up and spat it back into the cup. The poor guy was in tears. He sobbed and explained that he couldn't do it. He begged Mr. Groothuis to let him do the pepper instead. Mr. Groothuis accepted with a smile.
Shortly after that it was my turn to bat and I was determined to show everyone up no matter how bad it was. My plan was to trick my brain into thinking it was eating something else of the same consistency so I decided on runny cottage cheese. I have to admit it was horrible but I chugged it down like a champ and figured if a girl could do it, I could do it. Plus, after Wade's performance the fear of having everyone laugh at me like that was enough inspiration.
The sour kraut was next and disgusting but not nearly as bad as the yogurt. Not everyone had signed up for that and it was only a spoonful. The worst thing about the sour kraut was the texture and the fact that we had been staring at it all year up on that shelf. I'd had sour kraut before with mustard on a hot dog and since it was Mr. Groothuis' recipe and personal treat it was good as far as sour kraut goes.
Finally it was time for the peppers and Mr. Groothuis invited us all up to the front of the room to take a look. He laid about 5 or 6 peppers of different sizes and colors on a small blanket in a line like precious little babies. He was wearing a pair of latex gloves. I'd never seen so many different types before. There was skinny green ones like jalapenos, and red ones that were long and wrinkled, and a couple little chubby bright orange ones. He also had a bowl of shiny green ones sat in front of him. He explained that unlike the yogurt or the sour kraut the peppers could be very dangerous and that he was going to insure that no one got seriously injured by taking all the proper precautions. He warned that the gloves that he wore were for skin protection while handling the peppers and that for no reason should we touch any of them ourselves because if we got the juice on our fingers we could accidentally transfer it to our eyes or other mucus membranes. He began to tell us about his hobby of crossbreeding varieties of peppers from all over the world in an attempt to create the hottest pepper known to man.
We had all done a crossbreeding plant experiment as a class earlier in the year so we knew that Mr. Groothuis knew what he was doing.
He then showed us the pepper that we would be sampling. It was a flame orange one that made you feel hot just looking at it. With an exact-o-knife and tweezers he carefully began to slice at the thin outer skin and peeled off a transparent little slice. He laid it flat and cut it into tiny little squares like little tabs of acid from hell.
Since we had approached the table he had been taking frequent breaks to pick green peppers from the bowl and toss them into his mouth, munching them down like popcorn. When he had finished slicing up the tiny squares he asked if we had noticed him eating away at the bowl. By now he had eaten almost all of them. He asked if there was anyone who was brave enough to quickly touch one of those peppers to their tongue.
By now I think that the whole class was a little scared. After a moment Jeff volunteered and picked one of the green peppers up by the stem. In an attempt most likely to impress the ladies in the class he touched it quickly to the tip of his tongue and tossed it back on the table.
He played it cool for about thirty seconds and then a strange look washed across his face. Now I told you about his horrible acne and his face was always irritated and red, but the redness was beginning to intensify. His eyes started to glaze and his mouth slowly drooped open. Out came his tongue and as his cheeks swelled to a magenta red. His zits seemed to form miniature volcanoes primed for eruption. With the urgency of a man on fire he darted out into the hallway in a dash for the nearby drinking fountain where he filled his gaping mouth with cool water.
The entire class trailed behind him followed by Mr. Groothuis. Jeff had begun emitting a loud gargling squeal and within a moment teachers had emerged in the doorways of adjacent classrooms to see what schoolgirl was being slaughtered in the hallway. Mr. Groothuis helped Jeff away from the fountain and advised him not to bother with the water. He said, "Sorry, but it won't help a bit".
After everyone had returned to the classroom Mr. Groothuis poured Jeff a glass of milk from the refrigerator and informed Jeff that the pepper's effect would wear off shortly. He said once Jeff was ready he could describe his experience to the class.
Mr. Groothuis went on to explain that the orange pepper that I and the other three students would sample was a crossbreed of that green pepper and two more equally potent peppers.
He also explained that before the class period was over he would explain how to eat an entire bowl of peppers like it was nothing without the slightest discomfort. He told a quick story about how he had used the technique before on unsuspecting house guests.
He had me intrigued, especially since I was about to taste the pepper Antichrist to pass his class.
Four boys lined up ready to eat the orange pepper slice and I was first. The class period was almost over so Mr. Groothuis told us we would all have to go at once. It was me, Wade, Jeff, and a guy named Keith who was a senior and had already failed Groothuis twice. We decided to count down from 10 and then stick the pepper onto our tounge and swallow.
I knew that this was going to save me from failing so I was just going to have to tough it out. The instant the tiny little slice of pepper hit our tongues we all went mad. It was like nothing I could explain but I'll try.
The first sensation was like a tiny little hot poker. Almost like a little fleck of hot iron landed and seared it's way deeper into my tongue.
My first instinct was to swallow it as quickly as I could but as I rolled it back into my throat it just stuck there. Wherever that little piece traveled it seemed that the blood from my body traveled to it and boiled. I always thought it was rediculous in cartoons when smoke would come out of someone's ears but now I know it was based on an actual experience. The pressure in my head made it feel like steam was coming out of my ears and I was sure everyone could see it.
My throat was so tightly constricted that swallowing was impossible and I could feel the trail of where the pepper had traveled like a California wildfire tracing it's way across a mountainside. There was no letting up. I could see my sensation reflected in the faces of the other boys.
I think time froze for us all. My vision went blurry and my body drifted to another place.
I think any of us would have taken a failing grade at that moment for relief.
The next thing I remember was Mr. Groothuis handing out dixie cups to us. I drank my cup down quickly and felt the liquid wash the pepper down the rest of the way. Whatever it was helped out a bit.
When I wiped the tears out of my eyes I could see that everyone else in the class was entranced. No one had said a word and it was as if we were all paralyzed. It was then when I could see what Mr. Groothuis had poured us. In his hand was a carton of egg nog.
Now all I felt was dull throbbing pain.
Mr. Groothuis got up and patted us boys on the back, "Congratulations boys. Besides me, you are the only individuals who have ever tried that". He had a huge shit-eating grin on his face.
It had to have been a good 24 hours before I felt normal again. I remember skipping dinner that evening because my tastebuds were fried, but I was back to normal by class the next day.
Mr. Groothuis had all of us boys relate our experience to the rest of the class and we all laughed about it. Since we ran out of time the day before Mr. Groothuis agreed to live up to his word and explain the secret to eating the hot peppers.
See, I actually have a pretty poor memory so I'm not too good with details but you may remember earlier that I had written about Mr. Groothuis enjoying a grilled cheese sandwich.
That's because it's an important clue.
Before Mr. Groothuis came to class that morning he explained. he stopped by the "zit bathroom" to brush his teeth and take particular attention in brushing his tongue.
He explained that while we were taking turns eating our yogurt, he was preparing for his bowl of peppers by eating a nice hot grilled cheese sandwich full of melted cheese which put a nice coating over his taste buds. He also enjoyed a tall glass of egg nog to seal the deal.
Cheese, eggs, and milk are the best coating ingredients. For example, next time you have to wash cheese off a plate or scrape eggs out of a frying pan pay attention to how hard it is to get it all off.
One of the reasons why Michelangelo's "Sistine Chapel" painting has lasted so long is because it was painted in fresco which uses plaster and pigment with egg (tempera) as a binding method.
So Mr. Groothuis wasn't immune to the heat, he just cleaned his tongue of it's natural coating and replaced it with a new thicker protective coating. He told us to try it out ourselves sometime.
That is why he told Jeff in the hallway that water wasn't going to do him any good. It may give a quick cooling sensation but it doesn't fix the problem.
That's all there is to that story.
Just in case you were wondering, we all passed.
I still failed math.