Michael Ubaldi, November 12, 2007.
That men are only grown-up little boys was clear in John Derbyshire's telling of hijinks last Sunday evening. Brought to the union of middle school football players' fathers: Resolved, that an empty beer bottle will melt in a log fire. The shaped glass was deposited and observed, the resolution passing in the sight of a silicate blob — but not before somebody's wife noticed and returned with a disapproving cohort. Asked Derbyshire, of National Review and its readers, why the primordial is "so fascinating for [men], so incomprehensible to women?"
My father, more genial than adventurous, looks fondly to the old days, when a teenager could pick up sulfur and saltpeter at a New York City drugstore, then mix them with shavings from a charcoal briquette to make gunpowder. I am hardly adventurous, and yet once escalated from the use of a magnifying glass on leaves and bugs to stamping out a gasoline fire next to the house, all in the space of three hours on a school afternoon. For me and neighborhood friends, the salinization of slugs — dissolving the garden pests with a shaker from the kitchen — was a common diversion in the summertime. Earthworms could be plucked from under rocks and cut in half, insects tossed into spider webs, all manner of crawling things dropped into a jar in hopes of a struggle.
Nature is orchestrated by brute agencies, and man was either conferred dominion or an indelible preoccupation. To the first question, affinity is in the blood.
To the second question, the fascination might be less incomprehensible than obscured. I know of the manner of a few women: my great-grandmother's stricture of the domestic feline population, her daughter's sinewy confidence with matter and creature, my mother's nonchalance in handling a snake when her peers blanched and declined. Today, though we have the lady who isn't one, to be crass isn't to be rugged. Of course, these three women would understand the attraction of the melting bottle, the spectacle; but maybe disapprove of the frivolity, men's own misdirection in modern life.
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