About The Mad Scientist

They call me the mad scientist, and the title is mostly applicable. While most underage college students turn to fake IDs and upperclassmen to procure alcohol, I simply fermented fruit juices in the safety and comfort of my dorm room. Smoke bombs were cooked on the stove, explosives were synthesized in the 'fridge, and the nearby creek served as the proving grounds. Early on in those halcyon days, I met Aaron while taking the sole English class of my college career, and the pale nerdy geeks united. He concluded that I had a level of literacy somewhat higher than my fellow science students, and so I write for this blog. Occasionally.

You Know You Are A Contrary Introvert When . . .

Eggs, bacon, tea, and satire make you happy.

How do I know this?  Because my wife told me: “I was feeling grumpy, but then you fed me eggs and bacon, and I read Florence King.  I feel better now”.

Need I say more?

The Call of the Wild

I’m not one to go camping very often.  Not that I’m averse to it; in fact, I quite enjoy it, and I went camping quite frequently as a kid with my family.  No, it simply comes down to the fact that I am lazy, and the effort required to pack the car with a tent and clothes and food for the weekend usually seems like an insurmountable Everest after a tiring week’s work.

Nonetheless, we did manage to plan for a weekend at a campground recently.  It was an enjoyable weekend, getting in touch with nature, drinking hot tea off the kerosene stove in the cold mornings, roasting hot dogs and corn-in-the-cob over the fire, and generally doing nothing.  There were several things I learned by contemplating the environment around me, and I’d like to share them with you today.

Entertainment:  Apparently, people these days don’t know the meaning of the phrase “getting away from it all”.  Most of the denizens of the campground were of the “kitchen sink” variety, meaning they packed everything, including the above.  And radios.  Loud radios.

It was a dissonant experience, hearing crickets and birds chirping out of one ear, and dance music out of the other.  THUM thumpa THUM thumpa BIM bimba BIM bimba . . . Seriously?  Folks, a disco ball is not going to come out of nowhere and the forest creatures start partying like it’s 1999, no matter how many Disney movies you’ve seen.

Then there was the guy who couldn’t leave his sports for the weekend.  As a result, we too were able to listen to every single move of a baseball game.  The poor souls announcing the game on the radio were desperately trying not to leave spaces in their monologue by discussing anything and everything.  When they ran out of banalities about the players’ athleticism, they discussed the pickles and ice spilled in the hall of the stadium. For five full minutes.

The crowning touch came as we were walking back from the toilets one night, with the glorious stars overhead and the Milky Way clearly visible.  Notwithstanding, one campsite had their 1080p projector going with a cartoon movie.

Lesson learned:  You can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the boy.

Nature’s beautiful vistas:  As we went on an extended hike along the park trails to see the park beauty, we finally left the noisy hordes behind.  Exiting a tree-lined trail to a beautiful rolling prairie, the vista that opened up in front of us was jarringly interrupted by the giant metal pole barn for the park vehicles, perched on the very top of the local hill overlooking the entire valley.  The bat boxes mounted in front of the building did not redeem it.

Lesson learned:  Even the DNR is out of touch with Nature.

Discipline:  You may think that a campground would not be a place where you would learn interesting disciplinary measures.  You’d be wrong.  One night, as an apparently fed up parent or older brother passed our site, we heard him say, “If you do that again, I’m gonna rip your head right off.  You understand?  Your head?  It’s gone!”

Lesson learned:  Camping can bring out the Charles Manson in the best of us.

Ferocious wildlife:  Apparently, my car got on the bad side of a territorial cardinal.  It flew up, landed on the window ledge, and proceeded to attack the side view mirror with vigor.  It would then perch on top of the side view mirror, take a breather, and go back to venomously attacking the bird in the mirror again.  This was not an isolated instance.  I chased him off a few times, and he’d be back a few minutes later.  The next morning when we’re still in bed, we hear a fluttering scraping noise begin again, and my wife murmurs, “The cardinal’s attacking the car again”.  By the time we left, both of my side view mirrors were half covered with a mix of cardinal spit and berry juice and the door ornamented with berry-colored bird scat.

Lesson learned:  Cardinals don’t like Volkswagens.  The chipmunks, however, think they’re just the perfect shelter.

An Introduction To Brewing

As some of you know, I am an amateur enthusiast of utilizing strains of fungus, primarily of the genus Saccharomyces, to produce edible, aqueous solutions of ethanol with various concentrations of pleasingly aromatic and tasteful compounds by introducing the aforementioned fungus to a decoction, extraction, or otherwise prepared solution of plant matter and sucrose.

In layman’s terms, I brew.

Being as summer has made an early appearance, I thought an appropriate subject to write about would be brewing.  If medieval monks could do it without poisoning themselves, I figured I could too, so put down the girly drinks (Miller Lite, I’m lookin’ at you) and sober up a bit – this is how it’s done.

First, I grab a large stockpot – and I mean large.  It should be at least large enough to make a stew out of the dog that leaves presents in the yard, or a few stray cats.  I fill it with water and boil it.  Then I dump in several pounds of malted barley powder and a dash of dried hops.  Quickly jumping back, I reminisce about grade school “science project” volcanoes as the pot froths over and covers the stove with a sticky mess.

Remember, the affection of your wife is not necessary to craft a quality beer.

If there’s enough of it left in the pot, I then boil this soup for an hour, filling the kitchen with an aroma reminiscent of Malt-O-Meal combined with herbal tea, if the burnt sugar smoke isn’t setting off the smoke detector.  Ta da!  I’m done! …only that I have three to five gallons of hot sticky liquid that has to be cooled off.   Elementary physics, Watson.  In order to cool 5 gallons of boiling water to room temperature, I need 35.5 gallons of cold tap water.  In short, I use the bathtub and immerse the gargantuan pot in a gargantuan amount of cold water.  At this point, I will take pains to pointedly ignore any whispered comments of “bathtub gin” from the peanut gallery.

Remember, you don’t have to drink my beer to be my friend.

I then transfer the brown, lumpy liquid to a plastic pail.  Water is added to make five gallons.  I add my preferred genus of fungi – I strongly recommend using only Saccharomyces, not Candida albicans.  Pop the lid on, insert the airlock, and leave it for a week.  Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, it’s all being done for me.  Now, I generally consider it best to skip a meal before the next step.  Opening the lid, I am always presented with the sight of a noxious looking mess akin to what a frat boy horks up after a wild party.  Skimming off the floating slime, I siphon the opaque brown liquid into a carboy – a.k.a. “large glass bottle.”  The bottom of the bucket contains a chunky brown slurry last seen after you ate Auntie May’s deviled eggs.  I put it in the same place the first slurry went.  Corking an airlock on the carboy, I put it in a dark place for another week or so.

Remember, you don’t have to drink my beer to be my friend.

At some point, I dig the carboy out of the cellar, brush off the spiderwebs, and kick Fortunato’s bones into the corner.  If there’s no forest of luminescent mold growing at the top of the carboy, I then siphon the now (usually) clear brown liquid back into a pail.  I add a precisely weighed amount of pure sugar and stir, trying not to sneeze into the bucket.  Then I sterilize a truckload of beer bottles with a sulfur compound dissolved in water – mind you, don’t sniff the powder too deep, or you’ll find there is something that burns worse than ammonia.  Then the alleged beer is siphoned into the bottles.  How do you start a siphon, you ask?  Easy – just suck on the end of the tube.  It’s like a reverse beer bong.  Mmm.

Remember, you don’t have to drink my beer to be my friend.

Then all the bottles go back to the cellar, ostensibly to be mostly forgotten while they carbonate, age, mellow, and meld those complex flavors together.  Hey, they’ve been aging for a month, why don’t you try one?  Come down here in the cellar – watch it, don’t step in the mouse poo.  Ah, I wouldn’t recommend resting your hand on the wall – there’s embedded glass shards from the beer bottle explosions.  Nice carpet, you say?  Heh, naw, that’s just a thick mold layer growing on spilled beer.  Ooh, here’s a bottle of a good stout, if I do say so myself.  Try it out.  What’s that?  It smells funny, you say?

Why don’t you just drink that dang beer, eh?