When my parents finally bought a new refrigerator, they relegated the old one to the garage. It served as overflow for the main fridge in the house, but my brother Jake and I were able to find room to squirrel away a few ice cream bars, some Snickers, and the odd soda. I nearly wept tears of joy the day I discovered the ultimate earthly pleasure of a frozen Snickers bar and a cold cream soda.
One afternoon shortly after Halloween, I was rummaging through the old fridge for one of the fun-size Snickers I had stashed away when I knocked over a container of Caldo Verde. Now, this just wasn’t any container. This was what Jake and I derisively called “Portuguese Tupperware.” It consists of any plastic container with a lid that seals, but for some reason we could never deduce, was invariably a Cool Whip container. And then there was the family-size version which was a two-and-a-half gallon ice cream tub. Woe be to any child thoughtless and wasteful enough to throw away either container when it was empty. That child would find himself digging through a garbage can with a flashlight on a dark night to retrieve said container.
The lid popped off and out leapt this green slug of frozen soup in the exact shape of the Cool Whip container. That set my child’s mind to turning. I called my brother over to display my breakthrough.
“We could freeze water in containers,” Jake exhaled. He eyes grew large at the prospect.
“That’s what I was thinking,” I replied.
“But what do we do with big chunks of ice?” Jake asked. “Do we just watch them melt?”
“We can throw them and watch them break,” I said.
“Or we can hit them with a bat,” Jake giggled.
“Oh, oh, oh,” I chuffed. “We can drop them from the roof. And we won’t have to clean anything up because the chunks melt and the water evaporates.”
I’m going to stop here and explain that if my children got up to one-fifth of the things my brother and I did, I would have a nervous breakdown. Clearly, our parents subconsciously hoped one or both of us would die through what is euphemistically called “misadventure.” I will save these stories for other posts, but let me summarize by saying I suspect Jake and I are the reason alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives are regulated by one federal agency; it makes for streamlined paperwork when dealing with the Cunha boys.
Having discovered liquids have a definite volume, an indefinite shape, and will freeze into the shape of their containers, Jake and I set about experimenting, which was never a good thing. If it held water, there was an example of it in that freezer in the garage. Any containers that would not allow the frozen block to pass through the opening were peeled away. Milk cartons were a breeze for strong, young hand. We made quick work of milk jugs and 2-liter soda bottles with our ever present pocket knives.
Of course, we had pocket knives at eight and ten years old. We also carried our rifles down the road to one of the local orchards where we had permission to shoot squirrels after school. Why does that seem so odd nowadays?
The problem arose with metal containers. The old kidney-shaped GI canteen cups allowed the ice block to slide out. Sections of cast iron pipe with endcaps screwed in place worked well once we figured out to wrap the threads with PTFE tape, but we couldn’t use too much lest Dad notice it missing. And a huge chunk of iron in the freezer was very noticeable and difficult to explain away, so we abandoned that method quickly. Then we realized that with the proper application of a pair of pliers, a soda can was relatively easy to peel away from it cylindrically shaped frozen contents.
A soda can-size block of ice is as close to perfect for mischief as you can get.
In life, familiarity breeds complacency. I was practiced at removing the aluminum sheeting from ice cylinders to the point I was casual. I could hold a conversation while I peeled away the soft metal like I was unwrapping the foil from a burrito. Until one day, my angle of attack was a little off, my hands were a little wet, and my grip was a little off. By themselves, none of these variables would have been significant. This is when I learned a life-lesson, the name of which I would not discover until a decade later.
The field of Mechanical Engineering has a concept called Stacking Tolerances. Everything has a range, or variance, in which it will work. The concept is expressed in the “plus/minus” symbol you may have seen in a schematic or other technical drawing. Accumulate enough variances together and sometimes a bunch of little variables add up to the whole not working.
I have always thought of tolerances as “no biggie.” However, put enough “no biggies” together and you get an “aw, fuck.”
I have a two inch long scar on my index finger that begins in the middle of the pad, cuts across the fingerprint, and wraps around the finger until it ends at my middle knuckle that is the result of stacking tolerances. I blame Portuguese Tupperware for setting this entire episode in motion.