“Boom?”

And therein lies a tale.

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The above photo, found at reddit, illustrates he beginning of the construction of the Empire State Building in 1930. The top half of the image shows steam shovels carving away a hole for the foundation. Since Manhattan’s bedrock, ideally suited for the foundations of large skyscrapers, is closer to the surface in midtown and by the Battery, blasting was used to move that rock out of the way. (Historical note: the theory that this bedrock depth was responsible for the clustering of skyscrapers in those areas is giving way to other economy-based theories).

The procedure for this blasting was to drill holes in the rock face, have steam shovels cover up the area to be cleared with huge blankets made of twisted steel cables at least 1″ in diameter, and let fly. The resounding “whump!” was audible for blocks. The blankets were then removed, and the rubble cleared away by Mike Mulligan, Mary Jane, and friends. I loved watching this process as a kid, and construction companies would put windows in the walls around the building site so that rubberneckers could enjoy the spectacle. I was grateful to see these photos, as clear pictures of the process are difficult to find.

Earlier in life, however, there was a downside.

When I was about two, my parents lived in an apartment on Madison in the 90s. My room was next to the kitchen. One day I remember wandering into the darkened kitchen and beginning to play (I’m sure I had been forbidden to touch!) with the gas stove. It was cool to turn the knobs and watch the flame come on, and then turn them off and watch the blue fire dance around the burners before going out.

Remember this was in the early 50s: the oven had no automatic lighter, but you had to turn it on and stick a match down a hole in front to ignite the burner. I, however, knew nothing of that – all I know is that I must have turned that central knob, and when nothing happened, go back to the other four. However, the oven was filling up with gas, and the next time I turned on a burner, the inevitable happened.

With a roar, the gas-filled oven exploded. I was saved from serious injury by the fact that the oven door was taller than I was… when it blew open, it hit me on the forehead and I lost the front of my hair and my eyebrows, gathering a significant cut in the process, but my face and body were protected from the flames by the door itself.

I’m sure my parents were scared spitless, and relieved that I handn’t been killed outright. But my mother reported to me later in life that for a long time thereafter, when one of those construction blasts went off, my eyes would get as big as saucers, and I’d look at her, and ask “Boom?”

To this day I still don’t respond well to loud noises or being startled. I wonder if there’s a residual effect going on there? The most accurate of all Sun Microsystems “fortune” lines, at least for me, is “You will be surprised by a loud noise.”

Works every time.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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2 responses to ““Boom?”

  1. Incredible how those early life experiences stay with us. Mine was a fall on ice that had me seeing stars. Sixty years later, I still hate slick surfaces. Even with a cane. 🙂

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