By Dick Nelson
The International Festival of Science had drawn some of the world's most brilliant scientists and their new technological marvels. Hans Immerschlosser, for example, had designed a pocket-sized particle accelerator. A team from Korea was unveiling a car that ran on milk.
Then there were the hobos and their laser.
It was not immediately recognizable as a device that amplified light by a stimulated emission of radiation. It looked more like pieces of garbage that had been tied together with string and old electrical cords and then dumped into a shopping cart. The scientists, despite all their accumulated knowledge, could not figure out how this alleged laser was supposed to work.
Balls of aluminum foil, empty liquor bottles and several well-gnawed chicken drumsticks had been arranged inside an eviscerated television set, which was connected by several frayed wires to an old clock radio. Fluorescent light bulbs, a toilet plunger and several tattered volumes of Reader's Digest Condensed Books were among the other items that seemed to play a part.
Two members of the hobo design team, Pickles and Scabby Jones, announced that there would be a demonstration. The scientists gathered around as Pickles attached two wires to a badly corroded car battery. He turned a knob on the television and blew into a harmonica that had been mounted to the remnants of an oscillating fan. Nothing happened. The scientists chuckled and shook their heads. "Why don't you just sing us a song about freight trains," one of them shouted, "or maybe cook us a big pot of stew!"
The hobos had heard it all before. Ignoring the taunts, they unfolded their cardboard blueprints and got to work. Greasy Gus and Tin Can Willie came over to help, and soon they decided on a course of action. As the scientists looked on with obvious disdain, Pickles placed a dirty tube sock over one of the light bulbs and readjusted some of the television knobs. Then he turned to his audience and gave a thumbs-up before once again blowing a few notes on the harmonica. A burst of blinding white light erupted from the shopping cart, shooting across the convention hall and incinerating several dozen of the world's greatest minds.
"Success!" the hobos cried. Then Pickles and Tin Can started dancing the Tramp Two-Step, and Scabby Jones unscrewed the evening's first bottle of celebratory Thunderbird.
(Author Dick "Dirty Beard" Nelson himself rode the rails for many years until he was partially decapitated by a runaway boxcar. He now flops and writes near Cincinnati and still dreams of Big Rock Candy Mountain.)
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
By Dick Nelson