Saturday, May 1, 2010

True or False: When You Poke a Balloon With a Pin, it Always Pops

I loved my 3rd grade teacher, Miss Myers. She always knew where to find the answers to my questions about asteroid belts and deep sea pearl diving and was there a difference between poison ivy and poison oak.

I actually believed she knew where to find the answer to anything. I held her up in my eight-year-old mind as a bastion of truth and knowledge, unlike my parents who often blamed me for things I hadn’t done, or punished me for telling the truth or doing what I was sure was right.

Then came the day of the True or False test. One of the statements was: When you poke a balloon with a pin, it always pops. The word always was a dead giveaway. Almost nothing happens always.

Apples that fall from a tree don’t always hit the ground. They might get caught in a lower branch. Climbing over the back fence doesn’t always get me in trouble - just if I rip my pants on the barbed wire.

I had poked pins into balloons and discovered that if I poke the pin in the dark area near the knot, the balloon usually doesn’t pop. If I poke the pin through the knot, it almost never pops. And of course, if I poke the pin through the tail end outside the knot, it never ever pops.

I marked False, completely sure of the truth of my answer.

My test came back marked in RED. Miss Myers, my heroine, didn’t know as much about balloons as I did. I protested. And fair woman that she was, she gave me a chance. We went home for lunch, and when we came back one of the other students had brought two balloons. I was assigned to demonstrate to the class how to poke a pin into a balloon without popping it.

I was confident that I could do it with only one balloon. I wasted the first one. I held the balloon up, aimed the pin at the big bulging side, and said, “If you poke here, the balloon will pop.” Then I demonstrated.

Then ! held the 2nd balloon. I thought about poking through the knot – but I thought the teacher might say I was cheating. And besides, balloons almost never pop when you poke beside the knot, in the dark area. You can even poke through the dark area on the top and usually get the pin through the rubber without popping the balloon.

I aimed the pin a the bottom of the balloon. “But if you poke here...” The balloon popped. Miss Myers said her grade stood. I had failed. Not just getting a question wrong that I knew wasn’t wrong, but I had failed in front of the class to prove that I knew more about balloons than she did. I had failed to prove what I knew was true.

I should have poked that pin through the knot. I should not have taken a chance. I should have brought my own balloons so I’d have had more chances. Miss Myers never gave me another chance to prove what I knew about balloons.

These days, I can poke a wooden skewer through the thick part of a balloon , and out the other end through the dark spot and almost never pop a balloon. I can put a piece of clear sticky tape anywhere and poke a pin through that. It never pops.

Okay, never is as big a catch-word as always. But I’ve never seen a balloon pop when I’ve poked it with a pin through sticky tape.

Sometimes you have to give somebody more than two chances. I gave Miss Myers other chances. She came through on most of them.

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