The Cast: A Cup (holder of water), Erich (helper in mischief), Myself (curious), Weather (freezing).
It wasn’t uncommon for the temperature to reach below freezing when I lived in Montana. At an early age, I remember a few friends and me trying to see how tall we could make a pile of frozen spit during 2nd Grade recess. Each of us took turns spitting onto one spot on the ground and watching our saliva freeze into a bubbly stalagmite. It was soo cool—literally.
As I was saying, when I was younger and living in Montana, freezing was common. But in Manti, not so much. So when the winter finally dropped below freezing temperatures, I got curious.
Every day as I would head out into the chilling outdoors I would think about what would happen if someone left water outside. Like, how long would it take for any given amount of water to become frozen? What conditions were necessary for (fill in the blank with all sorts of ideas)? It was one for those kinds of philosophical thought processes that I have over and over. Sort of a ‘deep thinking’ kind of thing.
One day, however, I had the chance to put theory into practice. But we’ll talk about that later.
With temperatures low and no sign of change, Erich and I had an mischevious idea. And it started with seeing a single spigot placed slightly out of the way on the porch of a business located on Main Street.
We wanted to test my freezing theory and we figured that this little spigot would be the perfect test subject. So, late one evening as we walked past, we careful opened up the valve just to see how quickly the water might freeze. A subtle twist of the valve and a little water dribbled out. It froze. A little twist. A little dribble. It froze. Like a recipe, repeat as needed.
“So, how long do you think it would take for running water to freeze?”
“It guess it would depend on the amount of water, and maybe how fast it was moving.”
Rather than risk damaging the pipe by having to much water flow out—ya know, cause water expands, and that would be mean—we just let the water dribble out. Once we felt like the right amount of water was coming out, but not too much to bust the pipe, we left the water on and just walked away. Part of the reason we chose this location to test our theory was because the water would freeze in a spot where there would be no regular foot traffic, so it was less likely to have someone slip, fall and hurt themselves. You need to think things through. Think of the children, people!
The next day we casually walked past the test dribble and found an icicle connecting the spigot to the sidewalk. It worked!
Some time after that test, I and a group of friends (Erich, Dallas, Curt, and a couple others) found ourselves walking and talking about the weather, how cold it had been, how unusual it was, how long it would continue, and stuff like that. As we walked and talked it was speculated on how quickly water would freeze. I mentioned that Erich and I knew it was actually below freezing (this was before common internet and smartphones, you only knew stuff if you watched the news and what self respecting teenager watched the news? None of them, that’s who). Nobody believed us. So it was suggested that we get some water and prove it.
Like the bunch of idiots a pack of teenage boys are, nobody wanted to go to somebody’s house, collect some water, throw it onto something only to have it freeze, and then get into trouble. We needed an innocent bystander’s stuff to throw water on and have it freeze (and then not get into trouble). Only, we needed immediate water for the test to be fair and impartial. If we got it from someone’s home, then we would have to carry the cup of water around and the water’s temperature inside the cup would drop, thus altering the experiment. Plus, we would have to take the cup around with us afterward. Nothing doing. We needed another option. The Fly Trap!
The Fly Trap was the nick-name given to a local bakery because at any time of year, you could find active flies buzzing about. It might not have been a nice thing to say about the place, but that’s the way it was. Anyhoo, The Fly Trap was always willing to hand out free cups of water in disposable paper cups (there’s the water and cup problem solved). Thing is, if five or six teenage boys walk into your bakery, ask for water, don’t stay, then throw it somewhere on your property, who is to blame becomes easy. We needed an alibi. Super Mario to the rescue!
There was a back part of the bakery, away from the front counter, and out of direct line of sight from employees, where booths for patrons were set, as well as a Super Mario arcade machine, which was broken—in a good way for us. The little door that held the money was busted but looked unbroken, so if you just opened it and flicked the toggle that a quarter would have hit (if you had paid) you could get free games. And to the best of our knowledge, the owner didn’t know about it. As a result, sometimes teens would just stand around and toggle their day away… Not me of course. I was more of a The King of Fighters or Castlevania player myself (they were located at the local dairy freeze and were not broken, I had to pay—and I did).
Mario was our cover story. Our little wandering group of mischief makers meandered into The Fly Trap, and under the guise of wanting to get out of the cold, we asked for cups of water (not hot cocoa because we had no money) and one cocoa (okay, one of us had a little money), then we headed to the back to ‘play’ Super Mario. The setup was simple: We start the game, and then once the noise had begun we slip outside through the side door when no-one is looking, then throw the water onto a window that would rarely be seen. Easy-breezy, lemon-squeezy. You’d think.
Once the game was started, people wanted to play it! Of all the nerve! What kind of simple minded buffoons would want to play a free arcade game? Especially Super Mario! Seriously!
Author’s Note: I have never been a Mario fan. I don’t hate the guy, don’t misunderstand. But I don’t feel bad when he dies either. And now back to our story…
Teenage boys, that’s who! “Hey guys. Remember the plan?” “Yeah, yeah. In a second.” “I can’t just stand here all day not drinking my water. They’ll get suspicious.” “In a second.” This went on for a while amid the whoops and hollers of free italian plumber digital entertainment, with mushrooms. I was never going to get them away from the machine. So, I stepped away. Carefully stepping outside, so as not to trigger the bell on the door. I let the door close. Waited until nobody was insight. Then threw the water onto the glass door. What happened next can only be accurately explained as magical—and even that doesn’t do it justice.
Water hit the upper left portion of the door and quickly allowed gravity to pull it down it’s smooth, sheer, slick, glassy, cold surface. And then, the magic began. At first I was disappointed. I thought it had been cold enough to freeze the water. I was positive it was cold enough. But the water running down the door, like it would on any other day told me otherwise, until it began to freeze.
I had expected it to freeze from top to bottom. My logic was that the top had hit first, been exposed to the chill first, and ergo would freeze first. Apparently, the transition of water into ice is at the same time more complicated than that and also less complicated than that. The bottoms of the drips began to become stationary as the opacity left, and the once clear water became a whitesh ice that reacted and moved upward, defying gravity and everything I understood—at the time—about science. I could hear the crackling as water molecules coalesced, expanded and moved against each other letting my ears know, this was really happening. My eyes beheld a spectacle I can never unsee, or forget. My brain was desperately trying to slow down what was happening in seconds, in an attempt to take in every detail. Each new ripple. The shrinking area of the still liquid water. The quickly expanding area of ice. The subtle nuances of the almost flash freezing was captivating. Even my breath was frozen inside me as I stood there, motionless, a dopey smile unmoving upon my face, mesmerized by nature’s madness. It only took about 3 seconds, but it felt like a short forever. It was thrilling.
As the last bit of water disappeared (turned to ice), the cracking sound (the only sound), disappeared also. Suddenly, I was snapped back into the now. Oh, wow… Oh, we gotta get out of here. The owners are gonna know it was us! I popped back inside, “Guys, we need to go. Now. I froze the door.” Collectively the group reacted like the scavengers on a carcass when a lion arrives. Unwilling to leave, but knowing that staying behind could mean death.
We exited the side door—the one I had just frozen over—and as each member of the little band moved past, Ooo’s and Ahhh’s fell from their stunned lips. “O.K. That’s cool” “Yeah” “Let’s get out of here.” “Yeah.” And we did.
The patch of ice at the restaurant expanded a little as the owners attempted to thaw it out with hot water only to find that same hot water would cool too quickly and made the situation worse. The ice that covered almost half the door of The Fly Trap however, lasted the entire winter. It was never made worse, never made better. It just stayed there as a momentary monument to the season—that cold, ice cold, winter—and to me. One more sneaky little prank, that only a few really knew about.