out the ashtray with a rag between tests. This went on for about an hourbefore he checked my progress. In my notebook I’d observed that thepotato had gotten darker as it got wet and that the lighter fluid was odorless.
“All right,” he said, “time to take her outside.”
In his backyard, Ronny put the potato in a bucket along with some
of the cleaning supplies he’d tested. We stepped a few paces back and he
started flicking lit matches at it. He kept missing, and the matches let out
little tails of smoke in the grass.
“So,” Ronny said, his tone suggesting it might take a while to ignite
the potato, “do you know what you want to be when you grow up?”
He lit another match and threw it.
“I haven’t really thought it over.”Ronny clucked his tongue as if my lack of ambition disappointed him.
“Are you gonna be a scientist?” I said.
Ronny lit yet another match and held it up between his thumb andforefinger, watching it burn down a little.
“Nope,” he said. “I already am one.”
He threw the match with a snap of his wrist, and it landed noiselessly
in the bucket. There was a flash of light and a low boom, followed by
Ronny telling me to look alive while he searched the sky for the potato.
Thirty seconds later it landed with a thud on the roof of Ronny’s house,
and he had to climb up the TV antenna tower to retrieve it. He tapped
the potato to make sure it wasn’t too hot to touch, then picked it up and
bit into it, spitting it out immediately.
“Tastes like chemicals,” he shouted down to me. “And the explosion
didn’t cook it all the way.”
He threw the rest of the potato over his shoulder and climbed back
down to the yard to record the results in his notebook.
“What were you hoping for?”
He closed his notebook and looked up to where he’d abandoned the
potato on the roof.
“Edible fireworks,” he said.
I stared down at the bucket as I considered the concept.
“That’s a fantastic idea,” I said, meaning it.
“Well let’s not stand around tugging each other’s nuts,” he said.