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This will be a lot of maundering through the years, with a nod to the Victorian Era for a beginning, and an end three days ago. If you are already bored, check out the Bulletin Board.

It all starts with a discussion at the SLIME group about helmets, and how today there is not only a helmet for every endeavor, but within these are specialized headgear. When I rode motorcycles with friends or alone I usually wore none or strapped on a “Brain Bucket” and went on my way. Those helmets were uniform in design and not too expensive. Then an auto racer named Pete Snell was killed in a race and it was determined his leather helmet was unsuitable. Better buckets were created and this led to the Bell Snell model. Soon all competitors in races had to don a Snell-Approved helmet. So it has become with bicycle gear: according to the know-it-somes at the SLIME group, there are bike helmets for street riding, off road riding, racing and other.

As I sat a few days ago with my favorite friends, Paul Maul and Mr. Coffee, I was thinking about my days as a bicycle racer in New Jersey. I did not even have an old jersey in New Jersey, unlike today’s cyclists’ garments. But I digress.

Our races were with our one-speed Schwinn, Roadmaster and Columbia bikes and these competitions were on public roads around the neighborhood. We lived in a suburban area so traffic was usually not a problem. We wore no helmets and deemed our baseball caps detrimental to proper aerodynamics. One day we chose a new road through a development under construction and there on a corner I did a classic crash-and-burn in the gravel, coming to rest against a curb, nose first. I was 14. I was bleeding from many gravel-induced orifices.

There were numerous cuts and abrasions on my right side and arm and my ride suffered even more. My friends thought this was pretty funny and I tried to roll my bent-wheeled bike half a mile to home.

My Mum—once she got over her panic—sat me down and began to minister to my wounds. In those days anything that bled that did not need stitches got one of two treatments. Iodine or Mercurochrome. Iodine was for the bad cuts and Mercurochrome for abrasions, of which I was mostly composed. Iodine stung like Satan’s pitchfork when it hit the wound, whereas its lesser companion was mild and soothing.

So as I sat last week ruminating all this history, 70 years after what was probably my first dose, it hit me: Duh! MERCUROchrome. Wait a minute.

What’s in a name? We are not supposed to eat any or very little of certain fish because of toxic mercury in the meat, and here I’d been bathed right down to the blood spigot for years with Merc-something.

Off I went to Google and discovered that the Food and Drug Administration had, in 1998, banned any mercury-laden products from use in this country. And France and Germany followed suit a few years later.

So I checked iodine and found it was an element and not (at least now) a dangerous substance. I thought back to high school chemistry when the happiest classes were when we each got a small ball of pure mercury to play with. And you wonder why I digress? Why I forgot your name?

We lived half a mile from the ocean, and it was part of growing up to have a great sun tan. Prior to the flapper/prohibition era women used parasols because the badge of distinction was a creamy white skin. Only workers—lesser people—had to be in the sun. This changed as skirts went from above the ankle to below the knee. To have the best tan in our class you used what was called sun tan lotion or sun tan oil. These were expensive and not necessary because, just as teen agers today, we were enterprising. Somebody discovered that mixing baby oil with half a bottle of iodine gave a superior tan. This bit of information leads to my final home remedy, oatmeal. Not to eat, either.

I one day spent too much time on the beach, hanging out and fishing shirtless in the surf. I got not the usual sunburn, but the godfather of all burns. My skin began to crack when I got home and soon any bodily movement was agony as the cracks became deeper. Mom called the doc, he came to the house (now THERE is history) and checked me over and recommended wrappings of warm water mixed with lots of oatmeal. For three days I lived in an armchair, (pre-television) being alternatively babied and scolded as I sat still like Pharaoh’s mummy. The boredom as as bad as the cause.

So I have survived all these bodily indignities. My body has been to basal cell carcinomas as horse poop is to mushrooms, and still is. And there ain’t no helmet for stupidity. Or mercury.


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Bob Spiwak, speaks a language I understand. Most enjoyable. It made me remember chemistry at the Bulkeley School, where we were given small vials of mercury to play with. It was great fun smashing a droplet with a hammer and watching all the new little droplets fly about. And I know of at least two other classmates that made it to 90 in spite of that and many other events, like a war or two.

Ralph Edwards
Coupeville, WA