LET INGA TELL YOU:
Ever since I could put pen to paper, I’ve been a diary and journal writer, which is actually the sum total of my writing training, along with a lifetime of letter writing.
Every once in a while, I go back through journals to see what I wrote and often find stories about experiences I’d long since forgotten. Usually it was for a good reason. The following is a case in point.
In 1988, my now-husband Olof was in his second year of what would be a total of eight years commuting down to my home on weekends from the Bay area. My older son Rory was 11.
Journal, Oct. 3, 1988
Rory has decided he wants to build a gismo from a kit. (Reminds me so much of my brother at that age. Happiness was a Lafayette Radio catalog and 10 bucks.) I keep trying to explain to him that Mommy is not talented in this area, and that Olof, who is, is only here at the moment on alternate weekends. Rory is undaunted. He has saved money from his nursery school aide job and already picked out several possibilities from his kiddie catalog of Strange and Amazing Gadgets.
It’s really hard for single moms to find activities to do with sons, which is the only reason I’d consider this. Plus, I hate to stifle the kid’s creative ambitions. (I had this fantasy the other day that he became a heroin addict, and when I asked him how I had failed, he said, “If you’d just let me order a kit from Strange and Amazing Gadgets I’d be a successful engineer today!”) OK, OK, enough guilt.
Letter: October 16, 1988
Catalog of Strange and Amazing Gadgets
Please send us one TS-295 Plans/Kit for the “U-Make-It Miniature Tesla Coil.” A check in the amount of $29.50 is enclosed. Sincerely,
Journal: Nov. 8, 1988
Olof can’t get here soon enough this weekend. The world’s smallest Tesla coil has arrived, along with the world’s largest headache. I am in so over my head.
Letter: Nov. 15, 1988
Catalog of Strange and Amazing Gadgets
We recently discovered that the one-inch brass terminal with 6-32 insert adaptor failed to arrive with our U-Make-It Miniature Tesla Coil Kit. As this part is unknown to any hardware or electronic store in the Western Hemisphere, we would appreciate your shipping this item to us at your earlier convenience. Yours sincerely,
Journal: December 3, 1988
So much for Rory’s electronics education. Some weeks ago I was persuaded to order a gismo billed as the U-Make-It Miniature Tesla Coil. A Tesla coil, I now know, is an electric gismo that generates high voltage current that arcs between two terminals (in this case a gold ball and a wire) to create a lightning-like effect. I was initially concerned about having 50,000 volts in the hands of an 11-year old, but I was assured by knowledgeable sources that it didn’t have enough amps to electrocute him. (I still had this recurrent dream that I’d wake up one morning to find it attached to his younger brother’s tongue.)
This was not your basic Heath Kit. In fact, as Olof said when he was down last weekend, the creator of the circuit board for this thing should be taken out and shot. I cannot even calculate how many frustrating hours this thing has consumed of both of our already-over-full lives.
It did not come with a printed circuit board. What it did come with were umpty-300 itty-bitty components to fit on a circuit layout board the size of your thumbnail.
The two primary items of documentation were a hand-drawn circuit diagram that had been Xeroxed into oblivion and a component layout diagram that did not always agree with the circuit diagram. The instructions, in their totality, were:
1) Count and verify that all parts have been delivered.
2) Assemble board.
In point of fact, not all the parts WERE delivered, and the missing one had to be re-ordered. Further the concept of taking a lamp cord (the power source for this thing) and shoving the end into a container the size of a matchbox made the spacing between components and the various elements of wiring critical – and probably unachievable. Much frustration and soldering assistance (from Olof) later, it was ready for a trial run. With breathless anticipation (and a fire extinguisher for good measure), we turned it on. Instead of generating a lightning-like spark, it generated a “pop” and a small puff of smoke. (Olof says they either sent us a bad capacitor, or we got it in backwards.)
Rory was initially very disappointed. But the next day he was back wanting to know, could he order the kit for the high-sensitive directional parabolic microphone, or maybe the particle beam generator/proton accelerator? In one of the least ambivalent moments of my life, I replied, “Not a chance.”
— Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org