Sam – Chapter 1

Once there was a man, he lived in a sunny suburb on the edge of a rural area just west of the midwest, say about as far west as Colorado. He was not a particularly happy man, or even a sad one. He had only one passion, solving problems, the harder the better. When a neighbor pondered aloud whether or not one could live the modern life without being connected to the electric company. Sam, well that was his name, Sam got out his calculator and went to the library he looked up all of the sources for solar panels and calculated how many you would need and what type of batteries and how many of those you would need. He found the most efficient inverter, to convert the electricity from DC to AC, and noted down it’s cost. He even found out what would be the best way to protect the panels from hail. He was enthusiastic about building the system himself until he finished the cost estimate page, then he decided that it was too expensive, especially since all of the batteries may have to replaced every couple of years. About a week later, Sam presented his findings typed up on his word processor to his neighbor. His neighbor, his name was Jerry, was ecstatic, he hadn’t dreamed it could be so easy, he sat down with his financial advisor and worked out a way to finance building it.
Jerry built Sam’s system with very few modifications, and is currently (no joke intended) living with relatively low-cost electricity. Sam was pleased that Jerry was able to implement his solution, but he kept wondering when he would start complaining about having to replace all of those expensive batteries. Well Jerry never did, he did his homework on battery maintenance, and he considered the costs of replacement worthwhile, you see Jerry hated to have to pay for power when he knew he could generate his own. Jerry loved to show visitors the system and told them about Sam’s part in it.
“Why I might never have gotten past the daydream stage if it hadn’t been for Sam,” Jerry would say.
The visitors were impressed and they would ask Jerry if they could have a copy of Sam’s report.
“Sure, it’s OK with me, but you’ll have to ask Sam” Jerry would say with a smile. You see he was just happy that they were interested enough to ask.
When the visitors would go knock on Sam’s door, Sam would give them a copy of the report from the stack he kept by the door (since there had been so many requests), but when the visitors wanted to chat about it Sam would excuse himself by saying,
“I’m sorry, but I am so terribly busy.”
He wasn’t really busy you know, Sam was just bored with the problem he had already solved. You see Sam was not challenged by his job, oh, there would be a few interesting moments, but really, he was winding down his career and he was just there for the paycheck. So he was always looking for the next juicy problem. Sam’s wife Angela prayed for him to find something to sink his teeth into, because if he didn’t have a project of sufficient interest for him he would lay about the house like an old hound dog, and that was depressing for her. She much preferred it when he would get home from work and say,
“Honey, I’ll be in the workshop for a little while,” and he would whistle as he went out the door. When Sam had a project he would have a light in his eyes, even when he was tired.
His last project had been designing and building a small jet engine, there had been a few explosions from the workshop, Sam would just laugh and use the fire extinguisher. Angela was willing to put up with a few loud bangs to keep him happy. Then one day he saw in a hobby magazine that someone had already worked out the problems for small jet engines and was even selling them. That took the wind out of his sails. He went back to his shop and said, “What’s the use” and put his incomplete engine in a box and put it on the shelf. When she saw him lying about listlessly, she thought “Oh boy, what’s retirement going to be like”.
You see Sam was close to retirement age and Angela wasn’t sure there would be enough challenges around the house to keep him occupied. She almost wished he would take up golf, though she hated the game.
Then one afternoon around the water cooler one of the younger guys at work was talking about using hydrogen as a fuel and how difficult it was to store. You know as well as I do, that got the cogs rolling in Sam’s head. He worked out a system in a couple of days that he was pretty sure would work.
“Yes,” he thought, “if you electrolyzed water with the electricity from a solar-electrical system and then fed the hydrogen straight to a generator that would relieve you of having to store it, or you wouldn’t have to store much.” His mind sped on, “And I could re-use the research I did for Jerry, just not so big a system and maybe no batteries.” Sam was as happy as a pig in slop. He was planning to build a shed as far from the house as possible to reduce the possible damage from an explosion. He was looking up how to modify an engine to run on hydrogen. He had the noise from the generator problem to deal with. He was back on track.
Soon, after he retired, Sam had a laboratory, a shed built by the shed guys from the local hardware store, solar panels on the roof, and an electrolysis rig inside. Then one early summer weekday, while Sam was eating lunch in the house, a leaky pipe joint, leaking hydrogen, and a spark from the generator blew a hole in the roof of Sam’s lab. The bang had him up on his feet and out the back door in a flash. The explosion loosened the solar panels and pushed them around a bit, but all in all he felt lucky it didn’t destroy more and that the force of the explosion had gone up and not toward the house. After he turned everything off and bungied a tarp over the hole. He decided to go for a walk to think it over, that’s when he noticed that Ralph his dog was cowering as far back in his doghouse as he could squeeze himself. Angela stepped out to see how bad it was. When she saw the tarp over the hole she said, “Sam Monroe, what in the world?”
He said, “It’s OK honey, I just have to re-think some things. I’m going for a walk to get the cobwebs out, come on Ralph I bet you’d like to get out of here for a while too .” Ralph a beagle-terrier mix was more than happy to clear out for a while.
Angela was relieved, the problems had sub-problems, well nothing could keep him better occupied. Then she looked at the outline of the hole in the tarp on the roof of the shed again and was glad he hadn’t been in there when it happened.
Sam headed for the fallow fields that were on the eastern border of the neighborhood. He walked a mile or two among the clumps of tall weeds and the meadowlarks, with Ralph roaming about ahead of him. Sam was chewing over how to improve the seal in the pipe joints, and he pretty much had it figured out, when he noticed a pile of rusty corrugated sheet metal in a little hollow by the creek. That wasn’t so unusual except that it was moving, it swayed this way, and it swayed that way, then it sort of collapsed, and he heard some surprised cries “Look-out! Ouch, Oh Nooo!”
Sam hustled over to the pile and started to carefully remove the top pieces, soon he could see a few arms and legs.
“Are you all right in there?”
An eight or nine year old boy and his eleven year old sister rolled out from under the mess. They were wearing cut-off jeans and t-shirts and had a few rust streaks on their freckled faces and some scratches here and there but otherwise seemed to be alright. Ralph came up and gave them the once over, sniffing and getting in a judicious lick or two.
“Thanks Mister,” said the girl shaking the weed bits out of her short dark hair, “we got ourselves into a fix, and you came along just in time.”
“Yeah thanks,” said the boy, feeling one of the scratches on his arm, and swiping the dirt and dust out of his crew-cut hair, and petting Ralph with the other hand.
“I’m glad to help,” Sam said, “just what are you trying to do?”
“We are building a clubhouse” piped up the boy.
“Yeah, we thought we could sort of lean that tin together as a roof over that hole.” the girl, said eyeing the ruins.
“You know it would work better if something supported your roof, by the way my name is Sam,” Sam said, sizing up the job.
“My name is Carly and this is Mac. We asked the farmer if we could do this and he said it would be OK, as long as it wasn’t anything permanent.” Carly said.
“Well I don’t mean to butt in to your business, but why don’t you use a tent?”
“We don’t have one,” Mac chimed in.
“No, we don’t have one, but I would worry about the wind carrying it off,” Carly said sort of sadly.”
“Well if you had one and it had a floor you could put some heavy rocks in it, that might do it,” Sam said. He sensed that Carly might be a little bit of a problem-solver, too.
“Yeah maybe, well we don’t have one, so we can’t” Carly said with some finality.
“OK, well good luck with your clubhouse,” Sam said not wanting to overstay his welcome. As he walked away his mind switched to clubhouse solutions. Then he thought, you know this is a terrible habit, I can’t fix everything. He turned back and waved at the kids, they saw him and waved back and he heard “Thank you” drift by on the wind. For the first time he noticed, as Ralph resumed his forward station, ‘it is a little gusty today’.
As he followed the fairly well beaten path back across the pasture, his memory was jogged by meeting Carly and Mac. He started remembering the few times when he had been able to just hang out with his sons. It was a pleasant memory, he had enjoyed the laughter and relished being a little goofy with them, joining them in their play, but his job in those days had consumed most of his time. It was a warm memory, but a memory tinged with sadness. No sense in longing for what’s gone he thought, but he still thought about it.
Back at home he went to the far corner of the backyard, and just stood looking at the shed. He scratched his silvery head about the hole in the roof and it dawned on him ‘how fortunate that I wasn’t in there’. Sam couldn’t help thinking, you know this shed would have made a pretty nice clubhouse. He shook his head again and went in the house.
“Hey Sweetie, I’m back,” Sam announced, he let Ralph into the backyard, then went to the kitchen to rummage around in the cookie jar. Sam had an occasional sweet tooth, but his favorite cookie was not to be found, so he sought comfort in a small handful of vanilla wafers.
“Hi, well did you figure out what went wrong,” Angela knew he would want to tell her about it.
Sam munched on his wafers, rolled his eyes and pointed at his full mouth. He went to the fridge for a bottle of water. After a sip or two he said “I already knew what happened, a crazy man was playing with a volatile gas.” after another swig he said “He was lucky he didn’t get burned.”
Angela wasn’t used to this sort of self examination from Sam, he usually launched into how the problem could be fixed, or exactly, down to the molecule, what went wrong. Puzzled Angela asked “So where does that leave your project?”
“Oh, don’t worry dear, I just have to be more careful, and I will be,” he said trying to put a good face on the disaster. Then he remembered, “Oh, I ran into a couple of kids down by the creek they were trying to build a clubhouse they said, anyway it fell apart on them.”
“What were their names” Angela asked, her eyebrows at a quizzical angle.
“Carly and Mac, they said,” Sam replied.
“Oh, that would be Hannah’s kids, You remember Hannah from church, the boy’s name is Mark, but he prefers Mac, he’s kind of sensitive about it,” She recollected.
“I thought I had seen them somewhere before,” said Sam a little surprised. “Oh, hey, do we still have that old tent that the boys used to go camping with, you know the pup tent?”
“No” She said, “remember, you always hated that thing, it never looked right whenever you set it up, no Sam we got the boys a popup tent after you gave the other one away.”
“That’s right,” he said, “I did hate that tent, Oh well, the popup tent is more fun anyway, the only trouble is, remembering how to fold it up, when you’re finished with it”
“That’s why you kept the instructions with it. Any way why do you ask?”
“Oh, I was trying to think of something safer for those kids to use as a club house, do you know they were trying to build one out of old, rusty, corrugated iron?”
“Sounds hazardous” She said.
“It was, though they managed to escape unharmed,” He said, “Hey, you know their mother, you could call her and say that I found a tent for them, and I even have some big rocks to go with it, and she probably needs to know what they are up to anyway.”
“Big Rocks??” She said.
“For the wind, the wind” He whistled like the wind at her, “the kids will know what I mean.”
“Well, I guess it’s not too late yet,” She said looking at the clock on the kitchen wall.
Angela dialed the phone and said, “Hannah, hi this is Angela from church, well Sam ran across Carly and Mac when they were trying to build a club house today, and the clubhouse didn’t turn out so well, so we thought we’d like to donate our boys popup tent to the cause, oh and Sam said he has some big rocks for it. Yes, he said the kids would know, something about the wind. Oh … Uh-hunh …No, that’s terrible…Un-hunh…really? Well You know we’re retired, we could watch them for you.”
Sam was listening to Angela’s side of the conversation, and it wasn’t going the way he thought it would.
“OK Hannah, you just drop them off with us in the morning. Don’t you worry about it, we love children. OK, about seven? OK, Goodbye now.” She hung up the phone, “Sam do you know that Hannah has been tearing her hair out trying to find some way to afford childcare while the kids are off for the summer, and she’s been worried sick with them running wild like they have been. So…”
“So they are coming here in the morning,” Sam groaned.
“Hey, it was your tent that got us here, besides I like her kids and we can’t leave them on their own, can we?”
Sam reluctantly agreed, he could feel his free time to tinker slipping away on the wind, the wind. He had to admit though, he did like those kids. “Well I guess I better go find that tent,” he said and got up from the sofa.

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