Somehow, my then shy friend Grant found a girlfriend, even though she lived in the neighboring community and went to rival Concord High School. I don’t remember how they met, but they were constantly together or talking on the phone. I think that our friendship might have suffered if they hadn’t fixed me up with her best friend. We would walk from school downtown to the telephone company and would use their phone booths to check-in with the girls every day. We also each installed lights on our bedroom phone and disconnected the ringer so we could talk to each other at night. He showed me how to set-up a switch on my parents bell box so that no sound from an incoming call would wake them. On several occasions, I forgot to flip the switch in the morning and my mom’s friends wondered why she didn’t answer. “Oh Sorry – my bedroom phone was off the hook.”
My parents were rarely gone, so I did not have the luxury of limited supervision like Grant. I had to do a lot more sneaking around than he did, since Grant Sr. was a widow and constantly on the road. We did a lot of double-dating once we got our driver’s licenses but I had stricter curfews. He had his Pontiac GTO and I drove my dad’s Mustang convertible. I remember that he installed a baffle on his muffler that could be controlled inside the car. This allowed the muscle car to roar when the muffler was bypassed and brought out the red-neck side of Grant. He was constantly working on that car, giving him mechanical skills that were definitely not my forte. When we were both in college, I visited he and Keven at Purdue and was shocked to find his engine parts spread out over their living room floor. This was the infamous Fiat that he always claimed was Italian for “fool.” I had also fallen in the foreign car trap when I bought a new Triumph. I was having similar engine troubles with my car and Grant convinced me that I could fix it myself. “Consider the average IQ of a mechanic,” was his justification. I followed his lead and completely disassembled my engine to the horror of my dad. He got home from work and found me in the garage surrounded by parts, each tagged with a note to remind me where it went. At least, I didn’t do it in the living room like Grant, but this was the kind of influence he had on me. There was nothing that he was afraid to do himself.
Back to high school, we were in a German class together and Grant was really struggling. He was distracted by the language lab equipment and the headsets that we used to learn the language. He hooked his up to listen to music while the rest of us were doing German drills. He also allegedly installed some kind of remote device in the classroom clock that allowed him to change the time so we could get out of class early. He and the young instructor, Frau Anchor, never got along, but she recognized his intelligence and I believe tried to seduce him. I was still pretty naive at the time, but she would sit on the desk in front of Grant and I in her short skirts. She had him stay after class many times and one night he decided to tee-pee her house, crashing the GTO trying to escape after her porch lights came on. In retrospect, it was classic sexual harassment on both of their parts, and I think he failed the course. We never discussed it.
As far as chemistry class, I found a formula for a contact explosive called Nitro-Tri-Iodine in a science magazine and send in $1 for the recipe. It required Iodine crystals that Grant could buy at Johnson’s Drug Store where he had a part-time job. The other ingredient was ammonia that you could also buy over the counter. Combining these two simple ingredients formed a paste that was stable until it dried. However, once it set for awhile, it would mildly explode when you touched it and leave iodine stains on your hands. One day we painted the handle of the pencil sharpener in our homeroom class with this substance and waited for someone to use it. It resulted in a small eruption of purple stain, almost like an electrical shock and we saw great potential for further pranks. Most ammonia that you buy in the store is diluted by water to a small percentage. Grant figured that if we could distill pure ammonia it would create a more violent explosion. We borrowed the equipment and chemicals from the classroom lab and worked all night in my parent’s basement making this very caustic, smelly ammonia. We then mixed it with the iodine crystals and dipped strips of paper in the solution that we formed into little cracker balls that would explode on contact when you threw them on the ground. We tested them outside and then carefully placed them on newspaper sheets on the concrete floor while we got some sleep. When we got up the next morning my parents were gone and there were purple stains everywhere. My first thought was that my dad had accidentally stepped on it on his way to the incinerator, and so I immediately checked his shoes in the bedroom closet with no signs of stain. The only thing that we could determine was that perhaps a bug had landed on one of these paper wads and set off a chain reaction. We used the remaining strong ammonia to clean up the stains and did some quick paint touch-ups of the pristine white walls before my parents got home. It was a mess. It was not our only experiment with dangerous explosives.
On one sleep-over occasion we made Nitroglycerine in his basement, once again using borrowed equipment from the high school lab and taking full advantage of our lab assistant status. We always replaced everything, especially the beaker that exploded in the course of this experiment. “You’ll shoot your eye out” was never our biggest concern, because fortunately guns weren’t on our radar. I did inherit a chemistry set from a friend of my dad’s that included the metal elements used to make fireworks. It also contained a jar of mineral oil that was used to stabilize a chunk of potassium. When potassium is exposed to water it releases explosive hydrogen and spins madly out of control in it’s container. Who knows what else was in that cardboard box under my parents stairway for years. It could have been a disaster, but somehow we survived our crazy experiments.
I think we both got A’s in chemistry, but he went on to make science his career. On the other hand, I buy cars that don’t require any maintenance skills and rarely take-on a D.I.Y. project. I once visited him in Seattle where I watched him play soccer, ate dim-sum, and then drove together to the base of Mt. Rainier. In Boston, I ran the historic streets training for my first marathon, while he attended classes on the path to his doctorate. Years later, I also met him for a drink before our travel connection out of the country. That may have been our last get-together. He was the hung-over, best man in my first marriage, but I don’t remember my roles in his. We also dined together as a group at the Diamond Harbor Inn on Diamond Lake before our Senior prom. I managed on my own to somehow get a date, but she was disappointed when Keven showed-up in the exact same dress. I also think he attended one of our high school reunions. I’ll dig through some of the pictures.
After we were both married, the four of us toasted to the new year with some wine that Grant & I made back in high school, via one of our overnight experiments. It was sugar and Welch’s Grape Juice that was stored in his basement in a giant plastic medicine display bottle that was formerly in the front window of Johnson’s Drug Store. It must have been four feet high, one of his rewards for working there. We forgot that it had been fermenting for all these years, until it sprung a slow leak. We actually had to crudely filter the contents through paper toweling to remove all the sediment before braving its taste. The rest of the batch was dumped once we realized it wouldn’t kill us or be a hazard to any of the nature around us.
Grant was usually with his steady girlfriend, so he didn’t hang out much with the boys, as I did. Although, there were several wild parties at his house through the years, he wasn’t as outgoing and socially engaged as me. On one occasion, we found Grant’s glasses perfectly intact in the middle of Lexington Blvd. in front of the house. He couldn’t find them when he got up that next morning, but they were sitting safely on the yellow line of the heavily traveled street. We also made road trips to both Purdue University and Mackinaw City, Michigan back in 1969, telling our parents that we were touring potential schools. If I remember correctly, we were actually headed to Purdue the first time when at the last second decided to keep driving, pulling into a rest station in Upper Michigan to catch a couple hours of sleep. I don’t know where we were headed, but I have a history of taking advantage of my freedom and just driving. For example, Grant did not accompany me when I told my parents we were going camping at the Indiana Dunes State Park but ended up in California. As my dad later quipped, “Well, Thank God There’s An Ocean.” Otherwise, there might have been nothing to stop me. What stopped us in Michigan was the fact that while we were sleeping, several feet of snow fell and trapped us in the car. It would take too much effort to explain how we got out of that mess, but it involved both of us pushing with the accelerator held down by a stick.
One time, I witnessed a big fight between he and his dad. It was as angry as I’ve ever seen him, as fists were flying and words were exchanged. It was one of those rare times when Senior was home, in total contrast to my family upbringing. Grant seemed to be naturally very patient at that time, and I can’t recall a single argument or disagreement between the two of us. I was certainly jealous that he had a steady girl when it required a “committee of support” for me to even call for a date. We never had many deep discussions about girls or family. We were always plotting our next experiment.
On the other road trip occasion, there was a mutual friend of ours whose brother was in a Purdue fraternity that was hosting a big party over the weekend. Grant was impressed with the ingenuity of a pop machine that held beer. Since beer cost twice as much, an empty can dropped between quarters. Perhaps, that’s what inspired him to attend Purdue. We did run into some heavy drugs on campus, but neither of us were into pills or even pot in high school. That eventually changed for me, and I’m sure he couldn’t resist the similar temptation to experiment. As you can see, it was in our DNA.
I’m pretty sure that Grant met my son, Adam. I know he was at our Eagle Lake house and helped me build a greenhouse. He was happy as long as he was involved in a project and I had plenty of them. Adam was born in 1974, within the window when he was still living in Indiana. I had to consult his obituary to get a timeline, but he finished his doctorate in 1979. There was so much in there that I didn’t know or forgot about Grant, but it’s been wonderful to think him so much these past few days. It must have been in the late 70’s that I spent time with him in Seattle and Boston. That makes sense because I completed my first marathon in 1979. It’s hard for me to imagine that Grant was so into soccer because sports or any physical activity were not high school priorities. Soccer was certainly not popular in the late 60’s but I’m glad he finally found a game that was challenging to his intellect. He did not even participate in the bicycle endurance racing that our mutual classmates drug me into. I understand that it was another sport that he adopted later in life and used to commute to work.
I’ve recounted some of the most memorable experiences of our teenage years together. It’s hard to believe that the two of us were really only together for a handful of years. His future wife occupied most of his time, while I did some wrestling, ran track, and got involved with the choir. I had other friends that got me into much more trouble than Grant ever did, and I always knew that he would go on to accomplish great things. It was sad that his life was so short, but he fulfilled his desires. He had the million dollar lab that he always talked and dreamed of as a career goal. He was most comfortable with books, beakers, and gadgets. I’m sure that he spent every waking hour in it, consumed with ambition and knowledge. I heard that he died at his desk on Thanksgiving, and regardless of whether that’s totally accurate or not, he was focused on science more than family or friendship. I think that I got the best years of his life, before he drifted into the world of academics and discovery. Thanks, Grant, for seeing me as the brother we both never had.