supercooled malt liquor
Tuesday, September 12 2006
I've been having trouble getting something out of my mind. It's trivial, sort of, but it's stuck there nonetheless. In "The Talk of the Town" section of a recent New Yorker there was a short piece about 9Eleven and its relationship to the grand span of history. The 9Eleven aspects of the piece weren't what interested me, it was the perspective of an old writer on the age of the American nation. I didn't know this, but evidently it was still common for children to be told that ours is "a young country" back in the 1930s and 1940s. But here's the kicker from the piece: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. shook the living hands of both John Quincy Adams and John F. Kennedy. Reading this, I had to read it again. Though he was gunned down four years before my birth, John F. Kennedy exudes modernity. He was, after all, the guy who popularized going out of the house without a hat on. John Quincy Adams, on the other hand, has a name that reeks of almost biblical ancientness. He was the son of the second president of the United States and was himself only the 6th president. That one person in a normal mortal life could have shaken hands with both people makes early American history seem a lot less remote than the way my brain usually thinks about it. It also makes the depth of the past tapped by the lifespans of people as recent in my ancestry as my parents seem substantial. The way my father grew up in depression-era rural Wisconsin wasn't too different from the way his peasant great great grandparents grew up in rural Central Europe. The big changes to our country and world are relatively recent. When I was born, the population of the planet was half what it is now and there were no microprocessors or internet and no one had walked on the Moon. Back when my father was born there were no jet airplanes, televisions, semiconductors, or much plastic, no one had yet climbed to the top of the world's tallest mountain, and the world's population was a third what it is now.
This evening I enjoyed a 40 ounce bottle of Big Bear, my favorite malt liquor (only $1.89 at Stewarts). This particular bottle had spent hours in the freezer and, though completely liquid even after I opened it, upon pouring it immediately froze into a slushy. This was a perfect demonstration of the concept of liquid supercooling, wherein a liquid can have its temperature lowered below its freezing point and remain a liquid, only to freeze when given a physical shock (in this case, pouring).
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