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copyright 1999, Lois June Wickstrom

My Chemical Day

by Lois June Wickstrom

Bzzzzz, bzzzzzzzzzzzzz, bzzzzzzzzzzzzz... I grab the alarm clock and throw it at the wall. It shuts up. I love that clock. It's one of those baseball things that's made for smashing into walls. I'm such a klutz in the morning that I broke my old plastic one into about a dozen pieces just by knocking it on the floor. So, I saved up my allowance and bought this new one. Anyway, the buzzing means I have to get up and go to school. You know, the ugly old brick building where all the buses stop in the morning.

First thing, I have to take a shower. Soap helps get the dirt and sweat off before I put on clean clothes and start all over again. I've got an old cotton washcloth to scrub behind my ears. I have to really soak that thing before I can use it, or it feels like steel wool. (And my mom wants to know why I take so long in the shower.) My mom's the one who cares about behind my ears. That's one of the few places where being dirty doesn't bother me. That, and under my fingernails.

I brush my hair, while looking in the mirror. Between the fogging from my shower, and the scum from my big sister's hair spray, it's hard to see anything.

Then I get dressed. All my clothes are polyester/cotton. Polyester comes from oil, and cotton comes from plants that wear out the soil, so I can't claim to be helping the environment when I wear them. I wear them because they don't need to be ironed. My mom says I'm old enough to take care of my own clothes, and I hate ironing! My shoes are sneakers with cotton tops and rubber bottoms. Honestly, what else is there to wear?

Oh yes, since this is my chemical day, I should mention that the whole time, all day, since before I woke up, I've been breathing air. I use some of the oxygen, and I breathe out the used oxygen as carbon dioxide. Still, pretty much, the air I breathe out is mostly like the air I breathe in. Otherwise, mouth to mouth resuscitation wouldn't work. Anyway, I breathe all the time, even when I'm not thinking about it.

I eat cereal that's slightly soggy with milk for my breakfast. My mom says the cereal is just an excuse to get me to drink the milk. I get fruit, eggs, and toast, to go along with the cereal. Fruit is sweet, so I know it's got sugar in it. But I'm not telling my mom. She never lets me have sweet stuff before lunch. The eggs start out clear __ you can see right through them. Then as they get hot in the pan, the clear part turns white. That's the protein in them getting ready to eat. The toast is just burned bread. Burning stuff is supposed to be a source of pollution, but I've never heard of toast pollution.

I go back to my bathroom, where the fog has cleared off the mirror, and brush my teeth, using my plastic toothbrush with nylon bristles. And I use a paste with fluoride and baking soda in it. It also tastes sweet, so I wonder how something sweet can be used to clean your teeth. The label says it doesn't have sugar in it __ so it's probably one of those fake sugars. Anyway it works __ I don't have any fillings in my teeth, and I've used this stuff all my life.

I open the wooden door by turning the brass handle, go outside and walk to the corner to catch the bus. The exhaust from the cars and trucks is really bad pollution. They are all burning gasoline that comes from oil wells, just like the plastic in my dead clock and my tooth brush, and the bottoms of my shoes. I wonder if the tooth brush factory smells this bad. Going to school is supposed to be good for me, but I'm sure that breathing this junk isn't good for me at all.

The bus finally comes. It's painted yellow. It's got rubber treads on the steps, and genuine fake leather (more plastic) on the seats. Inside the seats are metal springs. Metal bounces a lot better than wood, so I'm glad I never had to ride on a wooden bench to school.

We drive by trees. The trees are busy using up the carbon dioxide that the people and animals make, and cranking out more oxygen.

The kid next to me starts blowing a bubble with his bubble gum. I wonder if bubble gum is also made of plastic. The kid behind me starts throwing spit balls. In case they are civilised at your school, and don't do gross things like that, a spit ball is a bit of paper, wadded up real small, that somebody, like LisaMae, has chewed 'til it's all soaked with saliva, and then the somebody spits it at you. Sometimes they stick to you. Yuck.

We get to school. In my class, my teacher has purple_tinted hair, which looks really weird when she stands next to the red, white and blue flag. All the colors come from dyes which come from oil. I understand dying the flag. But if my teacher is going to go to all the bother to dye her hair, you'd think she'd go for hot pink, or radical green. Then again, I don't see anything wrong with white. That's the color hair my grandmother has, and she says its natural.

We pledge the flag, and then we turn in our homework. That's where we make ink marks on paper (which comes from trees). The ink is another dye. Sometimes the ink marks are math problems. Other times they are words about stuff we've read or stuff we've done. I use paper that has red and blue lines on it __ so it already has some dye on it. I just add more. Sometimes, I use a pencil instead of ink. The pencil is wood with a thin stick of graphite inside. Graphite is a rock that's easy to rub off on paper. Graphite has the same chemical formula as a diamond, but it's not as hard, or as pretty.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I sit at a plastic desk with a formica top __ not an old fashioned wood one.

Then the teacher sends us to the chalkboard, where we work math problems by rubbing crumbs of white chalk (that's a rock) onto slate (which is another darker colored rock).

After math, we do singing. I get to run the tape recorder. I just put in a plastic tape with magnetic stuff stuck to it, and the machine does the rest.

Then we have P.E. During P.E., I breathe heavily, and I sure am glad we have lots of trees in our town to make more oxygen for me. I also get sweaty, running and pushing that ball around. The ball is also plastic. I wonder what kids did for fun, before there was plastic. I know balls used to be leather, but surely not every kid had his or her own cow to supply the leather. When we're done, I wish I could have another shower.

Finally, it's lunch time. I get a carton of milk. It's covered with little drops of water (just like me). But my drops are sweat that came out of my body to help me cool off. The milk is still all inside its carton. The water on the outside came from the air, like dew on the grass in the morning.

I also get a plate of hot mystery food. I can tell it's hot because I can see steam rising from it. Steam is water coming out of the food, almost as if the food is sweating. I put all this stuff on a fiberglass tray. The trays are a combination of glass and plastic. Boy those oil wells are getting a work_out today.

And, I get Jello. Jello doesn't count as a mystery food. I know what it is. But, since this is a chemical day, I at least ought to be able to tell if it's a solid or a liquid. But it acts like a solid when I cut it with my spoon, and then it acts like a liquid when it tries to squirm off my spoon. That's because it's mainly water, held together by a network of protein from old cow bones.

After lunch, I go to shop. Here we use white glue and wood and nails to build handy things like book ends and bird feeders. Since you're not supposed to eat glue, they don't put an

ingredient list on it. But, I don't think it comes from oil. Silicone glue is another story, though. The wood comes from trees __ that's right the same plants that make our oxygen. I sure hope they planted more when they chopped these down. I'd hate to think that my shop class was the cause of the end of the human race. Just think of the headline: "Shop Class Book Ends Kill Last Tree on Earth." But, I did see trees on the way to school today, so there will be oxygen to breathe at least as long as they live.

Then I've got history class. LisaMae passes me a note. More paper from another tree wasted. Come to think of it, our

textbooks used up a lot of trees. There must be a better way to do this. Maybe we could read it on a computer screen. Or maybe somebody could invent a pill, and I could just swallow it and know everything in the textbook without having to read it at all. But computers run on electricity. And electricity comes from burning oil to boil water to drive steam engines. The pill is my best idea yet.

My last class is art class. Here we paint, and work with clay and glazes. Glazes were one of the first chemical inventions. People wanted their pots to be pretty, and to hold water without leaking. Glazes do both at the same time. Chemists just want the world to be easier to live in. They hate all the messes with pollution and oil as much as anyone. If businesses are willing to py the cost, chemists can find ways to clean up the Earth, and keep it clean, too.


Finally, the bell rings, and school is over. I ride the bus home and smile at the trees. They're still there, working away. Trees are chemists, too. But, hey, if trees are chemists then so are people __ not just the ones who make plastic and tooth paste, but all of us, because we make the carbon dioxide that trees need. The sky is getting cloudy, like it usually does in the afternoons. That's great because they help make it cool, and it's more fun to play after school when the weather isn't hot.

I get home and drink a glass of water to replace all that sweat I lost during the afternoon. Then I grab my skateboard and go zooming down the block to the park to be with the other kids. I know I saw them in school, but when I get to the park, it's like I haven't seen them all day. Our skateboards have kevlar on them to give them just the right pop. That's the same stuff they put in policemen's bulletproof jackets to keep bullets out. Only on skateboards it makes the stronger and longer lasting. 

While we skateboard, we talk about calling each other on the phone in the evening, and watching television, and who is going to the dance in the gym this weekend. Oh yeah, the phone is made of plastic, and it runs on electricity. The television is plastic and glass and metal, and it runs on electricity, too. And, the shows we see on television are mostly taped __ the tapes are kind of like the ones in the musical tape player __ plastic and magnetic stuff __ but they don't just record sound __ they record pictures, too. And, at the dance at they gym, we'll use more of those music tapes, but they'll be better than the ones we have to use in music class. They'll be like the ones we hear on the radio. Yes, our radio is plastic, and yes, it, too, runs on electricity. But this electricity comes in a battery, instead of plugging into the wall.

Anyway, we haven't skateboarded very long when that nice cool cloud starts to drop rain on us. I don't mind playing in the rain, but my parents are afraid I'll be hit by lightning, and the other kids' parents also want them home, too. So, we all go home, even though we know that means we'll have to start our homework. That's more dead trees and dyes in ink and rubbed off graphite from pencils that are also made of wood.

We'll you've got the idea now. I wear plastic, I sit in plastic chairs and plastic_covered bus seats. I listen to music recorded on plastic. I watch movies recorded on plastic. I use a plastic tooth brush. I play with plastic balls, and ride in a bus that has rubber wheels made from oil. I even chew plastic gum. Everywhere I go, and everything I do uses something made by chemistry __ usually from oil.

I also run my own chemical factory inside my own body. I have chemicals in me that tell me when I'm hungry, or when I'm sick. I use oxygen and make carbon dioxide. I eat food to get the chemicals so I can grow taller and play.

It's wild if you think about it.

So, anyway, I do my homework, get hungry, eat dinner, make my telephone calls, watch my television show, brush my teeth with fluoride toothpaste again, and go to bed. But before I fall asleep, I remember to set my alarm clock, which by the way is also a plastic alarm clock, but it's got a softer body, like the seats on the bus, instead of being hard and brittle like my old one.