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Chemical Adventures
Saturday, Sept. 18, 2004, 8:26 p.m.

QUESTION: Paintball, anyone?

WHAT I LEARNED: I should have paid attention in chemistry class.

First, I have to explain that I have never been good with chemistry. In fact, I got a D every quarter in high school chemistry. I always thought that this was because it was right before lunch and I was too hungry to really concentration on the vagaries of the chemical elements Ė such as they are. In reality, I believe it is just that I was no good at chemistry or had no interest in chemistry, which in the end yields the same result either way Ė that dismal D. My dad was pretty cool about the D Ė he said that at least I was consistent. Itís a good line and Iíve used it a few times in my life when consistent failure has occurred Ė and this line always gets a laugh. Thanks Dad for the witty sound byte.

This week seemed to revolve around adventures with chemistry and chemicals of all sorts. For one thing, I could be found reviewing or buying paintball equipment for my teenage son, either online or at the local paintball shop, on and off almost every evening this past week. This stuff is expensive, as all hobby equipment seems to be. The amount of paintball must-haves are numerous and purchasing them requires an understanding of the sport and the requisite equipment. I have looked through sights, considered the merits of various barrels, and learned that there are condoms for paintball guns. It was an painful learning experience in which my goal was to obtain and retain as small an amount of information as was humanly possible in order to purchase said equipment without having to really know the 411 on paintball. You know that never works. Immersion naturally creates learning and I had to admit that some of the paintball gear was cool and clever and even chemical.

Oh no, not CHEMICAL.

I begin to see words like nitrogen and CO2. I donít like these words because they remind me that I am about to enter the world of chemistry. A world I have avoided with great success except for that one year in high school during which I evidently retained not even a proper Dís worth of knowledge. Why are we at the paintball store again? With what are they filling that aluminum canister that cost me $20? Do I really what to know? Would I really understand anyway? Is it going to blow sky high if the canister rolls around on the floor of the car or if we toss the canister around?

Hey, donít toss the canister around until I figure this out.

I know, Iíll just let me read one of these product descriptions I found on this paintball site. I pick one with a picture of a tank on it. It states:

Daily we sell these great tanks, and it is a great upgrade from CO2. As you may know, CO2 is a cold gas, and Nitrogen, commonly compressed air now, is a warm gas usually at or around room temperature. This stops the wear of O-Rings having to compress and expand again and again as the gun goes from cold to warm on regular CO2 Operation. Let alone, Liquid CO2 is not as stable, and has a tendency to spike in Velocity. A Definite alternate to CO2 and a definite for those who want consistency.

What? I have no idea what this said. Who would know what that said?

I pick up the phone and start dialing - We ordered a tank from you this week and uh, whatís nitrogen? Ė I ask the nice man at the 800 number for the paintball store. What I am really asking is: will it blow up if you throw the canister around or maybe let it roll around on the floor for awhile.

No, he explains the whole liquid gas versus compressed air thing to me again. My brain is starting to hurt Ė ugh, chemistry brain freeze. No Ė your kid is getting CO2 in his tank. Thatís just compressed air. My brain starts to unthaw. My mind is clear again. Just. Compressed. Air.

Oh, I say, just CO2 Ė but what I want to say is Ė will it blow sky high? Itís under our sofa now. Iím a little worried. I dismiss the thought to take care of some other paintball business. Maybe Iíll get a new sofa out of this. I recall his tone of voice as he said - itís just compressed air. He knew I was a chemistry dropout. Iím not getting a new sofa. What I need to get is a new tank.

On to the second part of the call and maybe the more important part now that I realize that maybe the tank isnít go to blow and we donít all have to take cover ASAP. The tank is defective and it needs to be replaced. We didnít know this until we took it to the paintball store and they filled it up. My son was happy. I was happy. All was well in the paintball world. Until he noticed it was hissing. Thatís what got me started on the potential for the tank blowing sky high and maybe getting a new sofa too in the first place. Hiss. Hiss. Hiss.

In fact, the CO2 tank has been hissing like a tiny snake for a couple of days now. Itís a leak. No oneís really been throwing it in the air or dropping it on the ground. Mainly itís been under the living room sofa Ė hissing softly. Actually, this is my second call to the paintball people. The first one didnít include an inquiry about nitrogen or CO2 but focused on the leak and the replacement and how they would get back to me. They didnít. But they are going to get back to me - on Monday. Thanks. I have a hissing tank. Itís under my sofa. I think Iíll move it.

Sometimes being a mother takes guts, a willingness to square off against chemistry, and access to an 800 number.

DETAILS: Coffee: iced caramel macchiato + Listening to: West Coast Jazz + Observing: husband straightening because cable guy will be at our house tomorrow + Thinking: why clean when I can play on the computer? + Weather: windy with rain.

Todayís Suburban Strategy: Closet crunched?

Todayís Scenic Cam: Take a stroll on the boardwalk.

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