By Jeffrey Bishop
Tell Time: 6 minutes
Scare Rating: 1/5 Ghosts
This story is dedicated to David Feldman, the author of a series of insanely informative and entertaining Imponderables books that explain the little mysteries of our daily life — older-edition books that I’m thrilled to discover are still in print, with new ones being crafted all the time. The main character in this little piece of fiction naturally had to be named Feldman, but there is no further (known) similarity between the character and the real author beyond the intended honor. The first two imponderables in this story were inspired by actual Imponderables, but the responses that the fictional Mr. Feldman provides might just be Malarky. Clearly a big-shot author, the real David Feldman nonetheless had the decency to personally reply to me when I wrote to him with an imponderable of my own, for which I am honored.
The children gathered around the campfire with snacks and headlamps and cocoa. The fall campout always drew a lot of families, and Mr. Feldman’s “Imponderables” routine always drew the youngsters to the fire, where they’d try to stump the group’s master of supposedly unknowable trivia.
“I’ve got one, Mr. Feldman!” said Danny, pumping his arm up and down for the leader’s attention. Without waiting to be called on, he asked his question:
“Why do clocks run clockwise?” he asked.
“Ooh that’s a good one!” said Jackson, certain they’d get Mr. Feldman this time. Their confidence faded, however, when they saw a smile spread across his face.
“Clocks run clockwise by definition, and it really wouldn’t matter which way they went — forwards or backwards. It would always be clockwise according to the clock!” quipped the camp genius.
“It wasn’t always that way, of course,” he continued. “When the first clocks were invented in Europe in medieval times, some were designed to go forwards — what we call ‘clockwise’ today — and some were designed to run backwards. But as with things today, as an industry developed around the manufacturing of timepieces, it was decided that some standards needed to be established — and thus, we all go clockwise today.”
“But why CLOCKWISE?” pressed the boy. “Why didn’t they make counter-clockwise be clockwise?”
“Ah, yes, well there’s some speculation that the direction ultimately chosen reflected the direction that water swirls down a drain, said Mr. Feldman. “Y’know, the direction the toilet water goes down the drain when you flush! If the clock had been invented in the southern hemisphere, who knows? Maybe counter-clockwise would be clockwise!”
“Cool!” said one boy. “Ewwww! said some girls who sat in a small group at the edge of the glowing fire. They were all enthralled.
“Tell us the one about where all the rubber from car tires goes after it wears off!” asked Robert.
“Ah yes, a classic!” said Mr. Feldman, rubbing his chin enthusiastically. “Of course we know that tire rubber wears off; that’s how we get bald tires. But just as no one really thinks about where all the hairs go when we go bald … ” The boys snickered as Mr. Feldman paused for effect and sheepishly looked up at his own bald pate. “… Few have ever wondered about where the rubber from our tires goes. But I know.”
“Tell us! Tell us!” the kids clammered. By this time, many parents had also gathered around, and they were all eating from his hand..
“Well, it’s really quite simple,” said Mr. Feldman. “The rubber is everywhere that cars have been. The tires wear down slowly, and in very small amounts. Some of the rubber burns up. Some of it gets added to the roadbed, embedded into the asphalt surface of the road. A lot of it gets deposited on the sides of the road, blown or washed there from the cars and the road. And what doesn’t settle there gets caught up in the winds and carried farther away. It all goes somewhere, but in such small amounts that no one really ever notices it.”
“I thought of one today on the way here,” said Caitlyn, in a soft but clear voice. “Why do they put fences around cornfields?”. As she asked her question, she swept her arm around the campsite, motioning towards some of the farm fields that were just beyond a windbreak on the north side of the campgrounds.
“Hmmm,” was Mr. Feldman’s only reply for some time. He was deep in thought, and it seemed possible that they’d finally stumped the maven of the unknowable. They were certain they’d stumped him when he started to talk though the problem, instead of answering it confidently.
“Now that you’ve mentioned it, it does seem that all fields are boxed in with barbed wire, wood fencing or hedgerows,” reasoned Mr. Feldman. “Well we can be sure that it’s not to keep the corn IN … That wouldn’t be right now would it?
“But certainly one reason might be to try to keep corn-eating critters out. Of course, many people have fences to denote property lines. It’s also likely that the fields are set up for any number of different agriculture uses, including grazing.
“I’m not 100 percent sure of any of these answers,” said Mr. Feldman. “But I think at least one of my suggestions is the right answer. I’ll do some research and let you guys know the next time we get together.”
“Ok, party’s over,” said one of the dads. “Time to turn in.”
With groans and grumblings, kids and adults alike shuffled to use the restroom and brush their teeth before climbing into their tents to bed down for the night.
As a couple of dads doused the embers with water to put the fire out cold, Danny and Jason went into the woods away from the campsite to relieve themselves. Standing apart from each other, Jason’s whistling stopped as he noticed the cornfield just ahead, beyond the small copse of trees they were in.
Hey, let’s go check out the cornfield — let’s go see if it’s fenced in!” said Jason.
The boys followed the trail to the field, well lit in the rising harvest moon.
“Caitlyn was right! There is a fence!” said Danny.
“Look, there’s a gate, too,” said Jason. “Let’s open it up and see what happens!”
The boys unlatched the gate, swung it open, then crept back to the campsite to turn in for the night.
The windstorm came up quickly that night, waking everyone in the camp. Tents shook violently, and it sounded as though limbs and acorns and other tree debris was thrashing the sides of the tents. No one even dared to peep outside, so terrifying was the storm.
The families awoke to a clear, calm morning. As children and parents climbed out of their tents to take in the damage, each was awestruck by the sight they took in. All around the campsite was corn debris: hundreds of ears of ripe corn lay strewn about. Corn husks and stalks littered the ground, leaned against the tents, or lay in giant piles around the tent village. Indeed, no wind damage could be seen; beyond the corn wasteland, the only other damage was a new clear, wide path that led from the campsite to the open gate of the cornfield just beyond the tree line. A cornfield that was full of ripe corn the day before, but which now looked … abandoned.
Mr. Feldman stepped out of his tent and took in the damage. His eyes traced the campsite corn scene to the trail in the woods to the empty cornfield beyond. With robust understanding, all he could utter was …