Here in Moldova I recently engaged in an unplanned scientific experiment to determine whether ice here is the same as ice in America – by which I mean the ice that forms on roads, steps, stairs, and sidewalks – and whether the impact upon it of a fairly large human head falling abruptly and without warning from a height of 6 feet three and a half inches would produce the greatest lasting effect upon a.) the ice, or 2.) the head.
Some years ago in Boston, while walking from place-to-place along the offices that nowadays line the harbor in patent leather shoes (not the offices, my feet) seeking employment, I conducted a similar experiment. It was February and snowing. My shoes were new. They apparently didn’t like the cold and – in tandem – flung themselves toward the sky. I remember looking up at them as I descended and thinking. “Why am I looking up at my shoes?” or thoughts to that effect. Whatever those thoughts, they were promptly superseded by another, even more succinct. “Ow!”
On both occasions – that in Boston and the one, just days ago, in Moldova, the effect upon the ice was exactly the same. Not the least. The effect upon my head was also the same. Painful and pronounced.
In each instance my immediate response, once sight returned and the ringing in my ears abated, was to apply the following litmus test: if I could summon three numbers in sequence, that was a good sign. If I could summon three numbers, but was unclear as to their sequence, that was a bad sign.
I managed to pass the test.
Next, an inventory of my limbs. Hands? Yes. Why shouldn’t they be perfectly fine? Relative to the attack upon my person by the forces of nature, they played the part of citizens not wishing to be involved. “After all”, they decided, “if our feet are in the air, why might we not be as well? The torso must make its own way in the cold, cruel, world.” They reserved themselves, it seems, for the privilege of drawing the ‘X’ that marked the spot where the accident happened.
As the back of my head launched its precipitous and ultimately impotent assault on the ice and the sidewalk, my tailbone absorbed the superfluous energy of the impact, sending electrical shock waves down the legs to those feet that, as they settled gingerly about my head and shoulders, had been the twin Judases abandoning me to the unyielding persistence of gravity and various other physical principles for the discovery of which we have Newton to 1.) blame, or 2.) thank.
I was not feeling thankful to or for Newton at the time.
Physically, the result of my experiment was the same, and I am pleased to report them, (a short paper will be appearing in the pages of Science, Skeptic, and Rosie O’Donnell’s now defunct McCall’s Women’s Weekly in coming months), to wit:
1. Ice, in and of itself, is innocuous.
2. Ice under the influence of the aforementioned physical principles is evil and malicious.
3. Sidewalks, in and of themselves, are innocuous.
4. Sidewalks in association with ice and gravity are evil and malicious.
5. A skull, perhaps not as innocuous in and of itself – owing to the gray matter it contains – is, if my experience is any indication – inevitably the loser in any contest featuring ice, sidewalk, gravity, footwear lacking 3-inch spikes of galvanized steel, and other physical principles, in any combination.
6. The only difference between the spontaneous experiment which I conducted in Boston and that in Moldova is that in Boston, as I lay on my back, writhing in pain, I looked up through blurry eyes at the faces of people who, because my body was impeding their progress, stepped over me and the contents of my briefcase (which were, in memory of my mother’s favorite movie, Gone With the Wind) – with scornful expressions and comments to match, as if I had gone to all that trouble to inconvenience them. In Moldova, well, no one was walking. They’d all taken the trolley bus.