Knowing What You Don’t Know

On this date ten years ago, I posted this on Fermented Fur. At the time, I managed a holistic veterinary clinic, to give you a little context. I do need to ask Rachel about “the toilet and the sacrificial pen,” because I have no idea what that was all about.

Sometimes I realize all over again that I’m the smartest uneducated person I know. I just know stuff, but I don’t know how I know it. You know?


Yeah, so, anyway, I had a brain-deadening day at work. We had a planning meeting first thing in the morning. (Translation: Me and all three doctors sitting around for forty-five minutes trying to figure out creative new forms of torture to reinforce with our employees the consequences of not doing their damned jobs.) This was followed by a marketing meeting in which Dr. Vet-Friend One and I worked out a plan for our next “program launch,” including educational material, logistics, staff training, blah blah blah, resulting in a 74.9 % increase in my workload.

Eventually it became lunchish, and at 12:45 I clocked out so I could write my daily blog for you, my discerning, loyal readers! Six minutes later, my intercom interrupted my musings about the glory of the golden retriever and my fervent wish to have a tail. Seemed I was going to need to cover the front desk so my poor, overworked receptionist could get a break. We were short-staffed because one of our techs has a litter of bulldog puppies at home, and apparently you have to hand-feed them because mama bulldogs will smush them (not on purpose, probably), so she had to go home and tend to the little fuzzies.

If appointments hadn’t run late in the morning, I’d have still have had someone to listen for the phone while the receptionist went to stave off hypoglycemia. This was all fine. I did reception work all my adult life and am more than capable (and damned good at it, even though I hate it with a white-hot passion). What was not fine was that I didn’t learn of this situation until about three minutes before I had to go up there. I need time to prepare, plan, figure out when I will get to take my own break, and get stuff ready to take up there with me to work on. Or find a way out of it altogether. It was another hour before I got to take my own shortened break and hammer out my blog so I could get back to my lengthy to-do list.

Wow, this wasn’t supposed to be a work rant. In fact, I seem to recall saying in my Forbidden Topics blog that I wouldn’t discuss work. I should probably listen to myself more often. But not today.

I got home, and my lovely honey-bunny had dinner ready, and the dogs were already fed. The day was looking up (what was left of it). We settled in on our respective couches. He sits on the nice leather one, and I sit on the furry dog-friendly love seat known as the Sofur. My choice. I like to be where I can have canine company. I’m currently debating whether I need to cover the slip cover with a slip cover, because it’s getting totally gross, but it’s such a pain to get it off to wash it, and even more of a pain to get back on. Wrestling, tugging, stuffing, cramming, straps, buckles, safety pins, bleeding fingers, etc. Maybe we should just get a new love seat. Okay, worry about that later.

A story preview came on the TV, some bit that was going to be on the news later, about some people who threw their baby out the window of a burning building to save its life. The conversation that followed perfectly illustrated the gaps in my formal education.

Me: I wonder if there was someone down there to catch the baby. Or a net or something.

Tom: There had to be. Otherwise, wouldn’t they have just jumped out, too?

Me: Why would they jump out? (Picturing a pulverized parent, topped with a pair of intact arms clutching a very confused baby)

Tom: Couldn’t they just jump, then right before they hit the ground, toss the baby up in the air?

(I thought he was kidding, but now I’m pretty sure he wasn’t. Or maybe he really just wanted to test my science trivia knowledge.)

Me: What? No. It doesn’t work that way.

Tom: Why not?

Me: (Mentally flipping through notes from every science class I ever took, which apparently was at least one too few) I don’t know. It just doesn’t.

Tom: Yes, it does. It has to.

This troubles me, because it certainly seems as if it should work that way. I mean, there you are, a couple of feet from impact, but if you toss the baby in the air, wouldn’t that reverse its momentum, thereby either negating or lessening impending smushage? Acceleration of 32 feet per second per second. I remember that, but have no idea how it applies to this situation. Yet I know that it does not, in fact, work this way, though I have no evidence, no facts to cite, no ammunition with which to arm my argument.

Me: No, it doesn’t. Call The Boy. (The Boy is a science nerd, and totally knows everything about such things)

No move is made to call The Boy. We suspect he will think we are both idiots, and we will hear his eyes rolling from 25 miles away.

Me: (Thinking of an episode of Myth Busters) No, seriously, I know it doesn’t work that way. It’s like in an elevator when it’s crashing. You can’t just jump up right before it hits the bottom of the shaft. It doesn’t work. Otherwise nobody would ever die in elevator crashes.

At this point, I’m wondering if the same argument could be applied to plane crashes, because people clearly die in plane crashes all the time. I’m not sure there are all that many elevator crashes. I’m frustrated, because this is one of those things I know, but don’t know how I know it. It sure seems that if you toss the baby up right before you hit the ground, the baby wouldn’t hit the ground at terminal velocity. But I know there’s a clear scientific principle that explains why the baby would still end up a 10-pound maraca. Maybe if I hadn’t exhausted my daily allotment of brain function at work, I’d be able to figure this out.

About here is where the conversation fizzled out. I was thinking, “This is absurd. I can’t believe we’re having this discussion. Am I really this stupid? Why don’t I know this? This conversation reminds me of Rachel and Ryan and the toilet and the sacrificial pen. (Don’t ask.) Could be a good blog, though.”

I wandered over to my overworked laptop, which still hadn’t fully cooled down from giving its all today at work. I Googled “jump up before elevator crashes” and got a whole bunch of very detailed, informative hits, none of which I fully understood. There were calculations and formulas and such.

There was talk about how if the elevator is falling at 60 mph, you can’t jump up from a standing start at enough velocity to make any difference. And if you don’t time it perfectly, you will quickly regain any tiny fraction of momentum you lost by jumping.

One site said the best bet would be to get on top of another passenger, so they could cushion your fall. Preferably a person with a high body fat content. This sounded like a good plan to me, since I am quite brittle. They also pointed out that more people die falling down stairs each year (Yep. Stairs are treacherous, especially when the stair-user is tanked.) so we should all stop worrying about elevators.

By this time, I completely forgot what this had to do with babies and burning buildings. Frankly, I no longer care. I’m just annoyed that I, a semi-intelligent 43-year-old person, can’t organize simple facts about something that should be easy to explain. I’m still halfway tempted to call The Boy.

My plan is to avoid elevators which might be about to fall. I also suggest staying out of burning buildings, and if that is unavoidable, it’s probably better to throw your baby toward a dumpster or bush or waiting good Samaritan than to jump while holding the baby and try to calculate your velocity and how hard to throw the baby at which precise instant so it doesn’t end up looking like Flat Stanley. I am also in favor of avoiding stairs, given my recent troubles in that area. The earth is our mother, and we should endeavor to remain in close contact with her at all times.

However, I do have to get on a plane next week to go to Las Vegas. If it begins to crash, I will not attempt to save myself by jumping upward at the penultimate moment. Instead, I will decide that sobriety is highly overrated, and I will commandeer the drinky cart and consume as many of those teeny tiny bottles of liquor as possible before impact. If I’m going to be reduced to a fine grind or a smoldering hunk of charcoal, I’d rather be in the middle of an alcohol-induced blackout at the time.

We never did bother to watch the story about the baby and the burning building. I’m assuming it turned out fine, because the commentators didn’t use the word “tragedy” eighteen times in the preview. If it had been even remotely tragic, they’d have said it. A lot.

The real tragedy is that I can’t explain why tossing the baby in the air just before you hit the ground wouldn’t help.

But the most important thing of all is that we were not talking about it being a puppy in the burning building, because that would have freaked me out. What kind of puppy? How old? What’s his name? How high up was he? Who caught him? Was he scared? Was he hurt? Is he okay? Did he have smoke inhalation?

Of course if it had been a dog, he would have alerted his family before the fire got out of control, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.


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