Today's scary topic for parents is: what your children do when you're not home.

fTC I have here a letter from Buffalo, N.Y., working mom Judy Price, concerning her 14-year-old son, David, "who should certainly know better."


Judy states that one day when she came home from work, David met her outside and said: "Hi, Mom. Are you going in?"

Judy says she considered replying, "No, I thought I'd just stay in the car all night and pull away for work in the morning."


That actually would have been a wise idea. Instead, she went inside, where she found a large black circle burned into the middle of her kitchen counter.

"David!" she screamed. "What were you cooking?"

The soft, timid reply came back: "A baseball."

"A baseball," Judy writes. "Of course. What else could it be? How could I forget to tell my children never to cook a baseball? It's my fault, really."

It turns out that according to David's best friend's cousin, you can hit a baseball three times as far if you really heat it up first. So David did this, and naturally he put the red-hot pan down

directly onto the counter top.

For the record: David claims that the heated baseball did, in fact, go farther. But this does not mean that you young readers should try this foolish and dangerous experiment at home. Use a friend's home.

No, seriously, you young people should never heat a baseball without proper adult supervision, just as you should never -- and I say this from personal experience -- attempt to make a rumba box.


A rumba box is an obscure musical instrument that consists of a wooden box with metal strips attached to it in such a way that when you plunk them, the box resonates with a pleasant rhythmic sound. The only time I ever saw a rumba box was in 1964, when a friend of my parents named Walter Karl played one at a gathering at our house, and it sounded great. Mr. Karl explained that the metal strips were actually pieces of the spring from an old-fashioned wind-up phonograph. This gave my best friend, Lanny Watts, an idea.

Lanny was always having ideas. When Lanny heard Mr. Karl explain the rumba box, he realized two things:

1. His parents had an old-fashioned wind-up phonograph they hardly ever used.

2. They both worked out of the home.

So Lanny and I decided to make our own rumba box. Our plan, as I recall it, was to take the phonograph apart, snip off a bit of the spring, then put the phonograph back together, and nobody would be the wiser. This plan worked perfectly until we removed the metal box that held the phonograph spring; this box turned out to be very hard to open.

"Why would they make it so strong?" we asked ourselves.


Finally, recalling the lessons we had learned about mechanical advantage in high-school physics class, we decided to hit the box with a sledgehammer.

It turns out that the reason the box is so strong is that there is a really powerful, tightly wound, extremely irritable spring in there, and when you let it out, it just goes berserk, writhing and snarling and thrashing violently all over the room, seeking to gain revenge on all the people who have cranked it over the years.

Lanny and I fled the room until the spring calmed down. When we returned, we found phonograph parts spread all over the room, mixed in with approximately 2.4 miles of spring. We realized we'd have to modify our project goal slightly, from making a rumba box to being on a new continent when Lanny's mom got home.

Actually, Mrs. Watts went fairly easy on us, just as Judy Price seems to have been good-humored about her son's heating the baseball. Moms are usually pretty good that way.

But sometimes I wonder. You know how guys are always complaining that they used to have a baseball-card collection that would be worth a fortune today if they still had it, but their moms threw it out? And the guys always say, "Mom just didn't know any better."

Well, I wonder if the moms knew exactly what they were doing.


Getting even.