What’s That Smell?


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Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s was wonderful.  Anything and everything that could harm a child and cause a legal suit today could be purchased by anyone at any age.  All you had to know was where to buy it and how you would get the money.  If we had access to an internet, I’m quite certain we would have tried to build a nuclear weapon.  One summer we figured out the ingredients for gunpowder.  Coincidentally, these same ingredients when mixed in a slightly different proportion will yield a great stink bomb.  At this point I must personally plead guilty for this particular kid-caper as it was my idea.  The additional culprits in this caper, (if I recall correctly), were Tom & Diane Mathews (read me).  There might have been a fourth involved, but I just can’t place him.

The ingredients for gunpowder, (or in our case, a stink bomb), was charcoal, sulfur and potassium nitrate, (affectionately also known as saltpeter).  Charcoal of course was easy enough to get – every backyard in our neighborhood had a cheap Weber grill.  The sulfur and the saltpeter could be purchased at a great corner Main Street pharmacy named Hughes Drug Store.  The key was to send in two different people to buy these ingredients.  We had tried before to buy these together once and of course were thwarted by the old man pharmacist.  (My guess is he was a builder of stink bombs himself as a child).

Sulfur and saltpeter were purchased ‘over the counter’.  Truth be known, both were sitting out in the open…a counter was never involved.  (I told you these were great times).  They weren’t that expensive, but for kid-wages, likely 4 or 5 of us had to pool allowances and chore money.  But we had a plan and carrying out one of our summer plans was worth any price.

The first part of our plan was to test out our little bomb on a tiny scale.  Using a simple piece of aluminum foil to set the mixture on, we mixed together roughly 4 parts charcoal, 3 parts saltpeter and 3 parts of the key ingredient, sulfur.  We had to play around with the parts on perhaps 5 different small tests until we got the mixture ‘right’.  Right meant that the mixture had to keep burning all on its own and it had to generate enough heat sufficient to burn off the sulfur.  When we found the right mix, it would burn slowly, but with certainty…and boy did it smell!   Have you ever smelled a horrible rotten egg?  Well this smelled like about a hundred of them.

As I once mentioned, with over 60 kids on one city block,(read me) finding unique entertainment was never an issue.  Usually the trickiest part of the evening was to figure out who would be the poor victim of our antics.  The victim would be a nobody, an anybody with a window fan on a summer evening; someone just trying to cool down the house with a little nice cool summer evening air…..stinky evening air that is.

In this case, the victims were a young couple.  So one summer night, we had the ‘bomb’ all prepared.  In those days, we kids could stay out well past dark.  Parents never worried about their kids and kids never worried about crazy freaks roaming the streets….(well, perhaps we were the freaks).  We sat outside waiting until we saw the upstairs lights go out.  Once they did, we snuck up to the house and set up the foil mixture on the ledge located right outside the fan.  Then one of us had honors of lighting the mixture.  As if constructed by genius mad child scientists, it started a nice burn with a yellowish glare.  On cue, the fan started sucking in the smoke, (and Pepe le Pew smell), and we took off running.  We headed across the alley and into a neighbor’s yard where we would have a good kid-spy point.  It was also important to have a reverse access escape point – hey, we were pros.

With the absence of horrified screams, it was nearly perfect.  We saw the upstairs light flip on.  Then we saw a downstairs light click on.  We couldn’t tell but we assumed next that they turned off the fan because the next thing we saw was the back door light come on and the back door open.  We were giggling like crazy but trying to muffle our laughter so we wouldn’t be detected.  We saw the guy walk over to the side of his house, carrying a flash light.  He went to the window all right.  The next thing we know, he yells out – very funny, if I catch you around my house again, I’ll break your fingers…I won’t call the cops.

Ok, so that scared us a little bit….not enough to stop making stink bombs, but enough to never do it to him again.  Purse, whiffle bat, kick the can, spy on the neighbors, stink bombs – like I said, boring it wasn’t growing up on Prytania in the 60’s and 70’s.

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10 comments on “What’s That Smell?

  1. […] something that perhaps we shouldn’t have….note I say perhaps because most of our moves were pure genius (read me and you will be convinced).  It sounded fun enough.  Joe entered the park directly in […]

  2. […] then perhaps you have run across Playing Purse.  (read me)  No?  OK, then perhaps you’ve read What’s That Smell?  (read me)  Still no?  Well then certainly you’ve read one of these: Missing Tricycle Seats […]

  3. […] a little more creative; games like Purse and Batball (read me). And then of course there were other neighborhood antics (read me) we created in order to feed our hunger for cheap […]

  4. […] if you’ve read a few of my earlier stories like burn em (read me) or What’s that Smell (read me), then you know I am not above a good practical joke at your expense.  There were about 4 […]

  5. […] up on Prytania Avenue did a great job at educating me in the fine arts of making stink bombs (read me), but in the area of culinary skills not much time was spent training in the Alley with my […]

  6. […] stories like egg wars and What’s that Smell (read me), I’ve written about practical jokes and harmless pranking.  Hopefully your high […]

  7. […] buy rubbers there?  I knew a lot about Hughes.  We kids used to buy the crucial ingredients to stink bombs there, (read me), and I used to stop buy there everyday after delivering papers so I could slurp down a […]

  8. […] but I had my instincts.  Having been a teenager once myself, one not above pulling evening pranks (read this if you don’t believe me), I kinda’ suspected that I’d end up being the brunt of a toilet papering or some other […]

  9. […] Pick up ball games (link), Wilson Pool, nighttime Purse games (link), neighborhood pranks (link), super hot days at the movie theater, double decker busses and […]

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