Introduction to the Electron
By Mike Reagan
This is a piece of my memoir..Read and comment please
I received my introduction to the power of the electron as a shocking crackle jarred me from my arm to my toes. Hot on the trail of the mysteries of the power that makes the lights light and the radio play I pursued a child’s curiosity about life, as I stuck a wire coat hanger into an electric outlet. Family fables say this happened at age eight. I recall the family living room circa 1949 with rug-covered floors, overstuffed furniture and the electric outlet for the family radio. Into this outlet I stuck the wire to find the source of the radios magic. I am told my mother moved me from the floor to the overstuffed coach where I spent an hour recovering from my electrical shock.
The impact of these electrons followed me through life. As a teenager, I lived in the electron world of “amateur radio” and short wave radio listening. I soon had a basement full of electronic equipment with glowing radio tubes and wires organized for listening to radio signals originating across oceans and continents thousands of miles away from my home in Passaic, New Jersey. I harnessed electrons into coherent formats as I built a radio transmitter to send my own International Morse code signals to my radio friends around the world. Over the copper wire antennas that decorated our yard, I heard the first Russian Satellite “Sputnik “ on my own short wave radio. In a time when the world seemed much larger and the average person did not have rapid access to world events, I enriched my high school history classes by discussing news and ideas, I heard the night before on my short wave radio from London or Moscow or Rome.
Throughout my high school years I built electronic gadgets. The advent of the transistor in the early 1950’s diminished the glow of the radio tubes as I entered the new transistor based electronic age by constructing a real portable radio. Although the radio required a wire antenna and pretty nerdy looking earphones, my friend Walter and I perfected the first portable radio among our circle of radio experimenters. I recall the day I walked out onto the school recess area with the transistor battery powered radio enclosed in a cigar box, my earphones on my head and attached a wire to the chain link fence for an antenna. A small cluster of students gathered around to hear “rock and roll” on WABC.
The thrill of hearing the announcer say, “This is WABC New York” as we listened to Bill Halley and the Comets perform “Rock Around The Clock” brought instant attention to this electronic experimenter.
Sometimes diverting the attention required all the social skills this teenager could manage. My portable radio created two social problems for me with the Sisters of St. Dominic, who ran our High School. They did not approve of the cigar box or the music. To the guardians of the morals of 400 high school teenagers, the cigar box represented the evils of smoking. The music emanating from the cigar box was Rock and Roll. Both threatened the social order of our High School. In 1958 with Alan Fried on the radio and Elvis the Pelvis, the Beatles, and drugs yet to come I touted the largest known sins --smoking and Rock and Roll. Only the intersession of my Physics teacher, who valued the electronic achievement of my radio, saved me from a visit to higher authorities.
During and after high school I worked in the retail trades as a salesman. I sold men’s clothing. Managed an Italian restaurant owed by my wife’s family, and finally landed my dream job selling ham radio equipment. First, for Lafayette Electronics and then for a national manufacturer who made both ham radio equipment and commercial communications equipment. I had a draft deferment for two years. But that came to an end with the Kennedy administration and the expanding war in Viet Nam.
In 1966, as did many other young men, I received the dreaded letter in the mail.
“ Your friends and neighbors have selected you to represent them in the armed forces of our country”
I did not talk myself out of being drafted or think about fleeing to Canada since my immediate circles of friends in 1966 were patriotic and pro war and we believed in our government. So on February 1st 1966, I packed a bag and went to the induction center in Newark New Jersey. So the adventure began. Like everyone else I showed up took all the tests and passed the physical. And at the very end, after we had taken our pledge to the government, they lined us all up two abreast in a long hall at the induction center. No one could figure out what was happening but starting at the front of the line two sergeants stopped at each pair conferring on their clipboards and apparently making a selection. I was in the center of the line and rumors were flowing freely back toward us. As it turned out, one of the soldiers was a Marine. Because of the war expansion and rising casualties smart people had stopped joining the Marines. Apparently, the Marines were getting a share of the draft for the first time.
When they got to me, the Marine sergeant looked up at my 6 foot 3 ½ inch body from his barreled “chested” height of 5foot 8inches and said:
“ I‘ll take the next one he is to tall and he will get his head shot off”
So that was my first piece of good luck thankfully I was not suited to be a marine. And like the cat I had 8 lives to go.