Recycled Air

-For those fans who are "lost" by this story: I introduced a new character to the traditional cast. Karl "Marx" Blackburn is an eggheaded genius who makes Carol Seaver look stupid. A master of calculus and very old musical instruments, he takes an interest in socialist theory which earns him the nickname "Marx." Despite his radical ideology and Einstein-like intelligence many of his peers get a kick out of his hilarious antics. REPEAT: KARL BLACKBURN IS MY INVENTION; the other characters really were in "Growing Pains."

No, I am not in any way affiliated with any of the original Growing Pains actors or production.


It was another silly spring day at Dewey High School. For a tenth-grade intellectual like Karl Blackburn, an intense social analysis of the peers was all it took to tickle his funny bone. He was amazed at the stupid outcomes that came about via group thinking: just last week the dance decorating committee had voted to spend over $900 on banners and fake murals that were trendy - but not exactly practical for the gym and its high ceiling. Despite his loud warnings, the committee went ahead with the purchase only to discover they needed to spend another $400 on hooks, ropes and other stuff to hang their lovely decor. Even then, the murals were situated so high on the walls that you got a stiff neck looking up at them.

Of course, not everyone who acted stupid did so out of - well - stupidity. Today in world history class Boner had said that the Russian Revolution of 1917 was led by John Lennon and that their revolutionary anthem was "Yesterday." Karl immediately stood up and started singing the English chorus of the "Internationale": "So comrades, come rally, and the last fight let us face -" before being interrupted by the students shouting "Mr. Marx, shut up!" Even sympathizers of Karl's socialist leanings often found him a little obsessed with the idea.

After history class...�

"Karl, are you gonna help me with my math this evening?" It was Carol Seaver, quite the intelligent type. Karl had inspired her to sign up for Algebra 2, which Carol was good at but still needed a hint from time to time. "What topic?" Karl asked.

"Dynamic surplus value functions," Carol jokingly said as the two traversed the hallway. "..Actually I needed a little help with completing the square for quadratics. Can you show me again?"

Karl agreed and set off on his walk home. Good thing he brought an umbrella, raincoat and heavy sweater, as it was very chilly and damp for the middle of April.

At the Seaver residence that evening...

"So you need to change it into the form a2 x2 2abx b2 by adding whatever to both sides, then just take the square root, which is ax b. Hopefully your teacher gives you problems that look nice at that point."

"Okay it kind of makes sense, I just need to practice changing it into a square form," Carol said.

"Tomorrow I'll show you how to derive the quadratic formula," said Karl excitedly. "And then we'll do the cubic formula."

"Karl, the quadratic formula's next week. I think I'll do just fine for now."

"Believe me, you'll need all your math - algebra, calculus, matrix algebra, statistics, differential equations - when you get to dialectical economics."

The front door opened, and Mike and Boner charged in. They didn't look very happy. "Carol, have you seen my D&D box anywhere?" Mike asked with a frantic worry.

"No Mike...but why aren't you studying tonight? Isn't there an English quiz tomorrow - in that class that both of us are taking?" Carol asked.

"We're studying the choice behavior of D&D players and the math of hit points," said Mike.

Karl replied: "You know, role-playing algorithms are really fascinating, especially when you consider that one mistake in the damage formulas can make the game either way too easy or way too hard, or terribly inconsistent. For example, too much variance in the attack and defense functions implies that much of the outcome will be due to randomness and there will be less incentive to-"


"Ok ok...good luck finding it. I have to go now, there's a chapter in AP Biology I have to study on respiration."

"You're studying on a Friday night!" yelled Mike.

Boner started breathing noisily. "There's you're lesson on respiration."

"I can't believe it! Boner knows what respiration is!" Karl joked. "Where's Ben and his video camera when we need it?"

That night at his cozy little bedroom desk, Karl perused the magical world of hemoglobin and oxygen absorption. There was one question the book didn't answer: how much oxygen is used by the body every minute? How can I devise an experiment to calculate this? he wondered. He fell asleep murmuring under his breath, "lung volume, oxygen content...lung volume, oxygen content...rate of absorption..."

The next morning, a beautiful, sunny and much warmer Saturday, Karl went to the public library and asked for a book on respiration to discover what he was looking for. Back at home, Karl sat at his desk, writing down an experiment plan. Okay, since I'm not quite adult we'll assume my total lung volume is 4 liters. And we'll assume that even though we don't empty our lungs when breathing out, that every time we breathe in the old air immediately mixes with the new air. So if I breathe in and out of a closed bag or something I'll be recycling the same 4 liters of air! There's 21 percent oxygen in the air, which amounts to about 840 milliliters of O2. We'll round it to 850mL.

If I breathe the same air in and out until I start to feel rather desperate for fresh air, I can time the whole thing to find out how long it took to use up 850mL of oxygen. Or maybe less than that - I don't think I'd make it to zero without fainting. So the actual will be less, but at least I will have an upper bound which assumes total oxygen depletion at the desperation point.

Karl said out loud: "Great plan, comrade."

He looked around for a bag to use and found only a brown lunch bag. He tried sealing it around his face and breathing in. "No, that won't work, the bag is too porous. I need a sealed container that can inflate and deflate - a balloon!"

Karl was sure there weren't any balloons in the house, so he wondered if anything else would work...

Of course, that's it!

His parents were gone for the day so he snuck into their master bathroom and looked in the drawers. Finally he found what he was looking for: "Condomatics, extra thin, MAXIMUM STRENGTH. Who said they were just for sex?" he said.

Back in his room Karl tore open a condom and unrolled it. He put the open end in his mouth and tried to inflate it, but it slipped out of his mouth in the process. Not as easy as it looks, he thought. Since it was a beautiful spring afternoon with all the daffodils and tulips blooming, he decided to move to the bench outside, overlooking the sidewalk. It would take a few minutes' practice to get the breathing right, but Karl remained convinced that a condom would be easier than making a special trip to the store for balloons.

"Here we go again," he muttered as he began to practice with his impromptu balloon.

�A few moments later...

"Why are we making a movie about daffodils and flowering plums?" Mike asked as he and Ben and Boner walked through the neighborhood.

"They won't be back for eleven and a half months," said Ben as he lugged the video camera around. "And who knows - we could all be dead by then. Better to capture the memories now while we still have a chance."

"I better say my prayers and repent now," said Boner.

Mike, Boner and Ben turned the corner to find Karl sitting on the bench, blowing air in and out of what looked like a balloon with a funny looking end. Ben captured about fifteen seconds of the feat on film before shouting "Karl! Enjoying the flowering plums?"

As soon as Ben began to yell, Karl, who didn't see them coming, lost a hold of the inflated condom and it rocketed away from him, landing on Boner's shirt. Boner picked it up and held it in front of Ben, in a perfect position for the camera. "Ooohh, looks like someone's being naughty," Boner remarked.

"I was just seeing how long the oxygen in my lungs would last before I passed out," explained Karl.

"Why not just hold your breath?" asked Ben as he turned off the camera.

At that moment Mike leaned over and began whispering in Ben's ear. "See ya... Mr. Marx," Mike said as he and Boner and Ben headed off in the direction of the Seavers with Karl's condom in hand.

Karl thought to himself: Maybe I should have gotten a real balloon. He stood and walked in the other direction, toward the supermarket.

The next Tuesday after morning classes Karl was in the school cafeteria, calculating his oxygen consumption rate after trying the experiment with real balloons. "That's 22.4 liters per mole, and 32 grams of oxygen per mole, so 32 grams of oxygen equals 22.4 liters."

Several freshman girls came in, half giggling and half screaming. When they passed Karl they wooed "Mr. Marx, got any condoms we can use?" before breaking off into a second round of raucous laughter. "No, but in a minute I'll have the moles of oxygen I use," Karl said scornfully.

The girls laughed even harder as they went off to the lunch counter in an indiscernible chatter.

A minute later Karl packed his stuff up and walked out into the hall, where several freshman boys immediately gave him a funny look. As he moved on they too broke into a round of wild giggling. Karl eventually reached his locker, and Carol passed by.

"Karl, how's your biology study going?"

"Um...nice, but I have a little problem that came up."

"What is it?"

"Carol, I think I better whisper it in your ear..." he said as he began to tell the story.

Back at the Seaver residence, Ben was counting money. "54, 55, 56, 57! Wow, I'm a rich man!"

Mike said "Ben, you realize I deserve most of the money for coming up with the idea."

"Mike, you said I could keep it all and besides, it took me two hours to get the cuts in the right place."

Mike stood there for a second and said "You're right. The whole chuckle that we got out of it is payment enough for me."

Carol burst in through the door, obviously distraught. "Okay boys, so who plotted this whole scheme?"

Mike look puzzled. "What scheme do you mean, Carol?"

"The prank that has everyone at school laughing at Karl because of his little oxygen experiment last night."

"Whoa, it made it all the way up to Dewey High. This is better than I thought!" Ben said.

Carol was not amused. "Thanks to your perverted ideas Karl is set to become the top gossip story of the year - if not the decade."

"But wait a minute. It was Karl who had a condom in his mouth. Who's the real pervert here?" said Mike.

"Naughtiness is in the mind of the beholder," said Carol.

Carol walked over to the couch and saw several video tapes lying around. "I'm assuming this is the soft core porn you've been distributing?" she said as she held a copy up in their faces.

Ben said "Yup. Five dollars a tape, with 2 bucks cost for each blank. So we've sold 19 copies at a $3 profit each!"

Carol popped one of the tapes into the VCR. It showed about ten seconds of Karl inflating a condom like a balloon, then Ben yelled and the condom flew out of his mouth. Boner held it in front of the camera. Then a cut to nothingness. "I can't believe anyone would pay five bucks to see this!" she screamed.

"Carol, this is middle school we're talking about. We didn't sell any to high schoolers - they must have learned about it from their younger siblings," said Mike.

The door opened. Jason was back from the store. "Hi fellas...Carol, what ever is the matter?"

Carol said, "My brothers and their smut business."

"Smut business? What the heck is going on here? I want an answer!" said Jason.

Carol showed Jason the movie. At the end Jason was chuckling, which made Carol even more perturbed. "Okay, it looks like my two sons have some punishment awaiting them."

Ben asked, "Can we at least keep the profits we made?"

"Oh, so there's a paparazzi business operating out of our living room?" said Jason.

The door bell rang and Jason got it. It was Karl. "Well hello there Mr. Blackburn," Jason amicably said.

"I solved the problem! Two minutes to use up 0.04 moles of oxygen - that is if all the oxygen is gone at the moment I start to feel light headed," said Karl.

"It looks like I solved a little problem too," Jason said. "Karl, I'm sorry about the incident with the condom. But why were you using a condom in the first place, I wonder?"

"Well, I didn't have any balloons so I thought one of dad's rubbers would suffice. But it didn't, and I spent 40 minutes on a special trip to the store for real balloons. Hardly worth the opportunity cost of the extra time and the embarrassment that comes with being a movie star."

Jason then said, "Karl here's what I'm going to do. Ben and Mike are grounded for the next two weekends. I also decided that since you did the acting work and took all the heat for the movie, all the credit deserves to go to you. So I'm going to give you all the profits that have been made so far since as you have said so often, workers create all the wealth. You can learn a lot from a socialist."

"Do I also get full ownership and control of the business?" asked Karl with a grin on his face.

Another ring came at the door, this time from Boner. "Boner, come in, I don't imagine you have anything to say," said Jason.

"To say about what?" asked Boner.

"About that endeavor you and Mike and Ben were involved in where you tried to make Karl into a porn star."


"Ben here made $57 off of tapes showing Karl doing a respiration experiment with a condom since he didn't have a balloon handy," Jason continued.

"That's what all those tapes were about? I thought you were just sharing memories of the daffodils and flowering plums with everyone at school," said Boner.

"But now that the word is out, I might as well take advantage of the opportunity," said Karl.


Karl placed the pile of video tapes on the desk in his room. "Ben, you want to get paid or not?"

"How much per tape?" asked Ben from the background.

"One dollar. And don't complain, I'm being generous," said Karl.

Ben came in and picked up a pile of tapes.

Karl thought for a moment: Oh no, I've become a total capitalist pig. "Comrades, please forgive me!" he yelled.

The End.