With boys, the window of opportunity for fixing broken glass is open all the time

Saturday's Hero

March 30, 1996|By ROB KASPER

I SPENT LAST weekend examining how I look at the universe. This is a highfalutin way of saying I replaced a two panes of glass in the kitchen windows and took my family out to see Hyakutake, an incredibly shy comet.

The window repair work came first. If frequent fliers get miles for airplane travel, I think "active families" like ours should get some kind of payback, "glazier's points," for frequent purchases of window glass.

The latest broken windows had differing stories behind their demise. One had been broken by a "mysterious force," which I venture to say, is a leading cause of broken windows in American homes. Nobody knew how the glass got cracked. It just happened.

The other window pane had been mugged. Like a lot of boys 15 and 11 years old, my kids have a compelling urge to punch. They punch the furniture, the air, each other. They are born to flail. One morning, the 15-year-old was in the middle of a random punching exercise when one of his fists connected with a kitchen window. The glass shattered. Being the kind of sensitive, understanding parents that we are, my wife and I immediately yelled at the kid. Only after hollering at him did we ask if he was hurt. He wasn't.

I am well stocked with supplies needed to repair broken windows. I have boxes of the tiny metal chips, the real glazier's points, which you press into wooden window frames to help hold the glass in place. I have several cans of glazing compound, the putty-like substance that you press around the edge of the glass. And I have thick gloves.

My father taught me the importance of wearing gloves. Years ago, while my dad was removing shattered glass from a window that one of my brothers had broken, a shard of glass fell on my father's ungloved hand. One minute, my dad had been sitting in the kitchen, sipping a beer, listening to the ballgame on the radio, enjoying his day off. Then, thanks to his window-breaking kids and the fact that he didn't wear gloves, my dad ended up spending his Sunday afternoon getting his hand stitched up in a hospital emergency room. Now that I'm the dad with window-breaking offspring, I wear gloves.

At my suggestion, the kid who had punched the window out helped me put in the new glass. He walked over to the hardware store and bought the replacement glass. He swept up bits of glass and paint. My wife regarded this window repair event as an opportunity to wash windows. The kid got roped into that task as well. Soon he announced that he had "learned his lesson" and would never again punch a window. Replacing them, he said, was boring.

Viewed through the new glass, the world looked brighter, in sharp focus, less distorted to me. Washing the windows had removed a decade or two of grime. And, unlike the old glass, which was wavy and had bubbles in it, the replacement glass was clear, with no imperfections.

Looking through the new glass gave me a clear view of the outside world. It was impressive. But after a few hours, I longed for the bends and bubbles of the old glass. I had grown accustomed to my distorted world view. I missed it.

I thought of this later that weekend, after my family returned from what turned out to be a disappointing outing to view Comet Hyakutake. Driving up to the Maryland Space Grant Observatory on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University and looking at Hyakutake through a big telescope seemed like a bright idea. It was one of those activities "good families" do. It was historic.

It was close. And it was free.

It turned out to be a bummer. The line was long. The night was cold. And Hyakutake looked pretty puny. At least that is what my kids and my wife told me. They waited in the cold for two hours to see Hyakutake on the big scope. I waited in line for 15 minutes, then bailed out. I went down to the car, and planned to turn on the car heater and take a nap. On my way to the car, I stopped at a small telescope that a fellow had set up outside the physics and astronomy building. There was virtually no waiting at this 'scope. I caught a glimpse of Hyakutake. To me, it didn't look like much. To me, it looked like a couple of bright dots and a tail. But then again, I look at the universe with a distorted view.

Pub Date: 3/30/95

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