Potato Gun

One summer when my son was about 14, he had a couple of friends staying with us from overseas - Jason from Hong Kong and Basile from Paris. I was trying very hard to be welcoming and engaging - game, if you will - as these young boys were so far from home. So, when the boys came charging into the kitchen and Nathaniel says to me, “MOM! We have to go to Home Depot right now!”, trying to be game, the only impediment I present is, “OK, but what do you need from Home Depot?”

“We’re going to make a potato gun!”

“A potato gun? What is that? How do you make it?”

“It shoots potatoes! We got instructions online! See? It shows what we need and how to build it” He shows me the printed pages of shopping lists and detailed instructions.

OK, I am a vegetarian, I catch bugs I find in the house and put them outside. I hate guns. But I figure, a potato gun - how bad could that be? One could learn about physics, about building stuff, about teamwork and this could keep 3 boys busy and happy for a good number of hours. So, I am finishing up in the kitchen, getting ready to go to Home Depot when Mark, the carpenter who has spent many hours working on my ancient house, calls. I tell him that we are about to leave for Home Depot so that my son and his friends can purchase the necessary to build a potato gun.

“OH MY GOD! A potato gun! This is great!” Now make sure you get the purple cement and the 3” pvc pipe and don’t get the fuse on the instructions. Get the one for an outdoor gas grill - be sure to get that!!!!!”

“OK, thanks Mark.”

“Let me talk to them!”

SO, I put Mark on the phone with my 14 year old son and they commiserate for a while, my son grinning uncontrollably and giggling like a knucklehead, after which I and 3 giggling boys pile into the car for the all important 30 minute drive to Home Depot. We grab a large orange shopping cart and after inquiring where we might find pvc pipe, head to the plumbing section. Nathaniel asks a large and lumbering and clearly unmotivated Home Depot sales representative for some 3” pvc pipe and some other associated pieces. Our sales representative then proceeds in slow motion to search for the pieces the boys, nearly jumping up and down with excitement, are so desperate to procure. These boys are alternately giggling like mad and intensely serious. I can see the magic in my son’s eyes. He gets this look, when I can tell that in his mind he is in his own mind heaven. He is seeing himself shooting this thing and potatoes are flying like rockets to infinity and beyond. He is winning potato gun contests, he is in the Guinness Book of World Records for shooting potatoes farther than they have ever before been shot. HE is the Potato Gun Champion.

And our Home Depot sales clerk is crouching down to find the correct pvc pipe on the bottom row, displaying his butt crack with no shame whatsoever. He stands up, hands the piece of pipe to the boys and asks what we need this stuff for.

“We’re going to build a potato gun!”

With that, our Home Depot sales representative wakes up. His eyes are alert, he is instantly twenty years younger, and exclaims, “OH! A potato gun! This is great! You are going to need to get,…” and make sure you do… “ this and do that and “this is going to be great!” So we get all the great stuff we need from the plumbing department with our newly enlivened and eager sales representative, not forgetting the purple cement.

Then, we go find our gas grill igniter and finish up in Home Depot and each time we are asked about what we are doing, men’s faces become instantly animated and youthful and they exclaim, “OH! A potato gun!”, as if we are telling them that Santa, the real Santa, is coming to or house and bringing us all ponies.

Of course, we need potatoes, so we need to stop at the grocery store. Mark warned us to get the properly shaped potatoes, not too big, not too small, and as I am telling this I can’t remember if his instructions were to get oval potatoes or round potatoes, but I suspect it was the round ones. So we bought a lot of potatoes and headed home.

The boys went into the basement to build their potato gun/treasure. My friend Jay calls. Now Jay is a man who has travelled the world, lived in Antarctica and Greenland and Alaska. He has a mountain named after him, for God's sake! He has a degree from Oxford. He has no limit to his repertoire of exotic tales and adventures so there is little in this life that stops him in his tracks. But at the mention of a potato gun, he says, “OH! A potato gun. I’ll be right there!” Within 5 minutes Jay is in the house inquiring about the potato gun and where are the boys? I admonish him not to take over, that this is the boys’ project. “I know I know I know, I’ll just help.” and he rushes off to the basement. I am not kidding.

This is crazy. Every man to whom I mention a potato gun becomes nearly ecstatic and their eyes get wide and words begin to race out of their mouths about how great this is gonna be and how to make the gun in the very best way. Women on the other hand, get a kind of blank expression which then morphs into puzzlement. They say things like, “What’s a potato gun?” and “Why do they want to shoot potatoes?” This was the clearest behavioral evidence of gender difference I have ever seen. I mean, how is it even possible that men not only know what a potato gun is but see it as some sort of pinnacle on the list of the universe’s great things and women have never even heard of a potato gun.

So, after about an hour in the basement, the boys, and I now include Jay in that group, emerge with the gun. As a way of marking their territory, they all have their hands on the gun as they come up the stairs and head for the door. They grab the potatoes and tumble outside. First they are faced with the substantial dilemma of who will launch the first potato. Once this problem is solved, they then proceed to take turns shooting potatoes all over the yard. They seem content to aim mostly at trees which is fun because not only do they get to shoot potatoes a really long way, but they also get to see them explode on the trees.

This has undoubtedly been the highlight for these international travelers. Tangible proof of this is from Jason, who, prior to staying with us, had spent 3 weeks in Los Angeles, where he had flown from Hong Kong, to take a summer class. After leaving us, he joined his parents to visit New York City and then with whom he would be flying to Paris and then to Italy for a week or two and from there he would complete his round the world tour heading back to Hong Kong. Upon his return from these several months of travel around the world, the only thing he posted on Facebook was, a video, you guessed it, of him shooting the potato gun.

Jean McGavin
Bethlehem, CT © 2015

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