The Outlet and The Paper Clip

“The one in the house.”

“Right. Now everyone put a red x through the one with the person under the tree.” We put the x’s on our pictures with our red crayons. We continued the exercise through several other pictures of metal screens and doors, asking an adult to plug or unplug electrical items, and not putting things like a toaster in water.

This whole week we were told ‘no’ so much, that I took it as a challenge to prove the teacher wrong. Dad always worked with the backs off of TVs. I had even been behind the TVs with him watching the lights dancing in the tubes that lined the inside of the TV consoles. They were fun to watch and if the house was cool, the heat from them felt good. Dad had never been hurt working on them.

A day or two after these lessons, I was in the living room by myself. It was warm so I was sitting on the hardwood floor in front of a fan. I spotted a paper clip on the floor. A few feet away was an electrical outlet.

A brilliant idea formed. I’ll stick this in the outlet and see what happens. With my legs crossed tightly and my feet and knees touching the baseboard, I attempted to put the paper clip in the outlet. It wouldn’t go, so I straightened the first bend. Holding onto the still folded end, I jabbed the straightened end into the outlet. POP!

The noise scared my so badly, I sprang away from the wall like a little frog, sliding on my butt halfway across the room. The fan whirred to a stop and Mom ran into the room, her wet hands tangled in a kitchen towel.

“What happened?” she asked. I only shrugged. Then she saw the paper clip still hanging out of the outlet.

“Are you hurt?” She ran over to me. Once she saw I wasn’t hurt, her tone changed. “Did you do that? I thought you just learned not to do this in school.”

“But Dad does it all the time,” I protested.

“He doesn’t jab things into outlets that don’t belong there.”

For years it was assumed the paper clip had been bent into a U-shape because I received no burns and wasn’t shocked. I eventually learned wood can serve as an insulator. Either way I had been very lucky.

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