Laura returned to her home after a hard days work. She lived in an upstairs apartment in an old colonial house. Her landlord, a retired physicist named Tom, lived on the main floor.
Physicists are really not much more than children who grew up playing with their dad’s tools. As children, they fill their endless spare hours with self-imposed projects purely for the sake of having an excuse to play with tools. All grown up, they find a way of life using those tools, and the projects become work instead of play. The child disappears and the physicist takes his place. The physicist uses tools to make a living, to feed and clothe himself and his family, and to give meaning to his existence. “I’m a physicist,” is all he need say to sum up who he is. When a physicist retires, we see the reemergence of the child he used to be. After the work is done and the living made, physicists return to their childhood play. The self-imposed projects return to fill the endless spare hours. The only thing that has changed from the childhood days is the vast stores of knowledge to draw upon, and, quite frankly, there is no one around to keep them from using power tools. They enter into retirement with years of experience to guide them.
Tom was just such a man. He not only spent the greater part of his life learning and discovering the finer aspects of physics, he also departed his knowledge to others by teaching his craft at the state university. By the time he retired, Tom had amassed enough tools and machines to maintain a wood shop and a mechanical shop right in his own basement, and this was where he spent all of his free time.
On this day Laura went to climb the stairs that led to her apartment, the stairs the sit directly over the stairs to Tom’s basement, the stairs which, coincidentally, were puffing smoke through the cracks in the floorboards. Laura did not take this as a good sign. My house is on fire! she thought and ran upstairs to confirm her fears. When she got inside the door, there were no flames, and no smoke. In fact, her house was perfectly intact. I know I smelled smoke, she thought, I saw it.
Confused, she peered back down the stairwell. Sure enough, it was filled with smoke. She stepped into the haze and looked all around for some kind of clue. She looked up across the ceiling, and felt the walls, she even sniffed them. Baffled, she scratched her chin and looked down at her feet. That’s when it hit her. The basement! She ran out to the exterior basement doors.
Cautiously she felt the doors. They were not hot. She threw them wide open. Great plumes of smoke greeted her instantly, so she quickly closed the doors. “I should call 911”. Just to be sure she opened them again, and once more smoke billowed out, but this time there was a distinct buzzing resounding through the haze, followed by a screech.
Laura laughed, there was no fire. This was clearly another calamity of the same man who had been known to take his car apart on a whim, forgetting that he was due to administer an exam in a couple of hours. The only thing that remained now was to find out what he was trying to do this time.
“Tom?” She stepped into the haze. There was no answer. “Tom?” She spoke softly, not wanting to startle a man with a power saw. This time she was greeted with the buzzing and screeching she heard earlier. “TOM!” She screamed after the noise stopped.
“Laura?” His voice came from somewhere in the cloudiness.
“Tom, are you down here?” She knew the answer, but she wanted a more detailed indication of where to find him.
“I’m over here.” She made her way though the smoke and found him at his workbench with some wood and a circular saw. He wore no protection over his eyes, not did he wear a mask over his mouth. “Hi Laura,” he said flipping his saw over and eying it quizzically.
“It sure is smoky down here,” Laura said.
“Oh, yeah,” he agreed, looking up form his saw. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Well would you like me to leave the door open, y’know, for ventilation,” Laura said knowing nothing about physics, but fully aware of what smoke can do to lungs.
“Yeah,” Tom thought for a moment, “that’s probably a good idea.” He looked back down at the underside of his saw and touched the blade. His hand jerked away, as he winced, and he shook it while saying to himself, “still hot.”
Laura laughed to herself. Before she left, she asked, “is everything okay?”
“Still looking at his saw, Tom said, “I think my blade is dull..”