Mrs. Smith, Fruit Juice, and the Gasoline Weed

By Cliff Springs

I have mentioned in several previous postings about how I was quite adept at getting by in school, making pretty decent grades, and doing very little.  I elevated making the honor roll without effort to an art form.  As an adult, I’m not proud of this.  Well, okay, I’m a little proud—but only from a sense of amazement that I was able to pull it off.  In terms of it being a path to future success, I strongly urge against it.  I lament quite regularly, for example, my lack of history knowledge.

But some of the feats themselves still bring a smile to my face—especially when some of my long-time friends insist on reminding me of them.  My friend Bill, for example, is quite fond of my 10th grade biology experiment.  It was an experiment alright, but I’m not sure biology was really a component.

Honors Biology.  Mrs. Smith.  She was an odd woman.  You never really knew what she was going to like or dislike from one day to the next.   I was not one of her class favorites, and I certainly had no reason to expect to be singled out for excellence.  But singled out, I was.

As was often the case for me in school, I had plenty of advance notice to work on my biology project (about 6 weeks, to be exact), but pretty much ignored it until the last minute.  So I did what any self-respecting procrastinator would do:  I called my friend David who had the same class during a different period and asked him what he did for his experiment.

Good ol’ David.  David and I had been like best friends in 8th and 9th grade and I knew he’d bail me out.  His experiment:  the impact of different breakfast drinks on plant growth.  Okay.  A little weird and perhaps a little too specific.  Would Mrs. Smith suspect that I had mooched my idea from the “other class”?  Considering that I had only a matter of hours before bedtime, I had no choice.  Breakfast drinks it was.

I asked David how the results turned out.  He said something about milk and coffee working fine, but orange juice killed the plant.  Well, I knew I needed to change something, so I went with grapefruit juice.  Technically, it was different from David’s project.  Again, the clock was ticking and I didn’t have time to worry about it.  I had to go with what I had.

Problem was, I had nothing.  I didn’t have any plants.  I didn’t any means to display my results.  This was going to take some thinking—at least a good 5-6 minutes worth.  I had to find some plants and fast.  So I went into the back yard and scoured the scene for something that would work.  We had bushes and trees.  No flowers or small plants—at least none that my mom would let me dig up without killing me.  Nothing.

This pretty much left me with no choice.  I dug up some matching weeds and put them each into a small Styrofoam cup.  It was important for the legitimacy of this experiment to have matching plants.  After all, my scientific integrity was at stake.  Unfortunately, there were no dead (or preferably dying) weeds.  My scientific research (calling my friend David) had revealed that the grapefruit juice that I would’ve used had I conducted the experiment myself would have killed the plant.  I had three matching, living weeds.  I needed to kill one of them.  What to do?  What to do?

Aha!  I poured gas on it.

Within moments, the Styrofoam was gone—devoured by the unleaded fuel poured from the lawn mower gas can.  It smelled pretty strong too.  So I scooped up some more dirt, got a new cup, and replanted the soon-to-be-dead weed.  I then went back inside to work on the display for the project.

Little did I know how important that last step would turn out to be.  Fortunately, we happened to have some poster board in the house.  I proceeded to draw some pretty clouds with a happy sun (kind of like the Kellogg’s Raisin Bran sun with the two scoops of raisins—“breakfast drinks”, get it?) and a statement of the experiment and its results.  “Yes, Yes, No” were the magical words.  The “No” would, of course, be whatever was left from the gasoline homicide I had inflicted on this innocent weed.

It was good enough for a passing grade.  All too often, that was MY criteria.  My parents didn’t share my satisfaction nor an appreciation for how well I did in school with such minimal effort.  It was now approaching midnight and it was going to have to do.  And by the way, my parents had no idea what I was up to.

I went to bed.  I got up the next morning and went outside to fetch the critical components of my biology experiment.  What I found was not at all what I expected.  My “dead” weed was not quite dead, but had, in fact, turned mostly black.  And it reeked.  And the Styrofoam had again disintegrated.


Must’ve been the “citric acid” in the gaso… er… grapefruit juice.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.  Citric acid.

Obviously, I couldn’t afford to lose another cup while on display for the class.  I took the deformed weed and rinsed it thoroughly with the garden hose and replanted it in some fresh soil.  I was pretty sure the cup would hold up, but the smell was still there—though just a little.  So I got some of my mom’s perfume and sprayed all three plants.  I had about 10 minutes before my sister and I had to leave for school.  This was as good as it was going to get.

When I arrived for class (3rd period of the day), word had already spread from my friends around the school.  Everyone it seemed knew about the gas.  I placed my humble project on the lab table Mrs. Smith had cleared for all the experiments.

Students walked in with all manner of science.  Elaborate projects.  Painstaking effort.  Weeks of experimentation.  Rather than knowing that I would pass, my concern lowered into desperate hopefulness.  Maybe I could still pass.

Then class began.  Mrs. Smith looked over all the projects, all the time spent by the nerds and non-nerds alike.  Then she let everybody have it!  She was disappointed in most everyone.  Most everyone.

Then it happened.  There were two projects she singled out.  The only two projects that were self-explanatory.

All these other responsible, diligent students had spent all their time conducting their experiments but hadn’t spent any time communicating what the experiments or the results were.  I had the Kellogg’s Raisin Bran sun, some clouds, the explanation, and “Yes, Yes, No”.  It must’ve been the future marketing consultant in me that realized the need for clarity of presentation.  It immediately became clear to me that not only was I going to pass, but I just might get a B. 

My friends were getting quite a kick out of this.  I tried not to smile or look too smug.  There were others in class who were not amused.  My arch nemesis at the time sat on the other side of the room mumbling, “Gas.  Gas.  Gas.”  I was a gnat’s butt away from being busted.

Mrs. Smith moved on and class continued.  I was thrilled when the bell rang and I could escape the possibility of being discovered for the last-second scientist I was.  The legacy of the gasoline weed lives on to this day.  It was even brought up at my 20th high school reunion last year.

No, I don’t recommend such last-second shenanigans, and I’ll be none too pleased if any of my kids try something similar.  But I’m smiling even as I write this—it’s just too absurd not to laugh.  As a writer, I couldn’t have scripted the scenario any better.  And best of all, I even got a B.


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One Response to “Mrs. Smith, Fruit Juice, and the Gasoline Weed”

  1. Dude, at the time of WWI, You would have been called a “slacker” and then promptly been assigned to military intelligence!


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