John, one of my roommates, had never learned to cook. His family had always had a lot of money and servants. But, just before he came to college, his family had a major setback and lost almost everything. He not only had nonexistent culinary skills, but now he had very little money.
He had spent some time in South America, and determined that the best and cheapest thing to eat would be beans. He said he liked beans. So, every other day he would put a huge pot of beans on to cook. Sometimes he ate them three times per day.
Unfortunately, beans affected John in the same way that they affect many people. He became a methane factory with production that would put a natural gas company to shame. Fortunately, I did not share his bedroom, but those who did were desperate. They claimed they had to open their window at night, even in the winter, or they would all suffocate by morning.
John didn’t like to make his bed, so he, instead, only used a sleeping bag. One night, David, who slept in the bunk below John, was having a nightmare. He dreamed he was in a war, and the enemy was using mustard (and bean) gas, making it necessary for him to search for a gas mask. When he awoke and realized he really did need one, he hit on an idea. He quietly climbed out of his bed and zipped John’s sleeping bag up to his neck.
The next morning, when David got up, he told us his story and claimed his night had been much better after that. However, he said he didn’t know what John would do once he woke up. We didn’t have to wait long. We knew the moment John unzipped his sleeping bag, because a sudden blast of air, as rancid as that of any skunk, flooded the apartment.
Our eyes started to water and everyone started coughing even as I ran to open the door and David worked to open a window. John came out yawning, seemingly unaware of the aroma that followed him or the distress it was causing us.
From then on, every night after John went to sleep, David would quietly zip John’s sleeping bag up tight. This made it bearable for the others in that bedroom. But each morning when John woke and unzipped it, it was as if a high pressure septic line had burst into our apartment.
No one wanted to offend John, nor did we know how to approach him about it. Many of us tried. We even offered to share our food, trying to get him onto another diet, but he always said he liked the way the beans made him feel and the energy they gave him.
“High octane gas,” Bryce whispered to me. “Great for internal combustion, but deadly for those behind the exhaust pipe.”
No matter how many hints we dropped, nor how hard we tried, he never seemed to catch on. He always thought we were talking about someone else.
Finally, we could take it no more. So one day, when John was in class, we held an apartment council.
“I have an idea,” Bryce said. “Let’s pack up his stuff and put it outside and lock the door.”
I shook my head. “John doesn’t have much money, and he has paid to stay here just like the rest of us.”
“I was only teasing,” Bryce replied, though I’m not sure he was.
“Well, let’s look at the facts,” David said. “We know John won’t eat anything but beans, and beans give him gas. So the only option I see is that we need to change them for something else.
“Like a twenty-year, Rip Van Winkle sleeping potion,” Steve said.
Suddenly, Bryce snapped his fingers. “I’ve got it! I am taking chemistry, and we are always talking about ph. balance and all that stupid stuff. Well, for once, maybe I can find a use for all of that nonsense. There has got to be something that will counteract those beans.”
And with that, the greatest chemistry experiment in the history of mankind was launched.