Best comments ever, vol. 2

Due to overwhelming demand, "best comments ever" is back, and "evar" is now spelled "ever." ("Evar!" is the excited Valley Girl pronunciation of "ever," fwiw.) Yesterday we heard stories about people being sick, losing their sense of smell, sleepwalking and hoarding animals. Today we'll start by examining two posts about cars, which tend to elicit very passionate responses from our readership!

THE POST: Who gets the parking space?
Having posed the question of whether you can save a parking spot by standing in it, we got vehement responses on both sides of the issue, as well as a few harrowing stories, like this one from commenter Karen:

I experienced this firsthand many years ago as my mom and I were searching for a parking spot during the crazy day-after-Thanksgiving shopping rush. The situation escalated into one like your second experience - only my mom did not actually hit her and this girl DID call the police. She faked a limp and the officer believed her and arrested my mom.

THE POST: This really happens
Not long ago, a friend of mine drove away from a pumping station without removing the nozzle from his tank -- he wasn't paying attention -- and it snapped right off. Of course, the same thing had happened to several of our readers, with somewhat more dramatic results. Commenter Michael Wild:

Happened to me. Driving 1 ton Ford dually with trailer. Gas gauge unreliable and I was very worried about running out of diesel fuel. Pulled into truck stop and every pump but one had a bag over the pump handle. I pulled up to the one pump w/o a bag and put the nozzle in my tank. Nothing happened. I went inside and was informed that they had no diesel. I was pissed, got in the truck and drove off. Heard someone yelling, looked back and saw I was trailing the nozzle, hose and wiring from the pump. Owner was very upset and would not let me leave until I paid damages. At my suggestion he called law enforcement. They came, inspected my insurance papers and informed owner he was illegally restraining me. It was a matter for the insurance companies. Truck stop shut down and never reopened.

Pump jockey Petro Pierre was kind enough to provide some behind-the-scenes perspective:

Got my nickname "Petro" from the many years I spent pumping gas for a living. I saw this happen only a few times since it was a full service station. The first time was a really big deal! The customer asked for $20, which I starting pumping and left to finish on its own (since the pump was programmed for preset amounts at the push of a button, $20 being one of them). As I went to serve other customers, the fellow went inside to pay the cashier inside, who took his money once the pump automatically stopped at $20. It all happened very quickly, and he got back into his car and started driving away without waiting for me to remove the hose (obviously assuming it was already done). Unfortunately neither the handle nor the hose snapped off. It was a terrible sounds as the WHOLE FUEL PUMP came tearing off its foundation and crashed on its side, spewing a quick gusher of fuel before the shutoff valve kicked in. Needless to say, he didn't get very far, but I think our station swallowed the tab on that one.

THE POST: The not-silent killer: noise pollution
Our readers made a lot of noise over this one, sparking a mini-competition to see who lived in the loudest place. It was a toss up between itsabecky:

i live in what appears to be the average suburban community. we have the standard noises: children playing in the street, occasional dogs barking, birds chirping, etc. then there are all of the non-traditional suburban noises. my neighbor accross the street has 6 cars and seems to wash at least one every day then has to dry them with his leaf blower. my house is conviently situated in the middle of 3 quarrys so we often hear them blasting and on occasion feel the house shake. when we first moved in there was a race track 2 miles from our house and on race days it sounded like we were living inside a beehive.

inside the house often sounds like a circus. 4 dogs, 4 laptops, 4 adults, a screaming 4 year old and a TV that is always on (at full volume to try and combat the other noise in the house) all create so much noise and havoc that i often find myself looking for any excuse to get out of the house (i go for a lot of drives to no where just listening to the hum of the tires on the road). i seem to be the only one in the house that is bothered by the noise. sometimes i feel like all the noise scrambles my brain.

... and commenter Marta, whose noise is more neighbor-driven:

I live in a duplex. The lady on the other side had 2 emotionally handicappped foster children that, up until a few weeks ago, screamed, slammed doors, threw dirt on our cars, and would put the same annoying hip-hop or pop song on repeat on the porch stereo, crank it up, then disappear for hours. On top of that she has a tiny dog that the kids put outside for hours and it spends those hours continuously barking. I didn't think it was physically possible for a dog to bark for 5 hours straight without a rest.

THE POST: What's worse than snakes on a plane?
Speaking of people's tolerance for noise and annoyance, there was an outpouring of pure venom when I brought up the dilemma of mixing small children and large aircraft. There were plenty of arguments in favor of doping kids with Benadryl and Dimetapp, and several against. (Studies that have come out since this blog was posted indicate that it's a bad idea to give young kids cold medicine, so I'm going to have to side with the no-doping camp, no matter how annoying the transatlantic toddler.) We all felt the pain of commenter Ben Hubbard:

Allow me to set the stage. I'm flying from KY on the very first available flight (5:00a), so I'm a bit sleepy. My screaming offspring have been left with their grandparents for a week of splendor, sure to receive all of their needs, wants and desires. I'm snoozin' — just barely"¦you know that kind of awkward sleep that you get when the lady next to you smells funny because she did not bathe the night before and, in her slumber, she insists on trying to snuggle, not to mention the fact that the pressurized cabin gives me a headache from hell itself for which there is no known cure — and all seem right with the world. Suddenly, my sleep is broken by a pair of demons, er"¦I mean kids, who have both begun to frantically scream "WE'RE GOING TO DIE, OH NO, WE'RE GOING TO CRASH AND DIE". I, with one leg still in sleepy land, look out the window to see water quickly approaching (if you have ever landed in San Francisco you have seen the same sight, I swear it feels like you are going to crash). The revelation of imminent death startles stinky lady and I to the point of scrambling to brace ourselves for the impact (no, not by hugging). Once we realized that these two monsters (around age 4-6) were just being "mini jerks" we felt a little relieved and a little embarrassed (again, no, not because we were hugging). This single flight has prompted me to vow to never, ever, bring my kids on a plane until they are of ample age to be polite to the other passengers. I suggest the same for the rest of the world.

THE POST: Are smart kids more likely to be depressed?
We got lots of fascinating (and heartbreaking) responses to this post, but rather than reposting any one of them here, I urge you to check them out as a whole. Great stuff, guys, and thanks so much for sharing.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”


Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.


In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.


In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span;

Mario Tama, Getty Images
Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]


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