Charge it


Shutterstock photo by Martin Novak

We're in the throes of winter, otherwise known as the season when humans, and animals, are able to build up levels of static electricity substantial enough to seriously hurt their friends and family members. I know this because I was recently on the receiving end of an ear-zap from my son.

For the uninitiated, this involves either sitting on a plastic bench (apparently polyurethane works best) or shuffling along a carpet, sneaking up behind someone and touching their ear. This is significantly less fun for the zapee.

And while I'm a lifelong proud Canadian and actually fond of cold weather, it seems to me lately that the whole static thing is getting worse and I'm beginning to think all plastic is to blame.

I've kvetched more than once in this column about the difficulties of finding clothes made out of cotton and while I'm all for recycling, I'm having a real issue about shirts and jackets made out of discarded plastic bottles. The clothing doesn't let your skin breathe in the summer and can turn downright confrontational in the winter when it takes on what's described as an imbalance of electric charges within, or on, the surface of a material. When the excess charge is neutralized through contact, you can hear and feel the effects. (Thank you Wikipedia for that explanation).

It’s less of an issue in the summer and, thankfully, my kids are old enough that I’m no longer carting toddlers off to the park where sliding down the plastic playground equipment, while wearing polyester clothing, can build up enough charge in their little bodies to render them even more hazardous than toddlers usually are.

I've learned how to discharge the butt-pivotting static build-up when getting out of my car thereby avoiding a zap followed by a string of French swear words – touch the roof of the car with your elbow before making contact by closing the door. Some gas pumps also direct users to touch metal before picking up the gas nozzle.

Though accidents of this nature are rare, the repercussions of a misguided spark at the pump are always fun to watch on YouTube and while I know how to avoid them, I haven't yet figured out how to deal with clothing static cling as the availability of cotton declines in direct proportion to our reliance on plastics.

I have dryer sheets in the desk of my office drawer and unless you're willing to rub them all over your body every half hour or so, they're ineffective. Same thing goes for hand lotion. Anti-static sprays work temporarily but smell disconcertingly like vinegar. Anecdotal remedies like running a wire coat hanger between your body and the clothing you're wearing might work until you're at the office, half undressed in the bathroom, trying to rub a metal coat hanger all over your skin to stop your shirt from clinging to your ribs and crawling up your back.

Our homes are dotted with polar fleece throws and polyfill dog beds and on really cold nights, the nice big dog beds remain unused as our canines leave a trail of sparks from their claws as they attempt to move the fleece covers aside to crawl into the human beds next to the warm human bodies.

The experience gave me the opportunity for revenge on the ear-zapper. I’ve warned him if he tries it again, I’ll forego the dryer sheet the next time I wash his fleece blanket and put the small dog in his bed.

Hah.

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