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February 16th, 2005

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12:54 am
My lava lamp is working again. I hadn't used it in, say, three years. Mom gave it to me ten years ago and it became a sort of mini-fetish, lava lamps. I think my whole family has the obsession. My grandparents actually had an old classic model, a humongous gold monstrosity from the 1960s, with vent holes in the base to keep the thing from overheating and cranky wax that took a long time to warm up. They kept it in the guest room for us grandkids and it made a dandy nightlight. After Mom gave me one for Christmas in 1995 (or as it 96?) my fascination with 'em began again. I used to have a little one on my keychain, and Dad just gave me a small wall socket version for Christmas, dredging up the ol' fixation once again. So I took the lava lamp out of the closet and stuck it on the bookshelf and turned it on and let it warm up again.

Lava lamps are odd, temperamental creatures, but beautiful in design. So easy! Thermodynamics rule! Little blobs of wax (a paraffin/mineral oil composite, according to stuff I've read online) get heated up and float through the solution up to the top, cool off, and float back down to do it again. (The wall socket one I have works on the same principle, though the things heating up there are flakes of glitter, not blobs.) The light bulb in the lamp doesn't directly heat the goo, though; it heats a metal coil in the solution which touches and heats the goo as it comes down to rest.

Nice and simple, but if the metal coil isn't firmly located in the bottom of the glass globe, the lamp may refuse to, uh, lava. When I brought the lamp out of the box, I saw that the coil had become encased in the hardened goo and rested along the side of the glass. That's what makes 'em cranky. I'm also guessing the ambient temperature around the glass might make 'em cranky, too, cause when I lived in Marlboro I had the lamp by a drafty slider door and some times it refused to play at all, and I'd have a big lump of red stuff at the bottom of a lamp. Like I said, they're temperamental creatures but when they want to show off, they do it nicely.

You can't shake the lamp to dislodge it, at least, not very hard, because the goo stuff likes to separate and then you get little tiny goo dots instead of nifty blobs. I've got a few in my lamp. So tonight I heated the lamp up a bit and then took the glass bit off the heat and tilted it a little and tried to roll the lamp around to get the coil to stick down. (Don't do that with bare hands, by the way.)

Everything seems normal now and I've got a lava lamp happily burbling away behind me, giving the room an eerie glow. If you watch closely you can even see the light level in the room rise and fall, too. It's rather nice. Everything else might be going to hell tonight, and I've been learning throughout the course of the day that everything I know is wrong (cathartic, yes, but always a hard lesson to learn) but at least my lava lamp is working.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:February 16th, 2005 01:57 pm (UTC)
If only you had a Polly Pig 6-piece spice set, you could sum up my professional life from 1997 in one tableau.
[User Picture]
Date:February 16th, 2005 03:18 pm (UTC)
The way you describe the room conjures images of my own room, during summers home from high school, watching the light level rise and fall due to my own lava lamp.

Maybe I should get one.
[User Picture]
Date:February 16th, 2005 03:19 pm (UTC)
I have a cloudy lava lamp :(
[User Picture]
Date:February 16th, 2005 04:23 pm (UTC)
We have three of the little plug-in ones. One each of green, blue, and pink.
[User Picture]
Date:February 16th, 2005 04:34 pm (UTC)
If they do separate, don't they clump back together after a while?
[User Picture]
Date:February 16th, 2005 05:28 pm (UTC)

Lava Lamps in My Life

by Abbe
grade 5

I had a lava lamp as a teenager which my dad viewed with some skepticism but tolerated nonetheless, since it was less dangerous than my other hobby, burning 3,642 candles simultaneously in my poorly-ventilated bedroom. He did tell me though that when he was younger, he was witness to the untimely demise of a lava lamp (by which I mean "a friend of his brokt one") and damned if it didn't make the biggest mess in the entire history of the universe. So, he implored me, PLEASE ABBE JUST DON'T BREAK THE LAVA LAMP OR I MIGHT KEEL OVER DEAD. The way /this/ story ends is, I never did break the lava lamp. I would probably have died from such a mess too - I am indeed my father's daughter.

Some years later I had a lava lamp on the living room mantle of the House a few of us rented. One inconvenient weekend the landparents came to survey their place and our current tenents and tell us how to Live Life and whatnot, and the ultra passive-aggressive (Mrs.) Baggenstos became transfixed on the lava lamp for a noticeable pause. (Flashbacks? Almost definitely not..)

Once the Baggenstos snapped out of it, she turned to me and cracked a forced smile. "That's really cool!" she said, "Y'know, I always wanted a lava lamp.. But I HEARD, if you LEAVE THEM ON ALL THE TIME, they can START A FIRE!!!!!" When I played the record backwards, what she ACTUALLY said was, "I'm cool, I'm hip, I swear! I'm pushing 60 (I mean '29-and-holding') and I wear big Fringe on my jacket, and lava lamps are oh em er, groovy! You can toottttally level with me, man, for sure!"

I ran it through my internal jargon-translator and figured out what she was really trying to say. "OMG OMG OMG!!! DO YOU LEAVE THAT FUCKING THING ON ALL THE TIME??! YOU ARE GOING TO SET MY HOUSE ON FIRE PLEASE VACATE RIGHT THIS MOMENT." But I had to respect her, for being up-front and saying exactly what she meant.

Naturally from then on I made a point to leave it on all the time. Something mumble mumble, authority. Hrmph. Unfortunately, those 40-watt appliance bulbs don't last too long when they're on 24/7. It caused no mishaps. I guess it wasn't such a menace after all.

Just as an aside, those self-same landparents once lectured me (us) on how to be More Fiscally Responsibly by modeling ourselves after one Gregory Reid. They were a littttle too keen to believe his somewhat-misleading but not ENTIRELY untrue rental application. Stupid fuckers. :) They did have a cute son though.
[User Picture]
Date:February 16th, 2005 07:48 pm (UTC)
How does the keychain one work?
[User Picture]
Date:February 17th, 2005 04:44 am (UTC)
It didn't. There was oil beads in water that you could shake up and watch go 'round, and a little lightbulb underneath you could light if you pressed a button, but the light and motion were completely independent of each other.

Still, it was nifty to have on one's keychain until the time I pulled the keychain out of my pocket and the little fob broke off and the tiny lava lamp went flying and I never saw it again.

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