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Seth and the Waterbed

 

Water is heavy. This was a lesson I learned in my freshman year in college, back more years than I care to remember. It was something I learned in class, but the lesson was underscored by my first-ever roommate, Seth. It is not his real name – for reasons obvious as this story progresses.

I was accepted to the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. How far back? Back a few years after the Great Aerospace Bust left engineering graduates unable to find a job more challenging than pumping gasoline upon graduation. Not just baccalaureate degree holders, but rather those with masters and doctorates. In some ways folks looked on engineering grads the same way we view those with worthless studies degrees today.

My Home for Five Years “Back Then”

Many viewed engineering as a lost cause. I recognized opportunity. Even with the ignorance provided by a high school education I knew engineering would bounce back, and bet my future that by the time I graduated from college industry would be screaming for engineers. Despite advice from well-meaning high-school guidance counselors I skipped the liberal arts (then still rigorous), opting for engineering. This was particularly painful to my guidance counselor because I had the SAT scores to get into Michigan’s vaunted School of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

There were other high school classmates who wanted to go to LS&A who could not get in because of their SAT scores. LS&A demanded a composite score of 1250 (back in the day of two part SATs). Due to slack demand the Engineering College admitted those with an SAT of 1000 or higher. Several classmates lacking SAT scores to get into LS&A applied to Michigan’s Engineering College figuring they could transfer to LS&A later. This included Seth.

Seth and I (and my high school classmates) were townies. We had grown up in Ann Arbor. Many (including Seth) had chosen Michigan as a home-town school. I had not. I wanted to go to school away from my home town, but I was serious about engineering. Michigan – killing my dream of leaving town – had the state’s best engineering college. It was the only one offering the degree program which most interested me: naval architecture and marine engineering.

I was determined not to live at home. I had the wherewithal to afford a room near campus since I had snagged a job as a part-time computer operator. The dorms were full. I was not eager to live in a dorm anyway. But to take an apartment I needed a roommate. Seth needed a roommate too, so we paired up and rented a room in a run-down former one-family house six blocks from the two main engineering buildings.

Neither Seth nor I were cool kids in high school. I wasn’t cool because I didn’t care about high school status. I was your classic nerd. I was into wargaming and D&D (during the years D&D was being born), overweight, and clumsy. Seth was your typical square peg in a round hole. His dad was an exterminator. (How uncool is that?) Seth was part of the audio-visual group who handled the AV equipment. They were cool kids, but Seth was a hanger-on, their court jester.

Regardless, we were both Engineering students. We paid our bills and kept the place clean (by teenage male standards). We were both outsiders. Despite separate interests, we shared two interests common to most males in their late teens: booze and babes. (The drinking age in Michigan was then 18.) Unfortunately for Seth, I proved better with both. I was not trying to beat him at anything. I did not even realize there was a competition, a big reason he could not beat me. I was not playing the game. But Seth wanted to prove – to himself at least – he could top me in both.

He never topped at drinking because I out-massed him by 50% and picked my shots, literally. For him it was about volume. For me it was about quality and control. I could outdrink him because I was bigger, but was not interested in becoming blind drunk. I would have a few shots, and then space my drinking the rest of the night. Seth drank until blitzed.

Seth looked for ways he could drink more without it affecting him. The day of the Michigan-Ohio State game he was too hung over to go. Back then, in the days of the Woody Hayes-Bo Schembechler rivalry you had to be really sick to miss that. He had eaten a stick of butter before his night of drinking to “coat his stomach.” I am still not sure whether the butter, the booze or the combination decked him.

What really drove him nuts were girls – my success and his failure. This was back in that period after the pill and before AIDS. Most males in their late teens were into scoring – having sex as much as they could with as many girls as they could nail. I suspect (especially based on my own experiences) there was a lot more bragging than bagging going on. It was lot easiers to lie than to get laid, especially for the out crowd.

Not that it particularly mattered to me. By the middle of my freshman year I had found the love of my life, the incomparable Quilter, whom I later married and who has been my spouse for nearly forty years. She was still in high school, but we spent many weekend evenings together. Most was in group settings (she was also a wargamer, the kid sister of another high school gamer friend), but we went to movies, parties, and one-on-one dinners together. (Mike Pence is right. That is all I am saying.)

This was not the type of casual relationship sought by many male college freshmen of that day and certainly not an expression of the Playboy Philosophy then so popular among my contemporaries. Yet to Seth at that time it must have seemed I had climbed the mountain of ultimate studliness while he was left at the foothills. I did not help by refusing to discuss my intimate relationships on the grounds “a gentleman never tells.” (Really. A gentleman never tells. Especially if nothing is.) Reality was almost certainly more innocent than his imaginings.

Seth decided his solution to attracting girls lay in technology. He had a van – an old Dodge A100 panel van. Possibly it was a discard from his dad’s extermination business. If so, there were no markings. It was just an aging, rusty, mustard-color van. Seth was going to transform it into a sex-mobile by putting a bed in back.

Ladies, Your Ride Is Here

Despite the handicap of not being the love stud he thought I was I instinctively saw a flaw. Why would any woman (at least one not higher than a kite on weed or chemicals) be in the least attracted to the idea of making love on a crummy mattress in the back of a rusty old van? Seth had an answer to that objection. It would not be a standard mattress. No. His love machine would deploy a waterbed.

This was the dawn of the waterbed. Waterbeds were the ultimate in cool. According to fevered teen male imaginings of the era, sex in a waterbed was the superlative high. What could be more irresistible to girls?

Women reading this might offer an answer, even (or especially) those in their first years in college, but to Seth the logic was unassailable. Girls would fall into bed for him.

My Engin-sense tingled at that. I was majoring in naval architecture and had already taken the intro course. One thing they drummed into our freshman skulls was water is heavy. Really heavy. A standard waterbed size then was seven feet long, five feet wide, and eighteen inches deep. At least that was the size mattress Seth was installing.

Coincidentally a long ton of water (the standard unit of measure in shipbuilding) was 35 cubic feet for salt water. It is 36 cubic feet for fresh water, but the difference is almost negligible. I pulled out my trusty TI calculator (brand new that year). Even with fresh water, Seth’s waterbed, fully filled would weigh nearly 1-1/2 tons: 3300 pounds. I pointed out his van was rated for a cargo capacity of 1500 pounds – 3300 pounds was over two times that limit.

He would not let me pour cold water on his dream. He came up with a solution – first fill the waterbed with small Styrofoam balls and then add water. Styrofoam was much less dense than water. He figured he could get the weight down to 1000 pounds that way. I was more skeptical. I thought it would be more like 1800 pounds, but he was not listening to me.

As it turned out, we were both wrong. The Styrofoam absorbed water. The gross weight of a Styrofoam ball and water-filled waterbed exceeded both our estimates. For all I know the gross weight exceeded 3300 pounds. Regardless, the first attempt ended badly.

He filled the waterbed at his parents’ place out in the country west of town (mainly because I refused paying a massive water bill and his parent had a well). I was not there, but a witness who was reported the aft end of the van sagged ominously by the time Seth capped the waterbed. Mission accomplished, the two of them hopped into the front seats to head for Delhi Park, the local make-out place.

Of course, the shocks failed. They did not even get out of the dirt driveway before the rear end bottomed out.

Seth was nothing if not determined. He fixed up his van. Added heavy duty shocks. Substituted hollow plastic balls (think small ping-pong balls) for Styrofoam. This time he decided on a test drive before taking it to Delhi Park. He drove it from his parents’ house to our apartment and invited me to check it out. I remember sitting on the bed. It made an interesting clattering sound, not my conception of the music of love. By now it was spring. We had leased the place through the end of May.

What Seth (and other high school classmates who tried getting into LS&A through Engineering) did not realize was the Engineering College had not lowered classroom standards – just the entrance gateway. Like engineers everywhere they were focused on results. Keep up with the coursework and they were happy, regardless of your SAT. If not, too bad – again regardless of SAT. And Engineering, like math, was hard. Between the focus on drinking and chasing babes Seth failed to keep his grades up. He was not coming back to Michigan. I was and moved on to a new roommate.

But Seth still had his magnificent sex-mobile. I heard the coda from friends. It was another lesson about water – this time about momentum and free-surface effects.

Delhi Park was on the Huron River. It really was a pleasant place to spend a weekend back then. It also had a reputation as a make-out spot.

To get there you took Huron River Drive, a very pretty and very winding two-lane road paralleling Huron River. The speed limit was 55 mph and Seth was at the limit when he reached a sharp curve. Except when he turned the water, impelled by momentum, continued on a straight line. Into the river. Taking the van for company.

It skidded back-end first into the Huron River. Nobody was hurt, but the after end of the van was in the river, with the front on the bank. The rear tires were axle deep into the river bottom. It took two truck wreckers to pull the thing out.

And that was the end of Seth’s magnificent sex-mobile.

Published in Humor
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Members have made 46 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Kay of MT Member

    I’m sending this to my grandsons. Best laugh I’ve had in weeks.

    • #1
    • April 18, 2017 at 2:14 pm
    • Like5 likes
  2. Profile photo of Jules PA Member

    Fantastic story.

    I love the imagery of the bed skipping the curve and taking the van for company.

    • #2
    • April 18, 2017 at 3:39 pm
    • Like4 likes
  3. Profile photo of PHCheese Member

    Oh water beds. My wife and I thought we were dying. We were waking up with a fever every morning. After a couple of weeks we realized the thermostat was stuck on high for the water bed.

    • #3
    • April 18, 2017 at 3:42 pm
    • Like14 likes
  4. Profile photo of Isaac Smith Member

    Absolute brilliance.

    One quibble –

    Seawriter:I pointed out his van was rated for a cargo capacity of 1500 pounds – 3300 pounds was over three two times that limit.

    I know it stings for an engineer to have his math corrected by a lawyer, but I can’t help myself.

    • #4
    • April 18, 2017 at 3:43 pm
    • Like13 likes
  5. Profile photo of Mike-K Coolidge

    The story reminds me of the old joke about the truck driver with ten tons of canaries in the back of his 5 ton truck. Every few blocks he would stop, get out, and hit the truck body with a baseball bat. He explained that he had to keep half of them in the air all the time.

    • #5
    • April 18, 2017 at 4:01 pm
    • Like13 likes
  6. Profile photo of Mike-K Coolidge

    BTW, I was an engineer even well before the Pill. Every engineer I knew was going to medical school, law school or getting an MBA. I went to medical school.

    • #6
    • April 18, 2017 at 4:02 pm
    • Like2 likes
  7. Profile photo of Cato Rand Coolidge

    For just a moment there I thought Seth was going to end up dead.

    • #7
    • April 18, 2017 at 4:23 pm
    • Like2 likes
  8. Profile photo of Seawriter Member
    Seawriter Post author

    Cato Rand (View Comment):
    For just a moment there I thought Seth was going to end up dead.

    What happened convinced me God looks after fools and children. Since the van went in tail first the seats protected them. Also they went crashing through a line of dogwood, which slowed the van down considerably.

    Seawriter

    • #8
    • April 18, 2017 at 4:37 pm
    • Like1 like
  9. Profile photo of Seawriter Member
    Seawriter Post author

    Mike-K (View Comment):
    The story reminds me of the old joke about the truck driver with ten tons of canaries in the back of his 5 ton truck. Every few blocks he would stop, get out, and hit the truck body with a baseball bat. He explained that he had to keep half of them in the air all the time.

    Don’t think that would work. The wind off the wings (in the confined space) would have a force equal to the weight of the flying bird. I love the image though.

    Seawriter

    • #9
    • April 18, 2017 at 4:38 pm
    • Like5 likes
  10. Profile photo of Mike LaRoche Thatcher

    Ha! Great post.

    • #10
    • April 18, 2017 at 4:51 pm
    • Like3 likes
  11. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Good story, Seawriter.

    • #11
    • April 18, 2017 at 5:03 pm
    • Like2 likes
  12. Profile photo of Mike-K Coolidge

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Don’t think that would work. The wind off the wings (in the confined space) would have a force equal to the weight of the flying bird.

    Most science fiction would not survive Physics analysis. I must say that my favorite SF novel (Needle by Hal Clement) is getting closer to reality.

    • #12
    • April 18, 2017 at 5:51 pm
    • Like2 likes
  13. Profile photo of Trink Reagan

    You can’t make up a story like this!

    Well told Seawriter.

    At least my hubby and I had the good sense to put our waterbed in the basement on a cement floor 😉

    • #13
    • April 18, 2017 at 6:01 pm
    • Like7 likes
  14. Profile photo of RushBabe49 Thatcher

    I had a Somma waterbed for years. It was unusual in that it was made up of ten lengthwise tubes individually filled with water, and you could vary the firmness by how much you filled up each tube. When you moved around, they sloshed.

    • #14
    • April 18, 2017 at 7:58 pm
    • Like2 likes
  15. Profile photo of Judge Mental Member

    Sorry to rain on your parade (get it?… rain… water), but your dimensions on the mattress just aren’t right. A king size is more like 6.5 feet long, 6 feet wide, and (here’s the important part) 9 inches deep. The side rails for a waterbed are made using 2×10’s (which are, of course, smaller than 2×10 inches). Part of the bottom is taken up attaching in the decking that the mattress rests on, meaning that a complete full-level fill is in the 8 to 9 inch range. I don’t need to remember this; the bed I bought in 1980 (or maybe ’81) is in my bedroom right now.

    This is not to say that putting one in the back of a crappy old van is a good idea, and what happened was actually to be expected, and I really liked the story, but 18 inches deep is just completely unrealistic.

    (I bought the waterbed with my employee discount during the 10 years I worked for a company called Waterbeds ‘n’ Stuff, so I do know what I’m talking about here. The Stuff part is the explanation for my similar odd expertise in sex toys and drug paraphernalia.)

    • #15
    • April 18, 2017 at 8:04 pm
    • Like6 likes
  16. Profile photo of Paul DeRocco Member

    Anyone who couldn’t intuit what would happen to a giant bag of water when you turn the wheel or slam on the brakes, even if mixed with ping-pong balls and supported by a suitably strong chassis, probably has a brain better suited for something other than engineering.

    He got off lucky.

    • #16
    • April 18, 2017 at 8:04 pm
    • Like11 likes
  17. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher

    What Seth really needed was a quality pick-up line.

    “I have candy. Get in the van.”

    • #17
    • April 18, 2017 at 8:07 pm
    • Like6 likes
  18. Profile photo of Ontheleftcoast Member

    I didn’t get much action on it but I had one. On the bright side, it kept the converted garage I was in at an even temperature in the winter which was fine for brewing beer in the closet.

    • #18
    • April 18, 2017 at 8:27 pm
    • Like2 likes
  19. Profile photo of profdlp Coolidge

    The fatal flaw in this plan was that had he been successful he was likely to end up scoring with Michigan chicks.* There’s a reason they call them Wolverines, you know. Maybe he was luckier to just get dunked in the river.

    *Your lovely wife being the exception, of course.

    (Sorry – we take our Buckeyes seriously, even when it’s not football season…and it is NEVER “not” football season, there just sometimes is a long gap between games.) 😉

    • #19
    • April 18, 2017 at 9:08 pm
    • Like5 likes
  20. Profile photo of J. D. Fitzpatrick Member

    profdlp (View Comment):
    The fatal flaw in this plan was that had he been successful he was likely to end up scoring with Michigan chicks.* There’s a reason they call them Wolverines, you know. Maybe he was luckier to just get dunked in the river.

    *Your lovely wife being the exception, of course.

    (Sorry – we take our Buckeyes seriously, even when it’s not football season…and it is NEVER “not” football season, there just sometimes is a long gap between games.) 😉

    @mikelaroche, can you show us some Michigan chicks?

    • #20
    • April 18, 2017 at 9:18 pm
    • Like4 likes
  21. Profile photo of Mike LaRoche Thatcher

    J. D. Fitzpatrick (View Comment):

    profdlp (View Comment):
    The fatal flaw in this plan was that had he been successful he was likely to end up scoring with Michigan chicks.* There’s a reason they call them Wolverines, you know. Maybe he was luckier to just get dunked in the river.

    *Your lovely wife being the exception, of course.

    (Sorry – we take our Buckeyes seriously, even when it’s not football season…and it is NEVER “not” football season, there just sometimes is a long gap between games.) 😉

    @mikelaroche, can you show us some Michigan chicks?

    Here you go!

    • #21
    • April 18, 2017 at 9:33 pm
    • Like5 likes
  22. Profile photo of Seawriter Member
    Seawriter Post author

    profdlp (View Comment):
    The fatal flaw in this plan was that had he been successful he was likely to end up scoring with Michigan chicks.* There’s a reason they call them Wolverines, you know. Maybe he was luckier to just get dunked in the river.

    The joke among the males attending the University of Michigan at that time was that nine out of ten coeds in the Big Ten were gorgeous and the tenth went to Michigan. (Today you would be sent to re-education camp for saying that.)

    Although Seth, I, and my high school classmates going to UM were townies. And Quilter was a townie, too. She was the kid sister of a high school friend of mine. There were plenty of good looking girls who grew up in Ann Arbor. It was the ones who came to Ann Arbor to attend the University who looked like they regularly drank vinegar cocktails.

    Even there, Seth would probably have said something to the effect that all cats looked alike in the dark. A beer goggles man if ever there was one.

    Seawriter

    • #22
    • April 18, 2017 at 9:34 pm
    • Like8 likes
  23. Profile photo of Judge Mental Member

    Mike LaRoche (View Comment):

    J. D. Fitzpatrick (View Comment):

    profdlp (View Comment):
    The fatal flaw in this plan was that had he been successful he was likely to end up scoring with Michigan chicks.* There’s a reason they call them Wolverines, you know. Maybe he was luckier to just get dunked in the river.

    *Your lovely wife being the exception, of course.

    (Sorry – we take our Buckeyes seriously, even when it’s not football season…and it is NEVER “not” football season, there just sometimes is a long gap between games.) 😉

    @mikelaroche, can you show us some Michigan chicks?

    Here you go!

    My God, she’s enormous!

    • #23
    • April 18, 2017 at 9:34 pm
    • Like11 likes
  24. Profile photo of Annefy Member

    I didn’t meet my husband til after college. I am at times proud – and other times horrified – that we are still in touch with many of his college friends. We are all travelling to Scotland together in six weeks.

    After 30 years I’ve heard the stories so many times that they look to me and say: remember when? Well, no, I don’t remember the event, I wasn’t there and I didn’t know you then. But I remember the 18-umpth times you told the story.

    Not complaining – I didn’t go to college but had part of the experience vicariously.

    Loved this story – can’t wait to show it to husband. If he’s got a waterbed story he’s been wise to keep it to himself.

    • #24
    • April 18, 2017 at 10:18 pm
    • Like8 likes
  25. Profile photo of J. D. Fitzpatrick Member

    Thanks, Mike.

    We really need some kind of bat signal. Kitten signal. Whatever.

    • #25
    • April 18, 2017 at 10:20 pm
    • Like2 likes
  26. Profile photo of Bishop Wash Member

    Seawriter: This was back in that period after the pill and before AIDS.

    Adam Carolla laments he came of age just after this period and refers to it as mid-coke and pre-AIDS.

    • #26
    • April 18, 2017 at 10:55 pm
    • Like2 likes
  27. Profile photo of Cow Girl Thatcher

    That is a hilarious story! He truly was in the wrong degree program, huh? So NOT an engineer brain.

    We’ve been sleeping on a waterbed our whole marriage–which started in 1974. I’m a big fan of my old weird relic.

    • #27
    • April 18, 2017 at 11:06 pm
    • Like1 like
  28. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    The Stuff part is the explanation for my similar odd expertise in sex toys and drug paraphernalia.

    TMI, Judge. TMI!

    • #28
    • April 19, 2017 at 1:17 am
    • Like4 likes
  29. Profile photo of Hang On Member

    Sounds like something out of a Cheech and Chong movie.

    • #29
    • April 19, 2017 at 5:03 am
    • Like4 likes
  30. Profile photo of Isaac Smith Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    The joke among the males attending the University of Michigan at that time was that nine out of ten coeds in the Big Ten were gorgeous and the tenth went to Michigan. (Today you would be sent to re-education camp for saying that.)

    Funny. The version at Carleton when I was there was that 99 out of 100 coeds are beautiful; the rest go to Carleton. Based on what Carleton was like in the 70s, I assume today you would be quite lucky just to get sent to a camp.

    • #30
    • April 19, 2017 at 7:11 am
    • Like1 like
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