I convinced Gil to stop with me at the little diner about three blocks from my house. I liked that place—for several reasons. For one, it was a real family business, not just another fast-food franchise. For another, hardly any other kids ever went in there—it was a place where Franconia’s old people liked to go. A place to get a cup of coffee, read the newspaper, and complain about the weather and politics and the Cincinnati and Cleveland sports teams. I liked the privacy. And I liked older people. They were either friendly or they left you alone—a nice combination.
“Why are you upset, Gil?” I asked him after the server took our order.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“There’s nothing to be sorry about. Everyone gets upset about something,” I said. “Even Mr. Gisborne.”
Gil sort of laughed. “Yeah, I noticed.” He took a deep breath. He was about to say something when our drinks came. I had a vanilla milkshake; Gil, a cherry Coke. He took another deep breath. “It’s kind of hard to explain,” he said. “But I’ve just always been interested in the falls. And I never thought I’d get the chance to see them. And then, out of nowhere …”
That seemed strange. Never get a chance to see them? Sometimes kids forget that they’re going to be adults one day and will be able to do whatever they want.
“Well, don’t worry about it,” I said. “We’ll get a Superior on our project. And you can splash around in Niagara Falls to your heart’s content.”
“How can we?” Gil asked. “We turned in a pretty dumb idea—refrigerator goop!—and Mr. Gisborne said there’s no changing once he’s approved the project.”
“There are lots of dumb ideas,” I said, “that turn out not to be so dumb.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, like the guy who figured out Post-It notes? That was basically a failed experiment.”
“What do you mean?”
“A friend of his at the 3-M company had developed an adhesive that wasn’t strong enough to really do anything, and so the formula for it was filed away—and nearly forgotten.”
“And so this other guy got the idea that this stuff that wasn’t really very sticky would be just right to put on little slips of paper to use as bookmarks. He was right, and he made a fortune.”
“So are you saying we’re going to get rich on our science fair project?” Gil smiled for one of the few times that afternoon.
I slurped the last drops of liquid from my shake. “No,” I said. “But we are going to win a trip to Niagara Falls.” I set down my empty glass. “You can bet on it.”