Bob travels back to chat with Ben

Bob travels back to chat with Ben
January marks the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's birth, and that's a good reason to get out my trusty Reverse Time Machine to learn more about ol' Ben.

When found, he was sitting under an apple tree � the one used by Isaac newton to discover gravity � arguing with Tom Jefferson, Johnny Hancock and George Washington about the whether the Bill of Rights should have been more specific.

He agreed to the interview which follows:

WatL: Let's start by getting a few facts.

BF: Okay. I was born in Boston on Jan. 17, 1706, one of 17 children of Josiah Franklin's two wives. Abiah was my mother.

WatL: You apparently didn't have much schooling.

BF: That's right. I quit after two years to help my father in the candle-making business. I dipped them and trimmed wicks � but I didn't like it.

WatL: That's when you became a printer at 17. Tell me about it.

BF: Well, at first I was an apprentice for my brother, Jim. We didn't get along, but I stuck it out. Then I went to Philadelphia where I got a job setting type.

WatL: You and your partner, Hugh Meredith, established your own printshop then. What did you do?

BF: We bought the Pennsylvania Gazette, and I started writing, too. After about a year, I bought Hugh out, and then I was on my own.

WatL: Didn't you write anonymous pieces for your brother as Mrs. Silence Dogood? That should have stood you in good stead with the Gazette.

BF: It did, all right. When I started Poor Richard's Almanak, I wrote under the pen name of Richard Saunders, too. The upshot of it was, I made a lot of money so I was able to retire at 42.

WatL: Is that when you started your scientific experiments and got involved with other things?

BF: It all runs together. I can't tell you when I established the first lending library, the first fire department, etc. But I was busier in retirement than when I was working.

WatL: You apparently invented lots of things. Can you name a few?

BF: Let's see. There was the Franklin stove, bifocals, the lightening rod and, oh yes, the armonica, which was a system of musical glasses I first saw and heard in France. I simply improved on it.

WatL: Didn't you have any bad ideas?

BF: Looking back, I'd say the first one was the wooden flippers I made for hands and feet to increase my swimming speed. They proved too cumbersome. The second was a hot-seat bathtub with a firebox under it. Needless to say, it never caught on. Of course, that doesn't count when I touted the turkey instead of the eagle as our national bird.

WatL: I heard you suffered from gout. Fill me in.

BF: Well, I ate a lot of rich foods in London. I drank a little bit too.

WatL: They say that Bing Crosby was a big Ben Franklin buff. Have you seen him in Heaven � assuming both of you got there� and what did you say to him?

BF: Yes, I've seen him here, but he is of another generation. Although I learned to play the harp, guitar and violin, he said I sounded too 17th century. He didn't like my lyrics either.

I could see he was tired of dredging up the past, so I turned off my Time Machine and let him go back to arguing about the Constitution.

There was lots more I could have asked him: about his wife, Deborah Reed, and about his experiment with a kite and key � but that will have to wait until another time.

� 2006 Robert F. Karolevitz

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