Magnets and You–or Me | HumorOutcasts

Magnets and You–or Me

April 12, 2018

Today I had a magnetic resonance image–or an “MRI” as it is known to its friends–taken of my right shoulder.

If you haven’t had one before, the procedure involves lying very still for about a half hour in a human-size tube while you are bombarded with a powerful magnetic field and radio frequency pulses.  Imagine being stuck in a single-serving size elevator while a jackhammer pounds away on the roof and you’ll get the picture.

Charlie Parker


The science of MRIs has advanced to the point where you can now choose from a wide selection of programmed music to listen to while you endure this Winston Smith-like punishment that is straight out of Orwell’s “1984.”  I chose Charlie Parker, and so now know what the protean master of bebop would sound like if one of his small groups were to play on a helicopter trying to land troops in Vietnam War firefight.


You have plenty of time to reflect as you undergo an MRI, and I got to thinking of Diet Smith, a character in the Dick Tracy comic strip when I was a boy.  “He who controls magnetism,” Smith said, “controls the world.”  I had a newfound appreciation of Smith’s visionary genius as I lay there, unable to do more than wriggle in my claustrophobia-inducing container, and in fact forbidden to do even that by Rachel, the pleasant assistant who encouraged me at various points during my isolation by saying “You’re doing great!” through my headphones.  “This is a day at the beach,” I replied.  “I went to Catholic grade school, where the nuns told us we’d burn in purgatory until the end of time if we couldn’t hold it until lunch time.”

Dick Tracy, with two-way wrist radio


But returning to Smith: comic aficionados of a certain age will recall that he was the inventor of Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio, a precursor to cell phones.  If he was right about that technological nuisance, I thought, could he also be right about magnetism?  In the funny papers, Smith built a space ship that was powered by magnetism.  He did not, however, create “The Beatles Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” fun magnet game, which teaches kids what The Fab Four would look like if they had to undergo chemotherapy.  Still, for a fictional character in a medium as ephemeral as newspapers, he seemed to be blessed with Leonardo da Vinci-like levels of technological foresight.



Magnetism, as every schoolboy knows, is the physical force that causes the white Scotty dog to turn around very quickly when the black Scotty dog tries to sneak up behind her, and vice versa.  You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to sneak magnetism by the white Scotty dog.  Or the black Scotty dog.  It is magnetism that causes the white and black Scotty dogs to kiss, an example of “animal magnetism” if ever there were one.  There are also “babe” magnets, such as real dogs on leashes that cause women to stop you and say “How cute!”  I discovered, when I used to bring my two toddlers to Boston University to pick their mother up from graduate school, that walking small humans induces the same response from young women, but there was something self-defeating about this revelation; yes his kids are cute, you’d imagine the charming coeds thinking, but he must already be spoken for.


As a boy, I reasoned that if magnetism could make things move without apparent causation it was perhaps the invisible force that made me do stupid things, such as knocking my mother’s bric-a-brac shelf to the floor as I pretended to be clinging to a ledge while inching along our dining room walls.  “Sorry mom,” I said as she swept up the shattered remains of three generations of gew-gaws handed down to her by matrilineal ancestors.  “I don’t know what made me do it.”

The subject of magnetism bears further scrutiny because NASA satellites have discovered a breach in the magnetic field that protects the earth from severe space weather.  Forget about global warming–a layer of solar particles 4,000 miles thick has been observed blowing through this hole at a speed of 1,000,000 miles per hour!  These are very significant numbers, because I put them in italics, a type style with characters that slant to the right.  Sort of like the contributors on Fox News Channel’s “Special Report.”

The healing powers of magnetism, available for your child’s birthday party.


At the same time that scientists are warning us about the coming magnetic catastrophe, they tell us that magnets aren’t just a diagnostic tool for MRIs, but also have health benefits.  According to them, magnets speed healing of bone fractures and can effectively treat depression in patients who don’t respond to drugs.  The magnets, not the scientists.  The scientists just sit around applying for grants and having graduate assistants write research papers for them.

Kahula O Hawaii:  Irrelevant dancers who, according to, are “known for their precise knee-knocking movements.”


Well, which is it?  Magnetism–threat to life on earth, or new-age cure-all?

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to stick with “powerful unseen force that makes me do stupid things.”

Con Chapman

I'm a Boston-area writer, author of The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Red Sox-Yankees pennant race, and 50 books of humor including "Scooter & Skipper Blow Things Up!" by HumorOutcasts Press. My work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Christian Science Monitor and The Boston Globe among print outlets. "Rabbit's Blues," my biography of Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington's long-time alto sax player, will be published by Oxford University Press in September.

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One Response to Magnets and You–or Me

  1. April 13, 2018 at 1:47 am

    I have a little metal fragment in my chest, but if I ever have to have an MRI I’ll finally get it removed–whether I want to or not.

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