Volume 39, Issue 1, January 2004


Alligators in the Sewer
Urban Legends of the Glass Industry

by Dez Farnady

There are stories about alligators in the sewers of Manhattan, and since you can probably find just about anything imaginable in the sewers of New York, why not an alligator? Or, since gators roam at will in the Everglades, when developers invade those areas with houses and golf courses it is not unusual to find gators roaming the neighborhoods. So, it is perfectly reasonable to believe that a gator once ate a golfer. 

There are people who actually donít believe these stories and call them urban legends. Being somewhat of a history buff, I know that most legends, in fact, have some basisóurban or otherwise. You may have to do some serious historical research to find the support for some of these legends, but donít let that bother you. I will do the research for you. But my current interest is specifically in the legends that have invaded the glass business.
Glass Urban Legends
The first urban glass legend I encountered many years ago had to do with cutting glass with a diamond ring. The story described how you could slice glass with a diamond ring like cutting butter with a Ginsu knife. Why one would want to cut, or more likely just scratch, a 50-cent piece of window glass with a $1,000 diamond ring is the real mystery of that particular legend. 

I recall the historical documentation for the second glass legend from the comic books of my childhood. I always marveled at the skill with which bad guys, or sometimes even good guys, so easily cut circular holes in windows to perfect their clandestine entry. After just a quick score of the cutter, they would slop some sticky goop on the glass and lift the circular piece right out. I could never figure out why the professional glazier has to hack and nip and curse the process that was so easy for Batman. I suppose there is some basis for that quick cut, but the real trick has not been revealed to the glass industry. We still have to do it the hard way.

Up for Debate
Having participated in the perpetuation of the following glass legend, it is time for an explanation. 

This third glass legend currently being debated at length on the Internet is that glass is a liquid. In the glass industry, this issue is mostly ignored. The idea that glass is a liquid is based on all sorts of chemical facts and theories. But the true proof of its liquid state is evidenced by the 10-foot wide flowing river of glass I have personally witnessed at several float glass plants. The myth debunkers are insisting that heating it is cheating. Glass at normal temperatures has the viscosity of an anvil. They are convinced that this is enough proof that the stained glass windows of 1,000-year-old European cathedrals are not going to spill out of their frames any time soon. Well, that is not proof enough for me. I have this vision of one of those old glass Coke bottles melting to a puddle. Facts alone are not enough to convince me that this is not possible. 

It is a fact that the molecular structure of glass enables it to flow. It is also fact that it does not flow a heck of a lot at normal temperatures, but that means nothing. So, it will take my Coke bottle a few billion years before it becomes a puddle. That only means we may have taken some liberties with the time it takes to make that puddle. We live in a society that plays fast and loose with the zeroes anyway. So, itís not 100 years or even 1,000, maybe not even a million years before the cathedrals spill their windows. Donít tell me you believe the numbers astronomers spin out every day about how many zeroes are contained in the number of light years it is to some galaxy on the edge of the universe. If they believe they can see or know those numbers to be true, then with enough zeroes after the years I am prepared to believe that my Coke bottle can be a puddle eventually. 

It is really just a matter of numbers. Glass flows, but at normal temperatures it flows ever so slowly. The window glass in old houses will just take a little longer than we figured to be single-strength up top and quarter-inch at the bottom. We just fudged the years by a few zeroes. Whatís the matter with that? It is not only the glass guys and the astronomers whose zeroes are suspect. Every politician you know has fudged the zeroes, particularly when they are attached to your tax dollars and how much of them they are going to spend. Is there another urban legend in there somewhere? Like trimming zeroes off the national debt maybe? Hey, it is all just a numbers game. 


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