Kicky Baby Blog: Spooky Socks

Originally posted on the Kicky Baby blog, February 19, 2009.

I’m starting this weekly (I hope) blog with a scientific mystery.

As guys get older, we unexpectedly find ourselves up in the middle of the night, rummaging for needful things–like socks to warm the feet. (Reference: old Prince Bolkonsky in Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE.)

The middle of the night–early morning–hours before dawn–utter quiet. No moon.

Eyes adjusted by sleep and dark to extreme levels of sensitivity.

I wander across the bedroom into a completely black closet. I can’t see, but I know where to find my drawer full of socks. My hand reaches unerringly for just the right pair, united by tucking their little tops together into a cozy mushroom. And suddenly, from the back of the drawer, three vague explosions of light make me jump.

Has someone hidden a cell phone or Gameboy in my sock drawer? Sleepy, disoriented, I wait a few seconds, then reach in and rummage some more–and it happens again. I’m not just seeing things and I’m not experiencing a detached retina. Moving my socks around causes luminescent outbursts, just the color one would expect from ghosts–grayish white, more subdued and sad than pretty–and so dim as to be unnoticed in daytime.

My sock drawer is haunted.

After a tentative grab for a pair of my favorite toe-covers, I discover that the culprits are:

White cotton tube socks. Each one, when handled, emits grayish-white puffs of light, like lightning seen through clouds from high up in space. Opening up the two-sock mushroom bundle causes more diffuse flashes. Spreading the neck of a sock gives access to a narrowing tunnel of spreading glows. Stretching them–same reaction. The glows do not subside after vigorous tugging and squeezing. Plucking tube socks from the laundry basket–socks worn for a day–I discover that these are still capable of producing light.

Stretching produces the brightest glows.

It’s very late or very early. I’m tired. I could be a true scientist and spend hours rummaging through everything and testing it. My energy level just barely allows me to try out  colored socks, underwear. White things in general.

No glow. So far, white cotton tube socks are it. They probably come from China–but I’ve had them for years.

Discussing this the next morning with Astrid, two theories dominate.

One: static. In my experience, static appears smaller and much brighter, but I suppose hundreds of little static discharges, clustering around rubbing fibers, particularly coiled strands of elastic (Astrid’s guess), might explain what I’m seeing.  But static usually subsides quickly. And no other garments or socks exhibit the glow.

Two: Phosphates. Phosphorus can make a Giant Hound glow in the dark, so perhaps phosphates in the detergent could stick with socks and make a similar glow. But we use green laundry soap. Likely no phosphates. (I’d better check just to make sure.)  And no other laundered items glow.

Nix static and phosphates.

This sort of science pushes along in its own good time. I’m going to give it a few more tries. 

Perhaps what we are about to discover is a new source of energy. Ghost fusion! Tube Sock Hyperlight Drive! An explanation for why socks disappear…

Or perhaps just enough of this mysterious force to warm my feet.

Alternate theories, similar experiences? Let’s see how long it takes for the web to solve this mystery to my satisfaction.