I mentioned the fearsome memoirs of Max Gergel here, but not many people know that he wrote another volume. “The Ageless Gergel”, out of print for who knows how long, is available here in PDF form. I have to note that it’s even more rambling and formless than “Excuse Me Sir, Would You Like to Buy a Bottle of Isopropyl Bromide”, and one also gets the impression that he used up a lot of his show-stopping anecdotes in the first book as well. I should also mention that the entire last section of the book is an account of a European vacation, during which no chemistry intrudes, and that the whole thing ends as if Gergel suddenly looked at his watch.
But there are some interesting chemical stories buried in there, and it’s worth skipping through some parts to find them. This one’s pretty typical:
I had been visiting Will at the plant in Elgin, South Carolina, and noticed that he smelled goaty. For that matter, the other workers seemed to have a goaty odor, too. I inquired the reason, and he took me to the source, an isolated section of the plant, which smelled horrendous. A large glass still, one that would have delighted a moonshiner in the old whiskey-making days was stinking up Hardwicke Chemical Co. and the surrounding farms. Now fatty acids have a rank odor smelling like rancid butter. The absolute worst member of the series is isovaleric acid. This smells like rancid butter with a soupgon of goat and old sneakers thrown in for good measure. As bad as it smells, the acid chloride derived from it is worse. It is so volatile that it will chase a visitor and leave its far from subtle mark. The odor is soap, water and Lysol resistant. This acid chloride reacts with mucous membrane so that while you are rendered ill by the obnoxious odor, the acid chloride is hydrolyzing with your perspiration as a reactant and eats away your lips, eyeballs and tongue. Hardwicke, committed to make this monster, was only too happy to find’ Columbia Organic Chemicals Co., Inc., as a “farmout” and once more we were making something no one else wanted to make.
We had never had such a dreadful assignment. Anyone working with this “superstink” is branded and given a wide berth. No matter how amorous his spouse may be, passion crumples despite baths, Chlorox and Dentine. For a while we made isovaleroyl chloride at Cedar Terrace. It created pandemonium among residents who first sniffed each other, came to the plant to sniff us, and then sniffled to their lawyers.
Unfortunately, I can’t quite put that acid chloride on my list of things I won’t work with, because I have worked with it. But I can imagine that making it by the barrel would be a pretty repellent business, for sure. A 25-gram bottle was enough for me.