This writing is for the amazing Erin Q. Last week, she said “Why haven’t you written any blog posts lately? Get on that. Your fans need more.” I didn’t even realize that I had fans. (What a bunch of weirdos!) Thanks, Erin!
You’re normal, right? Do all of the weirdos in the world think they’re normal or do they know they’re a little twisted? I’m sure, like everything else, there is a spectrum of weirdness and I also think that the most interesting people are weirdos. But, there are definitely times when you suddenly realize that you’ve crossed over your normal boundary into whatever you consider to be weird or just plain stupid. Those times seem to happen in sets of two for me. Am I a slow learner or hopelessly optimistic thinking that the outcome will be different the second time? Probably both.
In the early eighties, my parents bought a massive new RCA console television (WITH REMOTE!) and I somehow managed to talk them into letting me have our old TV in my room. I used this large box with a fake woodgrain finish and giant telescoping rabbit ear antennas to watch countless sporting events, Wide World of Sports, The Superfriends, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and a number of other programs on the five channels that we received. I remember jumping up to quickly close my door when Madonna premiered “Like a Virgin” on some Music Awards broadcast. I thought that my parents would be pretty upset to hear her openly saying the word ‘virgin’ on television while rolling around on the stage in her white wedding dress. Scandalous! I definitely would have been scolded for watching such a thing. I think I was 12.
For Christmas one year, I got a huge bag of red and green M&Ms. As I sat in my room watching the Viking’s game one Sunday afternoon, I was slowly wiping out that bag. I would eat one at a time. Three at a time. A small handful. Etc. At some point, I started putting a single M&M on the tip of my index finger and sucking them into my mouth. I would start the vacuum effect and then bring my mouth over to the M&M or I would bring the M&M over to my mouth until it encountered the suction and got sucked in. It was pretty amusing. Or, I should clarify, it was quite amusing until I sucked one of the candies into my mouth and onward into my throat where it lodged in my windpipe and cutoff my ability to breathe. You wouldn’t think that an M&M could choke a human to death as effectively as a deranged killer, but let me assure you that they’ve got a dark side. (Side note: I’m sure this homicidal M&M was one of the red ones because the green ones seem too innocent and positive to hurt anyone. It would be like Meg Ryan garroting Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally”. That may happen in the modern remake co-rewritten my Nicolas Sparks and Stephen King, but it would have been unthinkable in the original just like a world where green M&M’s are something other than innocent and pure.)
Eventually, my gagging, panicking, and writhing along with my good luck caused the candy to turn slightly and I was able to move it upward to a place where I could painfully swallow it. My red face normalized, I wiped my runny nose and eyes, and the air tasted pretty good. After a minute or so, I went back to watching the game and a short time later I went back to eating the M&M’s. One at a time, three at a time, a small handful, etc. At some point, I decided to try the suction thing again and, within minutes, I was choking on another, undoubtedly red, M&M. Really stupid. Twice.
As I thought back on this incident where I choked in my bedroom while the Vikings no doubt choked on the football field right in front of me, I thought briefly about the M&M slogan “Melts in you mouth, not in your hands.” That’s a filthy and dangerous lie.
My Dad’s army buddy Jim lived in a crime ridden neighborhood in the inner city of Indianapolis. As I was growing up, Jim and his two boys visited us each summer or we visited them. My Dad credited Jim with saving his life during the Korean War. In reality, Jim “saved his life” by giving him a Snickers bar and a can of Coke on the troop ship that they both took from San Francisco to Japan. My Dad had been seasick along with most of the rest of the soldiers on the ship for over two weeks and hadn’t eaten much until that candy bar and pop hit the spot. His life was saved and a lifelong friendship was born.
There were guns hidden and lying out in the open all over Jim’s house. He was a bit of a paranoid in addition to living in a tough neighborhood. There was a leather sling mounted under the kitchen table with a sawed off shotgun in it that I noticed as we were eating breakfast one morning. There were several rifles lying on the floor under the bed in the guest bedroom where I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor. Jim also had a Beretta pistol that he used to shoot two guys who were stealing his car stereo in his garage one night. He had microphones setup in the garage and a speaker in the house as a homespun security system, so he heard the robbers breaking in. One robber was taken to the hospital in an ambulance with several bullet wounds after being shot in the garage and the other was taken away in the back of a police cruiser because he only got winged as he was fleeing down the alley according to my Dad. Jim was not charged with anything and his car stereo was saved. Let’s just say it was an interesting neighborhood in an interesting state at an interesting period during the early 1980’s.
Jim also had two dogs. One was a small Shih Tzu, I believe, whose name I can’t remember because the dog was old and tired and never wanted to play with me. The other was a large Doberman whose name was Rodney. Jim introduced me to the little dog then he pointed at the Doberman and said “That’s Rodney. Stay away from him. He’ll kill you.” Rodney wasn’t a pet, he was a home security device and he was treated as such by Jim, but I thought he was the coolest dog I’d ever seen.
As my parents visited with Jim in the living room, I got bored and started wandering around the house. I ended up sitting at the shotgun laden kitchen table playing a hand-held Mattel Electronics Football II game that I had brought with me. Rodney walked into the kitchen and I could hear his nails clicking on the linoleum. When he saw me, his stub of a cutoff tail wagged and he turned and ran out of the room only to return a few moments later with a big rubber banana dog toy that squeaked. He bit up and down on it and it squeaked over and over again. Then he came over and dropped it on the floor in front of me. Rodney the killer dog wanted to play. My parents weren’t around and he didn’t look like he wanted to hurt me. I reached out for the toy and as I grabbed it so did Rodney. He was exuberant and I hadn’t realized that he liked to play tug of war more than fetch. Unfortunately, I had my index finger extended as I grabbed the banana and Rodney grabbed that along with the banana. Ouch. But, he didn’t notice the look of pain on my face and he started to play tug of war anyway. Tug of war with a large Doberman is hard enough without your finger being the object being contested. On top of that, I was doing my best to keep quiet so that my folks didn’t catch me playing with the forbidden dog. It was a difficult game. As he growled and snarled and shook his head and pulled and as I bit back the pain and tried pulling my finger out, I realized that I couldn’t win that way. So, I pushed instead of pulling and when Rodney opened his mouth a bit to take a better bite of the banana I was able to jerk my finger out of his mouth. I retreated to the chair at the table. I had tears in my eyes from the pain but also from the intense effort to stay quiet. I wiped those away and stopped the bleeding cut on my finger with a napkin from the table. Rodney was oblivious to my personal drama and kept wagging his stub and dropping the banana in front of me. When I just looked at him, he would pick it up and drop it again. Occasionally, he whined too. Now, you would think that having your finger bitten, cut, and bruised by a large Doberman who was playing tug of war with it would teach you to leave the dog alone. It didn’t. He was so cute and so insistent and I was so bored that I eventually decided to make a grab for the banana again. Of course I would be more careful and only grab the very end to avoid the teeth. It would be different the second time, right? No. It wouldn’t. And, as Rodney bit down on the same finger a second time I fully realized how stupid my plan had been. Instinctively, I tried to pull my finger out again and the game was back on. I had to use the pushing trick several times to get my finger free the second time because Rodney was smart and had learned from the first round. Each time I unsuccessfully pulled the finger out, he bit back down on it again. In the end, I retreated to the chair at the table again and grabbed a napkin to help stop the bleeding AGAIN. Really stupid. Twice. Decades later, you can actually still see the scar.
As I wrote about previously in The Poop Mound blog entry, I worked at Wild Mountain Ski Area when I was in High School. There were many long nights of sheer boredom sitting in lift shacks on the side of the “mountain” watching skiers get on or off the lift and stopping the lift now and then as one of them fell. One particularly boring night, I was operating the main chairlift right in front of the chalet with another guy named Wade. He and I took turns sitting in the shack or helping folks get on the lift by holding the chair briefly for them as they sat down. We switched about every half hour. As I was sitting in the shack I started looking at the large, industrial looking control panel for the lift and I noticed that there was a big red light bezel with the word ON underneath it. The light was not working even though the lift was obviously powered up, so I unscrewed the glass bezel after tapping it a few times and I found that the bulb was broken. I tried to tap it and I tried to unscrew it and it just spun because the glass part was broken off from the metal base of the bulb. I pulled the bulb glass out of the hole and looked inside. The metal part was still in the socket, so I reached into the hole with my thumb and index finger in an attempt to unscrew the metal base from the socket. I kept my fingers as close to the outside of the hole as I could so that I wouldn’t get shocked. As the electricity hit me, I jerked back in my chair and made a noise like I would imagine an extremely constipated 100 year old man makes trying to push out a particularly difficult and painful stool. I ripped my fingers out of the hole and held them with the other hand as I processed what had just happened. Wade ran over to the window of the shack and looked in at me, looked down at the open socket in the control panel, and then looked back at me holding my tingling fingers. He said “Did you stick you fingers in there?! What the hell are you doing?!!” I explained that I was trying to get the broken bulb out of the socket and he told me to just put it back together and leave it alone which I did.
Soon it was my turn to go outside and assist skiers. 30 minutes later, I was back in the shack staring at that socket again. I knew that if I just kept my fingers closer to the sides of the hole, I wouldn’t get shocked. Years later I realized that the socket and the bulb base were both metal and the base was electrified so there was no way to touch the base without being shocked, but that realization was far too late to save me from my second attempt. When the electricity hit me, I made my approximation of the noise an extremely constipated 100 year old man makes while trying to push out a particularly difficult and painful stool for the second time in the same day. Again, Wade ran over to the window and looked in at me and the control panel. This time, he summarized the situation perfectly by simply saying “You’re stupid!” So, here again, I was really stupid. Twice.
I had an alarmingly similar encounter with electricity while trying to fix an Alpine home air purifier about 15 years later, but all that needs to be said about that incident is that I was quite stupid. Twice. And, as a side note, it’s good to unplug electrical items BEFORE sticking your hand into them twice or even just once.
I’m not much of a meat eater other than some chicken and occasional fish, but everyone else in my family is somehow related to the Tyrannosaurus Rex so I end up grilling from time to time. The igniter on my grill wasn’t working on one of these occasions, so I got a book of matches and decided to drop one into the grill to light it. This didn’t work after several attempts, so I thought that maybe I would have better luck if the lid was closed. I tried sticking the match into openings at the bottom of the grill, but that didn’t work either, so I opened the lid about an inch and stuck a lit match in there. That worked. What I hadn’t considered, though, was that this whole time the gas had been building up inside the grill. There was a big WHUFF sound and as the lid blew back away from me, I was surrounded by a thin sheet of flame that shot out of the narrow opening I had made to stick the match in. I jumped back as the lid slammed down again and the flames dissipated. There was a really strange smell and some white stuff on my arms that I soon realized was the smell of burnt hair and the burnt arm hair itself which fell off as I rubbed my arms. My wife came running to the door after hearing the WHUFF and asked if I was okay. I said that I was, but that I had burned off about four inches of arm hair on both arms.
I turned off the gas because I had just been trying to see if the grill would start at all after sitting for a long time. We didn’t want to grill quite yet, but soon enough I was back outside to light it again. I must have just let the gas build up in there too long, right? If I lit it sooner while holding the lid slightly open, I wouldn’t have the same problem. Again, incorrect. And, again, I did something really stupid. Twice. More arm hair lost. More head shaking from my wife. More explaining to the children what had happened. Etc. Interestingly, the arm hair in those two spots grew back a lot thicker. It’s a regular reminder of the rule of two’s in my life.
The most painful incident in this category was when I dislocated my knee playing basketball in Montana. Twice. I was at a camp and I thought that I would show off to my girlfriend and dunk the ball. I twisted somehow as I was jumping and my knee popped out of the joint. It went back into place as I hit the ground with a thud. Everyone was laughing because they thought that I had just slipped on the court until they saw me grabbing the knee and writhing around like a South American footballer. A friend helped me stand up and I asked him to help me get back to my cabin as my knee swelled rapidly. He suggested that I get on his back and he would carry me up the hill to the cabin. I thought this was a terrible idea because I’m 6′-4″ tall and about 200 lbs. and he was much smaller, but he convinced me citing some things he had done in the military which seemed legitimate. About ten yards into the journey, he stumbled and lost his balance and I started to fall off his back, so I stuck out my leg to keep from falling and dislocated the same knee again. This time it stayed out of joint for probably two or three minutes and I almost passed out from the pain. I was seeing stars. A doctor who was also vacationing at the camp saw this debacle and ran over to help. As I rolled over to try to sit on my rear end, the knee went back into place with a thwack and the pain hit me like a falling piano. I said “ARG!” quite loudly and drew a bit of crowd. I was trying to remain conscious and trying not to puke. Thankfully, the doctor was literally a giant and he knelt down and picked me up like a child and carried me back to the bed in my cabin where I spent the rest of my vacation to Hungry Horse, Montana. The train trip home on the Amtrak was not pleasant as the train rocked from side to side and my knees kept bumping into each other until I managed to get a pillow to put in between them. In short, I was stupid twice and suffered for it yet again.
There are number of other incidents, of course. Dangerous situations in 1990’s New York City, juicing too much garlic to ward off a cold, taking too much of a natural health supplement for colon cleansing, falling off roofs while shingling, slipping on the same icy steps or sidewalks repeatedly, crashing my friend’s motorcycle, the list goes on.
As I’ve gotten older, the stupid things seem to be getting less terrible at least. I step in the same puddle of water and get a wet sock twice. I spill the same drink twice. I buy the same record or guitar pedal twice. I call people the wrong name twice. All of these types of things are annoying or embarrassing, but not as painful as burning or dislocating something.
I’m hoping that you’re smarter than me and that you only do something stupid once or not at all. I also hope that as a country we aren’t stupid enough to repeat the mistakes of history. Sadly, many of those have happened way more than twice. I hope that the pandemic is a one shot deal. (Obvious vaccine joke.) And, I hope that these blog posts continue to entertain you and that they continue to trend toward humor rather than rants about all of the craziness we’re all living through at the moment. Have a good year, people, and remember as you’re grilling this summer that propane is combustible.