Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stupid, Stupid Kid!

Why don’t more male children die horribly?

I wonder this all of the damned time. Because I was a male child and, meek as I was, I did the most amazingly insane and risky crap that I marvel that I lived to the age of 30 when I began to calm down. A bit.

I think back on some of the milder stupid things that I did. Once, age of eight, a pal and I wandered very far from my Decatur GA neighborhood. We stumbled across a road cut sliced into solid Stone Mountain granite. Sheer wall. Of course walls are for climbing. So up we went. My pal chickened out, but I kept going. Up. After forty or so vertical feet I was clinging to the perpendicular and wondering what in the hell I was doing up there. I was afraid to move. It was, quite literally, almost straight down to the sidewalk, and I was hugging that granite wall for all I was worth. I was far too scared to try down climbing, so up I went. I made it to the top. How? Hell if I know.

I’ve since revisited that road cut. You can see it from a major thoroughfare in Decatur. It’s about as high as my eight-year-old mind recalled it.

I’ve almost drowned at least twice. Once while trying to swim across a pool when I was already really, really tired. One of my pals, seeing me swallowing water and screaming, jumped in and tried to help me. I savaged his stupid ass. I basically used his head to stand up on. Only the intervention of the lifeguard saved us both.

That was when I was eight. I think the age of eight was my single most dangerous year. Another friend challenged me to bike race down a huge grassy hill not far from where we lived. He went first, and I followed right behind him. On reaching the bottom of the hill, we realized that what we had thought was a bridge over a steep gully was, in fact, merely a four-inch water pipe with some grass growing over it. Somehow, we both managed to guide our speeding bikes over the top of this extremely narrow pipe and not go flying into the deep, debris-filled gully at about 25mph on our Stingray bikes. On the far side, both of us looked back, and, even dumb as we were, realized we’d dodged some kind of bullet.

Later, there I was in the next city down the line in my father’s endless quest to fuck up his life. I was older and should have known better, but I was messing around in the back yard of an abandoned house that was adjacent to our own place. There was a huge pile of wood and grass in the middle of the yard, placed there years before by someone, and left to rot, as if someone was in the middle of some major cleaning up and just said, "Screw this. I'm leaving". Looking to see what plunder might be in that trashy heap I found a rusting tin can partially filled with some fluid. I sniffed at the tiny puncture in the top of the can: paint thinner? I wasn’t sure, but it smelled flammable. Therefore, I began to squirt the fluid onto the ground, forming a thin line about ten feet long. Then I took a match out of my pocket (I’m not sure what I was doing with a box of matches…but there you are) and lit the line of what-might-have-been-paint-thinner. The flame did exactly as I’d imagined it would and followed the pencil-thin avenue right up to the rusting can of highly flammable liquid.

For just a second: nothing. And then, with a terrific WHOOSH it went up. A blue-white flame exploded from what had become, in effect, a rocket nozzle. The can slammed against the pile of wet, rotting debris, but it did not explode. Instead, it just sat in place and acted as if it were something built by Robert fucking Goddard. I thought it was the coolest goddamned thing I had ever, ever, ever seen.

It did not blow up and I did not die. In fact, the can continued to act like a stuck rocket engine until the fuel was expended. I even waited around and watched as the can cooled and suddenly imploded. What a physics experiment! I felt like a demented Werner von Braun.

I was lucky on many other occasions. Later.

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