Sunday, September 26, 2010

It's Not An Addiction

They say that the first step towards a cure is admitting that you have a problem. I don't think Sam would have ever admitted to being addicted to video games as a child. There were a few reasons he wouldn't have been able to stand up and say “Hi, my name is Sam and I'm a video-game-aholic.” First, he thought that everyone should be playing games basically all of the time, so he was only acting as a person should. Second, he would have refused to acknowledge the signs of withdrawal he had when he was separated from games too long. Third, he wouldn't have wanted to go to the meeting until after he had beaten this level. Whether or not he would have admitted it at the time, I think he would now. It's just part of Sam's personality, he loves to say things like “I had a video game addiction before it was cool.”

Some of you who are familiar with the modern concept of VGA (Video Game Addition, obviously) probably think of it as the kind of thing that affects most teenage boys in our country. You may also think of it in terms of forty-year-old men getting out of work and heading straight for WoW. (If you don't know what WoW is you probably don't know anyone with VGA. It stands for World of Warcraft. You can look it up, but be careful. The first hit is free.) If you're old enough, you think of it something like “and those lazy kids are always messing with that idiot box making that little guy do stupid things and...” All three impressions are wrong. Modern VGA is nothing compared to what Sam had. Of course, back in the day we did have the good stuff. So I guess it was easier to get hooked.

To begin to explain I have to go back just a bit. My brother was generally a good sportsman. He could lose a game and shake hands with the winner. He was fairly even tempered when it came to people. However, he hated our Nintendo. I don't know how many times I saw him slam the controller down on the floor while screaming “The game cheated me!” (To be fair, RC Pro-Am did cheat. Almost everyone who has ever played it knows that.) The reason that this is important is because, over time, the controllers stopped working because of these beatings.

In fact, at one point we were down to one controller. The more we used it, the less it worked. Before it was all over with, it was so hard to push the directional pad that it was impossible to use. After about three minutes your thumbs would be too sore to use them anymore. As a result Josh and I gave up. Sam, however, kept trying to think of a way to use it. Finally he came up with idea of biting the directional pad and pushing the buttons with his fingers. He put in a game where speed didn't matter and sat there playing the Nintendo by mouth for hours. Until you have watched someone playing a game with the end of a controller in his mouth and playing the buttons like a flute, you haven't seen how bad VGA can get. Fortunately I have more information that can be passed down to posterity.

The next example was a few years later. By this time we had a Super Nintendo. I was home sick and didn't even feel up to laying there playing a video game. Sam had gone up-town and rented a game. Since the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) was at our house, he had come over to play even though I was stuck in bed. I remember lying there trying to sleep as Sam sat at the foot of the bed playing for hours. Finally, this just wasn't enough for him.

“Hey, Bro,” he said to me, turning away from the screen for a moment to look at me.

“What?” I groaned.

“Want to play two player?”


“Come on, it'll only take a few minutes.”

“No, I'm sick.”

“You can play while you lay there!”

“No, I don't feel up to it. Just let me rest.”

“Look, I'll beat you in like five minutes and then you can go back to sleep.”

This actually made a bit of sense to me. I knew that Sam couldn't control the craving once it was on him. The easiest thing to do would be to sit up for five minutes, get beaten and then go back to sleep. However, I wasn't the type of guy to just let myself lose without trying. Still, Sam played so much, he almost always beat me, whatever the game was. All things considered I decided to sit up and play one match with him.

It was a war game called Super Conflict. The idea was simple enough: take your army and destroy your opponent's. Fortunately for me this was one instance when Sam forgot a cardinal rule: Never let your enemy control the bridges. Perhaps an hour later I had won. Sam's forces were humiliated and defeated. He wanted a rematch, but I told him no. The fates had been with me because I was sick. I did what I had to do in order to go back to sleep. It wasn't my fault that I won. Sam was satisfied with the idea of a rematch at a later date and I was allowed to go back to sleep. Of course, it wasn't the last time Sam's addiction kept me up.

Here I have to explain the fact that Sam was always beating my games before me. For the most part I didn't care, but he could go the extra mile and make it annoying. For instance, one time I got a new game and he came over to play it with me. When it was time for him to go home he asked if he could borrow it because his bedtime was later than mine, so he would get to play it even if I couldn't. I told him to go ahead and take it, but to bring it back the next day after school. He said that he would. I didn't see him again for three days. Finally he returned with my game and apologized for having taken so long to beat it.

That was enough for me. After that, I laid down the rule that Sam couldn't beat any of my games before I did. Now, this was a terrible fate to befall Sam. I was and am notoriously fickle when it comes to gaming. I pick something up, play with it for a while and then put it down. It may be months or years before I pick it up again. For instance I didn't beat The Legend of Zelda until I was a grown man, even though I reached the last level when I was twelve. Mom and Dad bought me a game for Christmas one year, and I didn't beat it until summer-time two years later. It's not that I'm not a good gamer, I just get distracted and bored very easily. Either way, Sam knew that it might mean never beating another of my games.

All things considered, he took it well. That is to say, up until I got my next new game. It was Star Wars for the original Nintendo. Sam began foaming at the mouth right after I got it. He held out for a few hours, but then it began.

“You going to beat it soon?” Sam asked shortly after we started playing.

“I don't know, we'll see,” I replied, having just started the game.

“I'm sure you could beat it tonight if you tried.”

“Maybe I can. We'll see.”

An hour or so later I decided to stop. Sam couldn't just let that go.

“What? You can't stop now! Look how far you are,” he said with a big smile.

“I'm getting tired, you guys can play something else.”

“Can we play this?”

“No, you'll beat it.”

“I won't!”

“I don't trust you.”

“Well then, the least you could do is play a little more.”

I conceded his point. If I wasn't going to let him play until I beat the game, it was only fair that I try to beat it as quickly as possible. So, the game went on. It got very close to my normal bed time and I had been playing Star Wars all day. I decided I had done my best and that it was time to quit.

“No! You can't stop now! You're almost there!” Sam said as I went to turn off the Nintendo.

“I'm not almost there! It's almost bed time anyway,” I replied, tired of the very sight of the game.

“What! Almost bedtime! It's Summer, Bro! What's the point if we can't stay up late once in a while?”

“I'm tired!”

“Non-sense! You just need to hit your second wind. You're close, Bro, I can feel it!”

My sense of fair play made me sit down again. I couldn't give up while Sam was so excited about beating it himself. I would have to go the extra mile for my friend. The hours flew by, but I reached the end of the game. It was after midnight, and I was so tired that I couldn't see straight. I knew that I couldn't win, I was just too tired.

“Sorry, Bro! I can't make it,” I said as I began to get up to turn everything off.

“What?! I can't believe this, you're right there!” Sam replied with a shocked look on his face.

“I can't beat it right now! I can't see straight! Literally!!”

“You can beat it! You just have to try!”

“You are out of your mind! I'm too tired to play anymore. I'll just beat it in the morning.”

“No, tonight! It has to be tonight!”


“Because tomorrow you'll want to do something else. You'll get distracted! That will be it!!”

Again, Sam had made a valid point. Would I be willing to beat it in the morning? The way I felt at the moment I wasn't sure I would ever want to see the game again, much less play it. Still, it didn't matter, I would have to beat it tomorrow. Beating it at that moment was impossible, I didn't have the strength.

“Sam, I will do my best to beat it in the morning, honestly. I just can't do it right now.”

Sam looked at me for a moment in silence. Then he spoke:

“I'll help you!”


“Just start playing!”

“OK, I guess. At least when I die you'll let me go to sleep.”

I started playing again. Sam was calling out warnings and suggestions almost non-stop. I was slow to respond and was certainly losing. I began to fall asleep where I was sitting. Suddenly I felt Sam's arms reaching around me.

“What are you doing?” I asked as I looked back at him.

“I told you I would help you and I will!” he said as he took each of my hands in each of his.

“Sam, this is crazy! You've gone insane! Let's just go to bed!”

“No! Play!”

So, play we did. I don't remember much. I was falling asleep even in the uncomfortable position of sitting up while being enveloped in the arms of Sam. Had I had the strength to fight him off, I would have told him to keep his hands to himself. However, at that moment I was so tired I would have slept if he had decided to pick me up and cradle me like a baby. I don't how long we sat there with Sam's hands on mine making me push buttons, but I do remember being fully awakened by shouts of joy.

“You did it, Bro! You won! Wake up and look, you beat the game!” Sam was about to cry he was so happy.

“Good job, Bro!” Josh threw in there. He had stayed up with us through this insanity.

“That's wonderful. Well, goodnight,” I said, not caring about anything but sleep.

The next morning I made a decision. It hadn't been worth it. I would rather loan Sam all my new games for two weeks before I ever played them rather than go through that again. I loved Sam like a brother, but I had no desire to be wrapped in his arms during another midnight gaming session. I told him of my change of heart, but he seemed indifferent. He was too busy playing the game to take any real notice of what I was saying.

Sam got older and got his addiction under control. His wife still has to keep an eye on him, but he's very manageable. So, if you're concerned about a child or grandchild or husband who seems to have VGA just compare them to Sam. His was a real addiction, and he beat it. He just found something he loved more: his family. Your loved one can beat it too, they just need a reason to turn the game off. In any case I doubt they are bad off enough to wrap their arms around me in order to get to play, so it's not as bad as it could be. That's something to be thankful for.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

That's Gonna Leave a Mark

I've already described Brandyn Boatwright and filled out that description in previous stories. If you don't know who I'm talking about it would be worth reading “Arboreal Brandyn” or “Brandyn: Ninja Carpenter”. It will help you understand what kind of person he was and why my brother and I loved to torment him. It will also explain why it's perfectly acceptable to laugh at his pain even if pain-laughing isn't something you do as a general rule.

When we were teenagers, Brandyn would call my brother constantly. Literally there were days when he called more then ten times. If we planned to get together and do something this was unnecessary. If we weren't planning to get together it was merely obnoxious. I suppose there are people out there that could call me ten times a day without bothering me at all, but Brandyn was not one of these people. For one thing the conversation was often like this:

“Is Josh there?” Brandyn asked whoever answered the phone.

“Yeah, hold on.”

“This is Josh.”

“Hey Bro!”

“Hey, what's up?”

“Nothing... what are you doing?”

“Watching a movie.”

“That's cool. I'm bored.”

“Sorry, Bro, I need to go. We're watching a movie.”

“That's cool.”

“I'll talk to you later.”

“OK. Bye.”

So far it may seem dull but not that annoying, but that's just the first call. Ten minutes later:

“Is Josh there?”

“It's me, Bro, what's up?”

“Nothing... what are you doing?”

“I'm still watching that movie.”

“Oh sorry... I'm bored.”

“Sorry Bro, but I need to go.”

“OK. Bye.”

This would happen every few minutes until everyone in the house was ready to scream. He would also try to keep Josh on the phone for as long as possible. I shortened it up a great deal for you, the reader, in order to keep you from getting annoyed with it yourself. After a while my brother got tired of it and decided to shake things up a bit. Josh answered the phone for the tenth time:

“Bootie-Cam Incorporated, how may I direct your call?” Josh said as he picked up the phone.

“Can I speak to Josh?” asked a bewildered Brandyn.

“I'm sorry, you have the wrong number,” Josh answered, and hung up.

We all busted out laughing, but it only lasted a moment. The phone rang again.

“Bootie-Cam Incorporated, how may I direct your call?”

“Who have I reached?” Brandyn asked, expecting it this time.

“Bootie-Cam Incorporated, how may I direct your call?”

“What do you do?”

“We are makers of the famous bootie-cam. Would you be interested in buying one?”


“I'll transfer you to sales, please hold,” Josh said, and then hung up the phone.

Again, a torrent of laughter, and again the phone rang.

“Bootie-Cam Incorporated, how may I direct your call?”

“I was trying to get in touch with the sales department, but I was disconnected.”

“I'm sorry, Sir, please hold,” Josh said, and once more hung the phone up.

This happened again and again over the course of half an hour. Sometimes Josh would hand the phone to me or one of the other guys and we would pretend to be Bootie-Cam executives trying to help Brandyn with his problem until we hung up on him. Finally this got old. Brandyn was enjoying the game too much and we just wanted some peace and quiet. I decided to do something about it.

The phone rang again for roughly the thirtieth time. I told Josh to hand me the phone. I took it and I walked into the bathroom followed by all the guys that were currently at the house. I lifted the lid and seat of the toilet and carefully put the phone down in the bowl (it was a cordless phone, for those of you who may be wondering how long the cord was). I answered the phone and flushed the toilet. As soon as it had sucked the last few drops of water down the drain, I hung up.

Amazingly this didn't stop Brandyn. For the next half hour we took turns flushing the toilet at the phone and then hanging up. We could hear Brandyn yelling at us from out of the bowl and calling us all kinds of interesting names, but we ignored it and went on with our great work. Finally Josh couldn't take it anymore. When the phone rang again, Josh picked it up and said “Hello.” He heard the sound of a toilet flushing, and then it hung up. We all burst out laughing.

After all that, I think we decided it would be worth taking the trouble to drive all the way out to Brandyn's house to pick him up. At the time Brandyn didn't have a ride so we were constantly picking him up for one thing or another. Most of the time he would be sitting out on the porch, talking on the phone waiting for us. One Sunday evening, however, this wasn't the case.

We were coming to pick him up for Church. As we got near the end of his long dirt driveway, we saw him sitting in a lawn chair, talking on the cordless phone, right in the middle of the driveway. Both of us were looking at him as we pulled up. Finally, I spoke.

“Hit him with the car,” I said with a slight smile.

“Don't worry, I was going to,” Josh replied.

We slowed down to perhaps three miles an hour. Brandyn looked at us, smiling, and refused to move. Just before we got to him he threw his feet up on the hood of the car. No doubt he thought we intended to stop at the last moment. That was, strictly speaking, true. However, our last moment was later than he thought. With Brandyn's feet propped up on the hood Josh rolled forward and hit the chair with the car. The result was spectacular.

Brandyn shot backwards, flying heels over head. The phone flew out of his hand and up into the woods, and the chair shot straight back about ten feet. Brandyn hit the dirt and rolled around on the ground several times before coming to a stop. He jumped up and said some very colorful things as he kicked the car again and again. Finally we got him calmed down and into the car, and we were on our way to Church. Not that Church was always a safe place for Brandyn.

It was on another night not that long after that, when he found out how dangerous the Church yard could be. Sadly I wasn't there to witness this first-hand. I have had to piece it together from the many eye witnesses. Fortunately for me, and for those of you who have taken an interest in my youth, there were a large number of reliable people there who saw the entire and affair, and most of them loved to talk about how bad it had been and then laugh until they couldn't breathe.

The youth group in Aiken was going through a bit of teamwork training. This training consisted of running through different obstacles as a team: working together to climb over walls and that kind of thing. The idea was that young Christians are stronger together than they are alone. My brother, being who he is, had decided through most of it to prove that he could “win” each of the team events. Now, to those of you who know Josh this will come as no surprise. The fact that he was also the best at every event will surprise very few.

However, this introduced the wrong spirit into the exercise. Whereas it had started as a group of events to show that we all have our strengths and weaknesses, it had become a contest between the boys to impress the girls. The guy coordinating the event kept trying to put a stop to it, but to no avail. Each challenge came, and Josh was first every time.

At last they came to the high jump. One by one, the teenagers failed to get over the rising rope. In the end it came down to two guys: Josh (no shock there) and Brandyn. Here I have to take a moment to explain a few important facts. First, the fact that Brandyn had gotten to the last stand-off with Josh was very impressive. Out of our entire group, Brandyn was the heavy guy. He wasn't fat, but he had a lot more body weight than Josh. Second, Brandyn had just gotten the cast off his leg from where he had cut his toes almost completely off (if you haven't heard that one, read the stories I mentioned at the beginning; it's worth the extra time). I mention these things because I want you to understand how amazing Brandyn's feat was and to what extent he would go to impress girls.

They raised the line again. By this time it was up to Josh's neck. He knew he could make it, but that it would be close. He and I had often jumped over this and that, and each of us could get over something up to our necks, but no higher. Josh mulled this over and decided there was no way Brandyn could make it. He decided to warn him.

“Hey Bro, don't try this jump,” Josh said as they looked at the rope.

“Why? I'll make it,” Brandyn replied with confidence.

“No, you won't. I watched you on the last jump.”

“Afraid of competition?”

“No, I'm afraid you're going to get hurt.”

“Well, I'm not.”


They were told to jump. Josh got a running start and jumped over the line. Brandyn was next up.

I am going to do my best to describe this just as Josh described it to me. He said it was one of the most impressive things he ever saw. Brandyn prepared himself mentally and began to run at full speed. He jumped sort of sideways and kicked one leg up over the rope as if he were doing a flying kick. Then he used his momentum to throw his body up and over. As his other leg passed over the rope he jerked it up behind him. All this happened in a flash, and he was over the rope. He had done it.

However, sometimes great success leads to great failure. His unique jumping style had left his lead leg stretched out at a bad angle. He was so distracted with the jump that he hadn't considered his landing. This lack of consideration ended in his landing badly. In point of fact, he broke his ankle. Well, I say broke; shattered or pulverized might give you a more accurate picture. Brandyn let out a scream that might have been heard over half of Aiken (it didn't actually make the papers for some reason; perhaps it was a heavy news day...). He then collapsed into a twisting, writhing, screaming ball that needed immediate medical attention.

Fortunately they were rather near the hospital. The entire youth group was loaded into the Church bus and they rode out to get Brandyn the help he needed. Several hours later Brandyn was put back together as best as could be with a cast the ran up his entire leg. He was expected to make a full recovery in around six months. The youth minister got in a bit of trouble because no one called anyone's parents due to the emergency. However, pity for Brandyn bought sympathy, and in the end all was forgiven.

Now, some of you may be thinking that it's just wrong to find this funny. Well, I can't help how it seems. It was and is funny. Brandyn ended up wearing a cast on his leg for right around twelve months. He had been warned that what he was about to do was dangerous right before he got both his casts. He heedlessly pressed on, which is what he basically always did. In these two cases it turns out he should have listened to his councilors. Plus, one has to consider that in the end he was no worse for the wear. When the dust had settled, he was the same old Brandyn, and he hadn't even learned anything from it.

We were a wild crew and loved to give each other a hard time. Brandyn was often the butt of things just because he was the loudest. The moral there may be not to draw too much attention to yourself. At least not the kind of attention that makes people think “I would love to see him get hurt. I would laugh until I cried.” Attention like that always was Brandyn's specialty.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jim's Trampoline

After my family moved to Lake Drive, taking our trampoline with us, Jim's parents got him one. It was one of the more modern round ones that you still see around today. It wasn't covered in padding and fenced in with a net, but the metal wasn't quarter inch steel plate either, so it was a little safer than our old square one. A number of things happened on that old trampoline and I intend to share a few of them.

Jim and I loved to trampoline fight, as you may recall from earlier stories. One of the things that Jim loved to do was to double bounce me and send me flying to outrageous heights. By this time we were ten or thereabouts so I was around four foot nothing and Jim was close to six foot three. I also weighed about half what Jim did, so when he double bounced me it was something to see.

We had been out playing on it for I don't know how long when Jim got me with the perfect double bounce. I don't know what the mechanics behind it were, only that as far as it could be perfect it was. I shot up above the trampoline twelve to fifteen feet. (I know some of you aren't believing this and that's fine, it happened all the same.) I also shot up so fast that Jim didn't see what had happened.

What happened next will take a while to explain, but it all happened in about three seconds. I clearly remember looking down from above and seeing Jim turn around in a circle trying to figure out where I was. He was stunned. I had simply disappeared. He called out to me.

“Jeremy! Where are you?” He said looking this way and that.

“Up!” I said right before I landed.

Jim looked up and saw me, but only a moment before I landed on him. Needless to say I had no control of where I was going. I had gone up and I had to come down, but the “where” wasn't really up to me. As I was falling I could see that I was going to hit Jim, the best I could do was try not to hurt him. I decided the wisest thing would be to try and land with my feet on his shoulders. I managed to do it, just as he looked up. He had no time to react. I am certain that if I had been able to see his eyes I would have noticed some glimmer of sudden comprehension as my feet slammed down on top of his shoulders. As it happened I couldn't see his eyes and I didn't have a lot of time for making observations anyway. I knocked him down and we collapsed into a laughing heap. That was the best double bounce I ever got and I'm sure it was the best Jim ever gave.

We enjoyed the trampoline so much that we would share it whenever we had the chance. Obviously any kids that were around were more than welcome to come have a bounce, but we didn't limit it to people. Dogs, cats and whatever other animals we could get up there with us were welcome. In fact we were so opened minded that we had a snake come up for a bounce one day.

Jim and I found this young green snake crawling along through the grass. Being the type boys we were we immediately picked it up. It was emerald green and very small. It couldn't have been over a foot long and it was about as big around as a pencil. It had enough sense not to bother trying to bite us. It just slithered slowly through our hands trying to get away.

“So what do you want to do with it?” Jim asked as it curled around his hand.

“I don't know. Something.” I relied.

“Well obviously, but what?”

“I guess we could put it on the trampoline and give it a bounce.”


Without further debate we crawled up and started bouncing. At first we kept the little guy in our hands as we bounced around, but then we decided to let him go solo. As soon as we put him down he started to make a break for it. I suppose he figured it he could get back in the grass he would be over the hills and far away before we could do anything about it.

As he started to head one direction we would bounce him back in another. We had to be very careful not to step on him and not to bounce him too hard. Seeing the snake trying to slither while hanging in midair was something else. He just kept moving no matter what. As soon as his body hit the mat he would be moving along. Then, before he could move a foot, he would be bouncing back in the opposite direction while still slithering with all he had.

I'm not sure to what extent snakes think. I believe most of their actions are guided by instinct and that they do very little actual thinking. I mention this because it's hard to believe that the snake came up with a plan. However, it's equally hard to believe that it was inspired by instinct with a method to get out of the situation it was in.

Whatever it's motivation it suddenly when limp. It bounced whichever way it was heading without putting up any resistance. We stopped bouncing and it just lay there with it's mouth slightly open. Jim and I began to speculate about the cause:

“It can't be dead!” I said as I picked up the little guy.

“It could be...” Jim replied as he looked it over.

“How? We didn't touch it”

“The shock of the bouncing could have been too much for it.”

“I doubt it! Snakes are tough.”

“Maybe it had a heart attack... It couldn't have been used to that kind of thing.”

“I've never heard of a snake having a heart attack... Still, you may be right.”

“What should we do?”

“Let's just put it in the grass and see what happens.”

That is just what we did. It lay there looking as dead as it could for a few minutes. Finally we decided that we would have to walk away for a little while and give it the chance to notice we weren't there. After around five minutes or so we went back to check on it. The snake was gone. I have no doubt it headed out as soon as it realized we weren't looking. I know that playing dead is a normal getting away method, but I had never seen a snake do it. I also didn't think it would have found bouncing on a trampoline a life threatening situation. Still, in that regard snakes may be wiser than people.

This next tale should stand out as a lesson for mothers. Too many times a mother over-thinks what her children may be up to. I admit that to a certain degree a parent has to do that. Otherwise the child may cut his or her hand off before you get there in time to stop them. However, Jim's mother stumbled into one of the classic blunders. She actually took the time to tell us not to do it before we had even thought of it.

“Boys!” She cried out as she walked out of the back door.

“Yes Ma'am.” We replied.

“Now you know we have the pool setup beside the trampoline?”

“Yes Ma'am.”

“You also know that the trampoline is setup beside the shed?”

“Yes Ma'am.”

“Good! Now, I don't want you two jumping off the shed onto the trampoline and then bouncing into the pool. Do you understand me?”

“Yes Ma'am.”


Having made her point she headed back into the house.

“So... that's a brilliant idea.” I said as soon as she was out of sight.

“I know! I wonder how we never thought of it before.”

“We shouldn't do it though.”

“I know... Let's do it anyway.”

“Yea... it's just too good.”

A few minutes later Jim's Mom came pelting out of the back door. I think the noise we were making was probably what attracted her attention. There was no way to jump off a twelve foot building onto a trampoline and into a pool quietly. She caught us right in the middle of things.


“Yes Ma'am.”

“Didn't I just tell you not to do that?!?!”

“Yes Ma'am...”

“Then why did you do it?!?!?”

“Well, we hadn't thought of it until you mentioned it. After that the idea seemed too goo not to try....”

It may seem hard to believe, but she actually accepted that explanation. I suppose at that moment she had learned a valuable lesson. Don't tell us not to do something that would be that much fun until she actually caught us doing it. With a short warning that we had better not do it again she headed back into the house. Jim and I never did it again. His Mom was kind of like my Dad in some regards. You might be able to get away once, but you wouldn't do it twice.

There are several morals one could take away from these stories. First, buy your kids a trampoline, it's worth every penny. Second, don't mention things your kids shouldn't do, dangerous things aside, until you actually catch them doing it. Third, a snake isn't necessarily dead just because it's not moving and it's mouth is hanging open, so watch your back. Like so many things that happen in life there's a lesson there if you take the time to look.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Days With Danny

One of my best friends growing up was Danny Flint. He was a barrel of fun and the two of us were always getting up to something. Sadly he lost his life when we were both fifteen years old. I have heard it said that everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives. I honestly believe that. Danny crammed more life into his fifteen years than some people manage to put into eighty. He loved life and lived every minute he had of it. I record here a few examples of the kind of things we did.

Danny had motorcycles. He didn't have a motorcycle or a selection of motorcycles, he just had motorcycles. From the time I met him he always had a few around that were sort of generally his. I think his Dad was good at small engine repair or some such. Whatever the reason he always had dirt bikes around. Because of this he could ride well.

He had a bit of a dirt track out in the woods just down the road from his house. He decided to take me out there one morning. I hadn't seen it yet and he decided it was high time for me to go have a look. We headed down the road on one bike. He was driving and I was riding behind holding on for dear life. We shot down the road at perhaps forty miles an hour. Suddenly Danny turned up into the woods and before I knew it we were on the track.

We were flying past trees and leaning over as we flew quickly around sharp corners. Before I knew it we had hit a ramp and shot up into the air. At the highest point in the jump Danny just disappeared. Well, I say disappeared, in truth I saw where he went. He went up. It didn't make much sense at the moment. He had been sitting in front of me when we hit the ramp. We all three (The bike, Danny and me) had all flown up into the air. However, when the bike and me started to descend Danny didn't. He just went up into the air as I went down.

I grabbed frantically at the handle bars which were just out of my reach because I had been sitting on the back of the seat. I landed before I could get my hands on them, so I couldn't keep from crashing into a group of bushes strait ahead of me. As soon as the bike had thrown me off into the brush I heard Danny laughing. I looked back toward the ramp and saw him hanging from a pine branch.

He had grabbed the limb in the high point of the jump and left me to make the descent by myself. It was hard to believe he had planned it, but that was the case. The ramp had been strategically placed below the limb so Danny, and a few other friends, could make the jump and then desert their bikes mid-air.

“So, did I surprise you?” He asked as he dropped back to earth.

“Yea, you could say that!” I laughed.

“You're not hurt?”

“Not at all!”

“Good! I just wanted to scare you!”

He had picked the bike up as we were talking. He cranked it up and I hopped on. Danny and I had very similar senses of humor. The fact that he had abandoned me in the middle of a jump and left me to crash into the woods didn't bother me at all. In truth I would have done the same thing to him. We each one loved a laugh and were more than willing to undergo a few bruises and scrapes to get one. As soon as I was back on the bike we were off.

It was an ill fated day for me as far as that motorcycle was concerned. As we were on the way back to Danny's house we ran up a earth embankment. The sand was loose to say the least and as soon as we hit it I knew we were in trouble. The bike jerked one way and then the other and before you could blink we had crashed into the sand.

It was soft and warm and didn't hurt a bit. Danny and I just lay there laughing for a moment. I had one of my legs sticking up over the side of the bike. As I relaxed I lowered my leg and it touched the bike. That is to say that it touched the muffler. It took me a moment to realize I was burning. The thing was so hot it deadened the nerves as it burned. Finally I realized something was wrong and jumped up with a loud yell.

I looked at the back of my leg and it looked like part of it was melted plastic. All the skin was bunched up and melted away from the back of my leg. To say that it hurt would be an understatement, but I wasn't about to start screaming and crying. I was twelve or thirteen and so I knew I had to walk like a man.

“Oh man! I'm sorry!” Danny said as soon as he saw my leg.

“No problem. It's not your fault. I should have been watching the muffler.” I replied as I inspected my calf.

“Hop on the bike and I'll run you back to the house so was can take care of it.”

“No thanks. Let's walk...”

So, walk we did. I limped along while Danny walked beside me pushing the bike. It took us a lot longer to get home than it would have if I had just ridden the motorcycle, but I didn't feel up to any more of it at the time. When I got back to Danny's his Mom took a look at it. In short she said that it was going to hurt for a while, but that it would heal. They were used to muffler burns and knew I was in no real danger. It hurt for a long time, but now I have only the smallest scar to show you where I once had the back of my leg burned off. Even at the time I felt that the burn had been worth the fun.

Danny and I attracted fire. At least that's how it seems now that I look back at it. Long after the leg incident Danny had come over to my house to play. In a lot of ways my house was the place to be because Dad let us do pretty much whatever we wanted provided that it wasn't immoral, illegal or very dangerous (he expected us to do things that were slightly deadly). We had a number of club houses and the greatest tree house in town.

Danny and I had decided to camp out in the current club house in the back yard. It was a low building made out of railroad cross ties stacked up and walls with a tin roof set on it. It had no windows and the door was a hole dug below one of the walls. The tin roof had a hole for a chimney and we would crawl in and start a fire during the colder months.

That day we had a small fire going. It was very pleasant inside. It was warm. It was glowing. All in all it was very inviting. Danny and I sat there talking as Sam was collecting fuel for the fire. At some point he decided to tear up a bunch of dead morning glory vines. (Mom grew morning glories all around the house when I was a child.) He carried a huge load of them over to the clubhouse and decided the best thing to do would be to jam them down the chimney.

So, there we were, Danny and I suddenly staring at a pile of morning glory vines that went from the fire on the floor all the way out of the top of the chimney. (It was a low building, it couldn't have been more than three feet tall. It was club house we couldn't stand up in, but that wasn't the point.) For a moment the fire looked as if it had been smothered. The club house was almost completely dark and smoke was pouring from the smoldering sparks of the fire.

“Why did you do that?” I yelled to Sam.

“I'm burning the vines!” he replied.

“Yes, but we're in here!”

“I know.”

“Well, you could have smoked us to death, not to mention burned us.”


Our conversation was cut short. Suddenly there was more light in the room. Within half a second that the light was blinding. The vines has gotten hot enough to burst into flame. (All this had taken about fifteen seconds.) Danny and I were suddenly sitting in a room with a column of fire in the corner that went from the floor to the ceiling. We did the only logical thing we could do. We screamed and started crawling out of the hole/door. We came up covered in soot and yelling at Sam. For his part he couldn't stop laughing. After we were sure that neither of us were on fire we joined in Sam's mirth. After all, we couldn't deny that it was funny. That wasn't the first time I had been close to the flames with Danny.

For those of you who have read other stories of mine you may find this next one very similar to one you have already read. It's as if only the names and a few other details have been changed. The reason for this is simple: Boys will be boys. We are drawn to the same ideas and often suffer the same consequences.

I had gone to spend the night at Danny's house one Friday. We woke up on Saturday morning and started looking for things to do. After a while we found an old toy truck he had left out in the woods. In my typical fashion I suggested that we burn it. I wasn't into wanton destruction just for destruction's sake, but I did love to burn up old toys for some reason. Danny readily agreed to the idea. We wanted to make a car wreck scene of some kind that burst into flame.

Finally we decided that falling off a cliff was a good kind of explosive crash. As we were walking along talking about it we came up on a concrete block wall out near Danny's house. Normally a wall like that would have had all the holes between the blocks filled with concrete. This one didn't. For some reason some of the holes between the blocks were empty from the top of the wall to the ground. We looked down into one and considered the possibilities.

“We could drop the car down there as if it crashed and set it on fire.” I said looking down into the hole.

“Yea! That sounds good.” Danny replied.

“We would need something to get it started though...”

“Spray paint?”


The decision having been made we ran off to get a can of spray paint. We took the can and shook it well and then sprayed most of it down into one of the holes. After that we rolled the truck along the top of the wall making up dialog as we went. “Look out for that cliff!” “I see it! Ahhh!! The breaks are out!” and so forth. The truck was dropped down into the dark abyss and it was time to give our creation life. That is to say we just needed to catch it on fire.

I took a long stick and lit the end. I stood bent over looking directly down in the hole. I looked up at Danny, smiled and said “Let's take a look with the light. Maybe there are survivors.” or something like that. With that I slowly lowed my flaming brand into the darkness. And then there was light!

Yes, the fumes caught fire in a flash. The entire hole became a vortex of flame that shot out of it like the exhaust of a jet engine. My head was engulfed in crimson flame. In an instant I jerked my head back, but it was too late. I had no facial hair left. My eye lashes we little crispy strings. My eye brows were crumbly little patches of fluffy dust. Even the front of my hair was melted into an odd position.

“Are you alright?!?!?” Danny yelled as soon as I had stood up.

“I think so.” Was my dazed reply.

“We better get you washed up.”

“I agree!”

We went back to the house and washed away the burnt remnants of my eye brows and lashes. We did our best to comb my wad of melted hair. When we were done Danny stepped back to take a look.

“Much better!” He said with confidence.

“Really?” I said looking in the mirror.

“Oh yea! No one will be able to tell anything happened now.”

“You don't think I look a little red?”

“No, not at all.”

As soon as we came out of the bathroom we ran into Danny's Mom.

“What happened to you!” She said loudly looking at me in surprise.

“So, I look normal?” I asked looking at Danny.

Needless to say we had to explain exactly what had happened. We were criticized through almost constant laughter and warned not to do it again. As one can imagine, we never did. Most young men only need their face caught on fire the one time. After that they never put their face close to things that may burst into flame at any moment. That was my one time and I learned my lesson.

As I sit here writing this I miss Danny. We never got to finish growing up together. A single accident sent him home and those of us that knew him were left to go on here without him. I think about him now and then when this or that brings him to mind. I miss him, but I'm happy to miss him because it means I knew him.