Murphy’s Law Strikes Again! (Or, Let ‘er Rip!)

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Murphy’s Law Strikes Again! (Or, Let ‘er Rip!)

James R. Aist

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” – Murphy

Most of us are all too familiar with the manifestation of Murphy’s Law in our lives. I am no exception. Thankfully, this law usually manifests in relatively minor, private situations where little or no embarrassment results. But, that is not always the case, as this all-too-true short story will amply demonstrate.

It was the summer of 1965, and I was an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Beautiful Lake Wedington was a short drive from campus, and it was there that the Department of Plant Pathology, where I had worked part time for more than a year, was having its annual picnic on Saturday afternoon. Most everyone there would know me.

I was bashful around girls growing up and had only dated once by the time I entered college, but I wanted to. Somehow, I found enough courage to invite a new girl in the Department to go with me to the picnic. I would pick her up in my 1955 Chevy, a two-tone, white-over butter-yellow Belaire with a forest green interior; she was a beaut! I would rent a canoe on the premises, and we would enjoy a short boat ride before the picnic began. Well, she accepted, and I was psyched! I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

It was a beautiful, warm and sunny summer day, just right for a boat ride and picnic. I was decked out in a T-shirt and tight-fitting shorts, perfect for the occasion, I reckoned. As we approached the picnic area, we could see that there was a large turnout. We parked the car, and I headed straight for the canoes and picked out a good one. Now, I was more than a little ill-at-ease at this point, because I had not actually paddled a canoe before, and because I really wanted to make a good impression on this new girl. It felt like the whole crowd was watching as I held one end of the canoe steady so she could climb aboard and take her seat at the far end of the canoe, facing me; so far, so good. Now it was my turn, and I climbed clumsily into the canoe, barely managing to avoid tipping the canoe over. But, as I was cautiously taking a seat directly facing her, I heard it: an audible “rrrrrRRIP” coming from the direction of my crotch area. I had heard that dreaded sound before, so I new immediately that the unthinkable had happened. I looked down to see how bad it was, and it was really bad:  there was a 6-inch tear in the crotch of my shorts, and there were my “tidy whities” peeking out, in full view of the girl I so wanted to make a good impression on! I was instantly embarrassed beyond comprehension and sat there motionless for a moment. In rapid succession I asked myself, “What can I do, what can I say, who else is watching?” Well, it quickly dawned on me that there was only one way to make the best of this bad situation. So, I put my knees together and paddled us back to the shore. We got out of the canoe, walked directly to the car, and drove to my apartment, where I changed my shorts. Then, we drove back to the lake and re-joined the picnic, as if nothing noteworthy had happened.

Now, I don’t know if anyone else at the picnic had actually seen my “display” during all this, but, thankfully, no one said anything if they did. And my date was very kind and understanding on her part, being quick to express an eagerness to just put it behind us and move on. We actually enjoyed the picnic, and she went out with me again later. One thing I can say for sure is, I did manage to make quite an impression on her that beautiful, sunny afternoon, albeit far different from what I had in mind!

And I suppose Murphy was standing somewhere in the middle of the crowd, shaking his head and trying to hold back a giggle or two. He must have known something was going to go wrong, and of course, it did. Thanks a lot, pal!

(To read more of my short stories, click HERE)

You Dwell Among Scorpions…Beware!

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You Dwell Among Scorpions…Beware!

James R. Aist

“And you, son of man, … you dwell among scorpions.” (Ezekiel 2:6)

This unusual experience occurred when I was an 11 year old boy, and my next older brother, Johnny, was almost 13. Our father had recently been ordained as a Methodist minister and was simultaneously serving three small churches in rural, north-central Arkansas. This was very much scorpion territory, and my brother and I had often played around with scorpions in the wild, for entertainment purposes. But, we were always careful to avoid being stung by them, because we had been told – by “reliable sources” – that getting stung by a mature scorpion does not end well for the instigator.  When mature, this 2-3 inch long arachnid has a wicked stinger at the tip of its tail that can deliver a powerful portion of painful poison in a split second, if “pressed.”

A Sunday night worship service is the scenario for this short, but true, story. This particular church had managed to build a brand new, albeit small and simple, worship facility. Consequently, the sanctuary had a shiny, sparkling-clean hardwood floor that clearly displayed to the casual observer the presence of anything on its surface. Johnny and I, being preacher’s kids, were sitting together near the front during the service. Directly in front of us was sitting a lady whose legs were so short that her feet didn’t quite reach the floor, leaving her heels suspended above the floor about one inch. (The significance of this little detail will become apparent as the rest of the story unfolds.) As one might expect, we soon became bored with the usual goings on, and our attention was turned to anything else that might be happening during the service. Well, it wasn’t very long before something very interesting did begin to develop on the floor, to our right.

There, in all its glory, was a full-grown scorpion crawling erratically along the slippery floor, heading right for the lady with her heel elevated slightly above the floor. Johnny and I appeared to be the only ones in the sanctuary who saw the scorpion and the dangling heels. I’m not proud of it, but in all honestly, we looked at each other with devilish anticipation of what might very well happen soon. On the one hand, we didn’t really want her to get stung, but on the other hand, we didn’t want to disrupt the service because of something that might not actually happen anyway. So, we decided to just let it play out and plead ignorance if worse came to worst and we were asked why we didn’t say something. I’m not especially proud of this course of action, but give us some credit for planning ahead, alright?

Slowly, but surely, the scorpion inched closer and closer to the dangling heels, sometimes a little to the right and sometimes a little to the left. The closer it got to the dangling heels the greater was our eagerness to see what would happen. Would the scorpion actually crawl under her heels, and, if so, would she decide to stand up at just that very moment, to her misfortune? The suspense was killing us, and we could scarcely contain ourselves. Then it happened: the scorpion did, indeed, crawl directly under one of her heels. Now our eyes were glued to this drama unfolding directly in front of us, wondering if the heel was about to come down on the scorpion, or not.

After a brief pause, the scorpion crawled out from under her heel and continued its journey toward the opposite side of the floor. The lady stood up just seconds after the scorpion had passed under her heel, and Johnny and I both sighed a sigh of great relief. We reckoned that since nothing really happened, we had nothing to feel guilty about. And we were right, weren’t we? Well, weren’t we?

(To read more of my short stories, click HERE)

Guess Who I Ran Into On My Way To Work!

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Guess Who I Ran Into On My Way To Work!

James R. Aist

Better safe(er) than sorry!

If you have ever tried to maneuver your car on “black ice”, even on a straight, level road, you should be able to fully appreciate the encounter I am about to share with you. However, this road was covered, not by frozen rain (i.e., black ice), but by a thin coating of fresh snow that had been thoroughly packed down and smoothed out by early morning traffic and then lightly “lubricated” by a layer of thin water created by brilliant sunshine melting the surface of the packed snow, resulting in “white ice.” In this case, however, there was no caution sign.

Here’s what happened. We lived in a very rural area not far from my job at Cornell University. It was a beautiful winter morning, very cold, but caressed by brilliant sunshine. My neighbor across the street had just pulled out ahead of me to drive to his work, also at Cornell. Ours were the only two houses on our road. As I left my driveway heading to work, I began to enjoy the beauty of a light snow that had fallen overnight, now sparkling in the sunlight. Once I turned onto the main road, however, I soon realized that the road surface was “as slick as deer guts on a door knob”, at least as hazardous as black ice. This was white ice!

That’s when I slowed down as an extra precaution, knowing that my braking time would be greatly increased. Then I began to ponder the situation that could develop up ahead, where my neighbor would have to stop ahead of me at a “T” intersection. But, I reckoned he was far enough ahead of me to clear the intersection before I got there, so I relaxed a bit. Then I rounded a corner and could now see all the way to the “T” intersection, and it was not good. My neighbor had stopped at the intersection alright, but he had to wait there for another neighbor coming from his left to clear the intersection before he could turn right and get out of my way! I was already going very slow, but I began to decelerate further, just to be sure I wouldn’t rear-end my neighbor before he could turn right. As I drew closer and closer to the intersection, I became increasingly aware that there was a good possibility that I was going to run into my neighbor on the way to work. That realization inspired me to begin lightly pumping my brakes to get as much traction as possible without fish-tailing out of control, and, hopefully, to avoid a very embarrassing collision on a clear day on a straight, level road with only three cars in sight.

But alack and alas, I was just a teenchy bit too late with the brake pumping, so I began to steer ever so slightly to the left, in hopes I could slip around him to the left and stop before hitting the ditch on the other side of the cross road. And, I almost made it. At a speed of about two miles per hour – it was like slow motion – I clipped his left-rear bumper with my right-front fender. Then, as a result of the impact, I finally stopped, now quite embarrassed to have to look my neighbor in the face after what had I had just done!

The good news is that my neighbor was kind and gracious toward me. He simply popped his bumper back into place and drove off to work, no problem. I, on the other hand, drove off to work with a dent in my right-front fender the size of a volleyball. But, we both got a good chuckle out of this bazaar encounter. After all, how often do you run into your neighbor on your way to work?

(To read more of my short stories, click HERE)

Playing with Fire(works); a Lifetime of Adventures

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Playing with Fire(works); a Lifetime of Adventures

Warning: Do not try this at home!

James R. Aist

I have had a long-standing fascination with fireworks, especially the do-it-yourself variety. Playing with fireworks offers opportunities to blow things up without getting in trouble for it. It also invites the application of creative juices when one begins to get bored by mindless repetition. Finally, the ever-present threat of bodily harm adds a certain excitement to the entertainment value, perhaps not unlike that experienced by rock climbers and bungee jumpers. Here, I have elected to share with you some of the more interesting or bizarre experiences I have had with fireworks during the course of my lifetime. I hope you enjoy them; I know I did.

Roman Candle Peekaboo

When I was about nine years old and living in very rural Arkansas, we lived on a dirt road off of a dirt road, about half a city block from the small, Methodist church in Cypress Valley. It was Sunday evening, and the Fourth of July was coming up in a few days. But some of the more patriotic young locals had already stocked up on fireworks early, and they came to the Sunday Evening Service with mischief in mind. It was already dark when the congregation was dismissed, and these patriots made a bee-line for their automobiles. There they armed themselves with Roman Candles, touched them off, and began shooting them at whoever was shooting at them from behind the parked cars. It was all I could do to negotiate the parking lot without being shot down myself! And I marveled at the skill these combatants displayed at dodging the fiery darts after first seeing the flash from the candles aimed right at them. Obviously, this was not their first Roman Candle “rodeo.” It was truly a wonder that no one was hurt that night. I was frightened.

Blind Man Standoff

That same night, after the Roman Candles had all been used up, another fireworks battle took place, this time on the road in front of our house. And this time I was able to participate. A group of about 12 willing participants assembled, fireworks (mostly firecrackers, but some cherry bombs and block busters to make it more interesting) were distributed, two sides of six each were chosen, and the two sides stood in a row and then took about five steps back from each other. Since we were now well away from any source of light, it was pitch black on that dirt, country road, and we could barely see anything. I thought it incredulous that they (we) were really going to do what it was obvious they (we) were going to do. And they (we) did. Fireworks were lit by both sides and flung at the other side. You could see them being lit and thrown, and there were explosions all around us. We dodged as best we could while lighting and throwing our own ammunition in retaliation. I soon wished I had sat this one out, but it was too late! Oddly enough, though, no one was hurt in this battle either. But I swore never to do that again!

Arrow Rockets Rock!

Right around that same time, also in Cypress Valley, I invented my first fire cracker weapon. Here’s what happened. I had some firecrackers left over and was wondering how I might set them off creatively. I had a crude bow that I had fashioned out of the trunk of a persimmon bush and strung with bailing twine. A local weed left dry, straight stalks after flowering, and I had crafted these stalks into crude, but suitable, arrows for launching from my bow. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “I wonder what would happen if I were to fasten one of those firecrackers to the end of one of those arrows, light the fuse, and then, at just the right moment, fire it into the clear afternoon sky with my bow so as to explode the firecracker at the pinnacle of the flight of the arrow. (OK, OK, at only nine years of age, I wasn’t using advanced, three-syllable words like “pinnacle”, but that’s what I had in mind, I’ll swear it!) Anyway, that’s what I did. It took some practice to get the firecracker to explode at just the right time, but, after a few tries, I had the timing down pat. I would load, light and fire, and the explosion would give off, not only a loud bang high up in the sky, but also a puff of smoke would emerge and drift off slowly, carried by the wind. I had invented the “arrow rocket!” But I didn’t anticipate what would happen with my next launch. Up went the arrow, bang went the firecracker, and puff went the smoke, as before. “But wait, what’s that I’m seeing? Is that a perfectly formed smoke ring? Why yes, yes it is!”, I thought to myself. My arrow rocket had just produced a perfect smoke ring that drifted off slowly, carried by the wind! Was that cool or what!

Firecracker Time Bomb

In an earlier short story, I published a more complete account of my application of this ingenious time bomb (click HERE). So here, I will just relate essential details of its construction and use.

This invention took place when I was about 12 years old and living in Evening Shade, a small town in rural, north-central Arkansas. Now, the key to making a Fire Cracker Time Bomb is to first make a homemade fuse that will produce a delayed explosion of the firecracker, a “timer fuse” as it were, and then insert one end of the timer fuse into the free end of the fuse of a firecracker. As it turns out, the perfect, convenient raw material for a timer fuse is thin, white, cotton string, such as used to be employed to bind a flour sack or a bag of charcoal briquettes. When you light the end of the string with a match and then blow out the flame, the string will continue to smolder and burn shorter and shorter, much like a lighted cigarette left sitting in an ashtray. So, I did some test runs to determine how long the string needed to be to give about a two-minute delay, just long enough for me to make my getaway and appear completely innocent if there was an unexpected “incident.” The action plan was to mosey innocently down to the center of town (about one block), stop at the big maple tree next to the telephone operator’s house on the left; you know, the tree with a huge hole, about waste high, that was facing the sidewalk. Then, I would turn and face the big hole in the tree, reach in and assemble the “bomb” inside the hole so that no one could see what I was doing, light the timer fuse, turn back toward home and mosey innocently up the hill, waiting to see if anyone would be startled by the “bang” so I could watch (i.e., be entertained by) their reaction. And so I did. But, as it turned out, there was no one but me in the area at that moment to hear the explosion, so my prank was a bust (pun intended). Technologically though, it was a huge success. Woo-hoo!

Mater Grenades

This final caper with fireworks has had many variations throughout the years, but I think you might enjoy reading about this one in particular. It happened about 14 years ago at my home in Knoxville, TN. My wife’s daughter and her family were visiting, and the Fourth of July was coming up. The grandson and I were plotting to blow off a few firecrackers and wanted to add some kind of twist to it, just for kicks. Why not blow something up this time, besides the firecrackers, we reckoned.

Now, we were somewhat of a couple of cheapskates at that time, and I began to wonder how we could blow something up without spending too much money on it. As it turns out, a few days earlier, when I was shopping for vegetables at the supermarket, I noticed that some of the Italian tomatoes (you know, the ones shaped like shmoos) were perfectly sized and firm for this adventure, and several were rotting from fungal infections. No one would buy these tomatoes anyway, I surmised. So off we went to the supermarket to buy tomatoes to blow up. Well, sure enough they agreed to give us the rotting tomatoes for free. Now this little trick may not be as simple as you might think. To pull this off successfully, one must first create a clean hole in the tomato just the right size and depth to hold a lit firecracker while flying through the air at high speeds (the tomato, not me, silly!). Aha, a drill is “just what the doctor ordered” I thought. So I got out my electric drill and selected a drill bit of the same diameter as a firecracker.

When the time came for our little entertainment gig, we all went out on the deck (which, by the way, is ten feet off the ground) to enjoy this homemade spectacle. I drilled a hole in the first rotten tomato, and we inserted a firecracker; it fit perfectly.  So, we lit the fuse, waited a couple of seconds, and then flung it violently into the air, away from the deck. When it was about 20 feet from the deck, the firecracker exploded in mid-air, and instantly there was tomato juice, pulp and seeds flying everywhere…BAM…poof! That was awesome, and so we high-fived each other. Then we repeated the process 5-6 times before getting bored. And that’s when we noticed tomato seeds where we didn’t expect them: on the deck, on the deck rail and even on my van, which was parked a good 25 feet or more from the explosions. Now THAT was well worth the trouble!

(To read more of my short stories, click HERE)