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)

Dad Gumm

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Dad Gumm

James R. Aist

“Not yet I ain’t!”, he said…

This story will require a brief introduction to a colloquialism that I grew up with in Arkansas.  When someone had tried and failed at something (for example, shooting a squirrel that was climbing up the side of a tree), they might say something like “Darn!” or “Dag nabbit!” to express their disappointment. Or, they might instead say “Dad Gummit!” or just “Dad gum!”

With that, let me tell you my version of a story that originated with my brother Johnny. At the time, Johnny was an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He was enrolled in a class on folklore, and was required to research and submit an original essay on local lore in northwest Arkansas. So, Johnny decided to visit and interview, impromptu and unannounced, some of the old-timers in the area to find out what words of wisdom they might be willing to share with him. One day he was driving along a rural, dirt road looking for someone to interview, when he rounded a bend and saw the perfect prospect: an old man sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of his old log cabin, high on a hill. This appeared to be just the kind of old-timer that Johnny was looking for.

So, he pulled into the dirt driveway, drove up the hill to the cabin, and began the interview. “Good morning”, says Johnny. “Howdy there, young feller”, replies the old man. Johnny then proceeds to begin the interview. “My name is Johnny Aist, what’s yours?” With a slight grin on his face, the old man replies “My last name is Gumm, but most people around here call me Dad!” Instantly recognizing this clever reference to a local colloquialism, Johnny grins accordingly and then continues the interview. “Tell me, Mister Gumm, have you lived here all your life?”, he asks. To which Dad Gumm replies, “Not yet, I ain’t, but I ain’t never lived nowhere’s else neither!”

And that’s when Johnny knew that he had stumbled onto a gem of an old-timer who was just the kind of guy he was looking for help him get an “A” on his research project!

(To read more amazing short stories on this website, click HERE)

Wait for It, Wait for It…OK, Now!

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Wait for It, Wait for It…OK, Now!

James R. Aist

This true-life experience happened when I was about four or five years old, and my family was living in central Indiana, near Marion. We were living in a large, stately, red brick farmhouse with tall, white pillars in the front and a long driveway lined with stately white pines. Daddy had been hired to manage this attractive farm property, which we called “the Love Farm”, after the original owner. Out back was a large barn used to store hay in the loft and to house animals and farm machinery on the bottom floor.

For some time I had been longing to climb up the ladder inside the barn and explore the hayloft, but I was forbidden to do so, because it was at least 10 feet high above a solid concrete floor. If I were to fall through the large hole that had developed in the hayloft floor, I would surely be seriously injured or even fatally wounded, according to Mama anyway. Then one day I came up with a brilliant idea: I would get my older sister, Carol, to accompany me in my adventure and make sure that I didn’t get close enough to the hole in the floor to fall through it. Voila! Problem solved. (For some reason, Mama agreed to this arrangement.) So out to the barn we went, where I promptly began to scale the ladder, with Carol watching closely. About half way up the ladder I began to get second thoughts about this adventure, because it began to dawn on me just high up 10 feet really is! And that hard concrete floor would not be a particularly hospitable landing pad should I, in fact, accidentally fall through the hole, Carol’s watchful eye notwithstanding. However, I was too far into the plot to quit now and have to suffer the embarrassment of returning to the house a failure, especially with an eye witness present to tell the story. So, I gathered my courage and scaled the rest of the ladder without further ado. At the top I crawled onto the hayloft floor, stood up victoriously, and began to walk around and explore the corners and edges of the hayloft to see what was really up there.

Nothing much of any real interest was there, so I approached the hole cautiously to look down at Carol and tell her I was done and ready to climb down. But, as I looked down over the edge of the hole, I got dizzy from the height, lost my balance and went hurtling down through the hole straight toward the concrete floor 10 feet below; “Carol can’t help me now!”, I thought to myself. As I was falling, I saw myself getting closer and closer to impact. It was terrifying. Then BAM, I hit the floor, landing perfectly flat, belly side down. By this time Carol was running toward me in a panic to see how badly I was hurt and console me until help could arrive. As it turned out, I had, miraculously, suffered only a slightly cut lip – no broken bones, no bruises and not even any scrapes from the impact!

I was so frightened by the fall that I was about to break down into full-blown bawling and crying, with tears, when Carol arrived to console and comfort me. But just then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mama running toward me calling out to us in fear of the worst. So, now I had a dilemma: do I start crying now and waste my tears on Carol, or do I hold off until Mama gets here so she can do the consoling and comforting instead. Well, that was a no-brainer. So I puckered up my face, held my breath and waited for Mama to arrive. Then I let-er-rip. Good choice; I was rewarded royally for my patience. After all, Mamas always trump big sisters when it comes to giving consolation and comfort. You just have to muster enough self-control to get the timing right!

Now, you may wonder, as I do, how I could have escaped such a fall with only a slightly cut lip. Think what you will, but I am convinced that, on that day, I put my “guardian angel” to the test, and he passed with “flying” colors (so to speak!).

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