Trading Birthdays with Dad

Trading Birthdays with Dad

Sometimes it’s the simple acts that create memories that last a lifetime. When I was a kid it always felt like my birthday was the last one of the year. In truth, it was always the first one of the year, but due to the way the birthday season in my family works out my birthday was always last. Yes we have a birthday season in my family. It starts with my sisters, who were both born in September, then my brothers, both born in October and finally my parents who were both born in December. Then there was me, leading up the rear as the only one with a birthday in January.

I was probably six or seven when I first realized that my birthday was last. As a typical six year old, being last is not something I was ever fond of. If I could get away with it I’d sneak an extra 100 from the Monopoly bank when I passed go, and when playing Yahtzee if one of my dice fell on the floor and came up the number I needed then of course it counted, but if I couldn’t use it, then it was obviously a do over. As a kid that hated losing, I tried to get the edge when I could. I’m happy to say this didn’t last.

The next year when birthday season started, so did my realization of being last. This resulted in me whining relentlessly to my parents about how unfair it was that my birthday was last. I may have even whined myself into a crying fit once or two about the subject as well (not proud of it then, not proud of it now). It got so bad that even mentioning the word birthday would set me off, which made planning upcoming birthdays a little difficult.

Finally in a last chance effort to shut me up about it, my parents came up with a solution to my complaint. With a smirk on his face my dad offered to trade birthdays with me. Instead of the week after Christmas, my birthday that year would be in the first week of December. I eagerly accepted and happily stopped complaining about the matter.

I couldn’t believe it. My birthday was going to be almost a full month earlier than it had been in the past. It also meant that it was three weeks before Christmas! As a kid with a birthday a week after Christmas I can tell you nothing sucks worse than having a birthday close to Christmas. More often than not when you are given a gift it will have both Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday written on it. Then you have to pretend to be grateful when all you are really thinking is, “You cheap bastard.”

Giving two toys (birthday and Christmas) to friends each year only to have them reciprocate it by giving you one gift to cover both occasions is one of the most distressing forms of adolescent injustice that any child will experience. Any child with a birthday close to Christmas will tell you the same thing. It’s complete and total crap! The prospect of having my birthday earlier meant that the chance of me getting separate Christmas and birthday presents was quite high. It was a realization that would even Eeyore would smile about.

When my “birthday” rolled around and my friends started arriving for the party, there was something I hadn’t expected. I had a feeling that kept lingering in the back of my mind. It was there through all the games, singing, the blowing out the candles and making a wish, and cake eating. Through all of that I couldn’t get past the feeling that it really wasn’t my birthday.

I’ll admit I was excited to get gifts that just said “Happy Birthday” on them, but it wasn’t my day. This feeling was reinforced when New Year’s finally rolled around and as a family we had to sing Happy Birthday to my dad instead of me. Turned out I liked that feeling even less than getting just one gift for both my birthday and Christmas.

I didn’t like having someone take my day. It took me a while to realize that my dad might like his day just as much as I liked my own. Who knows, maybe seeing me happily celebrating his birthday as my own was what made it worthwhile to him and a day worth remembering. For me, I didn’t need someone else’s birthday after that. My dad definitely deserved his own day where we all happily celebrated him on the day he entered this world, and do did I. When I told my dad I wanted my birthday back for next year, he happily agreed, but let me know if I wanted to trade again it would be okay.

I never complained about being last in the birthday season after that. I think it is what started my appreciation for birthdays in general. People deserve to be celebrated and what better way to celebrate them than on the day they were born.

I know that Father’s Day just passed, and as groovy of a holiday as it is, it pales in comparison to the day my dad was born. A day he gave to me as a gift one year so I could learn about the importance of my own day, where I said hello to the world.

Image Sources:
Google Images, keywords: sad at birthday, throwing a tantrum, birthday and Christmas, and dad hug.

Copyright © 2012 Richard Timothy

Ode to my ABBA Mom

Ode to my ABBA Mom

Last Friday, as I was walking into work a co-worker was trailing a little behind me so I stopped and held the door open for him. As he walking up I noticed he was humming a little turn to himself. Thing that surprised me is that I recognized the tune. The man was humming ABBA, and ABBA always brings a smirk to my lips.

I don’t know about you, but anytime the Swedish pop sensation ABBA comes up in conversation, inevitably, apart from mentioning they were from Sweden, the topic of mothers always seems to come up as well . . . and occasionally gay men, depending on whom you are talking with. In the case of my co-worker, our conversation came around to topic of our ABBA moms.

Some of my favorite childhood memories of my mom are the times when we (my siblings and I) would either be playing a game, or watching television, or just lounging around the house and mom would walk over to the record player, shuffle thought the shelve of LPs, and the next thing we knew there she was, dancing around the living room to ABBA.

It’s one of my perfect childhood moments, where there was no denying how absolutely happy my mom was. Sometimes we’d clap and cheer her on, other times we’d join in and dance around the house with her. Occasionally in my teens when friends were over, I’d leave the room as fast as I could, embarrassed that she would dare embarrass me like that. Fortunately I out grew that phase, and now, it’s just a reminder of what a kick ass mom I have.

My co-worker and I came to the conclusion that there are really only three types of people on the planet:

  • Those who publicly love ABBA.
  • Those who secretly love ABBA, but keep it a secret from the world.
  • And those who have never heard ABBA so have not yet fallen into one of the first two categories.

For me, obviously I’m a fan and most of that credit goes to my dancing ABBA mom. Any mom that is willing to lip sync Take a Chance on Me to you while dancing around the house is definitely a pretty cool mom, and you should consider yourself lucky because you too have an ABBA mom. So, if you didn’t remind her of this this past Sunday on Mother’s Day, you should call her up this week and let her know, because let’s face it, she deserves to be reminded that she is truly a beloved dancing queen.

Image Sources:
Google Images, keywords: ABBA, dancing mom, and mom rocking out.

Copyright © 2012 Richard Timothy

Sometimes Left is Right

Sometimes Left is Right

I am left-handed, which oddly makes me instantly more likeable to about 10 to 15% of you, because that is the average number of people that are left-handed verses right-handed. Most of you, however, could care less . . . or more . . . or at all for that matter.

A few weeks ago I was hanging out with the family and sister was commented that there was a good chance her little one, Margot was going to be left-handed, since it was the hand she’s been favoring as of late. What surprised me is how proud I was from this little bit of information. Being left-handed is a life-long club, one that you instantly become a part of once you find preference in using your left hand verses your right.

I got a smirk on my face when I started think of Margot and all of the challenges and compromises she’ll have to make growing up, things that I have already gone through and know she’ll have to experience as well. They are not bad things mind you, just . . . more tediousness, due to living into the righties world. I do know she’ll have an avid and deep rooted hatred for spiral bound notebooks . . . all lefties do thanks to the spirals digging into the side of our palm and wrist as we are write in them, leaving a intended spiral ribbed texture on our arms when we lift up our arm. Three ring binders are just as much of a pain thanks to those big ass hoops that you have to maneuver around while when you start a new line close to one of those three holes. Eventually I learned to start at the back of my notebook so the spirals were on the right, but the damage was done, I still hate spiral bound notebooks.

I know that many of you have no idea what I’m talking about, you have no reason to, but trust me when I tell you that when it comes to basic functionality/usability, the world favors the right. Take school desks . . . always obnoxious to a leftie, at least at my school. The desk and chair was an all-in-one combined object. The only access to your seat was the opening on the left. This design meant that all right-handed people had an arm rest while they wrote and did school work, but as a lefty I had to get used to doing my work with no arm support whatsoever.

Being a lefty there are a number of things you pick up on that I imagine right-handed people never go through. For one, there is a lot of odd bias about being left-handed. Right handed people always make a big deal about you being a “southpaw”, which the first time I was called one I thought it was a derogatory word. I was in gym class, and as I stepped up to the plate to take a turn at bat my coach said “Oh, so you’re a southpaw!” I honestly thought he was a big “meanie-head”, and spent a year secretly wishing that a bird would crap on his head every time we had P.E. outside for calling me names in front of my class mates.

One thing you get used to early on is that right-handed people are ways surprised when they learn you are left-handed. Exclaiming that fact the second they realize it, but it’s one of those little weird facts about that most righties don’t keep with them, and is something that will keep coming up with random acquaintances from probably the rest of your life. When a lefty learns you are left-handed they usually just give you an approving nod and hope that someday they’ll be able to share a meal with you. We always let out a sigh of relief when we are sitting at a round dinner table and discover that the person next to us is also left handed.

Most righties don’t know this, but lefties don’t like round tables. Ten out of ten times if we have the choice to eat dinner with others at a round table verses a one with corners we are going to go square every time. When a left-hander walks up to a table we always think about the most strategic place to sit so that we do not bump elbows with right-handers. Right-handed people never think about this because, chances are, they’ve never had to deal with this on a daily basis, three times a day. When lefties see the table they will be sitting at, they process the information and find the spots that will allow them free left-handed movement for a hassle free meal.

Another thing about being left handed is that is that there are so many negative connotations toward just the word “left”. Here’s what I mean (according to Wikipedia mind you):

  • In Latin the word for left eventually took on the meaning of “evil” or “unlucky”.
  • In French, Dutch, and Hebrew the word for left means clumsy, which I guess makes perfect sense—have you ever seen a right-handed person trying to do something with their left hand, they look silly as hell. And yes the same can be said for left-handers doing most things with their right hand. I always get a good chuckle at myself whenever I attempt to throw anything with my right hand.
  • In Chinese, the adjective for left can mean improper or out of accord.
  • In Russian it means unauthorized and/or under the table.
  • In ancient Hebrew the left hand symbolized the power to shame society, and was used as a metaphor for misfortune, natural evil, or punishment from the gods.

On a plus note (yep, only two):

  • People in the Andes consider left-handers to possess special abilities, like magic and healing.
  • For Tantric Buddhists the left hand represents wisdom.

There are a number of odd superstitions/myths about things of a left handed nature:

  • It is bad luck to pass a drink to someone with your left hand. Likewise, pouring a drink with your left hand isn’t going to bring you luck!
  • Giving a toast with your left hand is the same as placing a curse on the person(s) you are toasting.
  • It is considered bad luck to attach the left sleeve before sewing on the right one.
  • Getting out of bed left foot first will result in you having a bad day.
  • If your left eye twitches you will see an adversary, but if it is your right eye, you will see a friend.
  • An itch on your left palm this means you will need to pay some money out, but if it’s on your right palm you will be the one receiving the cash.
  • The tradition of wearing your wedding ring on the left hand was started by Romans, who used the ring to ward off evil associated with the left.
  • People believed that evil spirits would skulk behind your left shoulder. In Roman times salt was a very valuable commodity and it was seen as extremely bad luck to spill some. This is why if you spill salt you should throw it over the left shoulder – to appease the Devil.
  • If your right ear is ringing it means that someone is praising you, whereas if it’s in your left someone is cursing you.

And this left=bad, right=good superstition just goes on and on. Interestingly though, if you are a lefty you do end up associating left with good.

There are some superstitions in favor of lefties, for example:

  • If you dig coal out of the ground from under your left foot in the spring your luck will be quite good.
  • Some tribes, like the Zuni, think that left is older and wiser than the right.

There are a few actual facts about lefties that I found surprising when I started looking into this whole left/right thing:

  • Left-handed people are three times more likely to become alcoholics than right-handers.
  • According to one study, left-handers life span is 9 years less than right-handers—which makes perfect sense considering they are three times more likely to be alcoholics.
  • Statistically speaking, the older a mother, the more likely she is to give birth to a left-handed child.
  • If both parents are left handed, 50% of their children will be left-handed, however if both parents are righties, there is only a 2% chance the child will be left-handed.
  • Lefties are twice as likely to be male.
  • Lefties tend to reach puberty 4 to 5 months later than right-handers.
  • As a result of living in a right-handers world, 50% of left-handers report using a computer mouse with their right hand, 68% of lefties use right handed scissors, and 74% use a dinner knife with their right hand.
  • Stuttering and dyslexia occur more often in left-handers (particularly if they are forced to change their writing hand as a child, like King of England, George VI).
  • Lefties also adjust to seeing underwater quicker.
  • 1 in 4 Apollo astronauts were left-handed.
  • 4 of the 5 original designers of the Macintosh computer were left-handed.
  • Lefties with a college education make 10 to 15% more than their right-handed equivalents.
  • Plus, we even have our own day! Left Handed Day is celebrated each year on August 13th, which is pretty cool.

So to all my left-handed readers, thanks for reading and know I feel your pain and celebrate your accomplishments. And to all my right-handed readers, thanks for reading, and hopefully you gained a little insight to your left-handed counterpart in humanity. Just remember, sometimes left is right.

Image Sources:
My sister’s Facebook page and Google Images, keywords: left handed, school desks, clumsy, right brained, left turn.

Copyright © 2012 Richard Timothy

Remembering Your Youth Part 3 – Balancing The Light

Remembering Your Youth Part 3 – Balancing The Light

So yesterday when I got home from work there was a collection of little people hanging out in the front yard of my next door neighbor, which is where the mailboxes are for 10-15 houses in the area. Initially I figured it was a play date that turned in to a play party, but as I walked up to my mailbox to collect the day’s mail, I was confronted by six little kids asking me if I’d like to purchase a glass of chocolate milk for a dollar. I told them I didn’t drink chocolate milk, to which they retorted, “What about . . . show him the sheet!”

Written on a piece of white printer paper was a list of four items each with a price listed next to them. I settled on an order of peanut butter crackers for 50 cents and told them I needed to go get them some cash, taking my mail with me. When I returned with my two quarters one little girl, who missing a front tooth, held up a small glass jar that was holding a few dollars in it, and smiled widely as I dropped my quarters in. The girl said that the others were inside getting my snack.

I stood by my mailbox, waiting. The girl with the cash jar ran to the front door of the house and opened it a crack and yelled something inside. I continued to stand there and after about a minute awkwardly checked my wrist to see the time . . . I wasn’t wearing a watch. Then I pulled out my keys and just as I was about to open my empty mailbox, just to make sure it was still empty, out walked three kids, each holding one part of my order in the open palm of their hand.

“We made you three,” said one little kid with a nose full of freckles. The girl with the jar of cash confirmed that I had paid and then the three kids placed my peanut butter crackers in the palm of my hand and thanked me. They were homemade, a wheat Ritz cracker was the base and on top was a hefty dollop of peanut butter. I smiled, wished them luck and walked back home. As I walked into the house from the garage, the first thing I did was head into the kitchen and let all three crackers slide off my hand and into the trash.

What? Little kids can be filthy little things, and I didn’t know any of them. No reason to risk it. Besides they had their money and I did wait until they couldn’t see me before throwing away their questionable culinary treat. The whole experience did get me back to thinking about the series I was working on last month, the things we all did as kids. So, with all Utah bagpipers at peace now that Regan has left the state, this Smirk will give use one more to add to the list of remembering your youth, and today’s focus . . . the light switch.

There were a number of things that happened when I was finally tall enough to reach the light switch, and when I refer to a light switch I am referring to the traditional up/on, down/ off light switches and not lights connected to The Clapper, or those round knobs that you press to turn on and off and turn to control the brightness of the bulbs, or those little up/down or left/right slider switches. The first thing I did when I finally realized I could reach the light switch was make sure that there were as many light on in the house as possible. This was because at that age it is a proven fact (in my mind) that monsters cannot survive in the light, therefore the more lights that were on the few monsters there would be in my house.

Eventually, I learned that the light switch was my connection to an instant strobe light! I’d turn on some Asia or Foreigner and as my friends/siblings danced, I’d flip the lights on as off as fast as I could, until it was my turn to dance and someone else’s turn to strobe for us. I killed more light bulbs with than little trick than Michael Jackson had hit singles, and yes I am including his time singing with his brothers.

Then along came the practice of centering. You know, the practice of carefully adjusting the switch so that it was perfectly centered between the on and off positions, pointing straight out from the switch. In this state the switch was incredibly unstable, and in some instances a sneeze or a knock on the door, or a heavy step could cause the switch to spring to one of its official working positions. Statistically speaking fifty percent of the time the switch would commit to the “off” position instead of the “on” position, thus making this one of the most pointless forms of booby trapping the house possible.

So why try? I’m not sure why others did this, but for me it was because of that one time! I had set the balanced the switch and while standing in my room, alone, I exclaimed, “I have an idea!” and I stomped my foot down, while lifting my hand up into the air with my index finger pointing out. The vibration motivated the switch to jump toward the “on” position the light bulb above my head lit up. It was a perfect child moment and worth repeating as many times as needed to prove to just one other living person that it really did happen and was as hysterical and I was convinced it was. And when I did finally get it to happen again, the fact that I had to jump up and down four or five times before the light switched on did lessen the overall comical effect I was expecting.

There are those random moments where I’ll still find myself handling a light switch getting it to settle perfectly balanced between on and off, and even though I know it’s pointless, it’s an accomplishment and occasionally it’s the little accomplishments that help us prepare for the bigger ones. Besides, sometimes it takes a little jumping up and down for the lights to turn on, but when they do, it’s brilliant!

Image Sources:
Google Images, keywords: lemonade stand, peanut butter cracker, light switch, and balancing a light switch.

Copyright © 2012 Richard Timothy

Remembering Your Youth Part 2 – Doing Shots

Remembering Your Youth Part 2 – Doing Shots

I’ll admit when I first came up with the concept of canonizing mannerisms, or at the very least activities, that I believe are universal acts of little kiddedness, aka things we all did in our youth, I only had one more thing to add, but as the week has worn on my list grew from one to two . . . maybe three, I’ll need to check my list. The point is that this Smirk series will definitely last beyond Part 2 and quite possibly up to the end of the month. So without any further ado: Remembering Your Youth Part 2.

Doing Shots
Doing shots is a very different childhood activity than getting shots, which is something that all of us have experienced, and for many of us has left us with a deep rooted fear, befuddlement, hate, despise and intense lack of appreciation for ingesting medicine by way of a syringe and hypodermic needle. These are not the types of shots I am referring to. Although to be fare if you take the needle away, we all had much love for syringes for the following two reasons:

  1. They are a highly entertaining way to slowly drink a glass of water/juice. It could take me up to forty-five minutes to drink eight ounces of water depending on the size of the syringe I had my hands on . . . . Okay, I’ll admit that does sound a little odd. My dad was a shop teacher so as part of his supplies for the shop he did have access to syringes, specifically used to dye leather works and plastics. I also remember sticking the syringe to my tongue too. After squeezing all the water into my mouth I’d put the tip of the syringe on my tongue and then pull the thumb pressy bit out so that it would stick to my tongue. Then I’d let go the pushy bit and snicker as it would shoot back into the syringe due to the suction build up. Sure, my tongue might have looked like it had a case of chicken pox once I finished with my glass of water, but never for too long.
  2. The second reason is that they were brilliant tools for starting water fights while in the house. They only held a small amount of liquid, but it was easily concealed and you could shoot water with pinpoint accuracy giving you a definite element of surprise. The other thing was, because they didn’t hold that much water in them, you didn’t get in much trouble if you got caught shooting water in the house. On the plus side there was never that much to clean up if you got caught.

That actually reminds me of when I was in grade school. It was fifth or sixth grade and my teacher would have everyone sit quietly and work from one of our workbooks. He did this every afternoon. On one particular day as I worked I started feeling small drops of water land on me. I looked up from my book and around at my other class mates, but everyone was working away heads down and focusing on their work.

I went back to work and a few moments later I felt more little drops landing on my head and ears. I had just learned what gleeking was (which is a kind of spitting where a small jet of saliva shoots out from under your tongue and out of your mouth) and I was convinced the kid behind me was doing just that. I spun around, hissed at him to quit it while giving him the foulest look I could muster. His look of surprise was a lie, I just knew it! Nothing he could have said would have convinced me otherwise. I felt a few more drops after that, which just filled me with hate and despise for my classmate. For the next week, every time I saw him I’d flash him dirty looks and would do my best to ignore him every chance I got.

I was sure I’d spend the rest of my life hating that kid, until . . . a week later when I caught a glimpse of what really happened. It was study hour again and I, on a whim, looked up from my work to try to get some inspiration from the board, hoping the math problems we had worked as a class were still on the board to see if there were any repeats so I didn’t have to do them again, and I saw something. Actually it was more than that, I saw someone . . . my teacher. He had in his hands a small syringe full of water. He was holding it close to his chest, trying to conceal it, and in that moment he arched it and pressed the end of it as a small jet of water arched across the classroom and landed on some unsuspecting student’s head. They instantly looked up and around with hate and anger in their eyes.

I learned two very important things that day. First, hating someone is exhausting, especially at that age and I felt bad for all the time I spent hating my classmate because of the shenanigans of my teacher. The second thing I learned is that teachers are people, and some people are assholes, which only means that some teachers can be assholes, and yes, my teacher was in fact an asshole. He eventually stopped, but I think it’s because word got around that he was the one doing it. I’m sure if no one suspected him, he would have kept it up all year.

As for doing shots, I mean drinking shots as kids . . . you know the initial point of this Smirk, I do think we all did this at some point. I’m referring to anyone who in their youth got their hands on a 16 ounce bottle of juice, milk, soda, etc. There were multiple times where I’d take off the screw-top lid and then with the skill and precision of a brain surgeon, hands steady and confident, I’d pour a tiny portion of my Mountain Dew into it (the lid) without spilling a drop. Then I’d open my mouth, tilt my head back and shoot down my shot of Dew. I think I started with milk, but eventually moved on to the harder stuff. I’ll tell you what though a mini-shot of Mountain Dew will jack you up when you’re ten, or at the very least encourage you to pretend you’re jacked up, unless of course you shoot the entire bottle all by yourself. Something I do not recommend to any preteens anywhere.

Everyone I’ve talked to admits to doing these shots as a kid. I guess for me, my only questions is, what was your beverage of choice to shoot at that age?

Image Sources:
Google Images, keywords: idea, soda lid, kids drinking water from a syringe, and kid making angry face.

Copyright © 2012 Richard Timothy

Amazed to be Alive

Amazed to be Alive

I saw a bag of marbles at the grocery store yesterday and it got me thinking about my life, filling me with amazement that I’m still here after all these years. Not that I ever tried to ends things early… well not intentionally, but I think that’s the thing about the adolescent and teenage years, we all sort of try without really thinking we’re trying… meaning we don’t really make a lot of educated guesses at that age about what we’re doing and if it’s safe. Actually we might, it’s just that we don’t have a lot of education on what we want to try, and usually when something is cool, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s smart. I don’t know about you, but when it came to doing something cool verses doing something safe, 9.9 times out of 10 I was going to be doing something cool.

Yep, marbles are responsible for today’s reminiscent Smirk about life, but more than that, about surviving life. I grew up about three blocks from the high school, and two and a half block from the high school wood shop, which was in its own building close to the high school. Starting in grade school up until I left town, I would spend a lot of time at the shop, thanks to my dad being the shop teacher. Next to the high school shop was the big field that all the school buses lived in during the summer months. Now, when I was in grade school, the bus field wasn’t always the bus field.

At that period in my life the field was the schools dump. It collected piles if random waste, broken desks, old books, retired chalk boards, etc. However, the field did have one additional thing that made it one of the most magical places in town. It had a huge enclosed outdoor fire pit. The whole thing was made out of sheets of ½ think steel welded together. Three walls were around five feet high and the forth wall, the mouth of the pit, was between two to three feet high. That way the janitors could easily feed it whatever they wanted to, and at the same time once the fire was well under way, they could keep piling things on. It looked a bit like an outdoor fireplace for the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk.

On this particular day, all of the boys were at the shop, and it turned out dad needed some help spray painting a few things. I always wanted to help out when I could, but when you have little fingers attached to little hands, getting a good hold on a spray paint can, while trying with all your might to push that damn nozzle piece down far enough to get some paint to come out, took a lot more effort than I expected it would. About five minutes later my spray finger had more paint on it than the wood I was trying to paint, so I stopped helping and started playing instead. I do remember being fascinated by the rattling noise each spray paint would make when I shook them up, it was like I had my own set of metal maracas. I’d shake them up and do a little cha-cha-cha dance around the shop. It was my oldest brother Dave who unraveled the rattle mystery when he showed me that very day a spray paint can marble. It was a marble making all that noise… who knew?

I wanted one, but my dad said it was too dangerous to try to get marbles from a pressurized empty can of spray paint and that he’d get me some marbles sometime soon. As an adolescent “sometime soon” equates to about one minute shy of forever. If he wasn’t going to help, I was going to have to take matters into my own hands.

As I walked outside of the shop I noticed that there was a faint stream of smoke coming from the pit, and started heading that way. The closer I got I noticed that the pits guardian, the janitor, was gone. Apparently, he had finished burning the piles of trash he was assigned to and had disappeared while the hot coals continued their journey into cool ash. That is when I had a brilliant idea… I could melt the cans and get the marbles out of them once they’d melted. How easy and safe was that? I ran back to the shop and started filling my arms with the empty spray paint cans sitting in the trash. Realizing that I could be more efficient with the number of cans I could take with me, I got my “go to” partner in crime Mike, my brother who is just a year older than me. He liked the idea of free marbles too and together with our arms full of empty cans we headed toward the giant’s fireplace full of smoldering ashes.

Having no idea what to expect, we opted to do a test run and threw only throw one can in to see what would happen. For a few minutes there was nothing. Mike even grabbed a stick and started poking at the can. Shortly after that the entire pit started to hiss. In looking back it was probably the plastic nozzle melting and letting out the left over compressed air, but at the time it was the sound of an awakened fire snake hissing as the foolish adventurers that had wandered into its pit, ready to strike its magma filled fangs into whoever it was that woke it up. We ran from the noise as fast as we could. Then, half way between the pit and the shop, we heard a loud bang.

We skidded to a stop, well Mike did, I inadvertently chose to drop to my butt, and then skidded to a halt. We turned and looked back at the pit… had someone just blown up the fire serpent? Then, out of what must have been sheer dumb luck because it couldn’t really have been anything but, a marble fell past my head and thudded to the ground about three feet away. It was mostly gold, the same color as the paint in the can we had tossed into the ashes. I picked up the marble, it was lingering between warm and hot, and some of the paint came off and stuck to my fingers. “It’s the marble from the can,” I yelled, as we both started running toward the pit. When we got there, we peeked over the edge and looked in. Sure enough, the bottom of the can was gone leaving the remains completely empty.

The prospect of having more cans explode for our amusement while marbles fell from heaven got us a little excited. Soon three cans were in the pit, cooking up a little “boom” where a marble would pop out to let us know it was done. At least we had enough sense to not stand in front of the mouth of the pit while we waited for the cans to pop. With three explosions in the making, we knew we needed to take cover. When the first can blew we were hiding behind a few old broken desk tops, we heard a ping and then a shattering sound. The marble had failed to escape. It shot against the inside wall of the pit and disappeared into a cloud of tiny glass shard snowflakes… and I bet no two glass flakes were the same.

The second and third blew at almost the same time. One shattered and one shot out of the open top. We both lost it in the sun, but as I started walking back to the pit Mike yelled, “Don’t move.” I stopped, though not sure why.


“Shhhh,” Mike insisted, listening with the same intensity as a hungry baby watching Baywatch.

Then I heard it, a thud about twenty feet behind the pit. We raced towards the noise and began searching fervently for the little glass ball that had just hit the ground. Ten minutes of crawling through the grass resulted in two little boys empty handed and heading a back to the pit for another go. We only had three more cans, and I didn’t want to share my marble. So the last three cans were thrown in one at a time so we could focus on finding only one marble after each can popped.

The first one… “boom, shatter”. Damn. The second one… “boom, ping”… that was new. We waited for sound of the thud, once it hit we ran toward the sound. Surprisingly, this one was just lying on a small mound of dirt. Turned out the noise was the marble skinning against the edge of the pit wall on its way to freedom, it knocked out a small sliver of glass, but it was still whole and counted as one for Mike. The last one sounded a lot like the first one, but when we walked back to the pit we noticed that half of a marble was sitting just outside of it. Mike called dibs. His logic was since he had two pieces that were both missing bits then he should get the two damaged marbles to make up for the one whole one that I had. I wanted to argue his logic, but at the time I really could find no flaw in it.

With the cans all gone and each of us with a trophy, we headed back to the shop to see if there was anything else we could throw in the “still very active and ready to burn” pit. There were no more spray paint cans left in the trash, but we did manage to find one can of WD-40. The spray nozzle had broken off sending the can to the trash way before its time was up. The best part, the can was almost completely full. I felt a little like the first time I fed my dog Peanuts peanut butter, he had no idea what it was, but he sure enjoyed the hell out it. Since the can was almost full, this meant only one thing… run as fast as possible once we threw it in the pit. We had even set up some cardboard boxes to hide under with eye holes cut out so we could watch what happened in safety.

It took about five minutes for the magic to take place, which, when hiding in a cardboard box, waiting patiently is equivalent of spending three hours looking at a spreadsheet on an Apple IIe full of someone else’s tax receipts from the 1970’s. Three minutes in, we were talking about it being a dud, suggesting to the other to go check it out. It wasn’t until we had gotten out of our cardboard fortress of protection and took a step toward the pit that the can’s hard metal shell breached and its contents blew.

A fireball filled the entire pit and shot about fifteen feet out of the open top. It wasn’t terribly loud, but the flame and cloud of black smoke that billowed out was anything but stealthy. It was time to get back to the shop and hang out with an adult that would vouch for us being good kids in the event anyone showed up asking questions, because someone was bound to show up. In fact, in less than a minute of us getting back to the shop door we saw a the janitor, the one that always scared the bejesus out of me by just looking at me, walking toward the pit with a very angry look on his face.

As he stood next to the pit, his hands on his hips, he looked around for some evil doer to come out and fess up. This was our cue to walk back in the shop and find something else to do… like clean the paint off our new round shiny treasure. As we were drying off our hands and marbles with the course brown paper towels that all wood shops at every high school is required by law to use, we both agreed that the day had held the coolest thing either of us had ever seen, and made a pact not to ever tell mom or dad about it, and we haven’t to this day… well, unless they just read this Smirk, in which case… Mom, Dad… it was all Mike idea, I swear!

Sadly, ever since that “marble in a can” day the pit always had supervision whenever we would go check it out during “burn days”. It was like the trying to get past the Black Gate to get to Mount Doom. In truth it probably saved us from at least a handful or eyebrow grow-back sessions, and possibly the loss of a digit or two. So to the scary janitor that was assigned to keep an eye on the burning trash, thanks for keeping us safe… from ourselves. Eventually, they took out the old burning station and converted the school dump into the bus storage field… but the buses had all sorts of treasures in them, so it was a pretty good trade off. Of course, that’s an entirely different story.

This was one of many bad for the sake of “cool” experiences I’ve had during my life, and I’ll admit, when I look back, I’m impressed I’m still here… and thankful as well. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a thing.

I’m convinced everyone has at least one, “… and I’m still here” stories from their youth, I’d love to hear one of yours.

Image Sources:
Google Images, keywords: marbles, spray paint can marbles, kid searching in grass, burning trash, kids in cardboard box, and the Black Gate.