I was having a bad day. No one was returning my calls. The previous day’s sales were less than anticipated. Uncharacteristic hopelessness seemed to surround me.
I’m not ashamed of that. It happens.
But I am ashamed of what spurred me to depart my Friday funk.
It wasn’t the encouragement of loved ones. It wasn’t a happy song. It wasn’t prayer.
No, I saw three idiots nearly get their heads blown off working on a disabled car in the parking lot out behind my office. I saw the whole thing from my second story window.
It warmed my heart even as it was super-heating their faces.
It was John, my troubled apartment neighbor up here above The Pond. His 1994 Bronco has been an idle eyesore for a couple of years now. It has one flat tire and last week it leaked oil all over the parking lot. Dave, the bar and building owner, has told him he has to get it the hell out of there.
So on that drizzly day John and what amounts to his braintrust were huddled under the hood looking like they were giving the engine a pep talk.
And each was smoking a cigarette.
Now, I know acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak frowns on the practice even when the smoker is far from potentially lethal combustibles.
I’ve never seen competent mechanics smoke around open fuel injectors, but who am I to judge? Maybe dribbled piston ash is some kind of home remedy they read on the web, that reliable site for shady solutions for people too cheap to pay for expertise.
What I do know is only a moron would begin splashing gasoline from a five-gallon jug onto an exposed and firing engine with lit cigarettes dangling from their lips. But that’s what happened next. Without the precision of a funnel, they began pouring gas into what was for them an elusive target. The fuel was going all over the running engine.
I decided to text Dave downstairs at the bar: “Fear not the loud explosion you’re about to hear out back. It’s just John trying to repair his vehicle and instead blowing it and himself to smithereens.”
Dave’s reply: “There is a God.”
The detonation occurred the instant after I looked up from my phone and it was a beauty.
It looked like one of those old news reel films of some uninhabited Pacific atoll being incinerated in a nuclear test blast.
The explosion caused an impromptu Three Stooges skit to break out right there next to the bar dumpster. They each put their hands to their faces and began bouncing into one another. The Bronco engine was fully engulfed.
And it was all hilarious. I roared with laughter. It felt wonderful.
It really brightened my day — and not just from the explosive flash of gasoline being ignited.
On later reflection, I realized the many ways in which I’d failed my fellow man.
First, I should have gone out there and asked if there was anything I could do to help. It would have at least been encouraging and would have let them know we’re all in this together.
Second, I should have said something about the longterm hazards of smoking. I could have told them The Centers for Disease Control reports that 480,000 deaths occur each year from smoking tobacco products — and that includes second hand smoke inflicted on otherwise innocents..
I certainly should have stepped in and said something about how potentially dangerous it is to have a lit cigarette around gasoline fumes, although I’ve since heard that those hazards are exaggerated, a fact sure to incinerate legions more reckless idiots.
Failing all that, I should have at the very least immediately called 911 and then run outside with a fire extinguisher to be the hero for these now eyebrow-less men in their time of need. I could have set a good example for how any civic-minded citizen should react in an emergency.
Of course, I forgive myself for those human failings. As I said, I was having a bad day.
But if there’s one vital lesson from all this to take forward, one nugget to carry along on my inexorable march through life, then it is this:
Always keep a video camera handy.
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