Friday, May 30, 2014

RIP Maya Angelou & the world's greatest poem

I made a joke to my buddies when the news came on that Maya Angelou, 86, had died. I said, “Is she the one who wrote the poem that begins, ‘I once knew a man from Nantucket . . .’”

It was a very cheap and tasteless joke at the expense of a revered woman of tremendous international consequence.

Still, I made it because it’s funny and that’s the whole point of making jokes.

I always feel bad any time a famous poet dies because I have no appreciation for famous poetry.

Of course, a famous poet dies only once every 25 years so the occasion rarely troubles me. It’s not that being a famous poet guarantees one near-immortal longevity, it’s just that so few poets ever become famous.

Now that Angelou is gone, can anyone name another famous poet?

I tend to think of poets as being lyricists too lazy to learn guitar.

Try this punctuation-free poem:

Madmen drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat
In the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat
With a boulder on my shoulder feeling kinda older I tripped the merry-go-round
With this very unpleasing sneezing wheezing the calliope crashed to the ground

If my 13-year-old daughter read that aloud to me for an honest critique, I’d gently advise her to seek career opportunities in the math or science fields because as poems go that one just kind of sucks.

Of course, fans know those are the first four lines from the first song of the very first album Bruce Springsteen ever released. It’s “Blinded by the Light” from 1972.

It makes me feel utterly joyful. Not so much because of the haphazard slapdashery of the words, but because I instinctively hear the guitar melody that is going to propel me through the whole song until it is finally revealed to Mama where the fun is.

It’s 5 minutes 4 seconds of pure euphoria.

But try reading it without the music skipping through your head. As poems go, it’s a mess.

One of the things I sense many poets like about writing poetry is that there are no rules. You can say what you want how you want.

That’s going to change if one day I’m every put in charge of poetry, a position that, I’m sure, would pay only slightly less than hometown blogger.

First of all to me a poem must rhyme. If it doesn’t rhyme then to me it’s just talking without discipline and even toddlers and mumbling drunks can do that.

And a good poem should be short and easy to remember.

That’s why to me the greatest poem of all-time is by an unknown savant who was probably paid minimum wage by some mom ’n’ pop operation looking for a way to remind its customers to be do their job for them.

It is . . .

Be kind, rewind

Bask in that for a moment. It’s concise. It’s informative. It’s memorable. It suggests action.

And, boy, that son of a bitch really, really rhymes!

I swear nothing Shakespeare’s ever done comes close.

The fact that convenient advances in home movie viewing has now made it incomprehensible to two generations of tech-savvy kids does nothing to diminish its impact.

Angelou’s death did give me an opportunity to look up what I’ve been missing and it’s been a lot. Check out some of these magnificent lines: 

 • “The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind.”

• “Try and be a rainbow inside of someone’s cloud.”

• “I’ve learned you shouldn’t go through life with catcher’s mitts on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.”

• “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but no one will ever forget how you made them feel.”

Aren’t those beautiful? I particularly like the last one.

Isn’t it a pity I didn’t know they existed until the day after she’d died? I should have been following her on Twitter instead of former SNL funnyman Kevin Nealon.

But don’t blame me. She’s the one who decided poetry was the best vehicle to spread her ideas.

Imagine her renown if she’d have years ago attached her soulful gifts to someone who could compose a snappy tune?

I’m thinking of the guy famous for singing often inarticulate lyrics like these:

Oh! Candy and Ronnie! Have ya seen ‘em yet? Oh, but they're so spaced out!
B-B-B-Benny and The Jets
Oh! But they’re weird and they’re wonderful. Oh, Benny, she’s a really keen
She’s got electric boots! A mohair suit! Ya know I read it in a maga-Zeeennn!
Oh, ho! B-B-B-Benny and the Jets!

Cut me open and I’ll bleed Elton John/Bernie Taupin songs. It’s a key part of my musical DNA. But Taupin’s a very mediocre lyricist whose reputation is elevated because he happened to pair himself with a genius.

But the honors that will flow forth when Taupin dies will in some ways equal those bestowed on the truly great Angelou.


Kids, if your soul yearns to compose poems, take the time to learn how to at least plunk out a tune on a piano or a guitar. Give yourself a chance at glory, acclaim, adulation and a decent living.

Or maybe get your hands on a book by the great Shel Silverstein and see how one of the most under appreciated poets/artists of the last 100 years did it. And he’s one of the very few who did it all.

That’s enough from me today. I’ve got to start planning next week’s blog topics.

There once was a man from Latrobe
Whose blog was ignored ‘round the globe
He took a shot at a poet and wouldn’t you know it
The remark made it clear he’d been intellectually disrobed

Related . . .

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Chris Rodell: Word Master! I'm boss of the bee

The list was given to me in strictest confidence with explicit instructions not to share it with another soul.

Nuclear launch codes?

Nah, all 276 words to be used at the 3rd grade spelling bee tomorrow at Stanwood Elementary School near New Stanton in the Hempfield Area School District.

So just in case any elementary schoolers are reading today’s blog, I’ll not dare spill any of the test words.

But I will say this: I used six of them in the first four paragraphs — oops! I mean I used six of them in the first four “sentences.”

Why was I entrusted with the list?

Because I am a Word Master.

Hell, I am THE Word Master!

At least I will be tomorrow night to about three dozen 8-year-old spellers.

I was asked to perform the duty after a friendly organizer heard me speak at an area Rotary presentation. I think I impressed her when I didn’t stumble over three-syllable words like syllable.

She said it’ll be my job to read the words aloud and answer questions about usage, part of speech, etc.

Word Master.

Care to hear me use it in a sentence?

“Because Chris Rodell is now a certified Word Master, no one can make fun of him if he ever missspellz another word.”

Word Master. It has a faintly dominatrix connotation to it, don’t you think?

I wonder if I can get my wife to join me in a little Word Master role play. I can rattle off a sexy verb, define it, then just sit back and let the games begin. If I find the result unsatisfactory I can just reach over and ring a little bell — ding! — and she’ll run crying from the room.

Oh, lord, I hope none of the children cry. I’ll probably leap over the judge’s table and give the little weeper a great big consoling hug — and we all know what kind of trouble stranger adults can get into hugging children they’ve never met.

It’s just one of the ways that the evening will be fraught with peril for a guy like me. Worse is my propensity to be such a smart ass joker in these types of situations.

All the grown ups will be watching. Nerves will be on edge. The stifling room will be utterly still.

Can you think of a better time to rip a really good, loud fart?

Outside of a good buddy’s funeral, I can’t.

I’ll be disgraced, of course, but I know it’ll crack up at least half of the 3rd grader boys on stage and that reaction remains a strong motivator for guys like me.

One of our favorite family movies is “Akeelah and the Bee” about a wonderful inner city girl who overcomes challenging circumstances to become a national spelling champ. The 2006 flick is to spelling bee movies what “Searching for Bobby Fisher” is to chess movies, which is to chess movies what “Rocky” is to boxing movies.

So it’s really enjoyable, and about 100 times better than the recently released spelling bee movie, “Bad Words,” starring Jason Bateman. USA Today gave it “1/2 out of 4 stars,” which is what all movies get if the film stumbles through to the credits.

I sat there fidgeting thinking, man, I could do a spelling bee movie better than this.

Remember, I have a rich history with the Scripps National Spelling Bee, having twice been a chaperone for contestants (links below) and set still-standing records for outlandish expense account profligacy.

Even better, I last year authored history’s greatest grade school spelling bee joke. 

It started when I was helping our darling 7 year old with her spelling words. Test words included “took,” “play,” “jump,” “help,” etc.

Then I came to the simple word “rule.”

Here’s what happened:

I said, “Spell rule.”

Lucy said, “R-U-L-E.”

She’d spelled a word, but it sounded like she’d asked me a question. I said, “You know I’m not Ellie. Now spell rule.”

Some of you may have to read that part twice.

We went on like that for about 10 minutes, her getting increasingly agitated spelling “R-U-L-E” and me insisting I wasn’t Ellie and demanding she again spell “rule.”

So you get some sense of the minefield we’re about to enter.

There could be brawls, shin-kickings, hair-pulling and ear-bitings — and that’s just between me and the angry 3rd graders. Concerned parents will no doubt wade into the melee shouting in unison, “It’s go time!” 

It has all the ingredients of being first spelling bee to ever warrant pay-per-view cable interest.

Yes, me being Word Master might really spell trouble. 

Just don’t anyone go asking if my name’s Ellie.

Related . . .

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

PA approves same-sex marriage; which state will be last?

 I was pleased same-sex marriage was given the green light here in Pennsylvania last week and not just because it gives me another opportunity to trot out one of my favorite lines, which is:

“If marriage is such a great idea then how come there’s no Mrs. God?”

Think about it: God could have any woman He wants and if He’s picky he could just create the perfect woman. And what the perfect woman would be is a topic for another day.

Still, God goes through eternity as all creation’s most eligible bachelor.

It’s something for starry-eyed couples of all sexual orientations to consider.

But the main reason I’m pleased is a selfish one: I didn’t want the Keystone State to be last to do so. I didn’t want my home state to be the hold-out. The bitter ender.

The last man standing who isn’t standing next to and holding the hand of another man.

Because there's a 50-50 chance that state will be the site of a circus. There will be parades, protests, and lots and lots of on-camera kissing like the kind St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sams did with his boyfriend.

There will be boycotts and boys in cots. 

So which state is it going to be?

We know it won’t be Vermont. They in 2009 became the first state to approve gay marriage, a fitting groundbreaker for a state whose most famous industry is run by a pair of sweethearts named Ben & Jerry.

And it’s not going to be California, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C. Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont or Washington, all states which proceeded Pennsylvania in declaring same sex marriage the law of the land.

And it won’t be any of eight prominent Native American tribes, which stealthily and, I think, progressively over the last few years approved same sex marriage within their cash cow casino sovereignties. 

I think that’s going to surprise many bigots who have trouble thinking that warrior braves who once fought so nobly against white invaders could be homosexual, too.

Well, it’ll surprise bigots who’re not familiar with the original lineup of the Village People.

Smart money says the last state will be from the Deep South or the Bible Belt.

That may have been true 10 years ago when many people in Alabama still had rabbit ears — and that’s not a prejudicial comment about the appearance of your typical Alabamian. It’s a reference to an old TV reception device.

Today even many backwards people throughout the land have access to hundreds of channels that depict the LGBT lifestyle as perfectly normal — probably more normal than those of many dysfunctional viewers.

They’ve seen and become comfortable watching charismatic homosexuals on “American Idol,” “Dancing With The Stars,” and in Alabama I’m sure many were openly rooting for the openly gay Alabamian Colton Cumbie to win “Survivor.”

If watching stereotypical gay people makes you uncomfortable, you wouldn’t have enjoyed watching Colton. On any arbitrary gay scale, Cumbie was way, way over on the side where Johnnie from the uproarious “Airplane!” movies hung his frilly apron.

But you would have loved his fiancĂ© Caleb Bankston. The two were on “Survivor: Blood and Water” together and Caleb behaved like the kind of guy any reasonable Crimson Tide fan would like as a neighbor.

Granted, that is based on the wild assumption that there are ANY reasonable Crimson Tide fans.

Pat Robertson is probably right now praying Virginia will be the last stand for traditional marriage. There’s not a chance of that happening. Virginia clings to many traditional values, sure, but they also have a large population of devout Christian conservatives.

Sure, these people are the most likely to revile gays, but they’re also the kind of people who after years and years of saying they hate homosexuals come out and say — Surprise! — I AM homosexual!

I refer to these people as “slomosexuals.”

Arizona might be last. They were last to legislate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and are right now first in hatred.

They hate illegal immigrants. They hate Obama. They hate people who hate crazy open carry laws. So, of course, they hate homosexuals.

I’m rooting for them to be last because it’ll be just a wonderful show.

Militant gays from all over the country would descend on places like Phoenix and Tucson to protest because they believe in their cause and because they’re such warm and fun places to wear Speedos and hold kiss-ins.

But I suspect the economic pressure will be too great and Arizona decision makers will eventually cave.

That’s why I think the last one will be a place where nobody is, one of our four or five least populace states.

I eliminate South Dakota because it’s already as state with a vested interest in accommodating four rock hard guys spending lots of intimate time together. I’m thinking here of Mt. Rushmore.

If we were going strictly on least populace, that would mean Wyoming. With just 1.05 million residents, tiny Rhode Island has nearly twice the population as Wyoming’s 576,000.

But Wyoming has a large gay tourist population and that means money.

Why Wyoming? “Brokeback Mountain” was filmed there.

So I think the last state to extend same sex marriage legalities will be the third least populace state (Vermont is second least).

I think it’s going to be North Dakota.

I’m not sure there are any gay people in the whole state. Heck, I’m not sure there are any people in the whole state.

That means one of the most divisive wedge issues in recent memory will end, not through bitter agitation, but through social indifference.

It’s remarkable.

And on that day we will be one step nearer the Founders’ vision of true equality, one nation under God, a God who I’m sure will remain steadfastly single throughout all our silly tumult about what many insist on calling holy matrimony.

Related . . . 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Re-Run Sunday: Lying about my blog's birthday

My blog turned 6 this week and I think it’s about time I start lying about its age. Six in blog years seems like 50 in human years. And if you’re 50 and still haven’t done any thing substantial then it’s just sad.

Take it from me!

But I know enough people enjoy the blog that if I quit now it’d be like I’m letting down humanity.

Well, 0.0000000000001 percent of humanity.

Here’s the blog post from 2013 when I admitted that I’ve already been lying about the blog’s birthday. I thought it’d be more cool if I said it was born the same day as Bob Dylane. Tune in 2015 when it’s likely I’ll say the blog’s just turned 2!

Have a great day!

You’re probably unaware of the vanity, but for the past two years this blog has been lying about its age.

It says it’s younger than it really is.

By one day.

See, my very first blog was posted on May 23, 2008. But two years ago, the blog started declaring its birthday was May 24, 2008.

Really, I shouldn’t blame the blog. It was all my idea. I was scratching around for a topic when I noticed Bob Dylan’s birthday was the day after the blog’s. I thought it would be fun to co-opt the coincidence. It resulted, I thought, in a good birthday blog in 2011 (all links listed below).

So I’ve been blogging for five years. This is my 956th post and I’ll likely hit a milestone 1,000 sometime in August.

Let’s say each post takes about two hours to write, polish and present. That’s about 2,000 hours or 83 days.

I enjoy blogging so much I figure I could probably blog for 83 days straight without taking a break to eat or sleep. But by the fifth day keyboard-clogging drool puddles would probably render the experiment moot.

I once compared blogging to having a goofy imaginary friend with multiple dependency issues. You can’t abandon it for too long or it might die from lack of attention. But like having a needy friend, you spend a lot of time wondering if the damn thing’s holding you back from more productive pursuits and wondering if, geez, would anyone really care if the SOB just up and died?

I now understand that’s untrue.

Many people I know would be very upset if this SOB just up and died. They love reading the blog, which is now getting about 5,000 unique page views a month and is enjoyed all over the world in more than 146 countries.

Those are healthy numbers for an enigmatically titled blog that flits from topic-to-topic with whimsical indiscretion.

Cruel experience and natural disposition lead me to come at every self-analysis from self-deprecatory grounds. The blog and my book, “Use All The Crayons!” are changing all that.

There’ve been many, many times over the past five years when I’ve wondered if this is all worth it. I now conclude that, yes, it is. I say this even though the blog remains a perennial deadbeat in earnings. 

Cornerstone advice we give to all our children is that they should spend their lives finding something to do that makes them happy and then dedicate themselves to getting good at it.

I believe I’ve reached that point with my otherwise pointless blog musings.

I cherish every compliment, but one from an influential British writer was the kind I’d craft about myself for purely promotional purposes. Out of the blue and unbeknownst to me, she wrote on her Twitter account: 

“Very few undiscovered gems left, but the writer Mr. Rodell (@8Days2Amish) is one of them. He’s odd, but he’s hilarious. And he can really write.”

It’s the kind of thing that leads me to believe I’ll someday evolve into a discovered gem and I hear there’s real money in that kind of thing.

Either way, we’re not going anywhere. If anything, the blog might become even more robust with plans progressing for a podcast and -- who knows? -- perhaps a best-of book down the road after the appearance of post no. 1,000, as good a time as any for a compendium.

I promise I’ll try and keep the blog fresh and lively and deserving of your scrutiny. I ask in return you refer it to friends whenever you find it worthy. That kind of word-of-mouth promotion is priceless.

And because I understand no one comes here for mawkish sentiments, here is an entirely random sampling of 10 of my favorites from the past five years. 

Related . . .

Miss America & me -- In May 2011, I was getting regular calls from Miss America Teresa Scanlan. Was I going to keep that to myself? Hell, no.

Cigar store ambiance enhanced by breasts -- I went for a friendly Saturday cigar smoke and lo and behold breasts appeared. From April 2009.

Now they’ve ruined jukeboxes -- Includes my ten favorite jukebox songs. From August 2011, I’m still sad over what’s happening to old tavern jukeboxes.

It’s a bobblehead world -- I hear from so many people who say they love it when I write about the bar. The Pond’s great, but I’ll bet there are bars just like it in every town in America. Go see for yourself. This is from April 2012.

Arrivederci, Ann Curry -- People have been writing about Matt Lauer’s sinking popularity all year. I stopped writing about it since this one from June of last year when I think I nailed it.

A galling story on useless body parts -- Stories about anatomical oddities always fascinate me. This one’s about my friend Joe coming back from his Oct. 2012 vacation without his gallbladder.

Don’t hate me ‘cause I’m beautiful -- Still gets a bunch of hits and a lovely picture of Ines Sainz. From Sept. 2010.

Mime, all mime -- I liked this one from Feb. 2012 if for no other reason than it includes the line, “Careful mimes can be safe, but never sound.”

My gay friend John -- Google “My gay friend John” and this is the first thing that pops. It didn’t have much of a readership when it first ran in Oct. 2011, but is now on track to be one of my most popular. Just about every hour, someone somewhere is reading this all over the world.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Obama hater spoils my breakfast, my windshield

 One of my life’s great wee pleasures is to sit alone in a diner or restaurant and immerse myself in a good daily newspaper.

I read the paper every day, but it’s often a distracted scan. So when I’m in some friendly eatery by myself I read every word — all the news stories, the reviews, the obits — and every number; I check out all the small print box scores for the baseball games to see who’s being heroic and who’s being a bum.

So it was with eager anticipation I walked into the local diner for grub and a dive into news that still crinkles.

There was only one other customer in there when I entered and he was talking. He was talking about all the jobs he’s had and the depths of his experiences. He’d sold cars, done some roofing, built homes, worked on roads and cooked in diners like the one we were in.

I surmised he must have worked for a lot of people with little patience for people who talked too much because it was apparent he couldn’t hold a job.

The cook was in the back and the owner/waitress was on the other side of the counter nodding like a chicken in the rain.

I always try and be sparse with my talk to people who are paid to be nice to me.

I understand most of them would rather be home playing with their children or watching Ellen than up on their feet listening to me yap so I usually just smile a lot and keep the small talk microscopic.

Being somewhat voluble myself, I generally don’t mind excessive talkers. But I do mind it when public talk veers into the minefield of politics.

Really, is there anyone left in America anymore whose mind is supple enough that it can still be changed?

Mine’s not. I still enjoy engaging in philosophical discussions with open-minded adversaries, but I’m not about to let some under-employed meathead ruin the solitude of my breakfast by making derogatory and border-line racist comments about the Commander-in-Chief.

It started with cash-for-clunkers, moved on to Rev. Wright and led, naturally, to Benghazi. When I heard him say, “Kenya,” I put my fork down and wiped my mouth with my napkin.

“How about we not talk politics this morning?”

I said it with a smile, but it was evident I was pissed.

The waitress came alive. “Yeah, that’s a good idea! My father used to say you should never talk politics or religion in public because it gives people indigestion.”

They guy smiled sheepishly and said, “I guess you’re right.” But he was defeated. He didn’t say another word and left after about 5 minutes.

I felt a little bad. He was probably lonely and just eager to be liked and thought he was on safe grounds.

I tell liberal friends who are vocal about their beliefs in public places that they, too, are part of the problem. Bloodsport politics needs to be de-emphasized in America today or civility will never prevail.

That’s sort of what the waitress told me after the guy’d vamoosed.

“Thank you so much for speaking up,” she said — and she really did say that. I’m not just making it up because I can and no one would ever know the difference. “Drives me crazy in here when people start talking politics.”

She said she’d had another loud mouth in last month who’d soured everyone’s breakfast with his angry conspiracy theories. She’d gently tried to change the subject, but it only made him more belligerent.

“As he was leaving, I said, ‘Well, Happy Easter.’ He said. ‘That’s a pagan holiday. It’s Resurrection Day.’ It’s in our interests to accommodate everyone, but I hope he never comes back.”

I have to say I walked out of there feeling pretty good about myself. I felt like Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird.” 

I’d struck a blow for small-town civility and I may have helped one stranger learn to be a little less obnoxious in public, that maybe if he talked less, people might listen more.

But I got to my car and sensed my proud self-assessment was just a bit off.

Because the guy’d hockered all over my windshield!

It was disgusting.

I don’t know how he knew it was my car. I don’t have any “I Heart Barack!” or other telltale bumper stickers.

Maybe the Koch Brothers have a website that says liberals drive cedar green 2007 Saturn Vues, just in case any conservatives are bored and want to enjoy blowing off some steam with some recreational road rage.

I went and got the owner and showed her. The cook came out too.

They couldn’t believe anyone would do that.

I took the car to the nearby convenience mart and grabbed the squeegee and some towels.

That’s when I saw the guy again.

He came up and apologized.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I should never have done that. I’m ashamed. I feel so bad that from this day on I vow to never let petty politics intrude on how I’ll interact with my fellow man. And for that I’m grateful to you, sir, a fine and handsome gentleman, for showing me the way. Say, has anyone ever said you remind them of Atticus Finch from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird?’”

None of that last part happened. I just made it up because I can and no one will ever know the difference.

I’ll probably never see the guy again and he’ll remain a jerk for as long as he lives.

Thanks for reading. I hope you all had a great week and you’re still enjoying some of that swell candy the Resurrection Bunny brought you last month.

Related . . .

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Drawing warmth & cheer from the pain & suffering of idiots

 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.

Related . . .