Useless Skills and Dumb Ideas, Part II – Pants on Fire

Useless Skills and Dumb Ideas, Part II – Pants on Fire

Gene Amundson and I came up with the first rendition of “concealed carry” long before the National Rifle Association had it as a policy. We found we could make a “zip” gun out of a clothespin, using just a pocket  knife and something to bend the spring. We used these at first to shoot spitwads at each another from the back of class.

The advantage of the weapon was that everything could be completely disassembled in a pocket with one hand, thus concealing the thing alongside other useless detritus commonly found in the pockets of 8-year-old boys … things like rocks, marbles, gum wrappers, and the occasional dead frog.

If asked to turn out our pockets, we had nothing but a bunch of unrelated junk and could plausibly shrug our shoulders and, with as much of an innocent face as we could muster, simply say, “Who? Me?” Well that was the idea, anyway. Somehow Mrs. Little, our teacher, might have suspected something and subsequently  moved us to the front of the class, directly in front of her huge desk. In addition, there might have been an implied threat that she would nail our hands to the desk. She was at least ten feet tall and carried a ruler with a metal edge. Not only that, but she had a side business of selling penny candy and baseball cards during recess, teachers probably not being paid well even then.

We were under some pressure to behave, so Gene and I pursued our zip gun warfare outside. We discovered that, outside, we could shoot small rocks better than spitballs, and then we discovered that “strike anywhere” match heads were even better, which led to me being unfairly blamed for setting Gene’s pants on fire.

In one of our battles, Gene snuck up behind me while I was reloading and fired a double match burst. In retaliation, I fired a triple match back at him. They flew a couple of feet and hit him right above his pocket. In beating the flame out, Gene ignited the reserve ammo dump of match heads in his pocket. Burning matches cascaded down from his pockets to the cuff of his pants. It all went downhill from there, as Mrs. Little saw this. Gene went off to get some Vaseline rubbed on his leg, and I was sent to stare into a corner of the room for an hour.

As reparations, Gene demanded that he be allowed to look over my shoulder at the answers to a couple of arithmetic tests. Later on, he expressed gratitude for the help and credited me with the fact that he passed second grade.

Moving on, our next skill was to try to talk like Donald Duck. This took real effort, and we practiced for a month, enduring taunts from my smarty pants sister that we were, “Stupid and annoying and couldn’t you find anything better to do?” This seemed a bit of an unnecessary critique coming from one who was speaking “pig Latin” to her friends.

Sean’s Mom spoke pig Latin, but not his Father. Their three kids in the back seat of the Oldsmobile weren’t privy to their private conversations until years later when we learned to speak Pig-Latin ourselves. Dad’s inability to speak pig Latin was probably due to his pride in his ability to speak the “King’s English.”

John’s sister closed her bedroom door on us, and my mom sent us outside with the chickens and ducks, threatening to make us live with them. We got good at this, but after trying the duck talk in class, and being sent up to the front desks again under the severe eye of Mrs. Little, we only used our skill in secret club meetings (in which Gene and I were the only members).

We had other useless skills, too. Like driving a stick shift, using a rotary phone, riding backwards on a bike with no hands, and seeing who could hold one’s breath the longest. I guess calling the cows into the barn was another skill developed and now useless.

The riding the bike backwards thing was never fully developed due to technical complications involving bandaids and stinging applications of iodine. I tried that bike skill riding in front of my secret girlfriend. Sadly, it was her bike I used. I’m sorry about the bent spokes. Maybe that was why I secretly broke up with her. When I apologized to her several days later, she noticed the iodine stains on my arms and said I should stop doing stupid things. She probably had been talking to my sister.

Thank goodness we still can whistle, although not as loud, and we only need that skill when crab season gets revived.

June 6, 2023

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