Most people think I’m a nice guy. But there comes a time in everyone’s life where they need to confess any homicidal tendencies that clearly arise from an assessment of their experiences. I’d like to present 7 true anecdotes from my past, and let you decide whether you want to spend any more time with me.
Death by Thin Ice
“Join hands” I said with all the authority of an adventurous eleven-year-old. Then I led four younger boys across the thin ice a mere 50 meters above the torrent of a dam during a Minnesota spring. The cracking of the ice was exhilarating. We got within a meter of open water when some observant and anxious adult began rebuking us from the shore. I reluctantly led my obedient line of disciples back to safety and boredom.
(5 young survivors)
Death by Pine Cone
It’s difficult enough to coax a younger brother to climb a tree that you yourself find intimidating. But Mark made it to the 25 foot mark, then clumsily began climbing laterally out onto a branch. When your brother begins to look like a squirrel, you do what any normal 12-year-old American boy does. You start throwing things at him. Then you and your friends laugh as he screams and hugs the branch in terror. You never expect the pine cone that leaves your hand to actually follow the trajectory you had casually imagined to connect with your brother’s eye. In defense of myself, I want to say that I did have a flicker of regret during the few seconds he precariously teetered in pain.
(1 fraternal survivor)
Death by Tree House
The same tree from the previous anecdote became a regular focus of my imagination, and my 13-year-old imagination conjured up a kingdom suspended 25 feet in the air on a sturdy-looking branch. We stripped the neighborhood clean of scrap wood, and with my father’s carpentry tools, constructed a tree house complete with a balcony and carpet. It was a hot and muggy summer afternoon when 4 of us were in the tree house and another was on his way up that a younger brother suggested that things might turn dangerous. I scoffed. Then with a cracking loud enough to be heard from inside the house by my parents, the entire branch containing the tree house containing 5 boys fell from away from the tree. My parents ran from the house to dig us out of the wreckage. It took at least 20 minutes for us to become convinced that none of our scratches or bruises would be fatal, and begin planning our next kingdom in the sky.
(5 scratched and bruised survivors)
Death by Falling Tree
The tree was extremely tall, and a troublesome leaner, but it had to be removed from the clearing on which a house was to be built. As I picked up the chainsaw, I instructed my younger bothers accompanying me to carefully watch the road a few meters away over which I’d have to fall the tree. Since the road was seldom busy, I hoped to have the tree sawn into manageable sections that we could then move from the road before anyone noticed. I yanked the cord, and the chain saw roared obediently. I systematically notched the tree, sensed its surrender, then switched off the saw. As the cracking accelerated, and the uppermost leaves began to whoosh with wind, I realized that all my brothers had been standing transfixed on the tree with their backs to the road upon which a speeding pickup truck driven by a faceless baseball cap was now approaching. It was probably 1.5 seconds after the pickup passed that the tree occupied the same space. The driver drove on oblivious to his near death.
(1 oblivious survivor)
Death by Nail Gun
When considering shooting a nail through a quarter inch of cold steel into a wooden stud, you might decide to use the largest charge at your disposal. The purple charge. Normally, the yellow or red charges work fine, but several us us agreed that the purple charge would be necessary for this particular task during the construction of a gymnasium. I loaded the nail gun. I placed the muzzle up against the steel while others held the stud wall into position. I fired. The nail went through the quarter inch of steel, through the stud, popped its head off, travel through the middle knuckle of one man, then lodged in the left butt cheek of a second man. This episode ended with a trip to the hospital, but all survived. I have not met many others who have nailed two men with one shot.
(2 angry survivors)
Death by Rolling Truck
Imagine a pickup bed full of screaming teenage girls, and me as a 23-year-old driver hoping to impress them with a wild ride in the pasture. Pickup rides in the pasture are considered a fine source of entertainment in Kansas, and they’re usually safe providing you steer clear of cows, even as the pickup spins in circles or takes out small trees. However, it had rained the previous night, and the dirt road passing though the middle of the lagoon was deceitfully soft. The truck suddenly lurched to the side and began to roll towards the water. The nature of the screams changed. To this day I’m not sure what kept the truck from overturning. No one rode with me for several subsequent years.
(12 screaming survivors)
Death by Brakeless Car
My friend Jim had agreed to lend me his car for a quick trip to the post office, so I was speeding down the first mile of country road and approaching the stop sign when I realized something was wrong. When I pressed on the break pedal, only one tire slowed, causing the car to tailspin. Afraid of loosing control, I let off the brakes and quickly calculated my options. The intersecting highway was normally not very busy, and I decided that I would probably be able to safely run the stop sign. However, before I could be certain there was no traffic coming, I had to pass a row of trees on my left. As the intersecting highway emerged from behind the row of trees, I saw a car that was clearly going to pass through my trajectory. With no other options, I yanked the steering wheel to the left and swung the still-speeding car perpendicular to the road. The tires kicked up gravel and began to shudder as the car slid sideways while I began to reassess my 24-year-old assumption of immortality. Then another realization hit me. The other car was not just any car. It was a Highway Patrol car. I must have slid sideways for 30 yards when I felt a final jolt as the right wheels butted up against the tar of the highway just as the Highway Patrol car whizzed by. It did turn around. The shaken and angry officer demanded an explanation. I finally got him to pump the useless brakes, and he let me go in country fashion after a lengthy official scolding. I’ve never since borrowed anything from Jim.
(2 shaken survivors)
So, the evidence, in spite of my conscious intentions, would suggest that my companionship may take you to the edge of death. However, because the survival rate of my companions has been quite high, perhaps you have nothing to worry about.