My son has informed me that “to be old and wise, you first have to be young and stupid” – and with that in mind, we’ll start with a story – it’s from my childhood, when I, like most of us, was young and stupid.

Speaking of my son, as he was growing up, I told him “Stupid Things that Papa did when he was Little” stories, in hopes that he wouldn’t do those things.  Now it’s said that tragedy plus time equals comedy, and when hearing these stories of my stupidity in my childhood, he would usually laugh at the tragedy I’d survived, mostly of my own doing. And somewhere in the story there’d be a lesson, and he’d remember it.  Now since I was telling him the stories, it must have meant I’d survived, but still, stupid is stupid.

So, in this case, I was about 16 or so, and I was building a diorama – a model of a burned out, destroyed building that a model tank would be positioned as crashing through.  It involved a bit of plaster, a few small pieces of plywood, and a whole bunch of little wood scraps and such – oh, and the model.  I was trying to make it look like the building had burned, and needed that black smoky look to come out of the windows.

Black… Smoky… the kind of smoke that comes from… oh, what is that yellow/orange stuff?…

Fire, yeah… that’s where smoke comes from…

(insert ominous music here)

Now, was I doing this on a desk?

No…

(that would have been smart, and I wouldn’t have this story to be telling you)

…a modeling table?

No…

(that would have been smarter, as I’d have a place to put all the bits and pieces and let glue dry)

…someplace where I could safely light a match or candle and let the smoke do its thing?

No…

(that would have been smartest, as – well – lighting matches… teenagers… in the house… need I say more?)

I was doing it on the carpet in my room.

Oh wait.  It gets better.

See, I was trying to get a smokey effect…

A match would have been good.

A candle would have been great.

But for some reason, which I must attribute to my Infinite Teenage Wisdom ®, I decided that they weren’t quite good enough and decided to use a highway flare instead of a match.

Oh, just go back and read that again, you know you need to…

Yes, a highway flare...

Upstairs.

In the house.

Over the carpet.

Well – it’s not so much that I really wanted to use the highway flare, but I had it in my hand, and had the cap off, and was idly wondering how much force it would take to get a spark – oh heck – like that would go over as an excuse…

Right…

…did you know that once lit, highway flares are, um, extremely hard to put out?

…and they drip red hot stuff when they’re burning?

…that melts carpets?

Ummmyeah…

Doing the “Olympic torch” run through the house to get it outside just wasn’t going to happen.  I mean, there’s that red hot stuff dripping, In this case, it was a carpet, but if I were running (and who can’t imagine running through the house with a flare like an Olympic torch, the crowds cheering, the – no wait – that was just SO not happening…)  And that red hot stuff would have been dripping on my shoulder, and that would have been, oh, bad… yeah, we’ll just call it bad…  (keeping in mind of course that dripping red hot burning stuff onto a carpet really isn’t on the “good” side of the spectrum).

The more I think about it, the more I realize we’re so far past the border between dumb and stupid that you can’t even see it in the rear view mirror.   I’d had some plaster powder there for the diorama I was making – and out of pure instinct I shoved the flare into that – which, to my delight and surprise, put it out. But the thing that got me, I still can’t believe it to this day, was that mom smelled the smoke, came in, and wondered what was going on.  And my guilty conscience went ballistic trying to defend myself.   Understand, this is a teenage mind going off here – but here was my Infinite Teenage Wisdom ® reasoning:

I argued:

Just because you smell smoke, and

just because you walk into the room that you can barely see through because of that smoke, and

just because I’m the only one in it,and

you came in through the only door, and

just because I’m sitting there on the floor, with a hot flare sitting beside me and a smoldering hole in the carpet, you think I DID IT?”

We pause, reverently, hands over hearts for a moment, as the parents out there realize they’ve heard some variation of this before, both from their own mouths and from their children’s…

“Uh… Yeah…  As a matter of fact, I do think you did do it.”

My mom, bless her, realized that she was not arguing with logic in the slightest, she was arguing with a guilty conscience and emotion, and no amount of logic was going to make it through that.

I have no idea why I was defending myself so much at that time – but I was.  I’m sure I would have said that someone else was using my fingers and put my fingerprints on it had it gotten to that… Dumb, dumb, dumb…

Speaking of fingerprints…

…fast forward about 25 years – I was in my darkroom developing film for a client, and had some hanging up to dry.  My daughter came down, eating some chicken.  I put two and two together and said, “Don’t touch the film.” I then turned back to the enlarger.  Something made me turn around.

One of the strips of film was moving.

The one with some greasy fingerprints that hadn’t been there a moment before.

There was also a very guilty looking 8 year old.

“Didn’t I tell you to not touch it?”

“I didn’t!”

“I can see your fingerprints right there!”

“It wasn’t me”

We’re the only two in the darkroom!”

And then…

It dawned on me…

I started thinking about fingerprints and realized that I wasn’t the only one who had a stranglehold on denial, and that my son was right…

To be old and wise, you have to be young and stupid first…

I just didn’t know it would be hereditary…

My son has informed me that “to be old and wise, you first have to be young and stupid” – and with that in mind, we’ll start with a story –it’s from my childhood, when I, like most of us, was young and stupid.

Speaking of my son, as he was growing up, I told him “Stupid Things that Papa did when he was Little” stories, in hopes that he wouldn’t do those things.  Now it’s said that tragedy plus time equals comedy, and when hearing these stories of my stupidity in my childhood, he would usually laugh at the tragedy I’d survived, mostly of my own doing. And somewhere in the story there’d be a lesson, and he’d remember it.  Now since I was telling him the stories, it must have meant I’d survived, but still, stupid is stupid.

So, in this case, I was about 16 or so, and I was building a diorama – a model of a burned out, destroyed building that a model tank would be positioned as crashing through.  It involved a bit of plaster, a few small pieces of plywood, and a whole bunch of little wood scraps and such – oh, and the model.  I must have been trying to make it look like the building had burned, and needed that black smoky look to come out of the windows.

Black… Smoky… the kind of smoke that comes from… oh, what is that yellow/orange stuff?…

Fire, yeah… that’s where smoke comes from…

(insert ominous music here)

Now, was I doing this on a desk?

No…

(that would have been smart, and I wouldn’t have this story to be telling you)

…a modeling table?

No…

(that would have been smarter, as I’d have a place to put all the bits and pieces and let glue dry)

…someplace where I could safely light a match or candle and let the smoke do its thing?

No…

(that would have been smartest, as – well – lighting matches… teenagers… in the house… need I say more?)

I was doing it on the carpet in my room.

Oh wait.  It gets better.

See, a match would have been good.

A candle would have been great.

But for some reason, which I must attribute to my Infinite Teenage Wisdom ®, I decided that they weren’t quite good enough and decided to use a highway flare.

Upstairs.

In the house.

Over the carpet.

Well – it’s not so much that I really wanted to use the highway flare, but I had it in my hand, and had the cap off, and was idly wondering how much force it would take to get a spark – oh heck – like that would go over as an excuse… Right…

…did you know that once lit, highway flares are, um, extremely hard to put out?

…and they drip red hot stuff when they’re burning?

…that melts carpets?

Ummmyeah…

Doing the “Olympic torch” run through the house to get it outside just wasn’t going to happen.  I mean, there’s that red hot stuff dripping, In this case, it was a carpet, but if I were running (and who can’t imagine running through the house with a flare like an Olympic torch? – but that red hot stuff would have been dripping on my shoulder, and that would have been, oh, bad… yeah, we’ll just call it bad…  (keeping in mind of course that dripping red hot burning stuff onto a carpet really isn’t on the “good” side of the spectrum).

The more I think about it, the more I realize we’re so far past the border between dumb and stupid that you can’t even see it in the rear view mirror.   I’d had some plaster powder there for the diorama I was making – and I shoved the flare into that – which, surprisingly enough put it out. But the thing that got me, I still can’t believe it to this day, was that mom came in and wondered what was going on.  And my guilty conscience went ballistic trying to defend myself.   Understand, this is a teenage mind going off here – but here was my Infinite Teenage Wisdom ® reasoning:

I argued:

Just because you smell smoke, and

just because you walk into the room that you can barely see through because of that smoke, and

just because I’m the only one in it, and you came in through the only door, and

just because I’m sitting there on the floor, with a hot flare sitting beside me and a smoldering hole in the carpet, you think I DID IT?”

We pause, reverently, hands over hearts for a moment, as the parents out there realize they’ve heard some variation of this before, both from their own mouths and from their children’s…

“Uh… Yeah…  As a matter of fact, I do think you did do it.”

My mom, bless her, realized that she was not arguing with logic in the slightest, she was arguing with a guilty conscience and emotion, and no amount of logic was going to make it through that.

I have no idea why I was defending myself so much at that time – but I was.  I’m sure I would have said that someone else was using my fingers and put my fingerprints on it had it gotten to that… Dumb, dumb, dumb…

Speaking of fingerprints…

…fast forward about 25 years – I was in my darkroom developing film for a client, and had some hanging up to dry.  My daughter came down, eating some chicken.  I put two and two together and said, “Don’t touch the film.” I then turned back to the enlarger.  Something made me turn around and there were some greasy fingerprints on one of the strips of film that hadn’t been there a moment before.  There was also a very guilty looking 8 year old.

“Didn’t I tell you to not touch it?”

“I didn’t!”

“I can see your fingerprints right there!”

“It wasn’t me”

We’re the only two in the darkroom!”

And then…

It dawned on me…

I started thinking about fingerprints and realized that I wasn’t the only one who had a stranglehold on denial, and that my son was right…

To be old and wise, you have to be young and stupid first…

I just didn’t know it would be hereditary…

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