Thursday, November 30, 2006

Cannon Fodder

Ignoring advice from my elders had been a lifelong obsession for me. Long before the summer of 1974, I had formulated an effective strategy of nonviolent dissent. At the core of this construct was an utter disregard for the opinions of the oppressor-caste. According to the standards that I had developed over time, the primary requirement for membership in that despised cartel was age, simple as that. At that particular moment in time, the benchmark was fourteen years. Not coincidentally, fourteen years was also the time elapsed since my exit from mother’s womb, the same mother who was now issuing another in a long line of prophetic warnings. As was so often the case, her wisdom was doled out with a stern glare and a hurried gait. Both of my parents were workaholics. I inherited the beneficial form of that disease from her, the malevolent strain from the father-unit. Folders and pamphlets in hand, she was making short work of her departure.

“Please stop doing whatever it is you are up to. You are going to end up blind or crippled!”

In my younger days, I was constantly amazed at my mother’s ability to stay one step ahead of me. It was only by virtue of exhaustive planning and impeccable execution that my more devious plans materialized. While her default method of parenting was unobtrusive and flexible, her authoritarian alter ego would rise up at the first sign of a rat in the woodpile. Of course, I eventually came to understand that outsmarting a kid is not difficult at all. However, accomplishing that task while preserving their sense of self-determination, now that is an art. While my mother was, and is, in every sense of the word an artist, her ability to outmaneuver me transcended the normal parameters of risk management. She was in essence a big-haired Nostradamus-in-drag and a force to be reckoned with.

Today was going to be a little different. Her powers of perception apparently deactivated, she did not notice that the small bowls arrayed in strategic disorder around my person contained gunpowder. All of my previous attempts to manufacture the stuff had failed due to a misunderstanding of potassium nitrate, an easy mistake considering the internet did not exist in those days. In any case, I had amassed a respectable quantity of black powder by dismantling leftover fireworks. Large piles of paper scriffens, the remains of countless firecrackers and bottle rockets, littered my workspace. The elevated pitch of a concerned mother’s voice barely registered with me; she passed through my makeshift laboratory and then vanished. True to form, shortly after her departure, I poked myself in the eye

It was not so much the physical act of poking that set this event apart from your typical “pointy object meets eyeball” scenario; it was the object doing the poking that had me marveling at the grand scale of my cataclysmic miscalculation. For you see, it was the denuded bone of my left index finger that I had inadvertently plunged into my socket.

----------------Btw, this is the actual cannon----------------

Ok, I admit it. I am a total fool for flashbacks. I love them and I don’t care what anybody thinks about it. Months before, in an astonishingly shortsighted breach of common sense, I was given a small brass cannon, a trinket of significant heft that had been purchased at a gift shop at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. With minimal effort and minor retrofitting, this little jewel, when paired with my stockpile of gunpowder, became a fully functional bringer of hellfire and brimstone. The projectiles of choice consisted of tightly packed #7 birdshot. The plot thickens, but enough of this already, back to the future we go.

When I earlier hinted at the compulsive nature of my personality, I wasn’t kidding. I went to extraordinary lengths to confirm the stability of the gunpowder, including heat, hammer, and sandpaper tests. As an added measure of confidence, I noted that the cannon barrel was made of brass, thereby (theoretically) eliminating the possibility of sparks during the loading process. As I had already done many time before, I sat confidently on the living room couch with the cannon braced tightly between my legs and commenced the reloading process. I packed the explosives in the cannon barrel with the aid of a tamping rod. Gripping the rod between my left thumb and index finger, I alternated between adding more powder and then packing it tightly down, using a knife handle as a makeshift hammer. The preparations were almost complete. The cannon was loaded to the rim. The last thing I saw before my little weekend project ran afoul of logic was the knife handle making contact with the tamping rod one last time.

What can I say? One moment I’m sitting there minding my own business, next thing I know, my upper body is engulfed in a fireball of unknown proportions. I could make an educated guess regarding the force, temperature, and decibel level of the blast. I think it will suffice to say that the explosion rendered my eardrums inoperable, packed my eyes with bits of…well, me, and left a thick haze that carried with it the fairly well delineated aromas of spent gunpowder, singed hair, and scorched…yours truly.

My ears were ringing like a church bell. As far as I know, I never lost consciousness, but I did experience an odd delay in reaction time, very similar to the likes of Wile E. Coyote after his box of ACME dynamite explodes, rendering his head crispy and smoldering. Although stunned and numb from head to foot, it was immediately obvious that my eyes were not functioning. They were full of debris; hence, my predictable reaction and the resulting, you know, poke in the eye. It was not my first or my last experience with explosives-gone-wild, but it was definitely the most dramatic. I used my functional hand to work the detritus from my eyes and surveyed the damage through a haze of carbon and smoke. While the anatomy lesson now underway on my left hand was an obvious point of interest, my eyes and yes, my precious tallywhacker, were of primary concern.

Eyes – Functioning now at maybe fifty percent of capacity.
Package - Apparently intact, mighty happy about that.
Legs - Breached bulkheads and bruised somewhat but serviceable.
Ears - Bass Clef ringing starting to subside.
Hair - Singed and going all “Albert Einstein” on me.
Left Hand - Thumb and index finger effectively shucked like ears of corn and shortened considerably, definitely gonna leave a scar.

Long story short, an ambulance was out of the question, too expensive. I was unable to locate transportation by phone but little brother convinced a neighbor to give us a ride. Having only recently moved from the old farmstead into the city, this was my first inkling that the crowded confines of town life might actually have something to offer. Access to emergency medical transportation was a definite plus. After a failed attempt to find help at a neighborhood clinic and an additional delay while an officer of the law berated my good Samaritan for running a red light, we finally made it to a trauma center. The on-call plastic surgeon was a no-show. Six hours later, my dear old ma employed the services of an old country doctor to put everything back together.

Big brother arrived home shortly after my hasty departure and assumed there had been a murder in the house. You would have to know big brother to understand why he didn’t call the cops, especially considering the scene of carnage stretching from the living room to the kitchen and out the front door. He was relieved when informed that everyone was still alive but his relief was short lived as the father-unit (him) showed up and pressed big brother into cleanup duty. The job description included collecting the odd bits of me and placing them in a neat pile on the coffee table in front of the now infamous couch. There my long-lost scriffens (I like that word) would remain until homecoming, at which point the father-unit ceremoniously paraded me into the living room and used the little pile of parts as a visual aid while engaging in the human equivalent of rubbing a dog’s nose in its own deu deu. I was trashed on pain-killers at the time but still mindful of my prospects for a severe beating. Lucky me, the beating was deferred to a later date.

Several years later, I took little brother to the same hospital to have one of his fingers re-attached. The on-call plastic surgeon noticed my healed injuries and offered that the old country doctor had done a stellar job on the thumb. The finger, we both agreed, not so much.
Oh yes, eyes and ears eventually returned to normal and the thumb and finger have become valuable assets at the potter’s wheel. Go figure.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


although I like the cop. "Well I'm sorry sir, a bleeding child with severed limbs is no excuse to disregard proper driving etiquette and commit traffic violations. I'm gonna have to write you a ticket."

6:40 AM, November 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, the only word that comes to mind toward the end there is, "ew".

And I want you to know that I really mean that.

1:57 PM, November 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im right there with you in 'christ I can see the bones of my hand right now' moment 2 years ago I sliced open my left hand with a ceramic handbasin I lost the feeling in my ringfinger and have a stiff dead pinkie that wont bend unless I actually force it with my other hand to do so. I was 3 days waiting to get operated on because of their reluctance to use anastesia (I know I spelled that wrong) because of my reaction to it 5 months before with the birth of my daughter ; between the doctors deliberating what to do one of my tendons worked its way up the arm and I lost my pinkie as a result.

BTW I couldnt get that word scriffins out of my head since reading your post, its one of those words that jumps out in your mind consistantly without rhyme or reason.. scriffins............... scriffins........ there I go again Arghhhhh!!

4:32 PM, November 30, 2006  
Anonymous Rachel said...

Bummer, there's no pic of the hand.

5:04 PM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Stucco said...

Sounds like it was nearly ballistic stigmata. Fun with gunpowder- brings back memories.

7:56 PM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Stucco said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:58 PM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger slaghammer said...

Hi Serena, I totally understand why the officer dude pulled us over, but the guy just would not shut the hell up and let us go. My neighbor even asked for an escort to the emergency room and that started him on another long-winded diatribe about something or another. He was apparently a very busy man and I think he might have had a problem with the length of my hair. Small West Texas Town + Long Hair + Police Officer = Jail Time.

Hey Kara, yup, it was that. In the grand scale of things it was not that big of a deal, especially considering the things that pass through your typical trauma center, but it was definitely a little on the “ew” side.

Hi Judith, that means you belong to the “I’ve seen my own bones club.” My little brother has a dead pinky too. He also has pubic hair growing from a skin graft on his hand. He spent several years working for a power company and got tangled into 7200 volts. He also belongs to the “I’ve seen my own bones club.”
Btw, scriffens, scriffens, scriffens, scriffens, scriffens, scriffens, scriffens.

Hi Rachel, I thought about posting photos of “The Hand,” but I’m trying to run a family type blog here. If you want gore, you’ll have to go to www.I’m-a-sicko-perv.gore. ;-)

Hi Stucco, I had not considered that there might have been some kind of religious connection. It would make sense though. I do know that most guys have been blown (up) at least once in their lives, a right of passage more or less.

Hello Comments Deleted, it’s ok, you can say what’s on your mind. Nobody is going to judge you, unless of course, you are a hippie and Kara finds out about it.

11:29 AM, December 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Classic! Though I'm real sorry about your fingers, I salute your efforts in scientific experimentation. It's through these type of experiments that useful stuff like napalm was stumbled upon. Just think about what that kid's livingroom looked like at the fateful moment of discovery! Gunpowder, we discovered, was a source of endless fascination and entertainment. Once we found you could buy the ingredients at the local drugstore for peanuts, we mass-produced it and compiled much information on its effect on frogs, electric meters and so on. I do know the smell of blackened human flesh, but never suffered as you did. Thanks for not being killed and becoming someone our parents would speak of every time we set off fireworks.

6:37 AM, December 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I've had my share of flash burns from playing with smokeless powder but never anything like you describe.

Egads, I'm glad you still have most of your bits and pieces intact.

8:36 AM, December 02, 2006  
Blogger skinnylittleblonde said...

Slag ~ You make a wonderful storyteller & I don't know if you have children, but I know that as I child I would have sat cross-legged on the floor for hours listening to you & your tales of experience...taking mental notes of what to do & what not to do. Gun Powder & Tamps...
I once tried to create a hotdog cooker using an extension cord I stripped, two nails & a 2x4. That resulted in a small fire & no electricity for as far as the eye could see.
We never forget the lessons we learn as kids

11:08 AM, December 02, 2006  
Blogger Anne said...

Wow, that's some adventure. So you say it actually helps you in pottery? It's great that you can find the silver lining.

1:48 PM, December 02, 2006  
Blogger slaghammer said...

Hi Madpotter, I think most of the great inventions were blundered into, including edible underwear and the Ronco Pocket Fisherman. You know what they say, you gotta break a few eggs if you’re gonna make an omlette.

Hey Hammer, I got my first scorch from smokeless powder at a very young age, got the stuff from the old man’s reloading gear. I found it too stable and slow burning to get any real satisfaction from it, but definitely better than nothing. It’s too bad people aren’t like lizards where we could grow the missing parts back

Hi Skinny, the wiener cooker, now that’s what I’m talking about. You would have fit right in with me and my crazy ass brothers. The telling part of your story is not so much implementation of the experiment as the fact that you survived it.

Hi Anne, yep, the pottery supply stores sell all manner wood, plastic and metal pieces for shaping and finishing clay. Most potters collect their own bits and pieces from kitchen junk drawers, scrap piles etc. It’s like I have little build-in attachments that I never have to look for.

10:58 PM, December 02, 2006  
Blogger skinnylittleblonde said...

Hi Again Slag ~ I thought of you as my DH & I were talking about accidental fires last night & how they are created. He caught his neighbors privacy fence on fire...full blaze...when he was about 10. He soaked a tennis ball in gas, sat it on the road, lit it, then whacked it with a golf club. A small ball of fire quickly turned into a rolling, spitting, bouncing ball of fire until it hit the fence... then it became a fire shower. No injuries, lol, but lots of lessons being that things that suck it up often spit it out.

8:05 AM, December 04, 2006  
Blogger slaghammer said...

Hi Skinny, I’ve never figured out why cities aren’t regularly burned to the ground by children. Big Brother and I were responsible for several fires that got out of control. Our neighbor’s house caught on fire when I was maybe six years old. Although I was innocent, I was blamed for the incident. To make matters worse, I was the one who discovered the fire and alerted my parents. It was irony all wrapped up in Karmic justice I guess.

6:06 PM, December 04, 2006  
Blogger Crankster said...

Here's the difference a decade makes: By the time I reached my pyromaniac stage, about a decade later, I had much safer materials to play with. My worst accident, therefore, involved the burning of my hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows and a brutal talking-to by my hairdresser, a gay man named Steve.

Your story is way cooler.

6:56 PM, December 11, 2006  
Blogger slaghammer said...

Hey Crankster, pay close attention to the wisdom dispensed by gay hairdressers, they are veritable clearinghouses of information, much as bartenders except their clients are sober, usually.

9:34 PM, December 11, 2006  

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