Usual Fool Proof

My daughter is indestructible. Before anyone calls the police, let me assure you that I haven’t been trying to test this by hitting her with hammers or throwing her into fires. She just toddles her way into situations that ought to be injurious, but aren’t. She’s tumbled off of furniture and down stairs; she’s been squeezed in shutting doors and stuck in the assembly of various baby items; she’s even been mildly scalded and thunked. Our house is as baby-proof as science can make it, and we watch her as thoroughly as we can, but she’s too fast and too strong to contain. Fortunately, nothing hurts her. In fact, sometimes I think she finds it amusing when things try.

It’s slightly less amusing as her father–I only have so many panicked dashes and flying leaps in me–but it does engender a sort of conspiratorial pride. He antics highlight our connection: her cuteness and charm came from my wife, but indestructibility she got from me.

I’m amazed that I survived my own childhood. I literally used to fling myself over furniture, into walls, and off of buildings just to see what would happen. I don’t mean that I jumped, although I did that too often enough, I mean that I would throw my body like a rag doll and hope for a satisfying impact. (In retrospect, these things might explain why my siblings have significantly clearer recollections of childhood than I do.)

I also used to mix household chemicals whenever I was left near them. (It’s possible that I’ve never told my parents that. Sorry Mom and Dad!) MacGyver always managed such interesting results like smoke, explosions, or debilitated bad guys; I wanted to do the same. It never occurred to me that I was the only person around to debilitate. Suspiciously, my parents never kept a supply of bad guys on hand. Actually, they eventually stopped keeping a supply of household chemicals on hand; maybe they knew after all.

And those are just the dangers that didn’t involve fire. No short paragraph can do justice to the fire related mayhem that I‘ve survived.


Even counting all of those things though, the single best example of my indestructibility is from an accident when I was a teenager. I worked at a local fast food restaurant, and one night went horribly wrong. The night manager forgot an inconspicuous step in the cleaning procedure for the restaurant’s deep fryers. The normal process went like this: turn off the fryer so the oil can cool, then empty the oil and clean the machine. That night’s process went like this: forget to turn off the fryer, then empty the oil and clean the machine.

The details are always what get me into trouble.

Speaking of which, here are some details that might be helpful. The oil that we used came in heavy five gallon plastic jugs. They had a handle on top, which was supposed to make them easy to carry with one hand I suppose, but trying to do that felt a bit like dislocating one’s shoulder while hitting oneself in the knee with a sloshing anvil. Also, to make the jugs look more friendly, they were hidden inside attractive cardboard boxes.

The story begins with a kitchen storage tip: you can’t store boiling oil in plastic, or at least you can’t store it there for very long. On a typical night the manager would empty the old oil into the jug it originally came from. She did that on the night of this story too, but the hot oil didn’t want to stay there. The first sign of trouble was a growing moisture stain on the decorative cardboard box.

She realized pretty quickly what had happened, and what would likely happen if she didn’t get the melting jug into the mop sink quickly enough. Unfortunately, it was too heavy for her to lift. Enter our hero, or his gangly teenage stand-in.

I was cleaning the preparation tables in the back of the restaurant when I heard her call. I didn’t have any idea what was happening; I just knew that she sounded urgently distressed. I bounded forward like an eager giraffe made of Slinkies, ready to help in whatever way was needed. When she frantically told me to take the oil jug to the mop sink, that’s what I tried to do.

Unfortunately, in her haste to get the failing jug into a safe reservoir, she didn’t spend any time explaining why haste was needed: that boiling oil was melting through the plastic. In her defense, she judged the urgency well; the bottom of the jug gave way entirely just a moment after I got there. Unfortunately, it gave way at what I’ll call an inopportune time in an inopportune location.

You see, not knowing what was in it, I decided to carry it in the way that one carries heavy things, by bringing it up to my chest so that I could brace it with one arm and hold the bottom with the other. It objected.

No sooner had I lifted it to my chest than the bottom broke free, spilling five gallons of boiling oil down my front, soaking my pants and filling my shoes.

I suspect that you can’t imagine my response. For example, you might imagine me screaming or jumping or flailing in some number of emphatically unhappy mannerisms. I did none of those things. Like the Titanic, frozen mastodons, mountains, and other gargantuan spectacles, my reaction time is only cat-like if the cat in question has been killed and stuffed. Instead my response was this:

I stood very still, became incredibly confused, and asked, “Um?” (Yes, “um” became a question. I‘m abominably not clever in emergencies.)

Ironically, when the night manager saw what had happened–she who couldn‘t carry the five gallon jug to the mop sink–she essentially carried me to the mop sink, therein to hose me down like a giant bewildered collie.

The worst part was about five minutes later though: she asked me if I was okay and I told her I was. What’s bad about being unscathed, you ask? Well, once she knew I wasn’t injured, she made me spend the next three hours trying to squilgee the congealing oil slick out of the grout on the floor.

There are drawbacks to being invulnerable.


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