Some things you don’t ever live down.
For my buddy Matt, it was the time in high school when he tricked his parents into believing he had a job at Food Lion so he could go out on weeknights. It worked until they ran out of groceries. For Dave, it was when he got mugged while passed out drunk in his car. The muggers lifted his lifeless body off of the seat, took his wallet and cell phone from his pockets, and put him back down. For good measure, they also took his stereo.
Another friend once led the police on a low-speed car chase through three counties, never once going above 19 miles per hour. And still another had to live with his parents for six months after he blew all his rent money “accidentally” taking home an escort in Vegas.
The point is, it happens to all of us. At some point, everyone does something dumb enough that people literally NEVER stop ragging them for it. Especially if you’re a guy. So all you can really hope for is that it’s something trivial...
…you know, like causing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property damage and being investigated by the FBI.
The whole thing was Dana’s fault.
See, Dana was my high school sweetheart. But she wasn’t always sweet. In fact, a lot of the time I didn’t even like her very much. But she was my first real girlfriend, and I was still naive enough to think the first person to say I love you must be the one.
It was Friday night, and we were on our way to dinner and a movie. For whatever reason, Dana started complaining the second I picked her up. I found myself wondering what would happen if I dove out of the car while it was moving, or faked a seizure. In all my daydreaming, however, I completely forgot that I’d needed to stop for gas. Soon my car started sputtering, and we pulled over to the side of the road.
“Mmmmm hmm,” she announced, like she knew it was going to happen all along. “This is exactly what I was talking about.”
“You were saying I was a terrible planner. What does that have to do with this?”
“If you had PLANNED to go to the gas station, we wouldn’t be stuck on the side of the road, now would we?”
I wanted to beat my head against the steering wheel. Instead, I just flicked a lighter I’d been carrying in my pocket, pondering my next move. At that time, cell phones weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today, so I looked around for the closest place to use the phone. I wasn’t too far away from my parent’s house…I figured I’d call them, have them bring some gas, and Dana and I would be back on the road, still on track to make our reservation.
The only place nearby was a house attached to a boat racing and upholstery store. I crossed the road and knocked on the door. A stubby, freckle-faced man answered. He looked me up and down for a moment before spitting some chew into an empty Mountain Dew Bottle.
“Can I help you?”
“Umm, yeah. I just ran out of gas…was wondering if I could use your phone?”
He stared at me suspiciously. “Phone ain’t workin,’” he replied.
“Oh...well thanks anyway,” I said, and started to walk away. I got halfway across the yard before I heard:
“Got some gas if you want...”
I turned around. I guess the quizzical expression on my face indicated to him that he should continue.
“It’s not normal gas, it’s boat racing fuel. But as long as you don’t use too much of it you’ll be fine…”
Friends, sometimes in life you have to take a step back. Pause, reflect on a situation, and really weigh all your options before moving forward. In retrospect, this was one of those times. When someone tells you ‘you’ll be fine,’ it’s usually a pretty good sign that YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BE FINE. Any fool knows that.
Of course, I’ve never been just any fool.
I took the gas tank and walked back to my car. Dana had on her pouty face, which was basically just a slight variation of her I smell shit face. It wasn’t attractive. I started pouring the gas, but wasn’t particularly graceful about it. I ended up spilling as much on the outside of the car as I got in it.
I returned the tank, and we headed back towards the nearest gas station. Dana wasn’t talking to me at this point. I suppose she figured her silence would bother me more than her constant bitching. She was wrong.
We arrived at the station, and I got out to pump the gas. I noticed a burly, disheveled man playing video poker inside with what looked like three or four empty beer cans sitting beside him. To this day, I’ve never played video poker. I think, subconsciously, it’s because of people like him. Think about it--have you ever seen a well-dressed, good-looking person playing video poker? Exactly. It’s the same reason I don’t do crystal meth.
I’ve always been a fidgeter, so as I filled up I instinctively reached in my pocket and began flicking the lighter again. It was right about then that I learned something: A series of seemingly insignificant events, when strung together in the right order, can come together to really f%&k up your Friday night.
For example: 1) If Dana and I hadn’t been fighting, I probably would’ve remembered to stop for gas in the first place, and we would never have run out. 2) If the phone had been working at the house I went to for help, I would’ve just called my parents, and not accepted the fuel I was offered. 3) If it hadn’t been boat racing fuel, the octane level would have been lower, and the fumes wouldn’t have been so combustible. And 4) If I had been more careful, I wouldn’t have spilt so much of it on the side of my car.
If any one of those things had gone differently, the events that followed that moment would probably never have happened. Of course, even the perfect storm needs a catalyst to set the whole thing in motion--a bolt of lightning, if you will. In my case, that bolt of lightning was me, absently-mindedly flicking a lighter in my pocket as I tried to figure out why I was dating a girl that seemed to dislike me so much.
Suddenly, there was a bright orange burst, as the fumes ignited and caused the air between myself and the car to literally catch fire. I yanked the hose from my gas tank and threw it on the ground; only now, instead of gas, the nozzle was spraying waves of fire onto the pavement around me. I screamed at Dana, who was still sitting in the front seat, to run. She turned back, and upon seeing what was happening, took off running into the forest behind the station. I didn’t see her again for over an hour.
I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, paralyzed, watching in awe as the fire climbed the hose toward the pump itself. About that time, the drunk man who’d been playing video poker wandered out of the store and shouted “GET AWAY FROM THE PUMP, DUMBASS!”
I sprinted away from the car, and joined the man in front of the store. He looked at me, a smirk forming on his lips. “How on earth did you manage that?” he said.
Before I could respond, the gas pump exploded, sending debris flying all around us. This was apparently enough to make the drunk man decide my car wasn’t safe where it was, because the next words I heard were “MOVE YOUR GODDAMN CAR!”
For some reason, I listened, and ran back toward the flames. The explosion of the first pump had caused the fire to spread, leaving my vehicle enveloped in a circle of fire. On top of that, the blaze had worked its way to the awning above the station, so molten aluminum dripped like candle wax to the cement around me. As I risked life and limb to save a 1996 GMC Jimmy I never even liked, I remember thinking I bet this is what Indiana Jones feels like.
I jumped in the front seat and put the keys in the ignition. Time seemed to be standing still. Well, I thought, this is it. I’m going to die a virgin. I took a deep breath, and turned the key. The car started, and I drove it to safety.
I went to the pay-phone, and called my mom. To this day, she swears this is the entire conversation that was had:
Me: It’s on fire!
Her: What’s on fire?
(Side Note: Exactly 3 weeks earlier, I had totaled my first car, a cherry red Jeep Cherokee. When it happened, my step-dad Pat was in the mountains camping, and my mom was painting the house, wearing some old blue sweats she’d had for years. When I blew up the gas station, Pat was again camping, and my mom had on the exact same outfit she was wearing 3 weeks prior. As a result of these two events, she burned the clothes and Pat wasn’t allowed to go camping again for over a year. Poor guy.)
As I heard the first sirens approaching, I sat down on the curb in the front of the store. I was covered in ash, the left side of my car was melted, and my girlfriend was probably up a tree somewhere, but all I remember thinking was dinner and a movie…how hard is it to do dinner and a f#%king movie??
Over the next couple of hours I got called every name from dumbass to moron to Corky from Life Goes On. Everyone had a different reaction to the story: The sheriff threatened to take me to jail, the EMS drivers told me it was a miracle my car didn’t blow up, and the firefighters mostly just laughed. By the beginning of the next week, everyone in town knew, and it’s never left me since.
Surprisingly though, everything seemed to work out okay in the end:
Dana eventually came out of the woods. Her parents wouldn’t let her ride in the car with me for six months after that. Best six months of our relationship.
I was investigated for arson, but was ultimately cleared of wrong-doing--I believe the official ruling was ‘too stupid to be malicious.’
The gas station got brand new pumps, and best of all--because it was an accident, all the repairs were paid for by the gas station’s insurance company.
Of course, my parents decided I shouldn’t get off completely scot-free, so I was grounded for three weeks. But I still got to go to prom, and I was free again by summer…not too shabby, all things considered.
One thing did have me concerned though. How on earth would I ever top this?
Little did I know...