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Cheap Lessons

John W. Pinkerton


We have all done something incredibly stupid…which didn't kill us or maim us.  After surviving the experience unharmed, we promised ourselves we would never  do that again.  I refer to this as a “cheap lesson.”

I think my earliest cheap lesson involved electricity.  I was about six years old; we had just moved to a different house where I awoke in the morning staring up at an empty socket of a light which was attached to the headboard.

I wondered what would happen if I stuck my finger into the empty socket.  After this brief thought, I, of course, stuck my finger in the socket.  I immediately regretted my decision and learned a cheap lesson: electricity has the capacity to hurt and/or kill.  The lesson was learned well and later in life when I wired our old house, not once did I shock myself.  Now, I blew up a lot of stuff, but never seriously shocked myself.

I think my second cheap lesson involved fireworks.  What I learned was that not all fuses are created equal.  After lighting and tossing a half dozen firecrackers successfully, one went off while I was still holding it.  My tossing timing had not changed, but the fuse's timing had.  Of course, it hurt like Hell, but I didn't lose any digits---cheap lesson.  That experience kinda put me off fireworks altogether, and I realized that the principle learned was “not-all-fuses-are-equal,” which, I realized, could also be applied to people.

My third cheap lesson experience involved exploring under an old wooden bridge and my head.  After climbing under the bridge, I raised my head rapidly encountering total resistance from a bridge support.  I didn't pass out and although I may have lost a few brain cells, I survived the experience and learned that bumping one's head cannot only cause pain, it can also cause brain damage---cheap lesson…just a few brain cells.

All of these experiences occurred in my early elementary years, and I got better at projecting the results of my contemplated actions.

However, about the time I was seventeen, I decided to see if I could drive my dad's Mercury “120” miles per hour.  The motivation was that it was clearly printed on the speedometer: 120.  At 119 I felt the wheels and the wet highway slightly separate from their grasp on each other.  That was enough to cause me to immediately decelerate and contemplate what I had just done.  I never did it again, and have since this cheap  lesson, might be described as a cautious driver.

Now, of course, these aren't the only cheap lessons I learned in my early years, but we're not going to talk about some of the ridiculous things I've done.  Some are just off-limits.  A man deserves to have a few secrets.

As the years have passed, I judge that my ability to project the potential for disastrous results of my actions has improved, and, by the way, my physical movement becoming more slothful which I think has helped immensely.