that’s what dumb do: the time(s) I looked the fool in marching band

Last week I took some time to illuminate you about one of the many ways I have found to endorken myself publicly: by being a band geek. And while I was okay at it during my high school years, in college I was just barely good enough. Like, there was last chair, and then there was the pity chair they tacked on to the end just for me. I was not a shining example of bandsmanship, is what I’m saying. Especially during marching season, which was little more than an extended period dedicated to humiliating not only myself, but also everyone around me.

I’m not saying I stumbled around the field at halftime like a frat boy trying to find his room key at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning, it’s just that I occasionally got… distracted. Cut me some slack, kids, I was surrounded by hundreds of bleating horns and crashing cymbals and thumping drums and whispering woodwinds. Of course, so was everyone else, so what was my problem? No, seriously, what was my problem. (Feel free to speculate in the nonexistent comments section.) Let me give you a couple for-examples of my clownish marching ineptitude.

For starters, one of our fundamental marching moves was called “high mark time,” which involved marching in place while bringing your knees way up, like a high step without stepping anywhere. It was drilled into us to keep the side of our foot close along the inseam of our stylish marching pants as we raised our knees, to keep the step clean and precise. On the Monday after a weekend game, the director was showing us slides of the halftime show (like a football coach reviewing game film, but with slightly less concussion footage). One photo showed the back side of a line of clarinets, all crisply performing the high mark time… all except for one iconoclastic holdout whose leg stuck out like a dog marking a fire hydrant. We were all trying to figure out who it was (don’t tell me you can’t see where this is headed) when it became obvious that the doofus in question was standing to the left of the tallest clarinetist in the section, and that yes, I was positioned to the left of the tallest clarinetist in the section.

You had one job, Horn. ONE JOB. I had somehow found a way to screw up pretending to march.

At least that screw-up wasn’t all that obvious to observers in the stands (most of whom, let’s just be honest, were probably either in the bathroom, in line buying nachos, or had left already to secure kegs and red Solo cups for post-game). But if you’re going to make a mistake, I say, make it an obvious one.

Picture this: pre-game. Stands are packed. The Pride Band is marching onto the field to salute our proud nation with the Star-Spangled Banner. A long line of woodwinds is marching in a straight line from the end zone to a destination somewhere in the vicinity of midfield, where they will take their place in formation with the rest of the band. I was amongst that line of woodwinds, and as we marched in our customary 8-to-5 stride (that, eight steps for every five yards) we were all mentally counting down the steps until we were supposed to stop. And so I came to a sharp halt when we got to the yard line in question.

Well, presumed yard line in question, I guess.

Because everyone else kept marching.

[Expletive!] I had stopped five yards short! And lordy, did I stick out like a sore thumb: a perfectly straight line of bandspeople moving in formation, with one clueless half-wit hanging a few yards back for no apparent reason. Oh well, the show must go on… so I quickly recovered, caught up with my line, hit the next line marker right in step with them, and stopped.

And they kept marching. Again.

Because no, Price, we still weren’t there yet. Flustered, I caught back up to them. This time, I just decided to march with them and halt when they halted. For whatever reason, I just had no memory of where that was supposed to be. I just kept my head on a discreet swivel, desperately watching the marchers to my right and left to try to suss out the finish line. Eventually, they stopped, and I only went a yard or two further before I realized it and had to scoot back to the line.

Back when I was in the Pride, in the olden days before Twitter-shaming, we had our own guilt-heaping tradition: people who made mistakes during pregame or halftime had to run a lap during the third quarter. And brother, you best believe I ran that game. I’m surprised the director didn’t personally chase me around the track with a pack of rabid Rottweilers.

I wasn’t all that great at marching, is the long and short of it. Or playing, come to think of it. Why I wasn’t booted from the band with extreme prejudice is a mystery to this day. I assume the band director allowed me to remain out of pity, or perhaps to keep me around as the Goofus to everyone else’s Gallant. As a cautionary tale. As the solitary DON’T after a long list of DOs.

I suppose I should be thankful that the university graciously allowed me to participate despite my embarrassing them nearly every time I took the field with the rest of the band. But then, if I was booted out of every organization I publicly humiliated with my gross doofitude, I’d be unemployed, single, and probably dead. Because if there’s one group I’ve let down over and over again, it’s humanity. But hey, every team needs a sixth-string bench warmer who makes the rest of you look good. How about you stop pointing and laughing and maybe offer a simple thank you? I’ll just sit right here and wait for your gratitude to flow my way.



that’s what dumb do: the time I nearly sliced off my thumb

Hey, you like pancakes, don’t ya? Of course you do. You’re not a monster! At the very least, you tolerate pancakes. (Maybe you call them flapjacks if you are a grizzled prospector from the 1870s. Or maybe you call them griddlecakes if you are one of those steampunk-loving hipster-types who enjoys using archaic terms for things and who wears vests and brass goggles and is obsessed with cogs and pennyfarthings and getting punched. Or maybe you call them hotcakes, which means you are a McDonald’s.)

Those are neither organic nor sustainable, Eleven. For shame!
Those are neither organic nor sustainable, Eleven. For shame! You deserve that nosebleed.

And even if they aren’t your favorite batter-based syrup delivery system, then surely you like waffles. Everybody likes waffles, right? Why, everyone’s favorite telekinetic pre-adolescent, Eleven, agrees that even mass-produced, chemical-laden waffles are worth getting a bloody nose over. If anything, waffles are innately superior! I mean, with pancakes the syrup either soaks in, leaving a sickly sweet mush (bad), or rolls right off onto the plate, drowning your sausage and bacon with maple-y ooze (good). But with a waffle, you have all those little empty squares to hold the syrup, like dozens of tiny, edible bowls filled with diabetes. That syrup ain’t goin’ nowhere except in your mouth!

Because in the end, that’s what waffles and pancakes are all about: getting warm syrup into your innards without being judged by society for drinking it straight from the bottle. And brother, it’s got to be warm. If you’re pouring cold syrup on your preferred breakfast-based carbohydrate unit, then you have failed at literally the first important task you have undertaken for the day and you should just go back to bed. You are doing life wrong.

All this to say that when The Boy was a tyke, long before The Girl was even a consideration, he was all about waffles for breakfast every day. Seriously, every day. We went through Eggos and syrup like Hef goes through Cialis and lube. And for whatever reason we were keeping our syrup in the fridge, like chumps. You know you don’t need to do that, right? It’s liquid sugar; trust me, it’ll keep. But at the time, we were ignorant of such culinary subtleties, and thus had to warm up the goo every morning in the microwave.

Like this one, except instead of containing nothing, it contained happiness. (source)
Like this one, except it contained happiness instead of nothing. (source)

And so, to ease this process along, I purchased a glass syrup cruet at a large national discount retail chain which shall go unnamed (let’s just say that it is the kind of mart that Donald Trump would make Mexico pay for). (Okay, fine. It was Wal-Mart. I’m talking about Wal-Mart.) Every morning, while the waffles were doing their thing in the toaster, I’d unscrew the lid of the cruet and put the thing in the microwave to warm up the syrup, because as I established earlier, cold syrup is the Jimmy Carter of breakfast condiments: maybe not the worst, but absolutely no one’s first choice.

It was a workable system, until one morning when the sticky, sticky metal lid just would not come off. You can’t warm up syrup in the microwave with a metal lid in the way! That’s how Y2K happened! So I ran hot water over it, pried at it, waved chicken entrails near it… all the standard stuff. Nothing worked, so–desperate to feed my starving child–I decided to just seize hold of that lid and wrench like I’ve never wrenched before. And it worked! In that the lid came off. And with it came a sizable chunk of my thumb.

Here’s what dumb do: it applies monumental pressure to cheap, poorly manufactured glass, and is then stunned when said glass shatters in its hand.

Yep, in an instant that crappy cruet turned into a maple-scented mess of razor-sharp glass shards and torn, bloody flesh. It sliced into my left thumb… deep into my left thumb. Like bone-deep. Picture a hanging, gory flap of thumb-meat, spewing mighty gouts of scarlet ichor. I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I tell you that it was an icky boo-boo. The subsequent exchange with The Wife went a little something like this:

Me: Um, The Wife, can you come here please?

The Wife: Just a minute.


And… scene.

And so, with my thumb wrapped in a bunch of gauze and a filthy dishtowel, we first dropped The Boy off at preschool, constantly reassuring him that no, Daddy’s constant weeping and cursing does not mean he doesn’t love you anymore. And then we moved along to the emergency room. (I am basically on a first-name basis with these people at this point.) They staunched the blood fountain, stitched me up to within an inch of my life, and wrapped my thumb in so much gauze that it affected bandage futures for the next fiscal quarter. I still have the scar to this day, a weird crescent scratch across the side of my thumb, to remind me of the tremendous price I paid so that the next generation could be spared the dehumanizing indignity of less-than-optimal syrup temperature.

Don’t make the same mistakes I did, people! Serve your syrup in a microwave-safe ramekin. And if I may, I’ll quote that wise, age-old maxim (hey, it’s a cliché for a reason): Never trust a Wal-Mart cruet.

that’s what dumb do: the time I jammed a rusty bolt into my brain

It’s the summer of 1985. It’s a sweltering day outside. Probably. You don’t know for sure because you have not been outside all day. You have instead spent the day inside playing Adventure on your Atari 2600 and occasionally flipping the RF modulator switch on the back of your tiny black-and-white TV so you can watch Gilligan’s Island. And just after the scene where the Skipper smacks his li’l buddy on the head with his cap, they go to commercial, and you see this.

Mind: BLOWN.

See, we didn’t have stuff like that around there. I mean, sure, we had nasty old Willow Springs, but that had like one sad slide and it was in a filthy lake that was probably mostly pee and herpes. (Oh, sorry… it’s actually much worse.) But water parks? With wave pools and inner tubes and cool, clear, dangerously chlorinated water? We had heard tales of such things in exotic, far-off locales like Branson, Missouri and New Braunfels, Texas… but in North Little Rock, Arkansas? Just across the river? Where we could drive to it without crossing a border or explaining to people that we were from Arkansas?

Why, we couldn’t believe our luck! It hardly seemed real! First, we get a brand-new UHF station–Channel 16–giving us five channels, and now a real, honest-to-God water park? Hittin’ the big time, we were!

So every kid within 50 miles of North Little Rock was frothing at the mouth to go there, and see this place, and ride every ride, and surf every wave… filling our bellies with overpriced nachos and and filling our mouths with chlorine and redneck sweat. And soon enough, all that mouth-frothing would pay off big time: the church youth group was taking a trip, and not to just any river country, mind you; not to something as prosaic as a tame river country, but to its diametric opposite: WILD. RIVER. COUNTRY. It was a wondrous destination, straight out of our fevered dreams. There weren’t any rivers, and it wasn’t in the country, but we knew–JUST KNEW–it would be wild.

The day arrived, and despite that fact that even back then I was a dark-hearted cynic who expected naught from this world but disappointment, I was like a… 14-year-old boy at a water park. (Pretty much exactly like a 14-year-old boy at a water park, I guess). I was  full of beans (not figuratively; I had a thing for frozen burritos), sunscreened to within an inch of my life, and looking forward to being ignored by hot girls in bikinis instead of by every other kind of girl wearing every other kind of clothing.

As soon as we entered the park, I and the people who were patiently pretending to be my friends that day headed for the first attraction in the park, one of those inner tube waterslide deals. And it was great! We were having fun! We had the whole day ahead of us! On to the next ride… one of those zip-line type things where you would hang from the handle and, um, zip down the line, until the thing hit a spring at the end and dropped you into the pool.

Keep in mind that we had been in the park for maybe ten minutes.

When it was my turn, I stepped up to the zip line handle and made a fateful decision: instead of just holding on to both sides of the handle and hanging down like every other kid was doing, I would hold the handles like a submarine periscope, putting my head even with the handle. See the expertly drawn, photoreal illustration below.

Commissions accepted.
Commissions accepted.

Not sure why I did it that way, but what possible harm could it do? I jumped from the platform and rode the line down to the end, picking up speed, right until it hit the spring at the end… at which point the handle, because of the stupid way I was holding it, smacked me right in the forehead.


That was pretty much all that occupied my consciousness as I fell into the pool. It hurt. But, well… lesson learned, right? Don’t hold the handle that way next time! Just climb out of the pool and on to the next ride! Until I got out of the pool and everyone around me got really quiet and started pointing, eyes wide. A lifeguard grabbed me and started pulling me toward First Aid. I had no idea what was going on until I reached up and touched my forehead and realized I was bleeding like… well, look, I was just really bleeding, okay? Like, a lot. Like, given that there is a skull and a brain in there, I did not realize that there could even be room for that much blood in a person’s head.

So it turns out there was an exposed bolt on the handle of that zip line, and when I hit that spring, that bolt jammed itself straight into my head. There’s a reason everyone else was hanging down from the zip line, you see. It’s because they weren’t idiots.

They paged my youth pastor, of course, which I’m sure thrilled him to no end.

“Pastor Ray Hollis, please come to First Aid… one of your charges has already ruined both his day and yours. Yes, it was Price. Don’t act so surprised.”

The injury left a swollen, fist-sized goose egg, with an oozing red gash right in the middle, making it look like I had an angry alien eyeball growing on my forehead. The crack medical staff of an Arkansas water park patched me up as best they could, then my youth pastor hauled me off to the emergency room so I could get a real bandage… a real giant bandage, that is, that covered a not-insignificant chunk of facial real estate. Oh, but the fun didn’t end there. Because who knew where that bolt had been, I also got a nice little bonus: a tetanus shot. The doc did give me some good news: I could go back to Wild River Country! And then the bad news: I couldn’t get wet. No inner tubes. No slides. And so I spent the rest of the day at the water park standing in hip-deep water where I could find it, watching my friends scream gleefully as they hurtled down slides and crashed through man-made waves. Oh, and being stared at in horror by everyone I passed because my head was wrapped in blood-soaked gauze and medical tape. Sure, they may have been staring at me with a mixture of pity and revulsion, but finally! The hot bikini girls weren’t ignoring me!

The legacy of that day lives on. Wild River Country put some padding around that exposed bolt on the handle of the zip line, for example. And to this day–three decades later–I still have a weird little lumpy scar on the broad expanse of my forehead (except now I don’t have any hair I can use to cover it up). And as a bonus, you got to picture me the way you’ve always dreamed: soaking-wet and half-naked, with a bloody head wound.

You’re welcome.

that’s what dumb do

As much as I beat myself up on here for being a big stupid depresso who everybody hates and who is so incompetent I could find a way to ruin failure, I’d still like to think that I am a more-or-less reasonably intelligent person. I mean, I have a job that requires–as a geriatric action star might say–a very particular set of skills… skills that required more years of education than are obvious given the quality of my work, but still. I can generally string phonemes together into words and words together into sentences and sentences together into paragraphs and oh for Pete’s sake how long am I going to drag this out this thing. I can communicate relatively clearly, I guess I’m saying, in a way that completely undermines the whole point I’m trying to make. I can solve puzzles as long as you spot me a clue and there is no math. I have a couple of kids, so I am not a complete stranger to the ins-and-outs of reproductive biology. In other words, my brain functions as intended. Most of the time.

It’s the rest of the time that’s the problem. I am, of course, not alone in this. I am like every other human being on the planet in that I am capable of temporarily losing complete track of my faculties and demonstrating remarkably poor judgment. Hey, dumb happens, as evidenced by the results of the 2016 presidential primaries. (And sweet mother of mercy, did dumb happen there in spades.)

This is probably the first in a series of posts chronicling my many moments of personal idiocy. Well, the second, really, given last week’s post about bad decisions I have made while on vacation. I can’t imagine running out of material; not only do I have 45 years of dumb behind me, but just think of all the stupid decisions I have yet to make! Anyway, on with the tale!

The Time I Ripped Off the End of My Big Toe

So years ago we got our kids Razor scooters for Christmas. Remember when those were a huge thing that all the kids had to have? Well, this was like three years after that. Because when my kids want something, I get it for them. Eventually. After everyone else gets tired of them and they go on clearance. (Just wait ’til the kids see the Sega Dreamcast I got them this year!)

Despite my skinflintery, the kids had their fun doing whatever it is you do on these things. Scooting, I guess? (Basically skateboarding for people who can’t commit? Or think of them as analog Segways.) Point is, you know how scooters work: one foot on the deck of the scooter (is that what you call it? a deck?), and one pushing you along.

So one afternoon they were doing their scooting around the driveway and in the street in front of the house, and I decided I wanted in on the fun. I commandeered the Boy’s vehicle and did a lazy figure-eight or two around the premises. No harm, no foul, no problem… until I slowly scooted up onto the driveway to give it back, at which point I somehow tripped over myself, falling off the scooter and sliding the end of my foot across the abrasive cement. Which wouldn’t have been an issue, had I been wearing shoes.

Word of advice: never ride a scooter in flip-flops.

Saying it ripped off the end of my big toe is admittedly something of an exaggeration. In point of fact, that might have hurt less. What it actually did was tear all the skin off the end of my big toe, embedding tiny bits of gravel and filth into the pinkish meat of the digit. (“Pinkish meat of the digit” may well be the most nonsensical and dirtiest phrase I’ve ever typed.) And brother, it hurt. And the blood! OH, THE BLOOD. How like a fount it issued forth! I shrieked like a little girl (I’m dumb and sexist!) and limped inside to clean and bandage the injury. I probably used every bit of gauze, every inch of medical tape, and every Band-Aid™ in the house to staunch the ichor’s flow, ’til my big toe looked a giant mummy’s thumb.

I’d like to say that was the end of the story, but after a day or two it was pretty clear that a handful of Band-Aids™ was somehow not enough to heal a feculent, infected body part. That, and it still hurt like I was wearing golf shoes inside out, so I went to the ER and begged, begged them to make it better. It seems I had not cleaned it as well as I should have, nor had I bandaged it correctly (“S. Price Horn screwed something up? The devil you say!“), so the doc went to work correcting my mistake, starting by ripping away all the skin on my big toe. Again. Then, he cleaned out the microscopic bits of driveway that remained. No anesthetic, by the way. Not that I deserved it. Finally he bandaged it up–correctly!–and sent me home with rolled eyes and silent judgment. I’m not even blaming him for that last part; if anything, he should have judged me loudly.

So: riding a scooter with improper footwear: that was dumb. Mangling the bandage job so badly that I nearly lost my foot to MRSA or whatever: that was even dumber.

Writing about it on a blog years later, so I can potentially be mocked by the entire Internet? That’s taking dumb to new heights.