"I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess." -Martin Luther

Monday, October 29, 2007

In Which Benjamin Dobbs Starts an Electrical Fire

Dear Readers,
As Dave Barry is fond of saying, 'I'm not making this up!'
And as a friend of my family once said, "You can exaggerate up to 15% before it becomes a lie."
With these two thoughts in mind, read on.

Four feet shuffled and gripped on linoleum, squeaking mildly in protest as weight shifted suddenly back and forth. Wooden swords flashed in the florescent lighting, reflected in the microwave window and greasy range top. "Clack, clack" called the swords to each other, and the two combatants panted and grunted as they traded blows.
On the other side of the room, across the pool table, two of Benjamin's hallmates had lost interest in the unusual pass-time and were focusing on the football game one of them was playing on the 360. The crowd noise channeled through the speaker system drowned out the sounds of battle only a few feet away. Windows along two sides of the commons let in the last few rays of light the day had to offer, as the eyelid of the sun blinked and began to fall for the last time.
Benjamin enjoyed sword-fighting, if that is what his activity should be called. He wasn't quite sure himself, only that he tried to hit the chap with the other stick and quite enjoyed himself at the same time. Even at times when he didn't have an opponent, his imagination could supply hordes that were even more agreeable, quite willing to ignore his weak spots and be soundly beaten. Against his roomie Sheep, he was lucky if he got a draw.
"Arm!" they called to each other in unison, and backed away, Benjamin berating himself for trying for a strike so quickly. He raised his sword (dear old All Purpose Staff) above his right shoulder, his left hand close to his right cheek. He eyed Sheep's hands, trying to anticipate his move, and, in preparation for a strike, cocked his elbow. The A.P.S. jumped up a few more inches in reaction and struck the plastic cover underneath the florescent bulbs.
As Sheep countered Benjamin's attacks, a hissing noise from above gave them cause to stop and look up. Through the undamaged plastic cover, the end of one of the bulbs was hissing, sparking, and (Benjamin's heart froze) smoking.
Even as phrases such as
"Holy cow,"
"It's smoking," passed unsummoned through his lips, he waxed philosophical.
Knowledge dictated state of mind; of that he was sure. Simple facts, such as the smoke detector, mounted on the ceiling about two feet from the light, and the $400 dollar fine imposed upon anyone foolish enough...
...to set it off, changed his entire outlook on life. $400 dollars was a lot of cheeseburgers, a lot of cheeseburgers he could smell, look at, but never buy, no, never eat. Life was short, and he had just devoted far too much of it to paying off his stupidity.
He should take up croquet.
Having finished his philosophical meanderings, he had the bright idea of reaching over to the light switch, finding yet another use for his A.P.S: insulation from hazardous electrocution.
Darkness fell.
The hissing, sparking, and, especially, smoking, stopped.
The nauseating smell of electrical fire permeated the room.
"Aw, junk!" Benjamin snapped.
The guys playing football commented on how bad the room smelled, and inquired as to how in the world Benjamin had started a fire with his staff. Benjamin would have explained at length, but his cell phone began to buzz in his pocket.
"Hello?" Benjamin's voice quivered. Had the administration heard about it already?
"Hey, Benjamin..." it was Vlad, his friend, and his big sister's boyfriend.
"Oh, man, get the windows open! It's gonna go off any time..."
Sheep and Benjamin crossed the room and began throwing open windows.
"Are you all right?" asked Vlad.
"Yeah, fine," said Benjamin, more sarcasm than honesty in his voice.
"I wish we had a fan," whined Benjamin.
"...I was calling to say we were probably not going to watch a movie until later..."
Good, I'm going to be busy evacuating the building and confessing anyway! thought Benjamin.
Sheep turned on the range fan and waved smoke out the window. Benjamin checked the air conditioning unit. It was already set on high.
The alarm poised, ready to spring on them like a cheetah stalking a baby gazelle in the middle of a golden, grassy field in Africa...if only Benjamin could be in Africa right then, he thought, and not there in the commons.
Vlad caught on that Benjamin was not paying any attention to him, and excused himself.
As the initial panic settled lower and began to crawl along his stomach lining, Benjamin mounted a chair and tried to get the cover off the light, supposing he might as well make sure there wasn't a fire smoldering. He couldn't budge the cover, but it was cold and nothing seemed to be amiss. Hitting it hadn’t even cracked the plastic.
He inquired as to the location of their fearless Resident Assistant, and the guys on the couch replied that they didn't know. His embarrassment overcome by adrenaline, he left Sheep with strict orders not to let anyone flip the switch, and descended to the Resident Director's office, his ears alert for the impending alarm. No one was in the office. Embarrassment caught up with him, but he eventually called the Assistant Resident Director.
"Everything's all right now,” he began, “but I was wondering what we should do if one of the lights in the commons starts smoking..."
"Did you say 'smoking'?"
"It's not anymore, and the alarm hasn't gone off," Benjamin explained himself, almost taking pride in confessing that yes, he had started the electrical fire while sword-fighting in the commons.
"Oh, ok. Just put a sign on the switch so no one turns it on, and remind me to deal with it later."
"Ok. Thanks."
By the time he hung up the phone, he had come to understand that a small miracle had occurred in that if the alarm hadn't gone off already, it probably wouldn't at all.
Ascending to his room, he tore a piece of notebook paper from a binder and wrote "Do not turn on." on it with a sharpie. Then, knowing his hallmates were much more likely to turn on the light when they saw the sign, he added the following malediction: "(The lights will smoke!)"
Popping over to the next room, he borrowed duct tape. Returning to the commons, he relieved Sheep of his duties("How did ya'll start a fire; it smells terrible in here!" commented a recent arrival.), and, after taping the sign to the wall, retired to his room with a prayer of thanks for God's mercies, and a residual sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.
He wouldn’t be able to cook in the commons for a week without glancing nervously up at the smoke detector.


  1. 'And it was then The Voice of Efad decended upon Benjamin and asked in a faltering tone, as though through laughter: "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to swordfight in the house?"'

  2. Benjamin has never been very good at listening to his elders... (just kidding, Joben!)

  3. Sorry, what did you write, Matt? :)
    And, Elizabeth, I'm not sure she ever did. It was a commons, anyway, not a house.

  4. Okay, now that I've had time to read it again...
    I love the immediate slip into nervousness and paranoia -- that made me laugh, oddly enough. But how was there the time (and the state of mind) to wax philosophical in a steadily-increasing state of panic?
    For my own curiosity, and is the quip about taking up croquet a Jeeves and Wooster reference, or am I reading too deep? (Freud would say, "Sometimes a comment about croquet is just a comment about croquet." Or something like that, anyway.)

  5. My philosophizing was not so concrete as I portrayed it, occuring more on an emotional than intellectual level, such that my mind only received brief bursts of information, results let's call them, like "you're dead!!"
    That said, I (and I think this is true for most people) think much faster, though not necessarily better, in emergency situations, so is it really all that surprising?

  6. I agree. I think the number of unregistered thoughts that pass through the mind is directly related to the activity of the adrenal gland. That is, the more freaked out you are, the faster you think about and count all the ways you could very possibly die ^^; But the mind seems to recall memories of emotions better than actual words or phrases of thought; so while I find I can't remember word-perfect whatever I was thinking at the time of an emergency situation, I can most certainly remember how it felt to think something like, "Oh crud-monkeys I'm really going to die this time--" :)
    And on a sort-of unrelated note, let it be known that I can tell a story far better on paper than I can in person. I'm just not sure if this speaks volumes more for my writing abilities or my attempts at conversation in a busy mail-room. Or both.

  7. I didn't have any problem with the mail room story (unless I've forgotten part of it), so it must just be that you're a good writer.

  8. wow!! i really like that quote at the top of your blog!!! your probably like, ok who is this girl??? ya you don't know me, but i came across your sisters blog and i thought it was interesting! i'm a christian from california! and ya....so anyway if you want to check outmy blog that'd be cool!!

  9. Hey man... Benjamin Dobbs? That's me!

    Such a funny name...

    Last week in a new class, a student thought my name was "Bendobes" when I had said Ben Dobbs... ah, great stuff!


A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.