Praising Fire and Mutants 

Get ready for a hot mess

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: It’s not officially summer yet. But it’s hot enough to be summer, and it’s hot enough for crazy things to start happening.
It’s not officially summer yet. But it’s hot enough to be summer, and it’s hot enough for crazy things to start happening. Once the temperature creeps up to somewhere around 90, people—and sometimes the planet itself—start to misbehave like they’ve gotten into the brown acid. One perfect June day people are flying kites, the next day they’re fighting giant forest fires and hellish floods and flying a plumber up to the International Space Station. It boggles the mind.I’ve never cared much for summer. Down home in South Carolina, there are two summer temperatures—bathwater hot and hell hot—and there’s not much to do except slap gnats, wipe sweat and be thankful for air conditioning if you’ve got it.Most of the craziness in my life came in the summertime. That’s when the girlfriends went crazy, the kinfolk dropped dead and the heavily muscled drunk guy at the lake swam about 30 yards toward the raft, then sank right to the bottom. After that, I started paying close attention to summer weirdness and tried to learn something from it. Some examples follow.In the summer of 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland just up and burst into flames. I know some of you are wondering, “How exactly did a river catch on fire?” The popular answer is pollution. Pollution so ugly, unnatural and obscene that just the friction of the water against water was enough to light off what should’ve been a fireproof natural resource.Other folks will tell you that, yes, the Cuyahoga River was a sickening mess in 1969, worse than the gel that surrounds Spam. But the famous fire, they say, was caused by some flotsam flaming up after it got showered with stray sparks from welding or the wheels of a train passing over a railroad bridge.Either way—or even if the cause were something else entirely—the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire gave rise to one of the guiding principles in my life. It goes like this: Any river that could burn, should burn.The way I see it, it’s bad enough to have a river that’s so full of flammable chemicals and unholy compounds that the contents of the river could dissolve a perfectly good fiberglass ski boat or cause a cooter turtle to grow a rack of antlers. When a river reaches the point where the water not only won’t extinguish a flame, but is an actual fuel, then it’s by-God time the problem came to somebody’s attention. And the more dramatic the display, the better.Same thing with those googly-eyed, six-legged frogs that showed up in Minnesota in 1996. Apparently, there’s at least one wetland up there where, no matter how hard the local frog wranglers tried, they couldn't find a frog that didn’t feature some astonishing modifications. A little extra stuff here, a little missing stuff there.... I say we need more of this kind of thing. Mutant frogs keep us from getting complacent. Just knowing that frogs can grow more legs than they used to should be a warning to all humans that we’ve got to keep ourselves in fighting trim.Over the years, I’ve developed some corollaries for my “any river that could burn, should burn” rule. Corollary One: Any trailer that could fly, should fly.Now, I don’t wish anyone serious misfortune, and I’m strongly opposed to people suffering unneeded personal injuries. However, to those folks who think it’s okay to have their dwelling place gravity-fitted to a loose stack of concrete blocks, I say a simple and effective meteorology/physics lesson is in order, and you can bet that it’s coming. When you set up housekeeping in a box kite, you’re begging Ma Nature to spin up a big wind.Corollary Two: Sooner or later, unstable people will end up on unstable riding mowers. Some unlucky mowing men will wander from property to property, mower to mower, until they arrive at just the right combo of steep hill and top-heavy mini-tractor. When that happens, the mower will become the mowee as the tractor alternately rolls over the errant driver, takes a chunk out of his hide, then spits him out and repeats the process until man and mower come to rest at the bottom of the hill. Inevitably, the poor driver will end up in a mesh-and-aluminum lawn chair, drinking from a pocket flask and nursing fearful injuries. It’s Nature’s way.Corollary Three: This country was better off when there were no deadman switches on lawn mowers. Not to be harsh, but some years back, people knew better than to stick useful body parts under the deck of a lawn mower. Those people, though, did not include my neighbor Timmy Poole, who chopped off some toes during a mowing session. Timmy’s loss of toes was unfortunate, but it probably saved his life. I’m pretty sure that he stayed away from whirling blades after his accident.Just three months until autumn, when things are sure to calm down. I can’t wait.

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