San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Terror at the Dinner Table

You ask was I ever scared speechless? Well, I know you’re just making conversation while we wait for dessert, but it’s a fair question deserving a truthful answer, though I’ve had so many close shaves, you’ll have to give me a moment to pick the winner.

Let’s see, I was thoroughly bombed in World War II, but having learned by observation that most victims succumb to asphyxiation by the dust, I always kept my gas mask handy, and so got pulled out alive, if not kicking.

Then later I contrived to get myself pinned to the bottom of Tobruk Harbor with a half-ton davit on my chest; that’s when I found out that your devoted muscles will tear themselves out by the roots before they abandon the body that reared them. So I was back on duty in six months, though nowhere near water, I assure you.

Then in 1987 I was looking for the CasiquiareCanal near Esmeraldas, which, amazingly, connects the Amazon with the upper Orinoco via the Rio Negro. On landing, I inadvertently stepped into the Guahibo Indian chief ’s shadow, for which he claimed the automatic penalty was burial up to the neck in a carnivorous ant hill.

I found out only when they were about to pop me in that they were just kidding; their last anthropologist had imported the shadow bit from the Tuamotos, and they thought it would be fun to check it out on their next visitor.

The mere prospect, however, instantly cured my arthritis, so I bear them no ill will. And subsequently my STOL aircraft ran out of gas over the west Venezuelan jungle, and I learned after demolishing a Motilone Indian bohío together with a couple of old-timers that “Short Take-Off and Landing” really means what it says.

It occurs to me that all these situations were someone else’s fault, so maybe I’m just being saved for a disaster of my own making.

Actually, I did have a close call in that category when I elected to go spelunking in the Drakensburgs. The iron rule was “Never lose sight of your buddy,” so of course I had to lag behind, admiring the stalagmites, and when I came to a narrow hole through which I assumed everyone else had gone, I pushed in and promptly got so stuck after expelling all the air from my lungs that I couldn’t even breathe properly.

Fortunately my assigned buddy, figuring I was an obsessive rule-breaker, missed me and gave the signal to backtrack, having already found an easy way around the hole.

They pulled me out backwards, involving three broken ribs and a noticeable lack of future invitations to spelunk.

That one really put the fear of God into me, but even so I’m not inclined to hand in my chips until I can come up with a really catchy epitaph. I’ve tried out “Wherever you be, let your wind go free, for keeping it in was the death of me,” or maybe “Always wash your hands before picking your nose,” which contains a deep truth, but whenever I try it out at the dinner table, someone throws up, so perhaps I should dream up something more wholesome.

Well, here comes the peach melba, so now you can tell me your own worst moment.


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