Skip to content

Black fingernails and lessons in leadership

Brent Johnson lived across the street from me in Pine Bluff.  Whenever we had little boy conflict, his mother would march across the street and harangue my mother about it.  Mom finally told me if we couldn’t get along then I should just stop playing with him.  She must have had a wildly optimistic view of my sense of discretion because she seemed unprepared for the fallout when I proudly told Brent my mother wouldn’t allow me to play with him anymore.  How do you like that, you little twit!  That all passed quickly enough, and Brent and I resumed our usual meanness which consisted mostly of yanking down another kid’s diaper when his mama left him unattended in the front yard.

I think I was about five years old, Brent maybe four, when we decided to go exploring in the city storm drain piping.  We had followed the older kids doing this plenty of times, and it’s pretty cool to crawl around the neighborhood underground and peer out of the drains like a spy.  Problem is, when you’re five and tagging behind fourth graders on their adventure, life can be humiliating.  You end up being the first kid shoved through a lot of spider webs.

Brent and I thought the espionage conditions might be better with just the two of us.  The usual entrance was beneath a sidewalk that connected Rose Street with Iris Street, but when Brent and I got there, we found city maintenance people had put rebar across the entrance.  Crap!

We must have worked on removing the rebar for a half hour or so before giving up.  Looking around, I found a discarded brace from a child’s swing set and hit on the idea of prying up the manhole cover.  The swing set brace was light tubing with its ends flattened where you could drill screwholes.  The flattened end fit perfectly into the narrow slot between the manhole cover and the frame embedded in the concrete.

It never occurred to Brent or me that something made of metal could be flimsy.  I inserted the end of the brace, pried up the edge of the cover, and ordered Brent to finish removing it.  About the time Brent stuck his fingers under the manhole cover, the flattened end of the brace crimped over and dropped the lid, mashing the blood out of everything but his thumbs.

Brent started screaming, and he may have even stepped on the cover while trying to get it up.  I was trying to get the cover back up, but the swing set brace, now creased, was just too flimsy and kept bending back and forth.  Brent flailed and hollered for a few seconds until he couldn’t stand it any longer and then just ripped his fingers out of the bind, leaving skin and fingernails behind, and ran home crying.

This time his mother didn’t come over.  I guess she must have told him to stop playing with me.

Two key lessons learned:  Choose your pry bar materials carefully.  An ignorant leader’s mistakes may embarrass him, but they could kill you.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *