February 18, 2004

Electrifying Learning Experiences

If you spent any time at all growing up in the rural Midwest, chances are pretty good you developed a valuable instinctive fear of electrified fences. In fact, after accidently brushing up against an electrified fence even once, your mind probably rewired itself completely to ensure it would never, EVER happen again.

I was a slow learner. I didn't become totally paranoid of electrified fences until after the third or forth time I felt the juice sizzle through my limbs. Eventually, however, it started to sink in that a smooth, shiny fence wire running through the occasional insulator more than likely had electricity running through it and I should not grab that wire if I knew what was good for me.

I remember standing in absolute awe when the father of one of my friends checked to see if the electrified fence was on by grabbing it without so much as a second thought. Yes, it was on, but you'd have never guessed that by his mild reaction, like he had just been bitten by a mosquito, and a small one at that. It was amazing. He immediately made my list of the toughest guys I knew, a list that included Sylvester Stallone and that guy who lived up the street who held onto firecrackers while they exploded.

My introduction to the world of electrified fences came about while I was staying over night with my friend, John. I suppose I was eight years old at the time. Well, John was a farm kid with a warped sense of humor, and he also knew that I had an incredible fear of bulls. In order to get to John's tree house to play, we had to go through a pen inhabited by cows. John seized the moment once I was alone in the pen and yelled that a bull was charging at me. Of course, there was no bull, except for that coming out of John's mouth, but the simple mention of the word "bull" had me running as fast as my little legs could carry me.

I ran headlong into my first electrified fence. I ran into that electrified fence so hard, I snapped it in half. I also endured an electrical shock so big, I'm willing to bet my hometown's power grid briefly went offline. I never actually saw the fence, but I sure felt what it did, and what it did was jolt me so hard, I think I tinkled just a little bit in my underwear. Unfortunately, because I didn't see what the fence looked like, I had no mental reference to ensure I wouldn't touch another one.

My next sojourn into the world of electrified fences came via courtesy of my older brother. As an older brother by four years, Reg adhered to the unwritten decree that all older brothers should torment their younger siblings both physically and mentally. I, on the other hand, adhered to the decree that all younger brothers should adore and try to emulate their older siblings and follow them around relentlessly, hoping for a scrap of older brotherly wisdom. It was a recipe for disaster on practically a daily basis.

Well, one day, when I was about nine, Reg took me out for a walk in the countryside, by which I mean I begged and pleaded until my mother ordered him to spend some time with me. Shortly into our hike, we encountered a fence, and Reg instructed me to hold the fence up for him while he crawled underneath. Ever the dutiful youth, I did as instructed, and I was rewarded for my efforts with the most surprising and sustained flow of electricity to course through my body since I broke that one fence about a year before. My brother, meanwhile, fell on the ground laughing and was unable to compose himself for about 20 minutes, which was about the same amount of time it took me to stop crying.

I steered clear of electrified fences for a few years after that, until one day when I was visiting a friend of mine, Andy, or at least I thought he was a friend of mine. We were walking along an electrified fence, when eventually Andy got a strange gleam in his eye. Suddenly, Andy reached out and grabbed my arm, and then he grabbed the fence, and that's when I learned that one human body can conduct an electrical charge to another human body simply through contact. I felt a considerable jolt, while Andy, it seemed, felt nothing at all. Although I didn't cry that time, I still don't entirely trust Andy all that much.

And the moral of this story? I'm not sure there is one, except that maybe I should get out there and find some better friends, and maybe a better brother, if that's possible.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I see via SiteMeter that a lot of blogs not listed to the right apparently are linking to my blog. I like to reciprocate on blog links when I can, but in my old age I just can't keep on top of every link. Therefore, if you're out there linking to my blog, but I have not yet included you, please leave a comment here or drop and e-mail my way (keeping in mind, of course, to include your URL), and I'll get you up and over there.

Posted by Ryan at February 18, 2004 02:19 PM
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