September 17, 2013

Anytime I reflect on whether I have been “lucky” in my life, the number “460” comes to mind. It’s not a season batting average, or the number of yards passing in a football game. It most certainly is not related to anything sexual in nature, either; with the possible exception being the number of times I got rejected in college (but that wouldn’t be “luck” now would it). No, the number 460 refers to the number of volts of electricity that either did, or should have passed through my body when I was a kid, and yet I emerged from the experience unscathed. I will explain.

It was summertime, and I had just turned fourteen. 6 of my parents’ 7 children were living at home, and dad promised mom that he’d employ my 11-year-old brother and me at his business for the summer. Apparently the thought of having to deal with the family’s two “ringleaders of mischief” seemed a daunting task to mom, and dad promised he’d take care of it. Every day we’d leave the house at 6AM, and not return until 6:30 or 7PM that evening. We did this 6 days a week for the entire summer, and by the time we got home every day, we were beat! And even though we didn’t work on Sundays, the term “day of rest” had new found meaning for my brother and me.

My dad owns a recycling plant called Recycling Industries (shameless plug for the family business here, and to say his goal was to submit us to “hard labor” is an understatement. We were also paid an astounding $2 an hour; with the understanding that such premium pay meant we were not allowed to take any breaks. As a lawyer, I have since learned that indentured servitude does not apply to family. Dad was a genius. On Saturdays, when the rest of the employees left at 2PM, we were required to “find something to do” for the remaining 3 hours. And it was on one such Saturday, that I had my encounter with electricity.

Dad had recently designed and built a conveyor belt system to move several tons of newspaper into the processing chute. However, he had yet to complete all of the safety features for the electrical switchboard that ran the system. I seem to recall his stern warning that I not go anywhere near the switchboard because of the plethora of live electrical wires. I also seem to recall that I was 14 years old, and thought I knew everything. Well, on this day, I was working alone in the warehouse, and I needed a couple of tons of paper moved. So, I hopped on top of a metal cage, and reached up to the control panel to manually activate the conveyor belt. I remember what happened next with a degree of clarity far beyond most of my childhood experiences.

First, I remember that I was NOT looking at the area I was about to touch on the control panel, but rather, I was watching the pile of newspaper to make sure it started moving. At that moment, I distinctly remember two hands on my shoulders, violently pulling me off the metal cage, and throwing me against the concrete wall next to me. Those who know me know that on occasion, I have been known to say a few choice words when angry, and this would be one of those times. Thinking it was my brother trying to scare me, I got up off the ground, spun around, and yelled “What in the F**K is your problem?!?!?!” But nobody was there. Nobody was hiding behind machinery; nobody was even in the warehouse. At that point, I felt stupid. My dad told me not to go near the control panel, and I did it anyway. I was sure I had been shocked by an exposed wire, but I’ll be damned if I was going to tell anyone about it. Alas, damnation didn’t prove to be a sufficient deterrent.

We were driving home later that evening, and my brother was going on about how he got a splinter or something. Sensing that he was actually able to milk his claim of an alleged injury to the point getting sympathy from my dad, I had to “see” his splinter, and “raise” it with malady of my own.

“Yeah, well I got up on the cage to run the conveyor belt, and accidentally hit one of the wires and got shocked! Knocked me off the cage, too!”

You know that feeling you get when you suddenly realize that the words out of your mouth have started a chain reaction that you are unable to stop? Yeah, I had that feeling immediately as I watched the color drain out of my dad’s face while he white knuckled the steering wheel, and moved the car to the side of the road.

“You wanna tell me that again?”

It was clear he was not a man to be trifled with. He wanted all the details! And he seemed particularly concerned about where I was standing, and what I was standing on when it happened.

Hell, I don’t know the first thing about electrical currents, but according to dad, 460 volts is a big deal, especially when you’re standing on a metal surface. And apparently, under those conditions, it can stop your heart cold. And that’s when he said in a very calm voice,

“If you had actually touched a live wire, you’d be dead right now.”

Thinking this was the proverbial “calm before the storm,” my first thought was that if I actually had survived death by electrical shock, I was sure that now I would suffer death by electrical “Scott.” And that’s why what happened next caught me completely off guard.

Right there on the side of the highway, dad turned off the car, bowed his head, . . . . offered a prayer. I could feel my eyes well up as I listened to him express his thanks for sending whomever, or whatever it was that pulled me off that metal cage, sparing my life. And in that instant, I realized just how much my dad loved me. I have never forgotten that day, and I never will. It’s the day that 460 became the number synonymous with luck to me, and the day that I realized I am lucky to have the dad that I have.

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