a little levity
Things to do in lieu of labor (Day)
By STEVE LANG
“If all the cars in the world were placed end to end, it would probably be Labor Day.” – Doug Larson
Labor Day is fast approaching and planning activities in lieu of actual labor sometimes proves difficult for the recreationally-challenged like myself.
Of course, planning tasks in lieu of recreation proves equally difficult, as I am often labor-challenged as well.
I consulted my files for some suggestions of how to enjoy this last holiday before school and football occupy the senses at least until Thanksgiving. A “Last Tango in Paris (Texas)” was not included, nor the Sullivan to Rome (Wisc.) Junk Parade. A complete guide of offbeat Labor Day activities was not readily retrievable, either, but I will note that Sunday, Sept. 2 is National Beheading Day.
Before I lose my head over future events, I also note that it is too early for Be Late for Something Day (Sept. 5), but not too soon to Fight Procrastination Day (Sept. 6). Necessary grooming beforehand may dull the significance of Nose Hair Maintenance Day (Sept. 8).
For area residents, Alpine’s Big Bend Balloon Bash and the Marfa Lights Festival during Labor Day weekend provide ample entertainment venues, especially or those who can’t wait for Swap Ideas Day (Sept. 10), National Play-Doh Day (Sept. 16) and International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19).
For several decades, my family has gathered each Labor Day alongside a lake to eat numerous times and participate in various games and sports, ranging from throwing frisbees to dogs to golf to trapshooting to firing spud guns. As a break in conversations between less-active relatives, outhouse tours were arranged, but I will elaborate later.
Spud guns are projectile-launching devices made from plastic pipe, complete with a combustion chamber and igniter. As I learned during this particular Labor Day gathering 20-some years past, Cousin Todd’s spud gun launched virtually every potato not found in casseroles, hotdishes or salads at distant objects, including barns.
Later, I was told that limes and other objects of choice – including frogs – were also propelled long distances with reasonable accuracy (if you call hitting some portion of a barn-sized target as accurate).
Like other firearms, spud guns have been refined, modified and proliferated over the years. Various ammunition has been used, but in some instances, safety precautions have been ignored, resulting in accidents like the one reported by the Associated Press in 2003:
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) – A North Texas teenager was blinded this weekend and faces extensive reconstructive surgery because a potato gun he was playing with shot a frog into his face.
The boy 17, of Denton, was looking down the barrel of the potato gun when it went off, his parents said. He is hospitalized in serious condition and doctors have talked to the parents about fitting him with prosthetic eyes.
“The frog hit him with a force more than a gun,” his mother said. “If it had been a potato or a rock, it would have killed him. It would have blown the top of his head off.”
A potato gun is a device composed of a tube such as plastic water pipe, a combustion chamber and igniter. Projectiles such as potatoes – or frogs – can be loaded into the tube and fired several hundred feet when a propellant such as hair spray is ignited in the chamber.
Then, as now, I refuse to compare the relative IQ’s involved, especially given the tragedy of the event. If roles were reversed, though, and some teenager was sitting in the barrel of a firearm just minding his own business, I seriously doubt that the frog taking aim would look down the barrel to see what happened – or didn’t – after sparking the flint, pulling the trigger or torching the wick.
It’s hard for me to consider frogs as viable ammunition in the first place. Picture Kermit sailing through the air toward some unknown destination, propelled by a force far greater than even Miss Piggy’s karate chop. Too much wind resistance for too little bulk would blow the missile far off course, I fear.
Although natural and manmade disasters have happened, outhouse tours incur fewer safety risks than spud guns.
For centuries, outhouses were fashioned for function, but today, most structures merely function as fashion. At one Labor Day gathering, my cousin Joe gave guided tours of his insulated, heated and wired creation. In retrospect, the engineering of his new, deluxe outhouse exceeded that of the many-times-larger pole barn which we christened that weekend.
I sat inside reverently, even had my photo taken, curling my toes in the soft carpet while reclining in splinterless splendor.
“Did you build this for show or go?” I asked Joe.
“Both,” he said. “It’s really pleasant when we come up here snowmobiling.”
At present, my 2012 Labor Day plans are as yet undetermined, but will not include a combination of amphibians, flammable materials, PVC pipe and careless curiosity.
After all, I have National One Hit Wonder Day and National Mud Pack Day to look forward to later in the month.
Steve Lang has visited the Outhouses of America Tour website. He is a transplanted Minnesotan who is often lost in time and stuck in space. He serves as director of News and Publications at Sul Ross State University. He is a native of Erdahl, MN, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Morris, and received a Master’s degree from Sul Ross. He has spent most of the last 45 years in various journalistic endeavors, including community newspapers in Minnesota and South Dakota and news bureaus at four universities in Minnesota, South Dakota and Texas. He came to Sul Ross in 1998 and lives in Alpine with his wife, Clarissa Kaiser, four cats and two dogs.
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