A Valuable Life Lesson

​About Writing     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

Have you ever had a valuable life lesson fall into your lap for free? A piece of insight gained that can help you make better decisions or navigate challenging situations in the future. I’m not talking about observations like an older brother taking on the bull and figuring out that any similar action by you will shorten your life expectancy to a single digit. Trial and error, reflection, and a willingness to be open-minded are usual methods to cement life lessons. But sometimes, the lesson is just revealed to you by a stranger’s pointed finger.

I learned one such lesson from the most unexpected person. When presented with a problem that’s not immediately solvable, step back and analyze the situation from a larger or different perspective; think outside of the box, according to the modern vernacular. I prefer to think of this experience as the time I learned to think creatively.

Dunning is a mental health facility about 17 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. When it was first established in the 1850s, this distance seemed ideal for a facility, but in just over 100 years the city had grown up around it. The facility housed several school dormitory-type buildings at the back of quite a few acres of green space, and a chain-link fence surrounded the entire grounds.

Not being known for my ACD acumen of mechanical equipment, one of my bare tires gave up the ghost alongside Dunning’s fence. I stood silently cursing my tire for so quickly going from a buzz cut to bald rubber. As I turned to open the trunk, I noticed a man hoeing in a garden about 50 feet from the fence. I pulled out the spare, jack, and four-way tire iron.

By the time I dropped everything by the dead tire, the gardening man had laid his hoe down and was now watching me, standing with both hands clutching head-high on the fence. He wasn’t saying anything; he was just staring curiously. Great, now I have an audience.

I popped off the hubcap. After the jack lifted the car a bit, I loosened the lug nuts before raising the wheel fully off the pavement. I removed the lugs and placed each in the hubcap’s well to ensure I didn’t lose them. I wiggled the tire off the wheel and then took a step backward to set the tire out of the way. The heel of my shoe caught the edge of the rounded hubcap. It rolled up and the lug nuts rolled out. They kept rolling right down a sewer grate.

“What in the living hell am I going to do now?” I mumbled.

“Hey,” said the man behind the fence. He pointed at the car. “Why don’t you take one lug nut off each of the other three tires? Use those to secure your spare. That will be enough to get you home.”

“That’s genius,” I said without thinking. “How did you think of that?”

“I’m in here for being crazy, not stupid,” he answered.

The man turned to walk away, shaking his head. ​

Crossing the English Channel

​March 23, 2023     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

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