I have developed the annoying practice of speaking in adages. That shouldn’t surprise you, since you know that I tend to be a conformist. Opting for the course with the least amount of speed bumps, I often speak glibly and impulsively. These traits lead me to use common phrases and not give them a second thought. See there! I just did it. “…give them a second thought.” Why would I not say, “…think carefully before speaking”? I am actually having to be judicious in my words as I write this to avoid more banalities, which I tend to gravitate to in my writing style also.
I thought of this the other day, as I spoke with a customer. He was describing a problem with his guitar, a vibration in the neck, which seemed to be happening with more frequency as time passed. I talked about the serious issues which can be the cause of such a vibration, downplaying them a little as I spoke, but then reiterating the seriousness with these words, “…but, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” As the words left my lips, I wished I hadn’t spoken them. First, the problem was actually likely to be less drastic than the extreme case I had described, and second, it sounded really stupid! Where there’s smoke, there’s fire? What does that have to do with a guitar neck? And is it true, anyway?
I remember a time when I was happy that saying wasn’t factual. In our early years of owning the music store, we were renting a space in a shopping center which I’ve spoken of before. I told you of the progression of poorly vetted renters next to us, with a wall between that stopped short of the roof, allowing sounds and odors to travel freely between the spaces. I hadn’t remembered the short term renters who moved in one week, late in October one year. The trite saying falling from my lips the other day brought the memory back with a rush.
One of the junior civic clubs at the local high school decided that they would like to host a haunted house for Halloween that year. Someone in the club knew someone else, who knew someone else, who knew the owner of the building. I’m thinking he would have gladly rented to them without the elongated network of acquaintances, but it got them what they wanted, so they set to work. For days before the scary night, they pulled up after school each afternoon, with furniture and building materials in the back of SUVs and pickups. The noise and smells of construction continued on day after day, until the night of fright. We left about the same time the cars were arriving that night, wondering what we would find the next day when we returned. We didn’t expect to return as soon as we did.
About 11:00 that night, the phone rang at our house across town. The voice on the other end informed me impassively that there was an emergency at my store and I needed to get there as quickly as I could. I sped the mile from home, imagining every possible scenario, but was not quite ready for the vista that met my eyes. I think every fire truck in town was in the parking lot, as well as any number of cars and trucks from the volunteer firemen who were utilized in much larger numbers in those days (the town was much smaller then). As I ran past them to the front of the store, I realized that there were firemen on the roof, one of them standing near the front parapet holding a circular saw. The next thing I noticed was the burly fireman next to the front door holding a sledge hammer, looking as if he was disappointed to see me. As I unlocked the door and stepped back, several of them rushed in with respirators on their backs and masks covering their faces. The smoke billowed out in great clouds, as the men with hoses stood ready to direct the stream of high-pressure water into the building. Moments later, the men came out one by one, informing us that there was no fire to be found.
My relief was immense. As I approached the door again, I sniffed the air and realized that the pent-up smoke was made up of nothing more than exhaust fumes. I have smelled that odor many times when using a chain saw or power trimmer; the smell of burning oil from a two-cycle engine. It seems that the kids running the haunted house had the bright idea of running a chain saw inside the building to frighten the patrons who were foolish enough to pay good money to wander through their maze of horror. Too much oil mixed into the gasoline made for a very smokey mixture coming from the exhaust. They evidently thought nothing of it, closing the building and turning out their lights when they were finished. The problem is that the smoke-laden air forced its way into our space, which was lighted, making the black fumes visible from outside. Some good citizen, noticing the smoke, called in the alarm; prompting the routing from bed of all involved. I still think the fellow with the sledge hammer and the one on the roof with the saw were both extremely disappointed to see me arrive with my keys, since I nullified their chances to break down the door and cut a hole in the roof. They were so hoping for the practice, too.
I’m grateful that sometimes when there’s smoke, there’s just smoke. We look at situations where we believe an emergency exists, only to find that a high-velocity fan will fix the problem just fine, thank you. Frequently the fire-hose can be folded back up without the need to flood the scene. Would that we always had the wisdom to recognize those situations. I’m thinking that a moment or two to check the facts can often alleviate the damage done by over-reacting. I’m talking to myself as I write this, but you may listen in if you think it applies. You know, if the shoe fits…But, there I go again…
Oh, the guitar? Yep, nothing but smoke, either. The fellow brought it to me; I fitted a wrench to the truss rod on the neck and gave it a turn or two. The rattle disappeared instantly. And I had the sledge hammer all ready, too. Oh well, maybe next time…
“Man’s mind clumsily, and tediously, and laboriously patches little trivialities together and gets a result…such as it is.”
(Mark Twain~American humorist and writer~1835-1910)
“He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of emperors.”
(Rudyard Kipling~English poet and author~1865-1936)