For tens of years, people have used wood to build all sorts of wooden things, including houses, foot bridges, International Space Stations, bird houses, Charlie Sheen's acting technique, and dog houses.
But despite wood's usefulness, it also has a dark side. I'm speaking, of course, of slivers: splinters of wood that embed themselves in the flesh, fester, and result in grotesque deformities that ruin their victims' chances of striking it big in the catalogue-modeling industry. Unfortunately, most slivers prove so small that the people they embed themselves in fail to notice the little buggers until said people are so grotesquely deformed that their catalogue-modeling careers are finished.
Every so often, though, a new kind of sliver comes along. A game-changing sliver. I'm speaking, of course, of giant slivers - slivers so large that they aren't so much "slivers" as they are "stakes." While such chunks of lumber might come in handy if, say, you want to kill a grating, cereal-hawking vampire like Count Chocula, they prove useless in most other circumstances. To illustrate, I'll share an unsettling yet amusing anecdote.
It was fall of my sophomore year of high school, and my friends and I were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Yes, sir, we thought we were regular "cool cats." We considered ourselves so hip, in fact, that we viewed eating lunch in the cafeteria as beneath us. Why eat in the cafeteria, with its "walls" and "adult supervision," when we could enjoy our chicken nuggets, soggy PB-and-J sandwiches, and tapioca pudding in the freedom of the outdoors? There were plenty of picnic tables and benches in front of the school, after all.
And so, weather permitting, we ate outside. It all went well until the day I sat on a bench I'd never sat on before. Indeed, based on its decrepit appearance, I doubt anyone had sat on this bench in a decade or two. It leaned dramatically to one side, its backrest was shy a couple of slats, and - worst of all - its seat bristled with shards of wood.
So why did I sit on it? Because I was incredibly cool and, as I saw it, incredibly cool people were invincible. Had I been in my right mind, I would have realized that the bench seemed almost designed (perhaps by a diabolical cafeteria enthusiast who resented my disdain for cafeterias) to drive a massive splinter through my jeans and deep into the meat of my thigh.
And that's exactly it did. At first, I didn't realize the grievous nature of my injury. Because I only felt a slight pinch when I sat down, I continued to talk and laugh with my pals. Even after I figured out that I'd fallen victim to a game-changing sliver, I refused to acknowledge the situation's severity. I hoped that, given time, my body would absorb the splinter and I'd gain such superpowers as the ability to sense the presence of lumberjacks from several miles away and use two-by-fours to swing between skyscrapers.
Unfortunately, I had gym right after lunch, which meant I'd have to exert at least a token amount of physical effort if I wanted to avoid a stern talking-to - and while my leg might not have hurt much when I was sitting on a bench, I feared all that might change when I was doing jumping jacks and squat thrusts. The last thing I wanted was to collapse in front of my peers - a merciless and petty lot - clutching my leg and mewling about how I had a "real bad" sliver.
So I bit the bullet and limped to the nurse's office, where I clutched my leg and mewled about how I had a "real bad" sliver until the nurse, Mrs. Hogan, agreed to look at it. After a quick glance, she called my mom to come get me.
"He has a sliver," Mrs. Hogan said into the phone. "A real bad sliver." She paused, frowning. "Yes," she said, "I'm serious. It's real bad."
When my mom stopped laughing - I was sitting across the room from Mrs. Hogan, but I could clearly hear my mom's laughter rolling out of the phone in great crashing waves - she agreed to pick me up and bring me to the emergency room.
Long story short, the amused ER doctor shot my leg full of Novocain, dug the wooden shard out of me with a scalpel and a pair of tweezers, and sent me on my way. After a few weeks, the physical wound had healed entirely. The psychological wound, however - the certainty that I was as far from being a "cool cat" as a splinter was from being a legitimate injury - remains open to this day.
Dan Leonidas makes shallow observations. He can be reached at email@example.com or myspace.com/lastminuteconcerns.