Commentary: Avoiding Danger

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Rodney Dangerfield used to describe an attack by a fellow wielding a knife. He realized the attacker was an amateur when he saw that the knife had butter on it.

If only the threats that we experience every day – from dangerous individuals who attack us to try to take our wallets to drunk drivers to natural disasters, from tornados to killer viruses – all had funny endings like Rodney’s experience with the amateur wielding a butter knife.

Sadly, these threats, both manmade and natural, are real and can be quite serious.

I once relayed to you in a column that the first time that my parents permitted me to go to the movies without them accompanying me was when I was perhaps 12 years old.

My neighbor and good friend Rickey and I walked to the Vogue Theater to see “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”

All went well with my first venture out of my yard until two big kids walked toward Rickey and me and pushed us off the sidewalk after delivering a punch or two to both of us. As we walked away from these two hooligans, Rickey turned to them and shouted “Hitler!”

I could not believe that Rickey could poke the bear or call them one of the worst names in history. They came back at us in a fury and pounded both of us.

We quietly walked home with sore heads, arms and chests where the bulk of their punches landed.

Neither of us said a word as we held back the tears. All I wanted was my mother.

Mother Nature has taken a shot or two at me as well. One of the scariest moments happened on a fishing trip with my dad and brothers-in-law.

We were at Pymatuning Lake trying to outrun an impending storm. We stupidly were running on railroad tracks when a lightning bolt struck my metal (yes – metal) fishing pole, knocking it cleanly out of my hand.

It is a good thing that my pole had a cork handle. It probably saved my life.

Another fishing trip had a difficult moment but in retrospect was quite funny. We were fishing for trout in the Little Neshannock Creek in New Wilmington, Pa., back when that creek was annually stocked with trout. We foolishly decided to fish the stream on farmland owned by a friendly Amish man.

What the man neglected to tell us was that he owned a small herd of bulls that came at us like gangbusters. We eventually ran to a part of the fence that we could scale and jumped into the freezing cold water of the creek, narrowly missing being gored by some very irritated bulls that would have none of it!

We lived on a street in downtown New Castle that ran parallel to a large creek that was a great source of entertainment growing up. We fished, swam, caught softshell crabs, floated in inner tubes and skipped stones across the water. That creek was our playground when I was a small kid.

However, there were instances when that friendly creek became a gigantic, swiftly moving monster. Rainy season was particularly scary when the creek rose dramatically, forcing all the families on the street to leave their homes until the water level went down.

Everyone tuned to radio station WKST that kept us abreast of water levels and otherwise guided us through the flooded areas along the creek.

It was during these floods that we would stay at my sister and brother-in-law’s home that was at one of the highest points in the county.

When we returned to our home on Center Street, we would spend the next several weeks cleaning up the mess the high waters left.

We made it through a small number of floods although my father was disgusted by the ongoing threat of high water. He vowed to build a house near my sister, which we did.

There would be no floodwaters in our new house. When people asked why my father would build a new house in his old age, his comeback was, “If I live in it for just one day, I will be very happy.”

Dad lived in the flood proof house for 12 years and was the happiest guy in town.

My mother never wanted me to play football because her closest friend, Mary, lost a teenage son who died when a big linebacker stepped on his chest. The horrors of that experience stayed with my mom for a lifetime.

Therefore, it was on those occasions when I played football that I did so out of Mother’s view. However, baseball to my mom was a safe sport where nothing bad could happen.

So when I was rounding second base after I got a base hit, I stepped awkwardly on that bag and twisted my ankle. The pain was so bad that I fainted and woke up in the dugout with our manager trying to wake me.

I hobbled all the way home with a bat serving as my cane. I kept the news of my ankle from my mother until she finally caught on that I might have broken it.

Fortunately, it wasn’t broken.

Many years later while attending a baseball fantasy camp that was a wonderful gift from The Butler trustees, the unthinkable happened. A fastball thrown by a not so talented pitcher hit me squarely on the back of my left hand and fractured it.

Had my mother been alive to see the cast on my hand, she would have halted my enjoyment of baseball immediately!

Maybe Mom would have approved of shuffleboard. But I’m not sure.

Rodney’s assessment of his butter knife threat aside, I’ve come to realize that every threat, be it a lightning strike, a bear attack or a wild pitch to the back of your hand can do real damage to us delicate human creatures.

And did I tell you about Billy throwing a bat after he hit a home run and that bat knocking me senseless? As an old vaudevillian used to say, “I got a million of ’em!”