Today is Smokey the Bear's 65th birthday. Well, maybe not TODAY, but around this time 65 years ago he was created to help kids prevent forest fires. He's the longest-running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history.
Even though he is steeped into the psyche of every American boy and girl encouraging us that "only YOU can prevent wildfires," I didn't help prevent an almost-wildfire. But in my defense, it wasn't really me: it was my cousin who begged me to go on a double-date with two bozos.
My cousin Monica grew up a couple miles from me. She's the same age as me, and we attended the same schools. For about four years, her family moved to Illinois, only to return when we hit junior high.
About our junior or senior year in high school, Monica fell head-over-heels in love with this attractive, older guy from Burley, our cross-town rival school. I think he was graduated and waiting for his mission call. Monica was gaga for him. Complete nutso over him. I didn't get the appeal, but when do friends ever understand the beatings of another friend's heart? He was attractive, I'll give him that, but I got the sense that he KNEW he was attractive. I can never trust people who KNOW they're attractive.
Monica wanted me to tag along on date with her and this dreamboat guy. The dreamboat guy even invited his best friend to obligingly go on a date with me. A double date, as they call it. Only my date was much more interested in Monica's date, if you get my meaning. He didn't seem so much as a best friend as much as he did as a closeted admirer of Mr. I-Know-I'm-Good-Looking-Cousin-Monica's-Dreamboat Guy.
We need to assign names. This is getting too complicated if I keep referring to these people with these long names. Let's say Monica's man's name was Jason, and his friend was Freddy. We need good horror sounding named for this story.
Jason and Freddy owned a Jeep and loved to take the Jeep offroading. If you didn't know, Jeeping is a whole, blood-pumping sport adored by pockets of people all over the United States. They take it seriously, and they like challenging their Jeeps to go up and down mountains and hills, willing their Jeeps to beat common sense and scientifically based "theories" such as "gravity."
Since it was Freddy's Jeep, I got a front, right-side view of all the Jeeping activity. Freddy drove the Jeep up a steep mountain to a little place in the mountains where we were going to have dinner. There were moments that I was sure the front wheels would lose the grip of the mountains, and we'd tumble backwards, end over end. Monica seemed oblivious to our impending doom, as I think she was playing grab and giggle in the back with Jason.
We miraculously made it to our dinner destination in the mountains. It looked like an old homestead home. I think the plan was to roast hot dogs and marshmallows over a fire. It had been a rainy summer, and I didn't see any firewood in the back of Freddy's Jeep.
On the drive up the mountain of death, Freddy was bragging about his exploits as a summer intern with the Forest Service. I wouldn't repeat it in a court if pressed, because my memory is getting fuzzy, but I think he told us of guys in the Forest Service who would start small, manageable fires, so they could get overttime pay. The problem, however, is when the small, manageable fires get out of hand and become huge, sweeping wildfires. He said that happens from time to time, but not that summer. Too wet, he said.
Let me pause here a second and evaluate my conscience. I'm not sure the statute of limitations has passed. I'm 33 and this happened when I was about 17. Yeah, I think it will be okay to continue. (Maybe I should consult Kulani. What about civil repercussions? Ah heck. Caution into the wind and all that.)
Freddy brought out a gas container and started pouring gasoline all over this old homestead house. Then he brought out a match. The boys encouraged us to stand back. Then Freddy lit the house on fire!
I asked, "Isn't this someone's home?"
There answer seemed true enough, "Nah. It's been abandoned for over 50 years."
We watched it burn for a while. I don't remember roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. I wanted to get the heck out of there, even if it was in that blasted deathtrap Jeep. We left while the fire was still burning, but it started to rain very soon afterwards. I'm pretty sure the fire didn't spread, or it would have made the papers.
We made it back to Jason's house, where they showed us home-video footage of them making homemade bombs.
The worst part about this whole story: I actually went on a second double-date with these yahoos. We went spelunking where I rammed my nose against a rock because the guys wondered what crawling around in a completely pitch-dark cave would be like. I still have the scar. That scar is like Karma's way of getting after me for not trying to stop those guys from burning down the house. Sorry, Smokey.