Not exactly a barrel of fun

Video games have spoiled it for many of us. We have grown so inured to realistic things coming toward us that I fear too often we don’t know how to react when danger is imminent.

Let me explain: Many years ago, we brought some friends home from a dance at Immaculate Conception School. Because my dad was the first one on his block to own a genuine adjustable camera (an Argus C-3), he wanted to take a group photo of us.

In those days, the M-25 flashbulb was about the size and shape of the balloons we see at the Albuquerque Festival, and the heat they’d generate was comparable to the kettle that fires up those hot-air balloons.

Well, Lydia, my sort-of date, apparently had never been photographed at night, and when the bulb fired, she shrieked and must’ve imagined there had been an explosion. Those noisy, bulbs, which cost about a quarter apiece, in the days when 25 cents was close to one’s hourly wage, eventually went out of style and gave way to things like flash cubes and later, strobes.

But this isn’t to be a treatise on early photography, just about the way people react to things unexpected, like flashbulbs and video games. In my son’s house, replete with every shoot-em-up video game imaginable, I gawk at their life-like qualities. Every movement a soldier makes, for example, reminds me of our drills with the National Guard. The sound of a carbine firing at a target on the video screen is identical to what we used to experience when we had drills at Camp Luna. Of course, in those days, weapons we used were more like muskets and cross-bows.

And now that we’re all primed on the topic of being able to distinguish between what’s real and what’s illusion, let me explain my experience on the freeway.

A 55-gallon drum clobbered my car as I drove from Springer last week. Ahead, in the distance I could see a large pickup going my direction, hauling a flatbed trailer. As I got closer, I noticed a black circle pivoting back and forth on the flatbed, and upon further review, realized it was an empty barrel rolling from left to right and about to part company with the trailer.
One instinct was to catch up to the driver, alert him, and get him to secure the barrel. But something else took precedence: the barrel chose that moment to fall out, skitter across the inside lane of I-25, and roll toward me. And here’s where my over-jadedness wrought by video games comes in. For a second, the barrel barreling toward me seemed unreal. I imagined some video control would vaporize the barrel a nano-second before it got to me. Was it a plane? A bird?

Then (figuratively) it hit me: That’s a real object coming this way.

In the instant before the barrel reached me, I swerved to the left, but the barrel, aided by a strong west gust, followed me, making a horrendous clunk on my right rear door and continuing to roll toward the median. I was surprised at the size of the jolt, which pushed my car onto the warning strips.

I caught up with the driver, a Las Vegan, who hadn’t been aware of any of the action. I explained his cargo had nipped my car, and he assured me he had tied the barrel down. He showed me the rope. I showed him the damage.

All that time I was more hopeful that the barrel had remained on the median, unable to hit or get hit by other vehicles.

Well, the gentleman and I have the same insurance company, which simplified things, but I’m still puzzled over how easily I, the poor sap, can get stuck with a bill. The representative of the insurance company said I would need to show that the other driver was negligent (had he really tied down the barrel?). If it were simply an “act of God,” I might need to file a claim on my own policy and fork over the deductible amount, $500. All that by virtue of being the victim.

The next day, the rep phoned to say that the other driver was indeed responsible for the damage, and all is well. But she wanted to know how big a check GEICO would need to be writing to repair my car. “It was just a scratch,” I felt like saying, invoking what kids tell dad when there’s damage to the family car. Well, “just a scratch” it was not. I discovered the gouges are deep and not restricted to the door.

Let’s have a contest in which people (only non-auto-body types, please; we want to keep this an amateur event) guesstimate what the tab will be. Nowadays, when people get a ding on their car’s exterior, from a rock or a hailstone, they often slap a “Support Our Troops” sticker over it, nicely covering the blemish. Well, placing such a sticker on the damaged part of my car just wouldn’t work. People would need to be on their knees, or a mechanic’s creeper, to read it.

I feel good that the barrel owner was, in fact, insured, willing to cooperate, and that the errant barrel caused no more damage. The experience has taught me to view video games and real-life incidents in a different light.
Yes, I am barrely learning to differentiate illusion from reality.

• • •

Recent headline: “Qaddafi Forces Bear Down on Strategic Town as Rebels Flee.”
Rebel or not, wouldn’t you also flee at seeing a bear being subjected to such cruelty?

• • •

Following the slaying of Osama bin Laden, previous administration officials, including Dick Cheney, have appeared on TV, justifying the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture.
Torture, euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation,” calls to mind a line in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”: “I fear you speak upon the rack / Where men enforced do speak anything.”

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