Al Batt Mug

He hadn’t run amok. He’d bungeed amok.

The historical society hosted a program on ghost towns. Most of the settlements had been tiny and failed because the railroad didn’t come their way, the people didn’t arrive as expected or the residents forgot where they’d put the village.

Some of the names were Bancroft, Bath, Buckeye, Crayon Park, Dorwart, Knatvold, Lerdal and Sigsbee. Oh, and St. Nicholas, the home of guess who? That’s not true. The legendary rock band The Guess Who is from Canada. All those town names meant something to someone.

Now, they don’t mean much. Many of the towns became fields, the equivalent of nothing to the drivers of the cars flying by.

Chicken, Alaska, was founded in the 1890s by gold prospectors on the Fortymile River. The miners survived their harsh first winter by feeding on ptarmigan, a grouse that’s the Alaska state bird.

The townsfolk decided to call their new home Ptarmigan, but residents weren’t sure of the spelling. It’s difficult to blame them. Ptarmigan can be a ptricky word to spell. Not wanting their fair city to become the joke of the territory because of a misspelling, they named the town “Chicken” instead.

None of the ghost towns discussed in the excellent presentation at the historical society were named Chicken or Bungee. That wasn’t a big surprise and was probably a good thing.

I know what you’re thinking. If none of the ghost towns were named Bungee, what does it have to do with ghost towns? Very little. Nothing. Maybe even less than nothing, but as long as you brought up bungee, it reminds me of a fair story.

I’d told stories at a fair. The fair had everything — cows, carnival, crops, comestibles and crowds.

And this one had a crane.

It was a mobile bungee on a towering crane. Bungee jumping is when someone, suffering from a bad decision, dives headfirst from a crane tower with an elastic cord attached to his ankles. The stretch of the cord breaks the participant’s (victim’s) fall, leaving him hanging suspended by his ankles before being lowered to the ground.

I didn’t want to be judgmental (not my job), but it looked dangerous. I told myself it may be an Olympic event, might be nothing more than a rambunctious chiropractor appointment, the cords are replaced with new ones every 15 minutes and it was probably built by a team of structural engineers.

Still, it looked like an accident waiting to happen.

There is something about accidents, isn’t there? They make us look. I sat down on a hard bench to watch. I was a gawker and I didn’t want to be one.

A man shuffled over to me. He smelled of liquor. I didn’t know the fellow, but he handed me his cellphone. He asked me to hold it for him as he didn’t trust the people running the bungee jump. That’s a red flag, right there.

He wanted to bungee jump without a cellphone so he wouldn’t be tempted to text while bungee jumping. He acted cocky, but I figured he’d consumed enough alcohol to give him courage.

I watched as he tilted his way toward the tower where a financial transaction was completed and he was hooked up to the apparatus. The attendant looked serious and thorough.

There wasn’t a huge crowd watching as there had been many jumps throughout the week. As I clutched his cellphone, the man jumped. Down he went.

Just when it looked as if he’d hit the ground, he didn’t. There was some bouncing, but no loose change fell from his pockets. I learned it’s impossible to suck in your stomach while bungee jumping.

We do some things and plan on doing them again because we might get better at them. This wasn’t the case here.

His confidence had been unwarranted. It was an awkward moment. We’ve all done things we’re not proud of. He’d had an unfortunate accident — no physical injury, but he’d wet his pants.

He’d gone off on one foot and with dry pants, and came back on the other foot and with wet trousers to retrieve his cellphone. I thought I should say something.

I said, “Good hustle.”

I hope that helped.

Al Batt is a writer, speaker, storyteller and humorist from rural Hartland, Minnesota. He can be reached at snoeowl@aol.com.

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