Electrocution as the lesser evil

Kevin Cowherd

September 10, 1990|By Kevin Cowherd

EVER SINCE the early days of my youth, when a friend convinced me that it'd be a hoot to stick my finger in a light socket, I've had a morbid fear of being electrocuted.

Actually, it's not so much the dying that I'm afraid of. It's the burning, twitching and accompanying smell of charred flesh which bothers me more than anything.

Plus the singed hair and eyebrows and the smoke pouring out of your ears . . . who needs that?

It just seems to me that there are better ways to check out of this world than with 50,000 volts coursing through your body, although none of those ways springs immediately to mind.

So that explains why I became sort of upset the other day when the toaster started hissing and sparking and smoking.

As usual, though, I did a pretty good job of suppressing my anxiety and keeping the situation under control.


"Unplug the toaster!" she screamed.

"YOU unplug it!" I screamed back.

Maybe I shouldn't be complaining to you, but this woman is unbelievable.

Here we were, with a Death Toaster leaping and frothing on the kitchen counter, the house about to go up in flames, and this woman wouldn't reach over and unplug it. Talk about being a little baby.

Not that I was going anywhere near the thing myself. Are you kidding? She was lucky I was still in the same area code.

When I see an electrical appliance hissing and sparking and smoking, it's like someone tossed a hand grenade at my feet. I'm outta there in a hurry.

I'll put 400 miles of hard road between me and that appliance before sunset.

Understand, I'm all for chivalry and bravery and all that. But not if it's going to cost me my life. Or hurt in any way. (I'm not crazy about discomfort, either.)

So now the toaster is sitting there hissing and sparking and smoking and about to explode -- mushroom cloud and all, with my luck. And my wife and I are just sort of staring at it.

I'm waiting for her to unplug it.

She's waiting for me to unplug it.

Only if she's waiting for me, she'll be drawing Social Security before I touch that plug.

Which she apparently sensed, because suddenly she started to reach for the plug.

Then the thought occurred to me: If she goes up in a puff of smoke, who's going to watch the kids?

Who's going to do the cooking? (Lord knows I can't.) Who's going to figure out the checkbook? She's not sticking me with all that. No way, Jose.

Quickly I decided: If anybody gets fried by a toaster around here, it'll be me.

"I'll unplug it," I blurted out. "Time for a hero to step forward."

So now it was the moment of truth. As I have already explained, my policy in dealing with hissing, sparking and smoking electrical appliances is simple: Run away.

However, if running away is not an option because someone's wife (I'm not saying whose) is acting like a martyr, my policy with hissing, sparking, smoking electrical appliances is: Pull the plug out real quick.

Speed is of the essence in dealing with electricity. Electrical current, as we all know, travels very fast. Therefore -- not that I want to bog this down with a lot of technical lingo -- if you grab the cord and give it a quick yank, you might not get a shock.

Or you might light up like a Christmas tree. I make it 50-50 either way.

Which is why, in that instant, my course of action was clear.

"I changed my mind," I said to my wife. "YOU unplug it."

By now, though, she had dropped the Joan of Arc act and wanted no part of this toaster. It was every man for himself, so to speak. And with the toaster starting to glow now (the preliminary stages of a meltdown?) we didn't have much time to save our lives.

As happens so often in times of crisis, however, an eerie calm suddenly settled over me.

With no thought for my own safety, I pulled the plug out of the wall. The toaster stopped hissing and sparking and smoking.

Oh, sure, the toast inside looked like something left over from a five-alarm tenement blaze. But with my hands shaking and the butterflies doing strafing runs in my stomach, I was in no mood for food anyway.

Way I look at it, I'm lucky to be here.

No thanks to a certain someone, I might add.

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