The UFO by John L. Neel

I only remember Dad dealing with me a few times when I messed up.  Most discipline in the Neel home came from Mom's world-class ass chewing.  Mom would explain how we went wrong, how disappointed she was, and how we might have done things differently, leaving us feeling good and bad about ourselves and determined to do better the next time.  Then there were the times when the egregious activity was so bad that she made us wait in our room for the Old Man.  Nothing was worse than "Wait Until Your Dad Gets Home" time.

There was the time my friends and I made the lasso out of fishing line, strung it between two poles across our road, and attached to a large number of tin cans...my idea and my design.  Hiding in the bushes close by, we waited for the first car to come down the road.  Moments later, the first car hit the fishing line, the lasso tightening around the car, the cans causing a loud cacophony of metal on metal sound as they were drug down the road.  The first car was, of course, my Dad's.

Another time, Bubby Lewis and I found a concrete planter out by the road not far from our house.  It was trash pickup day, so we thought it was being thrown away.  We rolled it around the corner and down the street to his house.  I have no clue what we planned to do with it.  The next thing I knew, there was a policeman at the door asking to talk to me.  "Yes officer, Bubby and I have it; it was being thrown away."  My earnest in admitting to the crime did not convince Dad.

The third time, and perhaps the worse, happened on a day while I was shooting my bow in the back yard.  I was getting pretty good.  Just as I nocked an arrow, my next-door neighbor's dog came around the corner of the house chasing one of our cats.  I yelled at the dog; he spun around and sped away.  Unhappily, as it turned out, he ran directly away from me.  I let loose an arrow, with, as I remember it, the intention of scaring him.  My aim was not off enough or a little too good.  Dad didn't have to punish me for that one, I was devastated enough, but, he did.

My favorite story is about the time my smarts got the better of me.

Dad had subscriptions to a lot of fun magazines...Mechanics Illustrated and the like.  One was Fate Magazine which showcased stories of science fiction and odd stories about all manner of scientific anomalies.  It was my favorite of his magazines.

One small story contained instructions for a way to "Fool Your Friends" by building an Unidentified Flying Object.

Using a large plastic laundry bag, the kind that covers shirts from the cleaners, and building a strut of straws to hold open the bottom, the goal was to fill and maintain hot air inside the bag, creating a hot air balloon.  The hot air came from a rolled newspaper, set on fire, and held under the bag until the bag had enough hot air to fly.  Lift was maintained by candles positioned in slits in the straws that kept the air in your UFO hot.  The instructions said to use big candles and paper straws but didn't say why, so, since I had neither, I improvised.

Using plastic straws and birthday candles, I made my superstructure and secured it to the bottom of the bag.  I lightly taped up the hanger hole in the top, rolled up some newspaper, grabbed some matches, and headed outside at dusk.

It worked perfectly.  After lighting the candles, I lit the paper and filled my science experiment with hot air.  It took off into the darkening sky, slowly rising almost straight up, but drifting slightly over my next-door neighbor's house toward the wooded area behind our houses.

It was beautiful.  The candles gave the plastic an eerie glow and flickered in the night breeze, looking like blinking lights.

Then things began to go wrong.

The birthday candles burned down, one after the other, setting the plastic straws on fire.  As the straws burned through, they fell, still attached to the bag, and began to drip burning molten plastic, which made a zipping noise as they fell below the balloon.

In no time, the roof of my neighbor's house, his back yard, and the woods were all on fire.

My dad got home about the same time as the Fire Department had it all under control.  Amazingly, he was more interested in how I came up with the idea, how it worked, and what I thought went wrong.  Then we talked about what I would do differently, if I did it again, emphasizing that I would NOT even think about it.

Then, he grounded me for what seemed like forever to a kid in the middle of his summer.