Who Put the Skunk in the Trunk?

Life's surprises rarely give ample warning. Just ask Patricia and Christopher Smith. When the couple and their two sons checked into a Maryland Comfort Inn recently, they were hoping for a warm bed, a hot bath, and maybe a few extra shampoo bottles to sneak home.

What they got was a whole lot more than they paid for.

At 1:30 A.M., Christopher awoke and got up to turn off the television. That's when he noticed that the carpet was moving. Now, if you spend any time at all in hotels, you know that this is rarely a good sign. The carpet, as it turned out, was a live ten-foot boa constrictor, which to the best of Christopher's knowledge had not been featured in the hotel's promotional literature.

At this point, he had three options:

1. Wake his wife and ask, "Honey, do you mind getting my slippers? They're in the bathroom."

2. Try to go back to sleep.

3. Check out early.

The Smiths went with option number three without bothering to check beneath the bed for forgotten items. Then they called the police. The snake was later cornered and forced into a large trash can, but not before the Smiths were cornered and forced to spend the night at a nearby 7-Eleven. Describing it as "a terrible ordeal" (they'll get no argument from me), the couple sought therapy, then filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the motel's parent corporation, charging "negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress."

I have to admit that, like the Smiths, I'm not real fond of reptiles. In third grade, I watched a friend put a salamander down Mrs. Hill's blouse (if you're reading this, Mrs. Hill, I trust you will remember my finer points and not seek legal counsel), but I didn't want to touch that salamander. I merely supplied the idea. But the best impractical joke I ever had the joy of participating in was launched when my friend Bobby and I managed to get a skunk into our neighbor's trunk.

If you are hoping to perform this feat at some point in your career, three ingredients are essential:

1. One skunk (preferably deceased).

2. One set of car keys hanging from your neighbor's ignition.

3. Complete and utter darkness. Now Mr. Finney was our third-grade Sunday school teacher at the time and he was just about the most nervous person I ever had the pleasure of sneezing behind. He was also a fine accordian player, and he carried a beeper-something I thought was optimistic for an accordian player.

On Saturdays, Mr. Finney polished his late model Ford Fairlane until he could hardly see the initials the neighbor kids had etched into the hood. Mr. Finney was a particular man. He shined just about everything to which he was attached, and you rarely saw him with so much as a cuff link out of place. Though we didn't know it, this was the eve of the Finney family vacation. Mr. and Mrs. Finney and their children, Joshua and Josiah, had carefully organized and packed everything they would need to have a peaceful holiday, free from the worries and cares of our small town.

As they slept, Bobby and I lay the skunk in its final resting place, cautiously shut the lid, replaced the car keys, and tiptoed to our homes to answer questions about the smell. Morning arrives early when you are small, so we were wide awake in time to creep back to the Finney house and wait behind a blue spruce tree. Before long, an unsuspecting Finney family filed down their front walk and climbed aboard the Fairlane, anticipation etched on their eager faces.

What happened next I will carry with me into old age.

Mr. Finney started the car and revved the engine. Then he slipped her into gear. After a tight U-turn and about thirty feet of gravel, the car screeched to a halt, spewing stones in all directions. Inside, Mr. Finney glared at his wife with a wrinkled expression. Then he turned to the children with an accusing glance. Finally he thrust open the shiny door and sniffed the air. By the time the key was in the trunk, he had his suspicions. By the time he opened it, they were confirmed. Whatever glue had held the man together until this point in his life seemed to lose its grip then. Slamming the lid down, he stood with clenched fists, kicking the bumper, his language matching the color of his car-a deep blue. We watched from behind the spruce tree, Bobby and I, wondering if we should laugh. Or cry. Or go tell our mothers.

Later that summer I was informed that the Finneys were relocating. No one quite knew why.

No one but Bobby and I.

What Mr. Finney, Mrs. Hill, and the Smiths discovered during those unforgettable moments is something that all of us humans learn as we walk through this life: Sometimes the room service is suspect. Sometimes life slithers. And sometimes it stinks. What I have realized in the ensuing years is that there is a time for every single one of us when a skunk gets into our trunk. When something comes along that we definitely would not have chosen. But what is it that separates those who slam the lid, kick the bumper, and curse from those who are somehow able to find some humor in that situation? Perhaps many years later?

Certainly the first step involves a conscious decision to choose the right attitude. And choosing the right attitude always involves making the right moral choices.

Callaway, Phil. Laughing Matters. Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, 2005, p. 19 - 22.

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