Years of far-too-personal research have taught me that the best way to learn something is to screw it up.

This is not true in all cases. Folding fitted sheets serves as the prime example. Experience makes a lousy teacher when it comes to sheets that frustrate me into fits. I end up wadding the crazy things into balls and cramming them onto the closet shelf.

Most everything else in life, though, I learned the old-fashioned way — by royally messing it up the first time. I believe educators refer to this tried-and-true method as “Mastering by Disastering.”

I have disastered with the best of them. I’d never have to paint the living room again if I could wallpaper the place with Master of Disastering diplomas.

As a kid, I knew I’d probably attend the same college that my dad, aunts and uncles did — The School of Hard Knocks. I didn’t know in which state it was located, but they all talked about going there.

This was back in the Dark Ages — the time before Google — so I rifled through the road maps in Dad’s glove compartment and tore my way through all 21 volumes of “The New Book of Knowledge” kids’ encyclopedia on our bookshelves. I ended up slamming my hand in the car door and dropping volumes 10 (J-K) and 12 (M) on my toes.

I hobbled out to the kitchen. “Mom, where’s The School of Hard Knocks?” It came out, “Mawm, wherth Th’ Thool of Hart Knokth?” because I was still sucking my fingers. Car doors hurt.

She wrapped a bag of frozen peas from the freezer around my hand, and said, “Looks like you just came from there.”

Just my luck. I was so busy staring at pages I completely missed seeing the school whizzing past.

I never located my family’s alma mater, but I did pick up some well-earned wisdom over the years.

For example, I learned why you don’t touch a screwdriver to an outlet unless the power’s off.

Did you know that when lighting a gas burner, it’s best to strike the match first before turning on the gas? I know that now. I also studied how long arm hair takes to regrow.

I’ve figured out that you never lean over the engine compartment of a car while wiping your hands on a towel. I also discovered how fast an engine seizes with a grease rag wrapped around the fan and belt.

I never knew why Dad told us kids not to walk on top of the trap door in the hayloft of the barn. Lying on the barn floor looking up a gaping hole, I finally understood.

Before stepping in front of a classroom, check your zipper — especially if the topic of your talk is “My Most Embarrassing Moment.” I learned that one in fourth grade. I earned an “A” without having to give the speech.

When something’s bothering me, I don’t want to be pestered with questions. Say you love me by leaving me alone. When I extended the same courtesy to my wife, I discerned — painfully — that those actions didn’t work out to the words, “I love you” in her language.

Someday, I’ll find that School of Hard Knocks. Until then, my education continues disaster by disaster.

Except for fitted sheets. That lesson’s impossible.


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