Root cause analysis is important.

Years ago, I owned a Chevy S-10 pickup truck. It had a rotted tailgate; it shifted like I was trying to push a toothpick through modeling clay; and it would occasionally send perfume bursts of gasoline fumes into the cab when the fuel injectors malfunctioned. But I thought it was great.

I was a truck-owner, a real American—and not just an American, an American man. People thought of me when they needed to move something. I thought of myself when I needed to move something, so I ignored some of the more concerning symptoms my S-10 was displaying (yes, more concerning than edge fear of immolation).

At the time, I was living in the Quad Cities but working in Muscatine, IA, so I drove 45 minutes each day on Highway 61. Previously, I had either commuted 10 minutes or worked from home, so my planning ahead skills re: fuel levels were lax, and I found myself whispering sweet nothings to my S-10, praying it would coast long enough down the hill to reach the Casey’s General Store just outside the Muscatine city limits. I never ran out of gas, but I also learned that my idea of root cause analysis was misinformed.

I thought my S-10, despite the admirable quality of, on a semi-regular basis, starting and rolling from point A to point B, was just a gas guzzler. Turns out, it had the automobile equivalent of Crohn’s disease. Once, while pumping gas at Casey’s, my heart rate on the decline after the latest bout of anxiety over whether this was the day I would finally stick my thumb out on the side of the road, I heard rain.

Problem: it was a sunny day. Yet, the rain continued, seeming only to be occurring in and around truck. My observation was in the right region, but I had chosen the wrong preposition. “Got some gas leaking out under your truck there,” the motorist at the pump opposite said to me, nonchalantly, as if he saw this every day. This year’s crop of leaking gas tanks is acutely concentrated around youths at Casey’s, I imagined him writing in his journal that night.

His tone seemed unconcerned, but I was freaking out. It’s not every day one finds oneself surrounded by a pool of gas. I’ve heard the vapor concentration has to be just right for gas to ignite, but that’s like saying if you find yourself surrounded by a pack of ravenous wolves, their aggression quotient has to be just right for them to attack. Maybe so, but the situation is still Shitsville, most roads leading to Deadwood and the Pinewood Box Factory.

What did I do? I got in my truck and drove to work.

After work, I drove my truck, my tinder box on wheels, to a mechanic, who informed me my gas tank had rotted out and would need to be replaced. Each time I started it up in its current condition, I learned, it was like igniting a kerosene-soaked rope wrapped around a crate filled with dynamite, hoping that when the rope failed, the shock from the impact of the dynamite on the floor wouldn’t cause an explosion. Nothing in this life is guaranteed, but come on, man.

I admit I wasn’t thinking clearly. Probably I should have called the fire department. Probably I should have junked my S-10 then and there, but I was late in learning the root cause analysis of my fast-disappearing gas levels. This lateness allowed unearned confidence to seep in and denial to grow.

At TFF, we care about any tendency you might have to believe it’s acceptable to replace a section of the Hoover Dam with a tarp, so long as you pull the edges good and tight. We want you to get to that root cause analysis before you become a rolling lantern. We think the pieces from this edition will help you in that regard (and by you, I, of course, mean me, too).

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Punch Club

Root cause of not seeking dental work: no money. There are alternatives.

The Etymology of Suck

Root cause of things sucking: parts of speech are nasty little magic spells.

The Soothing Sounds of My 38-Inch Cutting Deck

Root cause of miscategorizing items for sale: musical dreams don’t follow business strategy.

Dr. Rocks Off

Root cause of elective sterilization: corporate greed.

Cut the Fruit and Pack All the Knives

Root cause of contract killing business failure: vitamin deficiency.

The Great Banana Sacrifice

Root cause of terrorists running amok: unbalanced reincarnation preferences.

Jeezuz

Root cause of political/religious disagreements: lack of funky chill.

Dufus Guru

Root cause of feigned expertise: an optimistic view of one’s potential.

Don’t Pick Up Abandoned Pancakes at the Park

Root cause of a superhero’s identity leaking: litter cleanup hypervigilance.

We’re Starting to Paint Tomorrow and Moving Our Stiff in on Saturday

Root cause of bountiful blessings in one’s life: carting around a dead body.

Approaching Asylum

Root cause of happiness during the holidays: misunderstanding Christmas songs.

Apples Around the Dollar Tree

Root cause of retail offense: failure to realize the gulf between the value of a dollar and the value of life.

Weather News Happens or Not

Root cause of an escaping, super intelligent shitstorm: typos.

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As we close out 2020, may you conduct your actions with clear sight into what was and what will be. Should you choose to add becoming a lantern to your 2021 goals list.

Get yourself a flame-retardant suit.