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Monday, September 22, 2014

Fire Privilidge

When I was in college I had two particular friends, Adam and Robin.
Adam was from New Hampshire and Robin had spent the first decade of her life there before her family moved away. Robin has a younger brother and the catalyst for this story was his visit to our college to see if it might be a fit for him when he finished high school.

That, of course, is not where this story begins.
The reality of this story is that it begins before I met Adam. It begins before Adam even finished high school.
This story begins in the basement of Adam's home in New Hampshire when he was in high school.

Adam, like many of my friends, was involved in theatre. He did less (none) acting and more (all) technical aspects of theatrical production. He did lights and sound, he occasionally did set work; but, most importantly, he was fascinated by pyrotechnics. Adam liked fire and the process of things burning whether it was a slow burn or a fast burn.

This story begins with Adam in his basement with a very specific set of supplies. Among that particular inventory were a 9 volt battery, some steel wool, and some flash powder.
The experiment that Adam was conducting for amusement was, and remains, dangerous.
It's a simple experiment and can be conducted, to an extent, with only two of the ingredients: steel wool and the battery.
Steel wool is a conductor but it is a jumbled mess of a conductor and it has individual threats that are so incredibly small that they will ignite and burn under a very light electrical current load. This, in itself, is interesting to witness. It also creates a volatile situation as the metal rapidly oxidized under the current load induced by rubbing both terminals of the battery with the mass of steel wool. The steel heats to orange and evaporates into the air in a small trail of sparks. In essence, the steel wool portion of the experiment is a perfect ignition source for anything that is flammable. This include flash powder.

A tiny sprinkle of flash powder on the steel wool before introducing the battery forces the wool to burn and the powder to *POOF* in a sudden little flash. The key words being "a tiny sprinkle."

As Adam relates the tale he sprinkle some powder on and rubbed the battery: nothing happened.
So he did it again and nothing happened.
He repeated this a few times until something happened.
A large something.
Something that sounded like a shotgun blast and nearly burnt the house down.
A something that cost him the use of his arm for a few months.

Fast forward to Robin's younger brother visiting.

Robin's brother, in addition to wanting to see the college, also wanted to go see the town that haunted his memories. He wanted to see the house who had a shadow on his earliest childhood. He wanted to reclaim those shadows in his mind before they went extinct.

So the four of us headed to the town, which neighbored the one that Adam had grown up in, to visit.
The drive there, and the visit through the town, were uneventful. It was a pleasant drive and it satisfied the needs of Robin, her brother and Adam. I was just along for the ride.

As people do, we approached a time in the day when we were hungry. Adam suggested a place to eat and we went there to fend off the mortal needs for raw caloric intake. We forced the menu to testify to the specialties of the kitchen and cross-examined it for what we might like for food that evening and we placed our orders.

While we waited for the meals to be conjured from the elemental particles of food that they were constructed from we discussed a myriad of topics.

We chatted and joked and discussed when, suddenly and without any warning, there was a stifled cry from the younger companion that accompanied a frantic waving of hands; one of which was suddenly holding a fireball.
The brother, it appears, had been slowly shredding corners from his paper napkin and exposing them to the flame of the table's center candle but the flame got a bit more hungry than he expected and began to devour the entirety of the bountiful harvest that resided in his had.

The flame was quickly extinguished, leaving a small puff of smoke to explore the restaurant followed by the bold proclamation from Adam: "I'm revoking your fire privileges."

That's right, the man who had blown up his basement had to revoke the fire privileges of the visiting younger sibling.

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