we like more explosions

In which mr. a-go-go lists more of the dangerous explosive things that could have killed him in his youth.

As promised in the last episode here are some of the really dangerous things that I took delight in witnessing close up when I should have run far far away. My dad did all sorts of dangerous things but he always took precautions in his antics and he did his best to encourage my healthy respect for volatile chemistry. Unfortunately there were lots of other folks in my sphere who did not have such a healthy respect for dangerous things and I generally couldn't help myself when I had the opportunity to watch others do the crazy things.

Lets start with the spray can flame thrower... but first, another public service announcement. I said it in the last episode and I'll say it again... don't do this stuff. If you chose to do any of the things I describe here you may loose your fingers, your eye sight, and your life. With the hindsight of adulthood I can't believe I'm still alive and have ten fingers. Just from having been in the neighborhood of some of these idiot tricks, by rights I should be missing a few important parts at the very least.

So, back to the flame thrower. You may already be aware that the jet from many sorts of aerosol spray cans can be ignited to make a spiffy little flame thrower. Hours of fun! When I was a kid I had two neighbor kids as "friends" that were both a year older than me... a sure recipe for bad stuff. The spray can flame thrower was a favorite of one of these trouble makers. The rippling blast from a can of Rustoleum scared the small black poo poo out of me and I knew instinctively of the possibility of the can exploding but I could not turn away and flee. The pretty flame was captivating, even as my "friend" used it to blast the pile of oily rags in the garage. Their house eventually burned to the ground years later. Stunningly, it was the result of a grease fire in the kitchen. In light of the ever present strong gasoline smell from the spilled fuel for my "friend's" minibike, how did the house survive so long? The mini bike, by the way, was a 3.5 horse power lawn mower engine sans muffler, bolted to a bike frame with an ergonomic seat sculpted from a scrap of two by six lumber. Get yer saddle sores here! All of these people are still alive and well. Miracle.

But wait there's more.... When the Fourth of July came 'round my "friends" would egg each other on and soon they would be lobing ground bloom flowers high into the air with a wrist rocket sling shot. One of them would hold the little orange/pink cylinder at the ready in the sling while the other did the honors with a cigarette lighter (undoubtedly swiped from a cigarette sucking parent). The one holding the big rubber bands taught would stand trembling under the tension while the fuse sputtered and the other chanted, "Wait for it, wait for it." It just wouldn't do to launch the spinning devil into the air too early and have it spin into its wild color show after landing in the yard next door. They would carry this idiot dance to the very edge and let the fuse burn down until it was about to vanish. Then, zing! The ground bloom flower would do about half of its show during its high arching flight. Who knows where it would come to a spent smoldering end. Fortunately, I was considered too small and therefor unworthy of stretching the slingshot. I never had to turn down that honor. Still, I had to stay and watch when I should have taken myself far away from the probable fire emergency itching to happen.

Piccolo petes, those screaming road flares that normally stand on a small round plastic base, become wildly unpredictable missiles in the hands of your friend's pyromaniac older brother. This trick I witnessed in San Diego, and the close proximity of the inflammable beach sand and the large body of water saved many people's homes from these incendiary devices. Relieved of its plastic base and laid on its side, a piccolo pete will dart uncontrollably in a wild zig-zag and occasionally leap into a high arc of twenty feet or so all the while blowing its angry whistle. The flight is longer than a bottle rocket on its side and the mayhem is just that much more exciting with all the screechy noise.

Remember the model rockets I brought up in the last episode? In the hands of the same pyromaniac older brother these became so much more than a fast ride into the sky and a graceful float earthward on a little plastic parachute. The solid fuel engines that fit into the tail of these models are designed to spit some hot gas out the top end when the engine is spent. The intention is to deploy the parachute, but the mischief began when that same older brother discovered that this hot gas would ignite gun powder quite well. This revelation gave birth to a very dangerous series of Kaos rockets (in honor of the Get Smart villains). One of the early Kaos rockets just wasn't well engineered. A fin was torn off by the stress of launch acceleration and too much explosive had been packed too high in the rocket. The top-heavy monster turned and made three flips on the beach while I stood and gawked. Again, I should have been far away, but the anticipation kept me glued to the terrifying scene. One unfortunate bystander approached the dying rocket once it was stuck nose down in the sand and those of us who knew what it had in store yelled maniacal warnings to stay back. The charge blew soon enough that the naive innocent was still a safe distance away. The sand flew and the notorious older brother fled the scene. There were other Kaos rockets, but most were spectacular successes compared to this dud. The charge would blow high over the bay, and a litter of model rocket smithereens would be fluttering in the air before the loud report of the payload reached our ears.

Pipe bombs... yes, I said pipe bombs. These were improvised from PVC fittings and filled with home brewed explosives. These bombs were created at a friend's house and this time it was a notorious younger brother doing the mischief. I witnessed a few of these under construction, but I wasn't there when they made their craters. I suppose I was old enough by then to walk away, having at last outgrown some of my fascination.

So many things could have killed or blinded me. Old black powder sure is troublesome to ignite. When you get it sparking don't lean in to blow on it. You'll be enveloped in a sudden suffocating cloud of smoke and when the blur clears from your eyes you will find that your friend has only little shriveled smelly black knots where his eyebrows used to be. Sure it's funny now, but in the moment you stumble and think, "Ah! I'm an idiot!" and then you go and do it all again. I still love big bangs but I'll remain a distant spectator, thank you very much.


zameander said...

I've been meaning to give you Michael Chabon's brilliant book of essays (mostly written for Esquire, i think?). I think you'd feel a real sense of kinship with him, as a smarty-pants American man of similar age.

I made the book last a year, so I could pretend he was my friend and these were just his over-coffee-at-my-table rants.

Anyway, there's an essay in the collection on this very same topic, that you MUST read. Library. Now. Go.

In the mean time, here's an interview he did with the L.A. Times regarding the evolution of lego:


Mr. a-go-go said...

Thanks for the link. I had not read Chabon's Lego comments but I have read Manhood for Amateurs. Note for anyone reading this: the above comment was intended for the Lego post above.