Boys tend to go through a phase during which they are fascinated by fire. This phase begins around the age of two, and ends with cremation, whether that cremation was intentional or not. When boys are young, we mainly keep them flame-proof with constant supervision and the kind of over-melodramatic warning parents can get away with when their kids are (let’s be honest here) fucking idiots. By the time boys close in on their twentieth birthday, they’ve got something vaguely resembling a clue (just barely) and spend most of their time chasing girls anyway. But in between, there is a span of three to five years where they are very likely to engage in what appears to be, by almost any standard, brain damaged behavior. “Hey! Let’s soak these grass clipping in gasoline, stuff them in this propane tank nozzle and light the whole thing on fire!” The following story fits into that category.
I was around fourteen years old when I hit my pyro prime. Two good friends and I spent an awful lot of time doing things like pouring gasoline into a gallon jug and detonating it with dynamite wick in the middle of a corn field. We did this kind of shit in broad daylight, and not once did a parent or otherwise responsible person ever object or tell us to knock it off. “Huh, the neighbor kids just filled a garbage can with kerosene and are trying to kick a flaming soccer ball into it. … I wonder what’s on TV?” I can only imagine there was a lot of secret daytime drinking going on that I didn’t know about because nothing else can explain the total apathy that we took advantage of.
One day, in search of kicks, I walked over to a friend’s house near the Junior High and met up with three friends. After briefly running down our options, we decided that if something didn’t explode or burst into flames soon, the day was going to be a total waste. “Hey!” a friend named Chris said. “We can play the Gas Game again!” Everyone immediately agreed to play the ominous sounding “Gas Game”, but I didn’t know what it was, not having been around the day that it was invented. So I asked how this game was played.
Chris: It’s awesome. We each go into a corner of the garage, and we’ve got a puddle of unlit gas in front of us. In the middle of the room is a puddle of gas, on fire. We each have a squirt gun filled with gas. The object is to squirt gas at the fire in the middle and try to set everyone else’s puddle on fire. The last person out of the garage wins!
Me: That is, without a doubt, the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
Chris: Oh, c’mon, it’s a total blast!
Me: That’s what I’m afraid of. Look, are you fucking kidding me? You’ll be lucky if you burn yourself to death, because then you won’t have to explain to your parents why your house burned to the fucking ground. What is fucking wrong with you?
So, needless to say, Chris decided to do what any rational human being would do in that situation, assuming he had been huffing paint thinner: He started pouring puddles of gas in his own garage and doling out gas-filled squirt guns. I watched the proceedings from the sidewalk, occasionally saying helpful things such as, “You guys are going to die.”
As expected, the Gas Game started off with a lot of laughter. Very quickly, however, things began to spiral out of control. Flames shot up at least five feet in the air, and pretty soon the entire garage was a solid wall of flame. Two of my friends staggered out, beating at their flaming jeans, while Chris (ever the brain surgeon) stood in the back corner of his flaming garage yelling, “I win! I win!”
Within a few seconds, however, Chris began to realize that his foolproof plan for ending the game (i.e. “Stomp the fire out”) was going to be difficult to execute considering the fact that flames were licking at the ceiling. Luckily, the corner he was in had a door to the inside of the house. He disappeared into the house and came out with a large comforter and started beating at the flames. Amazingly, he managed to get the flames reduced in size to the point where everyone else could come in and kick at the remaining flames until the garage was no longer on fire.
“See?” said Chris triumphantly. “What’s the big deal?”
“What’s the big deal? You asshole, look at the fucking ceiling! It’s black as night! And the walls are scorched three feet high! Your dad is going to kill you!”
Chris was having none of this negativity. “Pffffft. He won’t notice it at all.”
“Won’t notice it? Your garage smells like a fucking gas refinery!”
It was then that another of our friends yelled “Shit!” and called our attention to a rather disturbing development. It seems that in the hurry to kick off the Gas Game, Chris had left the gas can inside the garage where it sat, enveloped in flames, until we noticed it that moment. The plastic nozzle of the gas can was on fire, burning like the wick of a candle. After some urgent discussion, we decided that the best course of action was to carefully carry the gas can into the street and douse the flame with a hose, which we then carried out.
We escaped unharmed, at least from fire. Chris’ dad did indeed noticed the fact that his garage looked like the inside of a barbecue grill, and Chris’ excuse (“We spilled some gas on the floor and figured the best way to clean it up was to set it on fire”) didn’t fly. He was grounded for quite a while.
Although I was smart enough to avoid the Gas Game, I didn’t exactly learn a whole lot from it other than the fact that it’s not smart to play with large amounts of gas in an enclosed area. I was involved in trying to blow up a couple of sewers (seriously, feloniously stupid), I watched a friend conduct an experiment to determine if you could boil gasoline, inches away from his house (turns out you can, much to my surprise), and I damn near burned down the state of Michigan, which would have resulted in damages reaching into the tens, if not hundreds of dollars.
Finally, I accumulated enough wisdom and enough maturity to realize that playing with fire just isn’t that smart. You can do it, and you can get away with it, but eventually you will get burned. Literally. And so now I am the responsible adult I am today, totally capable of handling fire safely and curbing my childish impulses. Unless someone asks me to light a grill with lighter fluid, because I am utterly incapable of doing that with less than three full containers of the stuff. That’s just awesome.