Archive for July, 2017

Fun With Fire and Bug Spray

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Aaron Peterson.

I woke up to a creak, and saw Mike was looming over me, about to nudge me awake. For a second, I didn’t know where I was, but the smells of damp canvas and a smoldering fire set me straight. We were on a camping trip, the last one before school started.

Still in my t-shirt and jeans, I quietly grabbed my PF Flyers and followed Mike out the door of the pop-up trailer. A silent exit was impossible, but we woke no one. Mom and Dad had been drinking after we set up camp the night before, and would only wake up if when they sensed deviltry.

When camping with a family as big as ours — large enough that someone was always in trouble but not so large that anyone could sneak away undetected for long — early morning was the golden hour for me. No little brothers to watch and no pestering by an adult to pick something up or put something away.

I walked out into the cool, still and asthma-inducing muggy air. Get on the enormous rope swing? Nah. Tinker with the motorcycle? Why, if I couldn’t ride it until almost lunch.

Mike was poking in the fire pit, always at promising option. He was, naturally, trying to bring it back to life. It was covered in gray ash that protected deeper embers. That’s when I noticed the aerosol can of bug spray in one of the mesh lawn chairs. I couldn’t believe Mike hadn’t already seen it!

I grabbed the can and dramatically lowered it between the fire and Mike’s face. His eyebrows shot up and he looked at me with the wide-open gap-toothed smile that would, for his whole life, signal the beginning of ill-advised fun.

“Take turns,” Mike said. Not a request, but a restatement of the rules. It meant I couldn’t use the spray until it was gone. I nodded rapidly before pointing the nozzle on the fire.

A very, very satisfying torch raced from the can in a narrow, foot-long cone. And — bonus! — the torch was relighting the fire. I wondered why people didn’t always build fires this way. So simple, so effective and so cool.

Without saying a word, Mike reached for the can just as I was turning toward him. I had a concern: If I let off the button, would the flame follow back into the can? It seemed like a possibility, which meant I was holding a mosquito-spray hand grenade. How far could I throw it before it exploded? More important: Would the explosion wake up Mom and Dad?

That all became academic when Mike’s hand went right into the spray. We both realized how crazily dangerous that was, but before I could even drop the can (or think to throw it like Vic Morrow on the TV show Combat!), it was clear that Mike had interrupted the spray between the nozzle and the flame. He’d put the flame out!

This was so much cooler because we could torch things and safely shut the flame off.

I gave the can to Mike, as was fair, and he pointed it at the now-cheery fire. He was having trouble holding it and pressing the button because his left hand now was dripping wet with the slippery bug spray. He repositioned himself so that he could stick the can closer to the fire, and tried to spray again. The drips from his hand made little flaming pok! sounds when they hit the hot ashes. I was about to suggest we wrap the can in a dishcloth for a better grip until a small explosion cut me off.

Jimmy! What in the Christ are you doing?” We had been hunkered with our backs to the camper, and in our excitement, we never even heard Dad unzip a canvas window. Situational awareness score: Mike and me 0; Dad 1.

We pivoted a quarter turn and looked over our shoulders to see Dad, his lip already glowing. I looked sidelong at Mike to see him carefully and with almost no visible movement sliding the can in the long grass and between his shoes. Part of me was exasperated that once again, I was going to take the sole blame for something I’d been doing with someone else. But I evenly told my dad that we were warming our hands over the fire.

“What’s in your hands?! Stand up and turn around!”

Not only did Mike stand up with his hands out, but he cleverly started walking toward my dad thereby blocking my dad from seeing the can. It was all I could do to not look over at the spray can.

Later that day, Mike ran over to me by the rope swing with something under his t-shirt. It was the can, and the orange plastic top surrounding the nozzle had melted dramatically, probably while he was holding it and just before we were discovered.

Mike’s reaction: “This so cool!” I could not argue.

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