July 07, 2003

Fires And Burns And Other Such Stuff

Why, yes, it is the Monday following the 4th of July weekend. And I have the burns to prove it. I'm sure you're all shaking with anticipatory tingles awaiting my 4th of July redux, so let's begin.

First off, I'm now an official black belt, with all the perks and advantages that come with that status, which are, approximately, none. Except for pride, I suppose. I was very proud. I am very proud. It was a modest black belt presentation ceremony. The head instructor called my name, I jogged up to stand before him, and he told me to remove my red belt. Normally, when a man tells me to remove an article of clothing, I'm in a doctor's office, or there's a gun pointed at me, or I really just need the money. But, I removed my belt and then the head instructor presented me with my new, flashy black belt, which he took it upon himself to tie around my waist. Normally, when a man ties something around my waist, I'm in a doctor's office, or there's a gun pointed at me, or I really just need the money. At any rate, I have my new belt, and I spent the next couple of days glancing over at it because I thought it was cool. It's a little bit rigid, so it doesn't hang like a well-worn belt. Instead, it kind of points at odd angles. Thankfully, there were two other students in my class with new black belts, so I wasn't alone. We looked rather uncomfortable in our new martial arts uniforms and belts, like flexible kicking nuns or something.

After class, I went home and was greeted by Melissa, who wanted to cook fajitas over a campfire. Unfortunately, it was getting late, and no matter how many people I called, I couldn't secure a nice countryside locale where we could camp and launch fireworks. As an unusual compromise, I dragged out the gas grill, and Mel said that would suffice. So, I set about lighting the grill which, like most gas grills, has a broken lighter button. Instead, I simply let the gas hiss out while I threw matches at it from a distance, waiting for one lucky spark to slip between the grate and. . .


No matter how many times that happens, my butt still puckers. There's the satisfaction of knowing the grill is lit, and the common sense gnome on my shoulder telling me there simply has to be a better way to light a grill. Ultimately, I think that's why I prefer charcoal grills. Lighter fluid is more gradual, more friendly, more relaxed. A gas grill is instant. A charcoal grill reminds you to take a time out. Sit back. Smell the summer. Chill out.

Of course, the pyromaniac in me wouldn't allow me to sit idly while Mel prepared fajitas. I had to run and grab some fireworks: just some small things. Some jumping jacks, a couple of roman candles, and a couple of other things that looked cool but didn't appear large enough to attract the attention of local law enforcement officials.

The instructions on roman candles clearly state that you should not hold them in your hand, so of course I felt compelled to hold them in my hand. After all, you can't make rude masturbation miming motions unless you hold the roman candles in your hand. So, there I was waving a roman candle around, launching firey balls to and fro, a wizard with his magic wand, when suddenly I heard Mel yell "Holy shit." She doesn't yell that very often, and somehow I knew she wasn't yelling it at me, so I turned around to see. . .

The grill was on fire. Yes, yes, I know. . . it's SUPPOSED to be on fire, but not like this. Something besides what was supposed to be on fire was on fire. There was a bright blaze emanating from where the gas valve connects with the main grilling part of the grill. That's not good. That's not even close to good. What was worse was there was something, some sort of insulation foam or tape or something, that was also on fire, and it was dripping flaming drops directly on to the propane tank. On. To. The. Propane. Tank. EEP!

My gut instinct was to break into a dead sprint away from the grill, and not stop running until I heard the inevitable explosion reverberating around the neighborhood. That was my gut instinct, but I suppressed it. Maybe it was the black belt inside me, or more likely the realization that everything I owned on this planet was within a 30 foot radius of the grill. Whatever it was, I ran TOWARDS the grill, launching roman candle balls all the way. With dripping flaming tape falling on my hand, I managed to turn off the gas, and then I started madly blowing at the remaining fingers of flame. It's at moments like that that I'm convinced my guardian angel just stepped away for a quick nap, or to check the sports scores or something. The angel figures "ah, he'll be fine." Then the angel comes back and sees me wrestling with a flaming gas grill and the angel thinks "of all the freakin' people in the world, how did I manage to draw this clown as my protectee?"

Long story short, I managed to put out the fire before the propane tank went supernova.

"Honey, you could have died!" yelled Mel, a hint of admiration mixed with dumbfounded awe at my stupidity in her voice.

"Let's cook fajitas on the stove inside," I suggested as I rolled the grill back into the garage.

Good idea.

Later that night, we managed to track down a secluded spot for an illegal fireworks display. Me, Mel and my friend Marc (today we're learning the letter "M"), armed with enough explosives to subdue a small country, lit up the night sky for over three hours. It was a grand time. Mel likes lighting fireworks, but she doesn't quite grasp the concept of putting the items down on flat ground. I gave her a fairly large item to light and she went skipping down the gravel drive to light it. I thought she may have place it at an unusual angle, but I didn't say anything. She lit it and came skipping back. Behind her, brightly lit balls went flying into the air. And then the brightly lit balls started flying more horizontal because the dang thing had fallen over. Mel dodged to the right as a streaking ball of flame narrowly missed her, another narrowly missed my car, and finally another came at me, skipping over my leg, igniting large patches of leg hair before coming to rest on my thigh.

Every year, without fail, I suffer a fireworks-related burn. This year's installment was rather minor, though the pain was about what I expected. It was a small price to pay for the joy of an unbridled fireworks frenzy. Combined with the burns sustained earlier while battling the grill, my burn tally sat at a respectable three.

The next morning, Mel and I met my friend Troy, his girlfriend Janet, another friend Jim, and his wife Christy. Troy owns a boat, which means I have to like him. We drove to Winona, and we spent the July 4th afternoon entirely on the Mississippi, in one of the most glorious and relaxing holidays I've had since Christmas in Hawaii. We grilled bratwurst during a stop on a sand bar, went swimming, rode an inner tube behind the boat, and just soaked up almost seven hours of sun. Which brings me to burn number four: sunburn. Despite generous slathering of sunscreen, my cranium still endured a slight burn, and it's itchy as hell today, which means a good peeling tonight or tomorrow. It was still an awesome afternoon on the river, and I hope we do it again yet this summer, which, by the way, is now about one third over.

I had to head back to Harmony Friday night at about 9 p.m. so I could make it to my class reunion golf outing the next morning. There is something surreal and magical about driving on a July 4th evening. Traffic is light, and all around I caught glimpses of fireworks going off, both individual shows put on by campers, and distant shows being put on by towns. Everywhere, blossoms of colored flame would emerge and disappear. People celebrating a three day weekend. People celebrating a pleasant evening. People celebrating freedom. People celebrating America.

I'll blog about the reunion later. Or maybe I won't. You'll have to come back to find out.

UPDATE: No, there's nothing here about the reunion. But THIS is the biggest productivity killer of all time.

Posted by Ryan at July 7, 2003 11:18 AM
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