We’re allowed to burn leaves in our city. If you obey the rules and get a permit you can burn all your yard waste and leaves and all kinds of things. Handy.
I have built sort of a special relationship with flames over the years. Back when we cared not a whit about choking the atmosphere with carbon and other chemicals (those were the days!), one of my first summer jobs was at a local hotel, where my duties included gathering up and burning garbage. This job taught me the joys of pyromania.
I also learned which storage room was used by waitresses changing clothes, how to staple blankets to tables for illicit poker games, how to properly clip and light a cheap stogie, and what vigorous sexual congress sounds like when heard in a basement storage room beneath the fornicatorium. Selling tickets to the above also tripled my wages. But I digress.
To a young lad, an afternoon spent burning the accumulated garbage of an entire hotel was wildly entertaining, not to mention educational. I learned the combustion properties of various plastics, light bulbs, and paper products like commercial grade rolls of toilet paper, for example. On one sad occasion, a ‘dirty’ magazine was burning just beyond the grasp of my singed, horny young fingers.
I would re-enact entire episodes of ‘Rat Patrol’ or ‘Combat’ all by myself, lobbing aerosol spray-can ‘grenades’ into the fire and then running for cover. Since it took several minutes for them to cook off, I would amuse myself by heading inside to the closed lounge where I’d squirt various sodas directly down my throat using the bar squirter hose thing, or steal a scoopful of maraschino cherries from a barrel in the cooler.
After a few minutes of diversion, I would proceed back outside to check on my ‘oven’. I would soon witness a satisfying “Crump!” of an explosion, the shock wave bulging out the rivets of the incinerator and belching skyward huge clouds of burning paper towels, cleaning rags and other experimental effluent. Lovely.
I was ruminating on all these fond memories as I raked this years’ leaf pile on top of the wood waste from last year and set it alight, accompanied by a few ritual Toronto Maple Leaf jokes for good measure.
Things were progressing well when I had one of those moments that are usually reserved for when you see the keys in your car ignition just as the locked door is closing crisply.
In this particular instance, I discovered the large can of WD-40 I had misplaced last summer. A split second later I realized the can was in my fire.
In ‘Matrix’-like bullet time I did several things simultaneously. I performed an interesting lurch with my upper body towards the conflagration, thinking I could remove the blackening can and save myself from imminent fiery death. Simultaneously I performed a twisting motion with my legs as they tried to immediately vacate the area. I appeared to be performing some sort of gyrating break-dance maneuver as the can reached combustion temperature and proceeded to "Crump!" enormously. Robert Oppenheimer flashed before my eyes.
I awoke flat on my back at ground zero, staring skyward through smoldering eyebrows at the large mushroom cloud that was roiling its way toward the lower cumulus. I began asking myself questions like “Where am I?”, “What happened?”, and “What’s that smell?”
Face blackened like a cartoon character, remaining hair blown dramatically backwards, singe marks everywhere, I was miraculously unharmed.
“I SAID I WAS MIRACULOUSLY UNHARMED APART FROM THIS RINGING IN MY EARS! I’M FINE THANKS! WHAT?!”
I think my leaf blower converts to a mulcher. I’ll go get the manual.