As I grew older, making and controlling fire became more complex, as did my tactics to hide my activities.
The best thing about cheap telescopes is what’s inside: awesome fire-making magnifying glasses. I started with simple stuff – newspaper, piles of leaves – then quickly moved on to moving targets. Ants, beetles, spiders. I think I liked frying ants the best, as the big ones popped like popcorn. I competed against myself for popping distance. I confess – this activity still tempts me. I’ve been known to roast marshmallows with magnifying glasses in the comfort of my own home when the sun shines through the kitchen window just right.
Fireworks were mostly forbidden by my parents, which meant that I could only purchase supplies enough to last from the time school got out until they returned home from work. Just setting off fireworks by themselves is boring, though. They must be bound to or inserted in something else to realize their full potential. As I’ve never been content to allow energy to remain kinetic, I felt it my duty to assist with said realization. With the help of friends, I scattered ant colonies, sent army men into space, and turned hubcaps into UFOs. The pinnacle of my firework experiences had to be the Batman car. I bought a 10″ black plastic toy car, then glued, taped and bound about 2 pounds of fireworks to it. The results weren’t quite what I was expecting, but satisfying just the same. The car flipped, spun, surged, then melted until it was one with the asphalt. In the aftermath, I had but a few quick seconds to stomp out several small fires in a 20 foot diameter before running from the cops.
Continuing with the automotive theme, I began to dream up new ways to dress up my Boy Scouts Pinewood Derby car. I carved out some thick wooden wings, attached them with wood glue, hollowed out the back of the car, and inserted a model rocket engine (“D” sized – the biggest available locally). The test launch resulted in immediate wing removal, many screams, a chaotic flight path that was impossible to predict, and a crash landing in my neighbor’s garden. Make that an ON FIRE garden. I stomped it out, ran away, and slept on it until I could come up with a better plan. Day 2 improvements included roller skate wheels (looked like a hot rod), and a safer launching area – the school playground. This time, I gathered my friends, as I knew these new improvements were completely FOOLPROOF. The roller skate wheels helped – a little. At launch, the car stood straight up, rose slowly, and hovered just above everyone’s head. More screaming. Only 1 hat destroyed. Win.
And then there were the propellants. If it had an active ingredient that ended in “ane,” it was fair game. Hairspray, bug killer, WD40, PAM – this stuff would keep me and an arson buddy occupied for hours. I think our favorite activity was filling our mouths with the propellant from near-empty hair mousse bottles, lighting a match, then breathing fire.
Now that I’m nearly 40 with children, I’ve restricted myself to the occasional “Oops, filled the BBQ up with too much propane before I pushed the button” incidents, and throwing acorns into campfires. But, if someone steals my stapler again, I might just have to kick it back up a notch.