You'd best not read this at work...
A story by dersh@MIT.EDU (Adam Dershowitz)
I hate to admit it, but this happened to me way back in 1980--
A few years after graduating from college, I returned to my folks
home to retrieve a considerable number of storage boxes that I had
left with them. These boxes were filled with books, course notes, old
homework projects, etc that I had kept. I decided to weed through
them and eliminate as much junk as I could.
Not having the heart to dump all that hard work into the garbage, I
decided to grab a six-pack, settle down in front of the downstairs
fire place and ceremoniously burn four years worth of college
memorabilia. I managed to get through about five of the 15 or so boxes
piled around me when I realized I could not possibly sort through each
box page-by-page. In the interest of time, I decided to do a cursory
scan of the contents to determine if anything 'jumped out' as worth
saving. Well, box number six appeared to be loaded with Psychology
and Logic 101 junk so I took the short cut and tossed the whole box on
the funeral pyre before me.
I popped open beer number four and watched the box smolder.
Raising the can, I gave one last salute to those two unmemorable
courses as the box erupted into a roaring inferno.
The papers were consumed rapidly.
So were the ancient contents of the dresser drawer that I had
hastily dropped into the bottom of that box when packing two years
earlier. Dang, I had forgotten all about that stuff. The toothbrush
and hairbrush went up rather well.....also that packet of disposable
plastic razors, dental floss and contact lens case and a bunch of junk
I don't even remember. Of course, I didn't even know that stuff was
going up in smoke as I sat there. Just chugged the beer and
watched. It burned great...right down to that full can of deodorant
that was in there with it all.
I had gotten about half the beer down when that deodorant can
finally decided it had had enough. What happened next I can only
compare to the scene from "2001" where that Dave Bowman guy is falling
through all those lights with that 'oh shit' look on his face. I
heard a BOOM so loud that my brain only registered it as a
high-pitched squeal. The contents of the fireplace right down to the
last ash were propelled out with such velocity that all I could see
were a multitude of bright streaks emanating from a point about three
feet in front of me (ala 2001). Big blue shock wave knocked me back.
Spill the beer? You bet. Caught me off guard? He-- yes. Felt like
I jumped on a live grenade? Guess so. One second I was watching that
inferno burn from the outside, the next second I was watching it from
The human brain reverts to 'primordial slime' mode when thrown into
a situation like this. All higher-order functions vaporize. Guess
it's all those endorphins and endomorphines hitting it at once. It
took a couple of seconds to get the 'reasoning' capability of my brain
back online. I jumped up, looked at my hands and feet, touched my
face and realized that I was indeed intact. Holy Cow, I was
completely untouched. Not even a soot mark on me. Although I might
possibly qualify as a human cannon ball, there would be no Richard
Pryor imitation tonight, folks.
I looked through the thick smoke toward the fireplace. What WAS a
6-inch deep accumulation of one winter's ashes was now squeaky clean.
Blasted it right out. All those burning embers were now sitting on
the deep-pile carpet behind me. ALL over the room. I grabbed the
little shovel from the fireplace set and scooped as fast as I could.
As soon as I filled the shovel, I'd run to the fireplace, empty it and
run back. Some embers were 30 feet down the hall. I guess I set the
Guinness World Record for "Hot ember pickup with a little shovel" in
those next few minutes. I did manage to avoid setting my folks house
on fire, and the carpet only had one or two real serious melted spots
on it. I DID find the deodorant can too- it had left the fireplace at
some ungodly serious velocity, hit the wall at the far end of the room
and come to rest directly behind where I was sitting. Dang thing was
split wide open along the weld and peeled back almost flat. Burned
black, too. Looked like re-entry junk.
After I got the Fire Marshal Bill stuff under control, I grabbed
beer number five, popped the top and thought about how I was gonna get
the remaining mess cleaned up. Close examination revealed that
everything was coated with a heavy layer of ash. Heck, a vacuum
cleaner will get this stuff up no problem.
Gee, how lucky could I be? I didn't get decapitated, the house is
still on its foundation, I got a GREAT story for the grandkids and the
cleanup is gonna be a cinch. I grabbed my mom's upright out of the
closet and started to work.
Ever have one of those split-seconds of consciousness when you
realize you survived something really bad but you sense that it's not
quite over yet? Well, I never have, but I wish I had felt that way at
this point. Would have clued me in as to what was about to
There I was, sucking up ashes with an upright vacuum. Too bad not
all of them were cold. That upright vacuum swallowed ONE LITTLE ITTY
BITTY HOT EMBER that was sitting there on the carpet. It flew right
up inside it and sat on that big ol' pile of carpet lint way up in
that bag. Heck, that bag hadn't been emptied in a long time. And all
that air rushing in there made that little bitty hot ember REAL happy.
Next thing I know, the side of that vacuum is glowing red hot. By the
time I figured out what was happening, there was a two foot flame
blowing out a hole in the side. It really looked and sounded sorta
pretty, like a fighter jet on full afterburner. Diamond shock pattern
Again, my brain reverted to primordial slime mode. All
higher-order functions ceased and all I remember thinking was
I pitched it as hard as I could towards the open basement door,
hoping it would make it to the patio outside. The distance was about
20 feet. In slow motion it looked like one of those old NASA films
where the rocket goes psycho right off the launch pad. There it was,
sailing brush end first with a nice slow roll...fire belching out the
side. As the umbilical pulled out of the wall, the flame settled into
a long trail of sparks. The vehicle had plenty of initial velocity
and it looked like a good downrange trajectory........right up to the
point it passed through the plate glass window to the right side of
Yep, I swear this happened as written.
dersh@MIT.EDU (Adam Dershowitz)