Burn, Baby! Burn!

So, after reading my last post about the universe punishing me, several people were wondering how the problem I mentioned with the leaking propane tank worked out. With my propensity to fuck things up and put repairs off until it is “Iceberg, right ahead!” time, I definitely understand their concern.

I was kind of excited about being entrusted with the grill. I’d watched him light it countless times in the past. What could go wrong?

No one, especially me, wants me blowing my grill up and setting the neighborhood on fire. I’ve already had an unfortunate run-in with a grill in my past, and, trust me, once was enough for me.

However, before we get into that particular incident, good news! I have resolved the problem with the current grill and no explosions to report — well, so far. (Of course, I haven’t used the damn thing yet, so if my future posts don’t originate from a burn unit, just assume things went okay.)

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of reading my last post, in addition to the air conditioning crisis, I was having issues with my propane BBQ grill leaking. I couldn’t figure out why. Everything looked solid. No loose connections or anything.

You know what was causing the leak? Someone had left two of the burners turned on, hence the venting gas when I opened the tank’s valve. It could have been me — but I’m blaming the Houseguest because she specifically forbade me from trying to pin it on her and claims she never operates the knobs. (Yeah, a likely story.)

Either way, I was delighted to successfully diagnose the problem. To be honest, I wasn’t that keen on the idea of trying to repair it because I’d already had a bad experience with a grill when I was a teenager, one that still gets me nervous around flames to this day.

Are you sure this is a good idea?

When I was thirteen, we lived on Williams Air Force Base outside of town. Every Saturday, my father religiously played golf at the base golf course, and afterward, retired to the clubhouse to drink beer with his other noncommissioned officer (NCO) buddies. The clubhouse was less than half a mile away from our house, and sometimes I’d walk over there when I knew he was finished playing so I could use his clubs and hit balls on the driving range or chip and putt.

I loved hamburgers, but I preferred to go to McDonald’s because my mom insisted on dad cooking our burgers until they had turned into burnt offerings.

That Saturday, however, my mom sent me to the clubhouse with instructions to fetch my dad home because she wanted him to grill hamburgers for dinner. Dad, however, wasn’t done holding court with the other NCOs, so he asked me to do him a favor and go home and prep the barbeque grill for him. Even though I would have preferred to stay at the golf course, I was kind of excited about being entrusted with the grill. I’d watched him light it countless times in the past. What could go wrong?

“You think you can handle it, son?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Good boy. Tell your mother I’ll be home in a bit.”

And so I set off home on my mission.

Fire is bad

Dad had a black Weber charcoal grill, which we used sporadically, sitting on our small back patio. I loved hamburgers, but I preferred to go to McDonald’s because my mom insisted on dad cooking our burgers until they had turned into burnt offerings.

It took me years before I realized that a home-cooked burger shouldn’t have a thick, crunchy, carbonized exterior or the moisture content of a Pharaonic mummy burial. Now, my mom was an excellent cook, but for some reason, all her grilled meats tended to be overcooked. She would even order her steaks well done at restaurants, and one establishment once served her an old, leather boot on a plate in mock protest. I’m not sure if this overcooking had to do with her growing up in World War 2 England with dodgy rationed meat, but anything that went onto our grill suffered the same fate.

I stood there holding the lit match in triumph. And then I touched it to the briquets in the deep steel belly of the Weber grill.

Anyway, I cleaned out the old ashes and dumped a bunch of Kingsford charcoal briquets in and arranged them into a careful pyramid for maximum oxygen flow for superior heat generation, a tip I’d learned on the Super Friends cartoon show of all places. Then I took the lighter fluid and soaked the charcoal liberally with it, scrupulously saturating every square inch.

Now, I was kind of fuzzy on whether my dad actually wanted me to light the coals so they were at the proper temperature for cooking when he arrived home, or if he just wanted everything set up. Being thirteen, naturally, I went with the fire option.

I took the cardboard book of matches and fiddled around trying to light one (I hated them. I’d grown up in England using wooden matches). Discovering them too flimsy and awkward to light without burning myself, I came up with a bright idea. Flipping the booklet inside out, I pressed the matchhead between the two covers and pulled it out sharply along the striker strip, relying on the pressure and friction to ignite it. Oh, it lit the match all right, but I was pressing too hard, and it burned a tiny hole through the cover and burnt my thumb, and I dropped the match and booklet in pain. So, I had to light another one, more carefully this time. I stood there holding the lit match in triumph. And then I touched it to the briquets in the deep steel belly of the Weber grill.

Fwooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmmppppp the fire blazed into sudden, terrifying existence, shooting skyward and flaring out. The raging inferno I’d created made me jump back in fright, singeing me. I panicked, worried the flames might burn the whole goddamn house down. Scrambling, I grabbed the domed steel lid from the concrete floor and clanged it down shut on the grill, smothering the flames.

Senior Master Sergeant chevrons
Dad was a 7 striper

Breathing a sigh of relief, I cautiously lifted the lid. Thank God, the flames, the size of which had freaked me out, had died. Man, that had been so close! My dad was a senior master sergeant, and he would have been so pissed if I’d burned the Air Force’s house down.

However, on closer inspection, I was dismayed to see that the flames hadn’t just subsided — I’d completely killed the fire. God, I had to light the damned thing again. I pondered my next step, not wanting to expose myself to the wrath of the flames again.

A quick learner, this time, I would be smarter about it.

So I took the lighter fluid and doused the fuck out of the coals again, soaking them to within an inch of their life because I figured the last lot of lighter fluid had burned off in the blaze. In hindsight, I’m surprised the fuel, smoking as it hit the hot coals, didn’t ignite in a spectacular flare up.

Anyway, once I had prepped the grill again, I stood there nervously. I definitely didn’t want a repeat of the last fiasco. Somehow, I needed to contain the flames, so I didn’t end up scorched. Then it hit me. I had the perfect solution! I’d leave the lid on, open one of the tiny air holes on top, and drop the lit match through into the grill effectively shielding myself. Pleased with my ingenious solution, that’s precisely what I did and…

FWWWWWWWWAAAABOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!

explosion
Oh shit…

Really? I had no idea that would happen…

The sudden flash occurred so quickly, I had no fucking idea what hit me — well, other than flames — as with a deafening boom, the lid was airborne, and fire exploded from under it like the angry fists of Satan, pummeling my right leg and arm. Unfortunately, it was summer time so I was wearing 1970s style shorts (which were extremely short) and a tank top, so the flames hit a lot of pasty white skin — which ended up a pinkish hue — resulting in something akin to a mild, unevenly distributed sunburn. I have to say; there was a bit of a sting to it.

Now, I didn’t realize it at the time, but by containing rapidly burning gas in an enclosed container, I’d given myself a hands-on demonstration of the physics involved in creating an explosion.

Surprisingly, my mom, who I believed to have supernatural senses, remained blissfully unaware that her eldest born was doing his best to set himself on fire outside. Naturally, I went quickly about covering up any signs of the near disaster — I’d kicked over the bag of Kingsford briquets, spilling some, and knocked the lighter fluid over.

There was an upside though — the fucking coals were burning merrily and ready for barbecuing by the time the old man arrived home to start ruining hamburgers. Luckily, between the beer and the fact that he was partially colorblind, I don’t think my dad noticed my erratic variation in skin color. Surprised, he thanked and praised me for going the extra mile in lighting the coals.

Of course, I didn’t say a word about what had transpired other than to say you’re welcome.

And from that day onward, I lost any interest in messing around with grills and gained a healthy respect — some might say fear — for my adversary, fire. Whenever possible, I prefer to let others do the dangerous work of grilling.

Interested in more of my work? Read a sample of Not Helping, a tale of addiction and the importance of communication! (It’s a work in progress)

Photo attribution:
Copyright: JanPietruszk / 123RF Stock Photo

By US Air Force – Vectorized from http://www.uniforminsignia.org/?option=com_insigniasearch&Itemid=53&result=2142, Public Domain, Link

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2 thoughts on “Burn, Baby! Burn!

  1. Lisa Porter Cordovana

    Love this! I tried to blow myself up in college, lighting the gas hot tub heater. Melted my brand new perm and burned off my eyebrows and lashes, and the hair on my arms. I don’t light anything now. This story was real! I felt your fear!

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