Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cremora is Flammable; or, LMJ of the week - pyrophoric

pyrophoric: capable of igniting spontaneously in air

"Your mother and I love you, and if you need help for pyromania, we WILL get it for you."

It was the first time I remember hearing the words 'I love you' come from my Dad, directed to me.  A touching moment.

Dad went on to say that he had seen me with the hairspray bombs, and with the hand-held lighter fluid fireballs and with the blowtorches, and the fireworks (....fortunately, he didn't know as much about some of the issues I dealt with in chemistry lab).

This week, I revisited a little bit of that ancient history as I saw an incredible video of a firebomb made of cremora, and I just giggled.  Because, yes, I knew that. 

In 1987, I was working at Dixie Lumber, and had access to a lot of Cremora (TM), and found out how to pour it onto a piece of paper, light a match, and the pour the cremora from the paper over the match.  Impressive fire display.

Action complete, I walked back inside the store, and one of my co-workers looked up and said,

"Um, Barney, you're on fire."

I looked down, and sure enough, the piece of paper had also caught fire.  I ran outside, and blew it out.  Relieved that the crisis was averted, I started back inside.

"Barney, you're on fire again."

Danged thing had gone out, and then relit on my way in the door.  I started at a dead run for the bathroom, so I could douse the flame with water.  But the act of running made the flame flare up.  Brain engaged about this point, and thought (mid sprint)  'If I invert the paper so that the flame is not consuming towards the paper, but away from the paper, it will be slower.

So instead of holding the paper away from me, I flipped my wrist so that the flame was between me and the paper.

And very nearly caught myself on fire in the process.

Five seconds later, the rapid-fire event was concluded, and I emerged sheepishly from the bathroom with the remaining scorched paper and wet ashes in my hand, and tried to ignore the howls of laughter from Steve, my co-worker.  I put up with those jibes for weeks.

I mentioned the cremora incident to my granddaddy a few weeks later (when it was safe to discuss it again), and he said that he had run into the same thing when he was working in the cotton mills.  One part of the process ends up with a lot of fibers floating in the air.  The rule was very clear: when the fibers are thick in the air, you avoid smoking, you avoid sparks, you avoid everything related to fire.  Because if any part of it ignited, the whole room would blow up.  It was, after all, pyrophoric.

Just like the Cremora.

Today, flames are different.  We live in a viral society.  Whether it is memes about Kim Davis, songs by a new performer, videos of kittens, or blog entries calling for the imposition of stiffer penalties on Medicare fraud (well, maybe not yet, anyway), there is a distinct desire for us to see our ideas shared with the world.  We flood our twitter feeds and our social media outlets with ideas, rants, political views, and pictures, hoping that the moment is right, and that the idea will catch fire.

We are hoping to be part of the pyroporphic situation: the perfect combination of explosive materials hanging in the ether, enough oxygen to let it blow.... and we just are waiting on that spark.

Because for one brief moment, we have to believe that we have been part of something much bigger than ourselves.  We were part of an explosion. 

It is understandable.  We are all looking for our tribe, and the bigger the explosion, the more we feel we are connected to the larger society.  We are wanting that moment when we connect with all of humankind, and that we and our whole tribe are one.  So we look for the biggest combustion, and we throw our hat into the ring.  I am against x.  I am for y.  X people are stupid.  Y people are the only cool ones.  And the one that we all agree on:

"I was cool before the hipster movement made not being cool, cool."

Often it is the little things that make the best fires.  That statement of vulnerability that connects you to people.  That act of kindness that is an expression of love.  A gesture that lets a hurting friend know that you care.  It is these sorts of things that really connect us. 

And then we have to go out into the world, and act that way out there.  Starting small fires wherever we go, blazing a trail with our joy.  With our love. Become pyrophoric.  The world needs that, so much more than another cute puppy video.

Dad could have said, "Go and set the world ablaze, knowing that your mother and I love you."  Different message.  Same truth.

Ite, inflammate omnia.


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