Sometimes it’s best to begin at the end of a story. When Alison called me on her way to the ER several weeks ago, she said “I’m fine” as soon as I picked up the phone. She went on to relate getting hit by a car, but I had context. After that, you can fill in the details. Personally, I’ve had a disturbing number of happenings that end with, “So don’t worry, my house didn’t burn down.” While that’s probably not a great sign, at least I’ve learned how to tell the stories.
The story from this week, fortunately, only involves ruining a towel. I wandered into the bathroom a few nights ago and noticed that there was a long stray thread coming off the towel I had hanging over the shower bar. Being me, I hearkened back to my father’s teachings about curing the ends of nylon ropes with a cigarette lighter. I keep a lighter in the bathroom (to go with the scented candle — don’t ask), so I grabbed the thread in one hand and figured I could just scorch it off real quick.
Funny thing about a plush towel: it’s plush because it’s not dense, and because the entire surface is covered in thread-thin loops.
That’s what makes it absorbant.
That’s also what makes it really, really flammable.
Fast forward about 1.5 seconds, and I’m watching, aghast, as a bit of bathroom linen goes up in instant flames. If it hadn’t been threatening my domicile, the pale blue sheet of solid flame would have been beautiful. It reminded me of the time my friend Mike smeared Sterno all over a door in the dorm and lit it.
The next second or three saw me:
- jerk the shower curtain away and out of the tub,
- yank the sink on to full and ducking my hand in the water,
- yank the towel with my wet hand into the tub, narrowly avoiding a serious burn, and
- turn on the tub full blast, spreading water over the entire piece of fabric.
Looking back on it, I have no idea how close we came to Blazing Inferno, but the momentary images of helicopters trying to evacuate me from the roof of my condo were fun. I guess a trip to BB&B is on the agenda for the next weekend or two, only this time I think I’ll buy black towels so char marks don’t mean I have to replace them yet again.
Also lucky: I tend to torch inexpensive things. I’ve set fire to my pants — that one was only funny once I verified that nothing irreplaceable was damaged.
And then there was the toaster. My parents left us with a babysitter when I was a kid, and I decided that I wanted a snack. The babysitter was Carla, my friend Rob’s sister. I can’t remember whether she was smart, but I know her judgment needed a little seasoning, because when I announced that I was going to use kitchen appliances in pursuit of said snack, she didn’t even stay in the room. For my part, I loved crackers, and it said right there on the front of the box, “TOASTED Wheat Thins.”
Over time, I’ve come to understand the difference between past and prospective tenses of verbs. Food products like “toaster streudel” or “toastable waffles” intend that you should heat them in a toaster oven to enjoy them warm when it is convenient for you. “Toasted,” however, means that someone has already gone to the trouble of doing the toasting for you. You can toast crackers and they will happily sit, crunchy and delicious, until some 9-year-old comes along and munches on them. And whoever did the toasting also made them thin, no doubt believing that just about anyone would understand that if you put thin, dry crackers in a toaster oven and turn it way up … you’re going to get a kitchen fire.
There’s a funny moment when something catches fire, where you stand and just appreciate how cool it is when anything burns. I’m lucky that I didn’t have that moment a couple days ago, but I definitely did as my crackers turned into flambe. Carla came barreling into the kitchen, filled a huge glass of water, ripped open the door to the toaster, and flung the contents straight into an electrical appliance. Even at nine, I knew you weren’t supposed to do that. I yanked the cord and shepherded my brother and sister outside. I can’t remember whether Carla ever babysat for us again.
If I were to pick a type of accident I’m more likely to have than another, well, for better or worse it’s burning things. I’m generally on guard around the house, especially since I upped my homeowner’s insurance recently (“No, my house burning down right after I insured everything was a complete coincidence. Really, inspector.”). My friend Matt posted on Facebook earlier this week that he had been putting out fires all day.
I wanted to ask him why he’d been following me around.