A while back I made an interesting discovery. I made some Quaker Oats Apple Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal for breakfast and was just about to eat it when a friend called me on the phone. I gabbed with her for a bit, then hung up and returned to my nice bowl of oatmeal. In the interim, however, the oatmeal had grown cold. “No problem,” I think in a charmingly naïve fashion. “I’ll just nuke it.” So I popped it into the microwave, set it for 1 minute on high, and went back to reading Hustler.
Moments later I heard a muffled whump that sounded like a hand grenade going off under a pile of mattresses. I checked on the oatmeal and found to my chagrin that the contents of the bowl had been pretty much evenly distributed over the top, sides, door and carousel of my microwave. I was a little miffed that the oatmeal box said nothing about it not being a good idea to microwave instant oatmeal that had already been prepared, but I was too lazy to write the Quaker Oats people so nothing came of it.
So that you can learn from my experience, I should emphasize that you need to clean up exploded oatmeal right away. The box also said nothing about this, package of few words that it was, so I let it go for a couple of days. When I finally got around to cleaning up the microwave – sometimes you just need to nuke popcorn – I had to rent a small jackhammer to get the stuff off. You recall making papier-mache in grade school? How flour, water and newspaper magically combine into something that even a seven-year-old on his best day couldn’t destroy? It turns out that if you use oatmeal instead of flour, it’s like using rebar-reinforced concrete instead of plaster of paris1. BTW, the noise from the jackhammer put my cat on edge for weeks. She still hasn’t forgiven me.
At this point, I should also confess that the Department of Homeland Security got wind of this little contretemps somehow. This is why you can no longer bring packages of instant oatmeal in your carry-on luggage aboard airline flights. I know, I know, I ruined Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal over the Atlantic for everyone. Sorry.
Three years ago on November 22 I was merrily going about my business doing laundry and performing other miscellaneous household chores. One of these chores was to hang a small picture in the bathroom. “No problem,” I think in a charmingly naïve fashion. “I’ll just grab some nails from the box on the shelf in the laundry room.” I should mention that my laundry room is really, technically, a “laundry/utility room.” This is because, in addition to the washer and dryer, it’s where I store all the shit that I have that doesn’t really belong anywhere else, like nails and rented jackhammers I haven’t returned yet.
As I reached up on the shelf in the laundry/utility room to get the nails, I accidentally knocked a fairly large can of silicone spray lubricant off onto the floor. As luck would have it, it landed upon a pipe wrench which poked a hole in the can. The can started spraying and spinning around like Linda Blair’s head, and a fine mist of silicon lubricant began coating the walls and my pants pretty thoroughly. “$%@&!,” I muttered. “I’ll never get this spray off the walls.”
As it turns out, I was wrong about that. I later learned that aerosol cans these days have either butane or propane or a combination of both for a propellant, as opposed to the good old days when they all used Freon. See, back in the Freon years, spray cans were safe as milk for homeowners even though they played merry hell with the ozone layer. Neither of these things is true any longer, for good or ill.
While I was reaching down to grab the spinning spray can, a funny thing happened. As I mentioned, I was doing laundry at the time, which meant that my gas dryer was running in the laundry/utility room. All the while the can was spraying silicone lubricant out the hole in side, it was also leaking butane. At some point, the concentration of butane in the room reached the right level, the gas dryer flame ignited it, and my house blew up.
I don’t really remember the nanosecond or so when it actually blew up. One moment I was reaching down for the spinning can, and the next I was standing in a fireball and my pants were in flames. I was somewhat nonplussed to discover these things, so I said some very bad words and ran into the living room and “dropped and rolled” on the floor to put out the fire in my pants. I leave the snide joke about that last phrase to you.
The dropping and rolling thing really worked, and I felt pretty smug about remembering it in time of need. Not for long, though -- I next ran into the kitchen and grabbed a pan of water and rushed back into the laundry room and threw it on the spray can and what ever else was still burning, which luckily wasn’t much. This also worked quite well, wonder of wonders. Nearly all the spray had already burned off, and I actually remember noting that I wouldn’t have to clean the walls after all; the explosion and fireball seemed to have taken care of that quite nicely.
Explosion? Then I heard someone calling my name and realized it was the people in the upstairs unit in my duplex. “Hulles, are you all right?” they called. They sounded worried. “I’m not sure,” I answered quite honestly. Then I wondered how they could be talking to me; they weren’t in my apartment. That’s when I noticed all the windows of my house had been blown out. They were standing in the front yard with a cell phone, checking on me and calling 911.
They later told me they were watching TV in their living room when there was a whump and their floor leapt up about six inches. Being pretty normal folks, they immediately got the hell out of their apartment. This is what caused them to be in the front yard when I first noticed them.
I sort of staggered out into the yard myself and sat down, very much in shock. I did a self-examination and found that I had a few flash burns but was otherwise okay. I next checked on my cat, Mimi, and found to my vast relief that she was fine as well. She had been snoozing under the bed at the time, which I suppose was why she wasn’t blown up along with the windows.
And speaking of windows, every one of the windows in my apartment had been blown out except the one in the laundry room where I was standing. There were pieces of glass strewn everywhere across the yard, most no bigger than a quarter. Mixed in with the glass were dozens of small miniblind bits; it seemed the window treatments had fared no better than the windows. I also started to notice a few weird things about the apartment, like there were large cracks in the hall drywall and the back wall of my living room was canted out into the yard. Scary.
About this time the fire department showed up. Actually, by the clock it was probably only about seven minutes or so after I blew the place up, but it seemed much longer at the time. The good old SPFD sent four trucks, two chiefs (!) and an ambulance, God bless them. It turned out they weren’t really needed for fire fighting, but it was unclear if the gas lines had ruptured so they hung around a while to check. I later found out they initially suspected I had a meth lab set up in my humble garden level apartment. I suppose they don’t get the spray can explosion story just every day, so I guess I can understand their incredulity,
Incidentally, at this point in the story every woman I’ve ever told it to swoons once they realize that I was surrounded by about 40 firemen. Some even faint in coils. I can see them thinking to themselves, “Dang, I wonder if I have a spray can at home that I can blow up.” “Go for it,” I tell them. “I’ll come visit you at the trauma center.”
I say this because every man jack of the firefighting hunks that looked at my house told me the same thing: “Son, you are lucky to be alive.” One of the EMTs who examined me told me I was so lucky that I should immediately go out and buy a lottery ticket. I actually did this, and I didn’t win shit, but I suppose both surviving the explosion and winning the lottery is a little too much to ask of Dame Fortune. I gladly settled for the former, believe me.
Another funny thing was that I had a first date with some woman scheduled for later that evening. In retrospect, this is probably why I was doing laundry in the first place; usually laundry for me is a semiannual event accompanied by much wailing and lamentation. Anyway, when I told the EMTs about the first date and how I had to call and cancel it, they cracked up. “Don’t cancel it,” they told me. “You are so going to get lucky tonight.” I ignored them and cancelled it anyway. “Um, sorry, I can’t make the date. I just blew up my house.” “What?” “I just blew up my house. I’ll call you later. Sorry.” Click.
I’ll skip the horrible and traumatic aftermath and end the story here. Know, though, that every word of this story is true and really happened to me. Well, except the semiannual laundry thing; I do laundry a little more often than that. But the rest really did occur as described. I was even on the local TV news that night. And as an aside to that, Janet From Another Planet, an acquaintance about whom it has been muttered by some “the wheel is turning but the hamster is dead,” says every damn time I run into her “Hey, I saw you on TV that night you blew up your house.” Thanks, Janet. Glad you’re right on top of things. How’s that Beanie Baby collection coming along?
So what can one learn from these Hulles misadventures in things that blow up? There are surely many life lessons that can be discovered by the attentive reader, but I personally think the two most important ones are:
- Don’t microwave instant oatmeal, and
- Keep your aerosol cans in the garage.
Simple, right? And yet if only someone had told me these things earlier in life, I’d probably be a lot better-adjusted and less-excitable person today than is actually the case. Maybe, if someone had bothered to mention these things to me when it would have done some good, I wouldn’t scream like a girl and dive under the table every time some prepubescent airhead snaps her gum.
Although, come to think of it, maybe that last thing is related to either Fun With A Bazooka, The Flaming Blow Dart Gun, or Hulles Makes A Land Mine, three stories that I have not yet chronicled but which are going to appear in this blog Any Day Now. That is, if I live that long....
1I feel there’s a joke about Paris Hilton lurking in there somewhere, but it’ll just have to remain a feeling for now. However, feel free to track it down yourself and report back.