The Day the Mules Went Crazy
by Jim Foreman

Chapter 19


            There is the old joke about the boy who didn't know the difference between incest and pyromania, so he set fire to his sister. I'm sure that this is very close to the truth because as I was growing up, I had far more experience with fire than I ever did with incest; most likely because I didn't have a sister.

            They say that man discovered fire at least half a million years ago which I am sure is probably true as far as the time, however I would bet that it was a boy and not a man who discovered it. Left to their own devices, in addition to the usual things like cigarette lighters, matches and the tried and true Boy Scout method of rubbing two sticks together; boys have been known to kindle fires with magnifying glasses, chemicals, wires heated with flashlight batteries, pieces of flint, grinding wheels, compressed air, and hitting toy pistol caps with a hammer. In fact, I'd bet that it was a boy who was the first person to pile up oily rags and cause spontaneous combustion.

            In addition to the usual contents of their pockets, like marbles, nails, paper clips, string, washers, bottle caps and an occasional dead toad, the two things which one could always depend on a boy having was matches and a pocket knife. As we grew older, the pocket knife stayed but we progressed from matches to cigarette lighters, even though we didn't smoke. It seemed that at a certain age, whether he smoked or not, every boy had to have a cigarette lighter and anyone without one was considered to be socially disadvantaged.

            World War Two and my cigarette lighter years came along at about the same time and while all service men carried genuine Zippo lighters, engraved with an emblem of their branch of service, we boys had to do with what we could find. Along with the war came a flood of empty .50 Caliber Machine Gun shells so quiet logically, the next step was for people to make cigarette lighters out of them. The lighter was fitted into the shell with a fake bullet to cover it. To use the lighter, you removed the cap and thumbed the little spark wheel to make it light. When you were done with it, you blew it out and put it back the bullet cover back on to keep the lighter fluid from evaporating.

            As was the custom each Saturday, my cousin and I caught the bus to Borger to see the movies. While we were waiting for the movies to open, we stopped by the drug store across the street for a root beer float. We had no more than stepped through the door when I noticed the display of machine gun bullet lighters in between the boxes of cigars and machines to make roll-your-own cigarettes. They were beautiful things, a full six inches of polished brass topped with a buffed aluminum bullet. To any normal person, they would have been far too big to carry around in a pocket. But to a wide-eyed boy, they were the ultimate in utility, the pinnacle of pulchritude, the answer to our fondest desires. We just had to have one. By pooling our money and doing without both the root beer floats and lunch, we had just enough money to buy one of those beautiful lighters, a can of Energene lighter fluid and still have enough left over to get into the movie.

            I carried the can of Energene fluid in my pocket and my cousin carried the lighter in his. We knew that if an usher saw what we had, he would certainly confiscate it. As soon as the lights were out, we had the lighter out to look at it as best we could in the dark. Naturally, the first thing to do was fill it with fluid. My cousin held the lighter upright and I squeezed the can to soak the cotton stuffing with fluid. A .50 caliber shell is so large that it took almost a whole can of Energene to fill it. The only way we could tell in the darkness that it was full was when the fluid ran all over my cousin's hands.

            Now, when a boy has a lighter, there's only thing to do with it, and we all know what that is. My cousin thumbed the little wheel, silver sparks shot out, the wick flared and so did his Energene-soaked hands. He let out a yell, dropped the lighter between the seats and dashed for the rest room to put the fire out. The lighter started rolling under the seats toward the front of the theater with its flames getting bigger all the time. People were jumping out of the way as I ran along beside the errant lighter, trying to step on it each time it passed between one row of seats and the next.

            The projectionist saw the flames, shut down the projector and turned up the house lights. Two ushers came running, followed closely by the manager, the lady who sold tickets and two girls from the popcorn stand. As the lighter rolled from under the last row of seats, one of the ushers captured it with a mop and the other dumped a bucket of dirty water on it.

            By the time that the manager had finally figured out that it was only a cigarette lighter and not a dangerous shell of some sort about to explode, the fire department and three policemen had arrived. My cousin had doused his flaming hands by sticking them into a toilet and the only visible damages were badly singed eyebrows.

            The manager grabbed me and my cousin by the collars and bounced us all the way up the aisle and out the front door, all the time yelling something about what he would do to us if we ever came back into his place again. Not only did we not get to see the movie, we didn't even get our lighter back.

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