Thursday, December 29, 2005

Homestyle Tear Gas: A Holiday Tale
Ah, the holidays. A time of family togetherness, with memories of presents, Christmas trees, children, laughter,... and accidental family experiments in how to make pepper gas.

It went like this. My grandmother's house, during the holiday season, has anywhere from 10-18 people in it at pretty much any given time. Many of them try to be helpful in one way or another in relation to preparing meals. It was nearing dinner time. My grandmother has a flat-topped electric range, where the burners are simply marked by circular patterns of lines, black on white. Unlike more recent models, the burners do not light up, glow, or otherwise indicate that they are on. There was a pot of beans on one of the front burners. Someone unfamiliar with the stove was told to start warming them up, but turned on the back burner instead, misunderstanding which dial controled which burner.

A few minutes later, my mother, sitting in the living room, noticed some smoke rising from the stove, and sent me into the kitchen to investigate. On the back burner in question was sitting an cooking-sized plastic container of black pepper. The plastic was melting onto the burner. I turned off the burner and attempted to remove the container, at which point the melted plastic stuck to the stove while the rest of the container moved away from it, spilling out a mountain of black pepper onto the hot burner, which immediately began releasing clouds of pepper gas into the air.

Let me tell you, that stuff is insidious and painful to breathe. It immediately bites the back of your throat and you can feel it trying to get into your lungs (which is bad enough, I judge, even for those without asthma.) We opened every door in the downstairs of the house and mostly tried to stay outside for the twenty minutes or so it took to disperse.

Given that this happened a day or two after hearing all about how my aunt set her bathrobe on fire Christmas morning reaching over a candle, it's been an exciting Christmas for our extended family this year.

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