Sunday, May 16, 2010

Stupid Burning Men

I recently related a story about my proclivities and misfortune with fire and electricity. I neglected to tell one of my more harrowing experiences with a spa heater mostly because I was an adult by then and should have known better. We had a house in California with gunite spa. It was like a big cube with seats around a 7 foot perimeter. We left it cold all of the time except for when we wanted to use it. Now ordinarily that would seem impossible with today’s standard spa heaters, but then I had a full sized gas pool heater connected to that tiny spa. It was a pretty nifty set-up, I could call-up the house from my office and turn on the heater and it would heat for about an hour and the water would be a toasty 100 degrees after dinner.

As you can imagine, that large burner would put out a lot of fire so it had a huge gas tube array to heat the water quickly. One day the pilot lighting system would was acting flakey. I attempted to light the pilot by hand with a long stick and a match but it would only turn on for a second and then immediately turn off again. I did this three times in hopes of finding the source of the problem with the pilot tube or the main gas supply. Lucky for me, my ultra-confident and very mechanically inclined friend showed up as I was on my knees with that dumb burner. We had invited him and his wife for dinner, and he always was up for a good mystery project anyway.

I encouraged him to ‘have a look’ at the heater and I told him to get in close as I opened the burner hatch so he could see. I lit a match for the fourth and final time as we both peered intensely at the pilot light array and gas valve. Then WOOOSH – a flood of yellow and orange heat and light overcame us both with barely enough time to close our eyes. It was all over so fast. I lay on my back against the edge of the spa about 4 feet away from the heater. My eyes felt sticky but I could see as I blinked to glimpse my friend huddled on the opposite side of the deck, face down with his head in a corner. He wasn’t moving. My first thought was not very compassionate as I wondered if my homeowners insurance would cancel me if I had killed my friend? Finally the guy turned around with a bright red face and I mocked his wimpy retreat while of course ignoring my own.

As we went in to face our wives, we decided to let a professional heater guy handle this job. Our spouses did not at first notice our faces at dinner – it was the smell. They started off with “Do you smell that?”. Then it gradually got more concerned like “I smell something burning – did we turn off the stove?” Finally we confessed to nearly blowing up the spa and ourselves when they finally looked at us dead on. The reddened chapped faces were not the immediate giveaway. The real evidence was that half of my eyebrows were now gone and my friend’s mustache hairs were all curled up skyward blocking his nostrils. No one seemed particularly surprised or concerned by this close call. However, my wife did query under her breath –“ I wonder if our homeowners insurance covers STUPIDITY?”

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