Light One Candle
Paralysis by Analysis
The other night, while ratcheting through my
usual itinerary of slightly-left-of-liberal online weblog sites, the house
power cut off, accompanied with the characteristic, instantaneous screech and
thud from the attached PC speakers.
The continuous gurgling of our fish aquarium filters stopped, the HVAC fan was
suddenly quiet, and the unconsciously comforting droning of the refrigerator
ceased. Our blackened house was plunged instantaneously into an enveloping,
We lose power here once in awhile, I thought. Usually it only last a few
minutes, if that. I will sit and wait for at least that long, to give the our
local power utility employees a chance to justify their CEO's fat bonus again
this year. It's really not so bad to have a few moments of absolute peace and
tranquility. Good for the old blood pressure…
After a few seconds of quiet meditation, I felt convinced that my blood
pressure was by then certainly south of normal -- and I had started to run out
of meditative mantras. I began to consider the notion of finding and lighting
a candle. This gave me pause, since I knew that doing so would inject a
certain small -- but definite -- factor of risk into an otherwise risk-free
environment. Many house fires start from accidents with open flames. In
particular -- and this domicile is about as particular as it gets -- the risk
here is higher. Were I to place the candle too low, the dogs might knock it
off. Placed high, the cats might do the same. I would have to attend the
candle's presence and status continuously. That would be more responsibility
than I might want to assume. What if I were to momentarily take my guard off
it? My God, what if I were to fall asleep with it still burning?
Our house is filled to its veritable brim with paper, plastic and other
flammable (or inflammable, if you prefer -- the same meaning) materials.
Books, magazines, newsprint, fabrics, carbon-based ephemera of all sorts cover
most of the square footage in our home. This place is an organic chemist's wet
dream. We probably deserve a personalized consumer award from both Weyerhauser
and Dow Chemical for single-handedly guaranteeing their profit margins each
year. There is hardly a molecule of matter in here that doesn't crave being
rapidly oxidized. Bottom line: There is no safe place to station an open flame
within these walls.
As it was pitch-black in the house at the time, I didn't need to close my eyes
to visualize the fiery catastrophe that would befall a minor accident with a
lit candle. Sure, all the cats would run out the pet door -- along with the
damned culprit with the smoking tail -- and I'm fairly certain we and the dogs
would get out in time before the place collapsed in a crash of burning
timbers. But those SOB pets can live in the woods, feeding off the game and
sleeping curled up against a tree. Where the hell do we live? My idea of
"roughing it" is a Ramada Inn in the foothills, not too far away from a 3-star
restaurant. God has not yet created a tree that I would want to bed down next
You may wonder why I did not simply fish out a flashlight. If so, you are
obviously not one of those who understand just how truly dangerous leaky
batteries can become. Explosively dangerous. Who would keep such potentially
devastating time-bombs in their house? Not me.
In the camping supply section of Wal-Mart, I have seen "cold-light" sticks for
sale. I'd read where these contain certain chemicals, and when you bend the
stick it allows them to mix to produce a bit of cold, ghostly light that lasts
for awhile. Here is how it works:
Hydrogen peroxide oxidizes a phenyl oxalate
ester, resulting in a chemical called phenol and an unstable peroxyacid
The unstable peroxyacid ester decomposes,
resulting in additional phenol and a cyclic peroxy compound.
The cyclic peroxy compound decomposes to carbon
This decomposition releases energy to the dye.
The electrons in the dye atoms jump to a higher
level, then fall back down, releasing energy in the form of light.
I have been tempted in the past to buy a few
of these sticks. But reading further about them, the chemicals sound vaguely
threatening ("unstable"?) and the explanation of how they work seems oddly
glib. To the little devil on my right shoulder, it all sounds suspiciously
like a Communist plot to implant these mind-numbing chemicals in every
American household -- much like fluoride in public water supplies. To the
little angel on my left shoulder, it brings up the question of whether the
used light-sticks can be disposed of in an environmentally safe manner or not.
The big bozo between them thinks: Sure, carbon dioxide sounds harmless enough
-- but it can kill you if it displaces the breathable air within a
Now, I have been around candles in the past -- but not if I can help it. My
contact lenses and sinuses scream in agony whenever we wander past a boutique
in a mall that sells scented candles. Candles are made of wax, an oppressive,
oleaginous substance if there ever was one. Wax is derived from animal fat.
Sitting in the darkness, I can see in my mind's eye that noxious substance
vaporizing, floating through the air, and thickly coalescing once again on the
lining of my lungs. Just imagining its cloying deposition there makes me want
to gasp for oxygen. Give me the breath of life, not the vapors of dead,
decayed animal flesh!
I sat morosely in the darkness and silence for a few more moments, mulling
over these distasteful thoughts. Soon, my wife appeared at the doorway to the
library, holding a lighted candle.
"What are you doing, sitting in the dark?", she asked.
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