Things That Are Flammable, In Order of How Awesome My Discovery of Said Flammability Was At Age 12

  1. Gasoline (my experiments were nothing if not exhaustive)
  2. Dry spaghetti noodles (used in a pinch to light a gas stove)
  3. Cotton Candy (why do more people not know about this one?)
  4. WD40 (in aerosol form only)
  5. Lighter fluid (can be mixed with sand and spread out to form incredibly awesome “flaming desert” campaign with toy soldier)
  6. Paraffin (note: melted down in sauce pan, spilled some over side onto open flame, whole pan caught on fire. Awesome results could not be duplicated, even after multiple iterations of test conditions)
  7. Scotch tape (part 2 of the experiment, wherein fumes of said burning are collected and inhaled, or “huffed”, was inconclusive)
  8. Dried rose petals (experiment was conducted in the hollowed-out bottom of a broom handle, with fume aperture drilled into the side and connected to a venting tube. Crushed and dried petals did not ignite but smoldered successfully)
  9. Tennis ball slit open and filled kerosene (media reports of this experiment greatly exaggerate the danger of the test conditions. First, if a certain neighborhood collaborator known as M. Baum hadn’t been so afraid of a flaming ball of fire being kicked through the air toward him, he might have successfully blocked it from hitting the pine tree. Secondly, with a little circumspection and foresight, said M. Baum might have realized that the best way to extinguish a tennis ball filled up with flammable liquid is NOT with vigorous stomping. I believe this experiment can, and should, be conducted again with more carefully selected personnel in assisting roles.)
  10. Epichlorohydrin, one of the two compounds used in making epoxy, when cooked together with nitrate fertilizer over low heat and set in a paper cup suspended over a flaming mason jar full of windshield washer fluid. For best results, conduct experiment underneath a trampoline while 8-year-old sister is jumping above you.

Remember kids, if your home flammability experiments don’t result in being placed on the Homeland Security Terrorist Watch List, you’re not doing it right.

71 thoughts on “Things That Are Flammable, In Order of How Awesome My Discovery of Said Flammability Was At Age 12

  1. Bobby

    mmmmmmmm. So much to say. So little to publicly disclose.

    +1 guitar picks (specifically “tortiseshell” fender medium)
    +1 ping pong balls painstakingly filled with “strike anywhere” match heads one at a time.
    +1 two-stage model rocket motors (crush 2nd stage to increase powder surface area)

    Looking at this I’m surprised at least one of us still has eyebrows, let alone all 10 fingers.

  2. Sharolyn's Husband

    +1 Film container filled with gasoline and one fire cracker. One possible result of this experiment is that the metal lid of the film container might lift into the air and strike the second story window of your friend’s mom’s room. Should this occur, when asked what you are doing, answer, “Nothing!” as nonchalantly as possible.

  3. Linda

    I don’t know the whole story yet…
    but I can say for certain that our son’s bathroom flooring and imitation marble sink show distinct signs of future blog material…

  4. Trevor Carpenter


    You forget, I’m from Camarillo and have access to police reports. I could look up the whole pine tree mess. Of course, since I also know said Baum family, (including older brother w/ Cuda), I’ll just question them for the details.

    Oh yeah, not only am I from said hometown, but also from the Boy Scout community. You can’t hide from me anymore, Lee.

  5. Gretchen

    I fear for my boy and his share of his dad’s genes.

    My mother in law keeps smiling at me while repeating, “Just wait”….um, what’s she talking about?

  6. michael lee Post author

    Please do remember, you’re not raising boys, you’re raising men, and being a man is somehow, deeply, mystically tied to doing dangerous and poorly conceived experiments that involve setting things on fire.

    And now I’m hungry for grilled steaks.

  7. Tom Ruscica

    What wonderful memories you’ve brought back to me. As I think back on my own experiences of army men+dog poop+fire crackers, oh and that useless metal pipe left in our back yard. The joy we had sending the Rangers over the fence into the neighbors pool in a hail of rocket fire and crap. Oh, and the squirt guns filled with gasoline on Halloween made going to the door fun as we made our own mark on the jack-o-lanterns. Thank you for the nostalgia.

  8. Tom Ruscica

    What’s really scary is that it doesn’t really stop when you get older. Just more dangerous. We’ve got some great stories of APU music building and Dave Walterman’s blow-gun and cross bow.

  9. Gretchen

    Yes, who will be in charge of finances?….do you want children?….who will teach them fire safety….who will teach them blatant disregard for their safety, their home and neighbors’ homes?

    My brother once was playing on top of the fort in our backyard (which also happened to be the roof of the playhouse) and started a campfire. On the wood shingle roof. Then decided to run down the street to his friends house to hide when the whole roof caught fire. Because, you know, he might get in trouble.

    I’ll be the secretary June and Sharolyn. I think keeping minutes and memos will be good for me. I need to record all of the helpful insights and wisdom given in sessions.

  10. PortcullisChain

    Since Trevor brought it up, how much of your experience in boy scouts influenced your umm….. curious ways? I understand that your were born with this gift, but how much of it was nurtured by your scoutmaster. I’m only interested because my middle son is going to be signing up with your old troop, I’ve heard some pretty wild stories and I’m interested in what to expect. Will my son be attempting on a regular basis the willful destruction of my home without any thought or will he at least come and seek me out as a regular partner in gleeful mayhem?

  11. Trevor Carpenter


    I grew up in the rival troop to Mike. His troop had not only a unique reputation, but one that many Camarillo scout parents were concerned with. My parents chose my troop primarily because it WASN’T Mike’s old troop. (It wasn’t about Mike, that’s just how I’m labeling it.)

    Not to cause disparaging thoughts about your scouting experience, Mike.

  12. PortcullisChain

    Maybe we should be looking into your old troop (what’s the number?). My older son is already established at another Camarillo troop but my middle son wants a different flavor that what’s being offered there. That being said, the scoutmaster there is getting a little long in the tooth and I’m told the worse thing that happens anymore are some inappropriate jokes here and there. I’m told the grub at campouts make up for it though.

  13. michael lee Post author

    Our Scoutmaster was a former Navy demolitions expert, who got a PhD in American History, and then started his own very successful construction company. Our first crop of eagle scouts ended up at Annapolis, Harvard, and the Air Force Academy.

    He was the first person to articulate to me that becoming a man encompassed strength, scholarship, honor, perseverance, and cooking. And fire. Important parts of my character were formed not just by being in scouts, but by spending time in the company of Lance Kistler.

    I’m glad you had a good experience in scouting, Trevor. I wouldn’t trade mine for the world.

  14. Trevor Carpenter

    Sorry, Mike. I had no intent on being insulting. I’m sure your experience with Lance was great.

    Outside your troop, however, he didn’t have the best rep.

    PC, my old troop is 813. Sponsored by the Ventura County Deputy Sheriff’s Association.

    Good troop. I won’t brag about how or where the majority of our Eagles ended up.

  15. June

    Velly Intellesting. I’ve been wondering about scouts for our boys. My dad is a cowboy (see my facebook album about him) and he has always been like John Wayne meets MacGyver meets Pa Ingalls. I have this theory that parents of boys in this day and age have to make a concerted effort to infuse manliness into their boys whereas in bygone years, life itself both infused and required more manliness than life does now. (I’m completely open and interested in male opinions about my theory. Do tell!) I wonder if Scouts could help us in our man-making efforts.

    (And did everyone note?…the misery is over…the decision has been made…I’m President. Sharolyn said so.)

  16. sharolyn

    Kidding aside, my grandfather was killed in an accident involving professional welding and gasoline. So it is somewhat ingrained in me to fear fire. I will try to translate that into “respect” fire, for the benefit of my son. I do want him to grow up to be a man – but also want him to grow up in tact – so I struggle with this issue and will be reading as the discussion continues!

  17. PortcullisChain

    Lance Kistler was SPL during my woodbadge (go Beavers!) course and what I remember most was the couple times he gave a “SPL minute” at the end of a couple of sessions, he actually started getting choked up and cried. That impressed me a great deal and showed he really was invested in this whole scouting thing. On the other hand I remember bringing Lance up in conversation with my older son’s scoutmaster (another ventura county old timer and navy guy too) and I remember a look of definite disapproval on his face. So maybe there is some truth to what Trevor is saying about a bad reputation. Obviously someone like me, who can spout some pretty offensive stuff, can care less about having a good reputation (no wise cracks please). If my son came back however with some fingers burnt off from the last campout, my wife might have something to say to me about scouting.

  18. harmonicminer

    I was in cub scouts till I beat up the den mother’s kid for saying, “I’d rather be dead than red on the head.”

    My brother taught me how to put a cap on one end of a 1 inch pipe, light a cherry bomb (the real ones, in those days) and drop it in, and then drop in a “biggie” glass marble, and aim the little howitzer. I really didn’t expect it, at the age of 10, to go through a neighbor’s garage window and ding his car.

    He eventually wound up in Vietnam lugging around a mortar.

    Mike, I may be beginning to understand you better. You’re just a barely sublimated pyromaniac. Explains a lot. I hope you enjoy meetings of the General Studies council. If you find yourself having flammable fantasies, call me, and I’ll try to talk you down. Maybe.

  19. Eric

    Odd. In our family, it’s my wife who’s the pyromaniac. She’s not very good at it, but she really loves to burn things…

  20. Matty

    I still remember making a Parkay™ tub of homemade napalm with my buddy Shane. He toted that thing around for four periods in his backpack, until the gasoline began to leech through the plastic. Man, that smelled.

    We blew 6.5 lockers to holy hell that day.

    And Sharolyn, June, Brandy, and Gretchen — give up hope. Males are genetically wired to be attracted to two things: boobs and fire. In fact, I firmly believe that, were it not for my discovery of boobs, Thousand Oaks would have been consumed by flames long, long ago.

  21. michael lee Post author

    June, I think scouting provides two very needed things, in addition to the actual skills learned (outdoor skills, first aid, citizenship).

    First, scouting provides a rite of passage. It provides a set of tasks to be completed, and a ceremony upon completed, where a boy is acknowledged and welcomed into a new stage of life, one where he is expected to shoulder new responsibilities, and is held to a higher accountability. Some cultures have retained things like the bar mitzvah, but in our culture at large, we don’t really have anything like this. Ask any eagle scout what it meant to walk through that Court of Honor, to have every eagle scout in the room stand up and surround him, and to have them say, “You belong here with us. You’ve accomplished something significant, and should be proud. You also have a new level of obligation to those scouts coming up behind you.” It’s a very powerful thing, to have a rite of passage into manhood.

    Second, and I think more important, scouting provides extended periods of time for boys to be in the company of men, while doing masculine things together. Our culture segments people into groups by age, and children spend long periods of time being influenced, primarily, by other children their own age. When children are the primary influence on other children, the result is always only one step above Lord of the Flies.

    When they are under the care and influence of adults, in our culture (most cultures?) it is still much more likely that those adults will be women. Boys need the presence of strong and intelligent women in their lives, I’m not in any way minimizing the importance of that. They need to learn things that are best taught by women. But it’s also essential for boys to observe men, to join them in projects, to feel like they belong in this tribe, and hopefully to imitate the virtues that those men demonstrate. Scouting creates a unique environment where boys are invited to try on the trappings of manhood, where a set of virtues are upheld and praised that are different than those offered by their normal peer group.

    There is a sense in our culture that as children reach a certain age, adults can no longer influence them. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think parents slowly lose that privilege, but the influence and attention of other adults, non-parent and non-teacher adults, becomes even stronger. And that’s really what’s happening when a group of boys and men walk 15 miles, setup camp, light a fire, cook food together, sharpen axes and clean knives, sit around telling scary stories and slightly crude jokes. Boys are being steeped in the influence of good men, who are not their parents, and who can offer them models of how to be men.

    On one of our local weekend backpacking trips into the hills above Malibu, a new kid showed up. He had missed the pre-trip meeting, where we bring packed backpacks and check over gear, so that everyone is prepared. He was a very rotund kid, and was being raised by his single mother. He showed up at the trailhead with his clothes, sleeping bag, and lots of snacks, all packed into two suitcases. If you’re missing the mental picture, suitcases don’t work well when you have to hike 6 miles uphill before you setup camp.

    As soon as he and his mother figured out what was going on, he looked completely defeated; his mother started apologizing to him, telling him that they would have to wait until next time, and they started to move back toward their car to drive home. He was crushed.

    One of the boys in our troop realized right away what was happening, walked over and said, “Hey, my name is Robert, me and these other other 3 guys are your patrol. You belong with us.” Without another word, they unpacked his suitcases, pulled out the essentials, and divvied them up into the packs of the other boys in the patrol.

    Where else do boys learn about the special obligation of the strong to the weak? Where else do they learn the power of those words, “You belong with us”? Where else do they learn about the power of small groups committed to the same purpose? Where do we teach them to look out for each other, that the failing of one is the failing of all? Where do we teach them to work with others their own age not as rivals or conspirators, but as a team, as brothers? Where do we send them to learn about leadership, and how real authority comes from competence and integrity, not just from conferred title or brute strength? What better workshop could there possibly be for teaching boys that the truest test of character is the endurance of failure, and perseverance in the face of defeat, that the thrill of the summit is made sweeter by the miles of sweat that came before?

    I can think of no better environment for helping boys discover the substance, the virtues, obligations, and challenges of becoming men than scouting.

  22. June

    Mike, thank you so, so, so much. I had suspicions about scouting providing ALL that….I’m so glad to have it spelled out for me. Now I just have to figure out what to do about school…..because with school in our lives, that’s all our kids can do. Ergh.

    Thank you again Mike. This is my new favorite post.

  23. James

    Mike, if those scouting pamphlets had ever said all that, I would have joined in a second.

    Instead I had to learn the obligations of being a man from my hockey coach, Zeke.

    We skipped the strong helping the weak part, and went straight to “how to throw a punch and make it count…”

    Needless to say, Ol’ Zeke only coached one season. Funny how being arrested for disturbing the peace and being intoxicated in public (by “public,” I mean a youth hockey game, and by “disturbing the peace,” I mean laying the other team’s coach out cold) can do that… Then we got a new coach and learned all the extra helping each other out stuff :P

  24. Sharolyn

    I am reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch (an extension of the talk. Page 133: “When I think of someone who is earnest, I think of a Boy Scout who works hard and becomes an Eagle Scout. When I was interviewing people to work for me, and I came upon a candidate who had been an Eagle Scout, I’d almost always try to hire him. I knew there had to be an earnestness about him that outweighed any superficial urges toward hipness. Think about it. Becoming and Eagle Scout is just about the only thing you can put on your resume at age fifty that you did at age fourteen – and it still impresses.”

  25. Sharolyn

    Okay, I don’t want to talk about myself, but here’s one more…

    In April 2000 I was involved in a car accident. I was pretty freaked out, as my sister-in-law had just passed out at the wheel. The first person to open my door said, “Hi, I’m an Eagle Scout” and it was very reassuring. (My dad and brother are also Eagle Scouts, so I knew what that meant.) He got our car and his off the freeway and into a parking lot next to the off-ramp. As help was arriving, he hopped back into his Ford Taurus and drove away, because he wanted no praise whatsoever. He was glad to help. (And boy, was I glad, too.)

  26. sharolyn

    Also, he had a cleft in his chin. He looked into the sky with one arched eyebrow and declared, “My work here is done. Good day.” Then he called his wife and his mother to tell them he loved them. And then he extinguished many fires.

  27. corey

    I distinctly remember the last time I pulled a lady out of a wrecked car… I immediately reassured her, “I have superficial urges towards hipness… Oh my God, those jeans are so 2002…”

    I keed, I keed…

  28. Sharolyn

    Corey, thank you for a good laugh. :)

    Matt, tonight at a department store, my toddler son picked up a bra and said “I like it.” Thank you for giving me a new set of worries!

  29. michael lee Post author

    Question for the fathers of sons out there – how often do you encourage or discourage certain behavior in your sons by relating it to masculinity?

    “Son, I know you’re scared to try this, but part of being a man is having courage when we’re scared.”

    “Come on, be a man …”

    “A real man doesn’t lie, son. You need to own up to your mistakes, and face the consequences.”

    I’m sure there are other examples, maybe from your own experience. This isn’t a critique, this is a genuine questions about how to parent. How important do you think it is to verbalize to your sons a model of masculinity that includes the values you’d like them to pursue?

    I know this gets a bad rap, sometimes, and things like little league sports can bring this out in the worst possible way, but my sense is that it can have a positive purpose too.


  30. Trevor Carpenter

    I think that raising our sons, to be Biblically-minded men, is an all inclusive task. It includes, by default and indirectly, the issues associated with being an honest and integrous man. I don’t want to sound to “preachy”, but I think that if focus on Biblical mandates for raising our sons (and daughters), the end result will be what you desire.

    However, with that said, I think there is a balance between my boys seeing me be honest, and own up to consequences, having taught them with my actions…AND…instructing them with “nuggets” of wisdom for becoming a solid young man.

    Just recently I’ve been focusing on teaching my boys basic chivalry. They only have their older sister to practice on, and it’s working. I’ve even caught them fighting over who would open a door for her. We focus on them letting her get into the car first, always, and not complaining when she is served before them at meals. This is not a negotiable issue, in our home, and my goal is that my boys will grow to understand that they will ALWAYS concede to the proverbial woman. (all joking aside)

    But this is reinforced by me doing these things for their mother, and their sister. As always, it’s a balance between listening to my words and watching my actions. I’d add that being deliberate with both types of instruction is pivotal.

  31. Leoanrd

    Our kids will learn much from what we celebrate. Meaning, if I celebrate honesty, my son will value honesty. If I celebrate his honesty he then learns the value of his honesty. If I celebrate Chivalry, he learns the value of chivalry. On challenge is to break these celebrations along with expectations into pieces that can be accomplished. I have avoided “real men” messages with my son as much as possible and labeled them a “man who listens to God… a man who values integrity… a man who values kindness…

    This has helped my son who has no athletic ability at all (I played sports all the way into college) to not see “real men” as a muscle or coordination issue. Which is a prominent message of our culture. He can be a real man and love drama, reading, music and never know how to throw a ball. He can be a real man and hunt and fish as well as sing and dance. These are not the measurement of a “real man” and since this real man message is so much a part of advertisements… well it has saved me. I have a 13 year old son who loves hanging with his dad, loves reading, loves drama and music whose dad loves football, baseball, basketball and 4X4ing, hunting and fishing…

    From the time we first had our kids we have asked; What kind of person do you want to be? Do you want to be a kind person? What does that person do with their hands, voice, words, feet, mind… Do you want to be a person who is forgiving? What does a forgiving person do? This has been extremely helpful for my kids (boy 13 and a girl 15)

    I asked my kids where their confidence came from and a part of their answer was we were always shown the kind of people we wanted to be… as long as we are that kind of person, we feel good.

    Parents who celebrate their rebellion are more likely to raise kids who lean towards rebellion. Parents who celebrate their rebellion are less likely to instruct their kids with authority because they feel as though they cant with integrity. After all I did it… who am I to say…?

    My son is reading Harry Potter. We waited until he was 13 and will only let him read a chapter at a time. This is due to how consuming the story is and how easily he can be consumed by the imagery of that world. We never gave him our reason for making him wait. He said last night, “dad, I like your plan for me reading Harry potter because I can digest it without getting caught up in it.” WOW! I thanked him for the clear thinking he was using and for how he was honoring me as his dad. We went and celebrated together by sacrifcina a goat… okay just kidding about the goat but by getting a soda. He is learning to value what we celebrate.

  32. James

    Mike, on little league:
    I have been playing team sports for as long as I can remember, going from baseball, to football (“soccer”), hockey, then rugby. Between all of these, no matter where I lived or what my age was, there always two things that stayed the same: my father egging us on to beat the crap out of the other team (we had some very colorful experiences when he got the job of coaching our baseball team of 1st-3rd graders… haha), and a sense of respect for fellow boys/men.
    Though little league sports do tend to have a bad rap for being rowdy and riling kids up, I think people tend to look past what they are really teaching. For a boy to understand that people are relying on him, that he needs to pull through for his fellow men to succeed, all the while humbly realizing that he also needs to understand how much he needs these other people in the same way, is crucial for him to become a man. In this sense, team sports teach a very basic (almost primitive) form of accountability at a young age. These are lessons that teach a man to be a good husband, father, co-worker, friend, son, and member of the community. I whole-heartedly believe that all boys should do some sort of team sports at some point in their childhood, for the sake of teaching respect and work ethic, and the rewards that come from working hard.

    And Trevor: I definitely agree. Playing rugby taught me these things probably more than any other sport I have ever been involved in. Maybe it’s because I was more receptive to them at this point in my life, but I like to believe that rugby is just a sport that requires that reliability and teamwork more than most… Just to watch the interaction between teammates will show you that (perfect example, a line-out in rugby… If you don’t understand then Google image search it). There is no star player, just a strong team.

    …..Plus, rugby is a BLAST. nothing more manly than beating the snot out of each other non-stop for 80 minutes…. :)

  33. James

    Apparently indentation means nothing to AddisonRD… so pretend there are actually paragraphs in that last post….

  34. corey

    I use the phrase “honorable man” with my two boys, Mike. Their daddy wears LOTS of hair product and plays guitar for most of our family’s money- so espousing the virtues of bodybuilding or dunking a basketball are gonna look pretty stupid coming from me. But the boys and I say prayers together most nights and we often talk about what it means to be an honorable man while we’re praying for men and women close to us.

    I’m a firm believer in teaching the kids to love those around them, even when it’s hard to like those same people. And how the boys see me treat their mom factors in as well, IMO. I’m always VERY grateful when she brings me a beer and makes my food taste good.

  35. Brandy Ruscica

    I recently had to have the talk with our eldest (Luca who is 5) about how to make a fist and hit! Seriously! Never thought I’d have this talk…it is soooo for the dad. But he was cornerd at Chick-fil-a in the play area and 2 boys starting hitting him. Poor little guy just stood there and didn’t defend himself. I didn’t think he was old enough before to discern the difference with self defense and being a bully…and think he would’ve probably jumped in in a heart beat to defend his brother…but not himself. So mommy got to do the daddy talk that day. I told him to make a fist and hit hard…then come tell an adult. I don’t know if you agree with this or not…but I was proud to have a masculine type conversation with my son, and to encourage him to stand up for himself and when it is okay to hit back. (Plus, I could kick Tom’s butt anyday…so maybe it was okay that I had this talk with him….ha ha)

  36. Gretchen

    Thank you Leonard for your insight. I love the language you choose to use with your son and daughter. Definite inspiration and examples of how I would like to raise our own children.

  37. Leonard

    At least with my kids they wont have as many typos as I do. I even spelled my name wrong. I just added Savant to my title.

  38. sharolyn

    I read an article in my local paper about how Mythbusters was recently filmed here. The author was talking about how there isn’t really a permit for which to apply (regarding the experiments performed). My favorite quote was when Jamie said something to the effect of: “The difference between us and 12 year-old pyros is we invite the police.”

  39. Sharolyn

    June, one of my favorite students (a female) was Jaime for Halloween, with goatee and beret.

    This clip is dedicated to my husband the trombonist, the 12 year-old in Mike, and June’s son.

  40. Pingback: Addison Road | Scouting at 100

  41. Ali

    You should add Lemon Extract to that list! It’s way too much fun and is an interesting alternative to fire-starting fluid. Plus it smells good. I have yet to try it as a means of breathing fire, but I plan on it.

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