30 Days Minus 2 of Writing, Day 5: You’d better put out

One of the hazards of working in a candle shop when you’re a teenage boy is that you can accidentally burn your face off.

I say this not only because teenage boys love all things sharp, flammable and explosive, but because it happened to me.

My parents owned a chain of Wicks ‘n Sticks stores when I was in high school. It was a short chain — just two small stores in shopping malls on opposite ends of town — but I believe calling it a chain makes me sound like I come from old money, so I’m sticking with it.

In reality, I worked for my parents, who paid me minimum wage to run the store while they took months-long luxury cruises to Italy and Iceland.*

Wicks ‘n Sticks sold expensive, decorative candles. Many of them were carved to look like birds, because there’s nothing more beautiful to an American than a flaming eagle. It also sold votives to people who apparently wanted their homes to smell like a mixture of fake cinnamon apples and the oily effluent of the Exxon Valdez. I hated that smell, and to this day my stomach heaves when I walk past a candle shop.

At least my duties at the candle shop were simple: Sell product, stock the shelves, and clean wax off countertops and glass, often with kerosene-soaked paper towels. In hindsight, the kerosene seems like a bad idea.

I was cleaning the counter and lighting candles one night when I absentmindedly threw a smoldering match into the trash can, which instantly erupted into a five-foot-high pillar of flame. My first thought was, “You’d better put out that fire before the mall burns to the ground and your angry parents have to rush home from Greece to post your bail.”

Being young, my solution was to blow the fire out. So I took a deep breath, leaned over, and blew on the trash can with all my might.

I’ve since learned that, technically, fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion.

What I learned then was that when you blow on a fire, you get more fire, and a lot of it. The flames leapt toward my face quicker than I could flinch, burning off a lot of my hair and all of my eyebrows, eyelashes and the chin fuzz I’d been hoping to turn into a heard. I batted wildly at the ascending cloud of smoke and ash, backing away from the towering inferno faster than a flaming eagle diving into a lake for relief.

Fortunately, I was able to smother the fire with a cloth towel, saving the mall, the candle shop, my family’s considerable fortune, and about 40 percent of my dignity.

I also learned a valuable lesson: Never put a teenage boy in charge of anything involving fire.

*Child abandonment added for dramatic purposes.

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38 thoughts on “30 Days Minus 2 of Writing, Day 5: You’d better put out

  1. Hey Mike!

    “Never put a teenage boy in charge of anything involving fire”?

    Actually, never put a teenage boy in charge on ANYTHING. No good will come of it.

    This one made me smile, no mean feat in the monring. Thank you. Indigo

    • Excellent point, Indigo, and one that I hadn’t fully considered. Teenage boys should basically be locked up until they’re 28 or so.

  2. You know, I wonder if burning your face off as a youth is the reason why your face fell off as an adult? Don’t take this the wrong way but you have one really unfortunate face.

  3. What happened to that 40 percent of your dignity? It seems like it’s gone now as you’re participating in this. πŸ˜‰ Oh, wait, so am I…never mind.

  4. It seems you have to face the fact that when you you look into a burning can to face your fears of reality, you’ll face a lot of fire instead. Or something like that.

  5. Oh my, my. Those were some nasty smells back then, weren’t they? I think there are some better products out there these days…..although I tend to avoid anything heavily scented.


    Oops. There went my face. CAT! NO! STOP LICKING THAT! EW!

  6. “I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception.”

    I think Groucho Marx was talking about you, Michael! I think Groucho is rude. I like your face. Well, the face that isn’t burned, pinned on or have scales on it.

    I don’t know how you dreamed up this face business, but I’m loving it!

  7. It’s funny Mike but neither of us can remember the cruises. The vanilla votives must have addled our brains! My somach still turns when I pass a candle shop.
    Thank God that is over with.

  8. I learn more about you on this blog than in person. Your story is much more interesting than mine. I sneezed really hard one day and hit my face on the Wicks-n-Sticks counter. I have no idea how this happened. Worse, some creep came in asking me, a mere 12-year-old, about what scent of candle would please his girlfriend. In these times, a 12-year-old girl would run away to mall security.

    I politely suggested the black votive with the musky smell. He yelled at me. I bet he’s in prison somewhere the inappropriate asshole. Go ask your adult friends about your damn girlfriend.

  9. But wait, I just saw ;you and your face looks fine. Candle scents can be lovely or they can give me a headache. Teenage boys are not to be trusted ever. I learned that the hard way when I was a teenage girl.

    • Agreed. I think that was my favorite part. As soon as I saw the asterisk, I started to scroll down with expectation. The punchline did not disappoint.

      Funny stuff, Mike. I hope one day your poor face will be spared from all of these indignities.

  10. I think it’s interesting how a lot of us turned to fire for today’s prompt. It’s unfortunate that your face has been taking such a beating though.

  11. I remember Wicks and Sticks! Didn’t they also sell those candles poured into sand? I remember thinking everything in that store was cool. Though I have a gag reaction when I wander into Yankee Candle these days, it remains a fond memory of my mall-trawling days.

    • Yes, I do remember the candles poured into sand. Interestingly, when I go into antique stores, some of the items my family sold are in there. This makes me feel…..well….old.

    • You were? You should’ve told me. I might’ve published my Indecent Haven series of erotic short stories instead of this crap.

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