We’ve all had that person in our lives who seemed to know things – not the essential type of knowledge that underpins your education. No, this person knew things that were sketchy, if not wrong, and tempted you to join them. He showed you how to get your quarter back from a video game with fishing line or how to trick the scale at the grocery store’s bottle return. During the 70’s he gave you all kinds of bad advice and you might have taken it once or twice. Might have.
One glowing tidbit I received was the fact that jeans don’t burn. I was told this long before Snopes could verify it and before I knew the difference between fire resistant and fireproof. But like any guy, I loved fire. So I tested the theory with a match on my pants and it seemed to work. That’s fact-checking at its finest.
I filed this useful tidbit of knowledge away for later use along with all the trivia rolling around in my noggin. And then one day, an opportunity presented itself.
Seated in a high school science class, our teacher had prepared those black top tables with Bunsen burners and about every other table had a pack of matches. Of course those glorious sticks of light were sitting directly in front of me. As was a young lady named Tammy.
I’d had a crush on Amy for some time. A novice at love, I was somewhere between the “kick her in the shins” and “say something clever” level of romantic maturity. When my mind retrieved the “jeans don’t burn” fact from the bowels of memory storage, I knew I had a winner. What could say, “you’re cute” better than a hot-butt that won’t set the room on fire?
And so, I leaned over the table, lit a match, and proceeded to hold it directly under the small part of her tuckus poking out of the lab’s uncomfortable metal stools.
This is where I learned something very startling.
Jeans may not burn, but synthetic jean-like pants will go up like rocket fuel pouring from the space shuttle.
Too young to know textiles or fabrics, I quickly discovered that those weren’t jeans she was wearing. Of course, after her pants became engulfed in flame, she was wearing little else. Fortunately, she noticed quickly and patted herself out. Somehow, she wasn’t burned but the black-rimmed hole in her pants was bad.
And me… I started feeling that sinking feeling I knew so well. This was not only a rejection of a lame attempt at fiery flirtation, but real trouble setting in. I had literally just lit a girl on fire in my high school science class.
Tammy must have been a saint. After covering herself with a jacket, she asked to be excused and came back ten minutes later in her gym pants. I, of course, apologized profusely and offered to replace the pants. Which I did in subsequent weeks.
And our relationship? That was doomed to the wasted ash of history.
But out of the ashes rose one of my kids favorite stories.