Pyromaniacs, Bored and Young (Second Story)

By Ben Leib

Someone gave Randy a homemade blowtorch for his birthday.  It was well constructed, looked almost commercial-grade: a steel frame mounted with shoulder straps supported an oxygen tank and an acetylene tank side by side.  Hoses ran from the tanks to the torch itself.  Though I knew that he was taking a welding class, I was shocked to discover that someone had gifted Randy such a dangerous toy.  The man’s biggest aspiration with metalwork was to create an enormous barbeque from a steel drum.  Not only did his dreams of welding strike me as fleeting, but, and more importantly, Randy wasn’t the most responsible guy on the face of the planet.  Because of an inherent strangeness that drove him to inexplicable acts, I never put anything past the guy.  So, in my mind, giving Randy a blowtorch was tantamount to giving a small child a paper bag full of broken light bulbs – it was cruel precisely because he might choose to play with it.

“You guys want to go try it out?”  Randy was thrilled with his new toy.

“What the fuck are we gonna do with a blowtorch?” Hector demanded.

When fire and Randy united, it was a combustible marriage.  I wouldn’t say that he was a firebug in the traditional sense: he wasn’t compelled by some irresistible and internal force to set the world aflame, though I cannot say that he wasn’t empowered by the witnessing of destruction.  So, despite the fact that his vandalistic tendencies were not compulsive, despite that they were not necessitated by some psychological drive against which Randy was powerless, they were satisfying nevertheless.  And because this was the case, he dedicated himself to destructive vandalism of all kinds, considered them something akin to acts of recreation.  And because of his eccentricities, because of a clear cut difference between him and other specimens of humankind, a difference that he’d been made aware of since emergence into cognitive thought, Randy had a grudge against civilization, and against our hometown.

That said, if he got an opportunity to evacuate our little city and ignite one gigantic and celebratory bonfire, he wouldn’t hesitate to strike that match.

 “I’m fucking tired, dude,” I complained.

“Well, this’ll wake your ass up,” Randy said.

“Seriously, Randy, what do you think we’re going to do with a blowtorch?” Hector asked.

“We’re gonna weld Corbit’s gate shut.”

We pulled off of the road and into the mouth of the driveway.  The gate was closed and locked, and beyond it the driveway curved uphill for another two hundred yards or so.  I viewed Corbit’s house silhouetted in moonlight and could discern no signs of waking life.  There was enough of a gap between the gate and the main road that Randy’s car remained out of sight and provided some cover from any traffic that might happen to pass at that hour.

“So what’s the big plan Randy?” I asked.

“I’m going to actually weld the links of the chain together so that it’s one continuous loop holding the gate closed.  They’re gonna have to get bolt cutters down here if they want to go to work in the morning.”

“I wish I could see Corbit’s dad when he tries to unlock the fucker,” Hector chuckled.  “Could you imagine them climbing the gate to get out of here?” Hector savored the image, “Corbit’s dad all decked out in his work clothes.”

Hector and I watched as Randy hauled the blow torch from the trunk of his car.  He had dismantled the entire thing before putting it into the trunk, tanks of gas stored at opposite sides of the car.  Any safety precautions taken by Randy were reassuring.  He inserted the tanks into the steel frame, reattached the hoses and the torch itself, and began adjusting the pressures of the gas tanks, allowing a certain ratio of oxygen to acetylene.  He then turned a few knobs at the base of the torch.  Randy ignited the torch, which burned orange red.  As he continued to adjust the gas ratio, the flame grew, narrowed, and deepened in color to a hazy blue.  He looked enchanted as he stared into that intense blade of flame, the blue reflecting the blue irises of a Promethean supplicant.

Hector and I took our places beside Randy as he attacked first the pad lock, then the chain links themselves.  When Randy was done, he stood back.  “Well, gentlemen, what do you think?”

We inspected the welding job.  “Little sloppy, don’t you think?” Hector asked.

“Hey look, this isn’t precision welding.”

“Good God, Randy, I had my doubts.”  I tugged at the chain.  The weld was solid.  “But you did it.  Corbit’s definitely gonna need bolt cutters to get out of here tomorrow.”

When we got to the junior high, Randy drove through the dirt lots at the side of campus.  He pulled onto one of the paved walkways between classroom buildings so that the car wouldn’t be seen during a routine drive through. 

“So what the fuck do you plan to do here?” Hector asked.

“We’re gonna burn through the change box of the pay phone,” Randy announced.

I groaned.  “Oh, you’ve got to be shitting me Randy.  That’ll take all night.”

The payphone was located at the front of the school, on the trespassing side of a chain link fence that marked the school’s entrance.  Randy ignited the torch.  Once he had the ideal flame, he got to work on the thick steel of the chrome coin box at the base of the payphone.  It took an eternity for Randy to pierce the metal itself.  He crouched, goggles affixed to his bony face, reflecting the fountain of sparks and flame that danced away from the point where heat and metal collided, and he looked mad in his intensity, a man consumed by a project demanding complete devotion.

“Let me take a stab at that,” Hector said after an hour or so.

“Fuck off,” Randy told him.  “I got this, dude.”

When he was getting close to cutting the face off of the change box, Randy screamed for us.  “Well boys, our hard work is about to pay off.”  Moments later, a chunk of steel about three inches square fell to the ground.  Because the change box was red hot, we had to wait for it to cool, anxiously hovering around it like a trinity of alchemists before a cauldron sure to produce gold.  We could see the change glowing inside. 

“You better not have fucked up the coins, Randy,” Hector said.  He had gloves on, and was the first to reach into the box.  “Ow, fuck, my Isotoners.”  The leather blistered on two fingers of the glove.

“Fuck it,” Randy announced as he pulled the straps over his shoulders and reignited the flame.  He walked to the chain link gate at the front entrance of the school and began welding the hinges on the latch.  “Give ‘em a couple of surprises for the morning.”

I imagined the administrators, the adults who had suspended me, who had been my sworn nemeses in junior high, all standing around a welded gate, baffled.  I imagined them getting onto the campus and finding the face burned away from the pay phone’s coin box, and I was satisfied.  I felt as if we’d accomplished something that night.  A fleeting and strange mark, an annoyance, a hindrance had been struck and I laughed and laughed to think of its making.  Indiscernible among time’s millions of fleeting little pranks, that evening’s undertakings nevertheless had the potency to make me feel that I could exert some force upon the universe, and though itself fleeting, I clung to that empowerment.

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