Turns out there is more to making black powder-as author William Gurstelle prefers to call his gun powder-than Captain Kirk made it look when was kicking Gorn ass with a bamboo cannon.
For one thing, you need pure ingredients. William advices that you make you own charcoal, since the stuff you use in a barbeque is full of all kinds of impurities. He recommends buying the sulfur and saltpeter. Once you have made the black powder you can go on to make rockets, cannons, and smoke bombs.
Absinthe and Flamethrowers opens up with a couple of fairly dull chapters that talk about risk and Big T, little t thrill seekers. The Big T’s tend to add their names to the Darwin Awards, while the slightly smaller t’s tend to do just enough dangerous stuff to make the world a better place.
And this is where I have my one major gripe about Absinthe and Flamethrowers-he has a kind of Wuss Test to help you determine where on the Thrill Seeker Scale you happen to fall. I fell pretty low on the scale, in fact, I fell below the threshold for people he recommends the book to.
Among the questions were such things as have you in the past, or would you like to in the future try-Parachute jumping, Flying an airplane, Scuba diving, Horseback riding at a gallop, Sail long distances, and a few similar items such as climbing Mount Everest or hunting Lions or Tigers. The list of Thrill Seeking items seems to come out of a time warp from the 1950s or maybe the 1850s.
Climb Mount Everest and hunt lions or tigers? Really?
There were very few things on the list I have, or have ever had, any interest in. So I scored pretty low on the Thrill Seeking test. He didn’t have things like drinking Absinthe or juggling fire or eating hot chilis-which I have done and have an interest in doing in the future. But maybe those thrills are too small to make the Thrillometer.
Anyway-maybe his test is right about me. While I like reading about Edgework, as Hunter S Thompson called his own self destructive behavior, I’m not sure that building rockets or smoking cigarettes is really up my alley. Yes, William Gurstelle recommends the occasional cigarette as part of a thrill seeker’s social life.
Truth be told, I have spent a lot of time in the company of smokers over the years and I have inhaled a good deal of second hand smoke-so far it hasn’t killed me. But I can’t help but have visions of a young Reverend Jim from Taxi who takes one hit of drugs and it alters the entire course of his life-and not really for the better.
The author does suggest reasonable precautions about all of his suggestions, so if his advice is followed closely, all should be well. Just a bit more thrilling.
As I worked my way through Absinthe and Flamethrower I found that I have already done more than a few of the things he talks about. The part of the book with the do it yourself black powder turns out to contain a few items I have not tried-and am fairly unlikely to try any time soon.
So what edgework have I done? I’ve made my own Absinthe, driven over a hundred miles an hour, played with gunpowder taken from old shotgun shells, learned a few tricks you can do with a Zippo lighter, and I pretty much grew up playing with a bullwhip, throwing knives, eat hot chilies and juggling a bit of fire now and then. I think the Wuss Test needs a bit of tweaking.
My mother was a person with what I tend to think of as fairly mundane tastes and habits. So it has always been a bit of mystery to me how she ended up with a twelve foot long whip made of white and turquoise colored leather. At some point I found this whip and began in earnest to try and break the sound barrier.
This was in the day before Google, and I didn’t find any books on the topic at the library, and basically I just stood in the back yard doing my best to copy people I had seen using whips in the movies. With only a few minor welts and bruises, and one small scar on my shoulder, I learned to make a whip crack. But like juggling fire and knife throwing, this is a largely useless skill to possess. They do get interesting responses from people who read my resume.
Absinthe and Flamethrowers also has a section on dangerous foods-some more dangerous than others. Casu Marzu and fugu and ackee have real danger in that they can kill you. Casu Marzu is a cheese filled with live maggots, fugu is the deadly puffer fish, and the ackee is a fruit from Jamica that needs to be completely ripe before eating. He doesn’t mention almonds, which I have also heard will kill you if eaten before they are cooked-but I’m guessing no thrill seeker would eat something as boring as raw almonds.
Then we come to an odd item in the food section-a hot dog, what the author calls a Danger Dog and which sounds a lot like a Sonora Dog to me. It’s interesting to see a recipe for food in the same book that has a recipe for black powder. Still, I’m not sure a bacon wrapped hotdog really ranks up there with blowfish. But I have eaten a Sonora Dog, they are pretty damned good.
My own living on the edge eating tends to involve really hot foods made with Habaneros and (when I can find them) Bhut Jolokia or Ghost Chilis. I like going to Hot Sauce Shops and sampling a number of sauces. Bhut Jolokia is the last item on the thrill seeker food list, and it is an interesting experience. It’s a good sauce to put on the Danger Dog to make it really dangerous.
Absinthe and Flamerthrowers last project is, wait for it, a flamethrower. He does all he can to tell you to be careful and the flamethrower design used is for a fairly safe and at the same time quite exciting bit of machinery. Instead of aiming the flame at something, say a horde of zombies or killer robots, he
has it point straight up in the air where it creates an impressive fireball. You trigger the flamethrower by means of a ten foot long bit of rope-you don’t want to be too close when you use it to impress your friends and family.
William Gurstelle wraps up with a little rant about how uptight the world is now a days when a young boy can’t experience the fun of blowing things up first hand. A shame, since so many movies have children blowing up labs of one sort or another. My High School Chemistry class made peanut brittle-and I don’t recall it ever blowing up. In short, he says if you want to do Edgework, you had better hop to it, before someone makes it impossible or illegal.
I wonder where I can find on old Zippo lighter?