I exaggerated. I didn't almost burn my dorm down. But I did cause a scene.
  1. When I was a freshman at Purdue University living on the eight floor of Shreve Hall in 1993,
  2. My friend received a package that was packed with those biodegradable packing peanuts.
  3. The kind that dissolve instantly in water.
  4. I think they're made of corn.
  5. They were cool. I decided to see if they would burn. Because they kind of smelled like popcorn.
  6. I was by the window where my friend had his ashtray and lighter on the sill.
  7. So I lit one.
  8. It burned more aggressively than I expected.
  9. Like I thought it would be more like styrofoam and sort of shrivel and melt.
  10. But it just caught fire like paper.
  11. I didn't want to burn my fingers so I dropped it in the ashtray.
  12. But it was so airy and it was aflame. It didn't want to sit still. It was like a very tiny very ugly very corny version of those floating paper lanterns.
  13. I didn't worry much when it fluttered out the window.
  14. Surely it would burn itself out mid flight.
  15. And it was such a tiny thing. I had been starting fires in the fireplace all my life and it's HARD. This thing couldn't do any damage.
  16. We watched it fall. It continued to flame.
  17. It drifted so slowly but it continued to flame.
  18. It was the end of a hot summer. There was a long hedge of bushes all along the side of the building.
  19. It slipped behind the bushes.
  20. And within seconds the flames spread across the bushes. Eight, ten, twelve feet of tall dry bushes in full flame.
  21. 🌳🔥🌳🔥🌳🔥🌳🔥🌳🔥🌳🔥🌳
  22. (Now is a good time to say the building was substantial, old, brick and cement, built for one of the premier engineering schools in America. It could probably survive a nuclear blast.)
  23. They made so much smoke. It came in the windows of the lower floors.
  24. People started to scream. Someone pulled the fire alarm.
  25. We ran down the stairs.
  26. I have no idea how it happened so quickly but a fire truck pulled up as we were walking out the door.
  27. They put out the flames in about 12 seconds.
  28. I said, as innocently as I could, "What happened?!"
  29. The firefighter running the hose said "Somebody threw a cigarette out the window. Happens all the time."
  30. "Yeah totally." 😶
  31. I did not get expelled.
  32. Because nobody ever knew.