• Ray

A Man's Quest for Fire

It’s 2003. New Year's Eve. 


In preparation, I wanted to buy a lighter. I don't smoke, but it's good form to have one if you go to a bar. Plus, instant fire!

Foolishly sizing this up as a simple task, I drove to the closest convenience store. After waiting in line for ten minutes, I reached the counter, behind which stood a register clerk with hair that looked like it was trying to escape in every direction from a sinking ship. She asked "Can I help you?" with a tilted head and a grimace, as if she expected me to demand she load 40 bags of ice into my car – and hell, why not toss in her gall bladder, too, while she was at it?

I merely asked for a lighter. She inquired which particular one I wanted, to which I replied, “It doesn’t matter, any of them.” This, of course, was far too complicated a sentence for her handle, so she completely ignored it. 

“Which box?” she asked, pointing at three different collections of lighters behind the counter. 

“That one,” I said, not caring which she happened to be pointing at, “any of those is fine.”

“Which color?”

Knowing full-well the repercussions of repeating that it didn’t matter, I told her to give me a gray one. You’d think at this point I’d pay and that would be the end of it. Not so, in California. 

“I need some ID please.”

Slightly amused, I handed over my Connecticut license. It had a hole punched in it because I was waiting for my California license to arrive in the mail. I also had a temporary CA license which was just a printed half-sheet of paper. She wouldn’t accept my CT license because of the hole. I presented her with the temporary CA license. She told me she needed a picture ID. I pointed to the picture on the CT license. She reiterated that she needed to see a picture ID and that this was no good.

Resisting the urge to end my life by pulling the large slurpy machine over on myself, I calmly explained the validity of my IDs:

A) I have a valid picture license (yes, it does have a hole in it, but it didn’t at one point in time. Punching a hole in it didn’t make me any younger).

B) I have a valid CA license, albeit a temporary one. With it, the state of California allows me to drive my 3326 pound vehicle with a loaded fuel tank holding 14 gallons of gasoline at speeds legally up to 65 miles per hour. Were I to collide with something solid at this speed (like, say, a 24-hour convenience store of some sort), I might create the very fire I sought after. The state trusts my driving ability -- but there’s doubt as to whether I could handle the great responsibility of an intricate flame-producing mechanism.

And here’s the best part: the car this piece of paper allows me to operate actually has a built-in lighter.

Unfortunately, all reasoning was lost on her. Sometimes you have to know when to move on. So I went to a pharmacy and showed the clerk my license. We had a nice chat about the weather, then I paid for a lighter and left.