Put Some Pizzaz in your Pockets

Imagine big red coat, aged. Faded. Sleeves sport house paint. Imagine a jacket good for yard work – in the back yard onl

y, a jacket great for embarrassing your family. Now you’ve it – Ugly Coat.

Ugly Coat

Ugly Coat

 Ugly Coat and I are out with Handy-Guy Mike, changing the back-up batteries on the smoke alarm systems in a duplex. I pocket the old batteries – some have been in the smoke alarm two or three years. They back up a system that is wired into the building. But we change them even though they are not dead. Not even chirping yet. Don’t want a backup system that fails, right?

 Mike and I follow this battery excursion with some bathtub caulking, some kitchen plumbing-rust-blow-out, and then outdoor clean up, yard debris recycling and moss reduction on the stairs. Now you know how Ugly Coat became ugly.

 But Coat is so outrageously ugly that even Handy Guy asks about its age.

“This venerable husk?” I say. “This integument? This membrane?  Age? Greater than yours, Handy.”

 He eyes it, then, speechless, moves to the next mossy step, trowel in hand.

 And again, I have put off those who would demean this Bargain Find, this Economical Coverage, this Cheap Crust.

 Our work done, my coat and I take off for home which needs its own plumbing-rust-blow-out and moss reduction.

 Late in the day, I put my hand in my pocket, thinking to put the batteries in the recycling bag.

 My hand pops back out and directly into my mouth. Yipes! Hot, like Microwave Hot when the below-surface boil explodes. I dash for the ice cubes while tossing batteries on the floor and shucking Ugly Coat. That’s when I notice the black hole. Whole galaxies could disappear in this black pocket hole.

I study the floored batteries. Separately benign. Together, a flaming menace. But how?

“Well,” explains my electrical engineer son-in-law. “They weren’t dead. Plus, these batteries have positive and negative on the same end. All other types have positive and negative on opposite ends.”

Burning Up

Burning Up

 “You mean the ends connected between two batteries?”

 “No, the ones that might have connected that way would just have equalized the amount of energy between the two of them and nothing more would have happened.

But these — the positive and negative finials on your batteries merely had to touch the metallic side of another battery. Energy began flowing and since some of the batteries still had quite a bit of life left, energy flowed for a long time.”

 “What if I had hung that coat in the mud room, next to other coats?”

 “Potential house fire.”

 “I suppose I can’t put them together in the battery recycling bag.”

“Best not.”

 I call Handy-Guy Mike to warn him. He has some of these batteries in his pocket as well.

 “I know,” he says. “I was sitting here watching basketball with my fellows. I felt my pocket getting warmer and warmer, and I’m thinking ‘This is kind of embarrassing’ and I decide to sit still and then make some excuse to go to the bathroom. Then all of a sudden I can’t stand the heat and I jump up and stuff my hand down my pocket and yank out these blazing batteries and I’m jumping around and . . .and . . . and Yes it was embarrassing. But thank you for calling. An hour sooner would have been good, ‘cause, I gotta say, my reputation rises in moments like this.”

 So, my Handy-Guy is feeling burnt, and my Ugly Coat is pocket-less on the interior of one side.

Rowlf checking out the burnt pocket smell

Rowlf checking out the burnt pocket smell

 But the coat is not on its way to the landfill. What a wonderful life lesson it provides. (Here, read, “What a fine new coat to wear while doing my job — the job of embarrassing my children!”)

 The batteries? They lie separately on the mantel, an inch between and all facing the same



direction. I’ve already tested their ability to start a fire individually. If I put a piece of tinfoil on one battery so that it touches both the positive and negative finials . . . Pouf!

 My semi-spent batteries await the warm summer day when I can take them out to the driveway. I’ll start a kindling fire with whatever energy is left in them, because, not only do I love old and ugly coats, I also love discovering a new way to do campfires that the family boy scouts won’t have considered.

 That is, I’ll be using something short of a blow torch.