Is there anything that says mayhem more than being on fire? Magic X Mayhem author S.L. Huang, the mad genius behind Zero Sum Game and Null Set, tells us about her mayhem-filled days stabbing batteries, chasing storms, and setting accidental fires.
I’ve Been Lit on Fire Four Times. Three of Them Were on Purpose: The Story of My Partner In Mayhem.
By S. L. Huang
This is a story about one of my best friends.
He’s exactly the type of person you imagine when you picture someone from MIT. When I met him in college, his dorm room had computers racked ten high and he’d replaced the lock on his door with a fingerprint scanner. Now he builds bartending robots and flies helicopters as a hobby, both RC ones and real ones.
We are the exact worst friends for each other. Because every time one of us has a terrible idea, the other one does not say, “Hey, no, maybe we should think about that”, but instead, “HECK YEAH WE SHOULD TOTALLY DO THAT.”
Case study #1. When my friend was first getting into RC stuff, he visited me, and he was cautious in setting aside the drones’ lithium-ion batteries. “Careful, because if these get damaged or smashed, there’s a small chance they could explode,” he told me.
My eyes got wide. “Can we do that??!!”
No, he did not say to me. What are you talking about, that’s an awful plan, we should not purposely try to explode batteries. Instead, he cocked his head thoughtfully and said, “You know, I think I have a few extra!”
We figured out containment and I went and got my very big knife, because naturally I had a very big knife. And that was how my roommate came home to find us stabbing batteries in my apartment in LA.
She, being a sensible person, asked us what the hell we were doing.
“Stabbing batteries!” we answered cheerfully.
“To see if we can make them explode!”
(They did not explode, sadly. Only smoked a little.)
My roommate did not think this was an acceptable explanation. We were thenceforth banished to doing all experiments outside the apartment. My roommate did stand lookout for us while we set things on fire in the alleyway, though.
(I said she was sensible, not unexciting.)
I’m often asked about a tidbit I have on my website about having been lit on fire four times, three of which were on purpose. The intentional times were all in the course of doing professional stuntwork—I love fire gags—but it will surprise nobody that the accidental combustion was in the company of this same friend.
Case study #2! One year I decided to have a birthday party, and my friend came to LA to help me throw the celebration. We were standing in Costco, and one of us said, “Oh my god, there should be flaming shots!”
The other of us, naturally: “YES THAT’S BRILLIANT WE SHOULD TOTALLY DO THAT.”
Right there in the frozen aisle, we pulled out our phones and looked up how to make flaming shots on the Internet.
Fast forward to midnight. I was . . . no longer sober. My friend, who had remained sober (fortunately, as we’ll see in a moment), was bartending. He made me another flaming shot, perhaps my fourth one of the night.
Which I promptly spilled on myself.
Being very much not sober, I looked down at my hands—which were very definitely, very obviously covered in flames—and giggled. “I’m on fire!” I announced, completely tickled by this fact. The fire was still only burning the alcohol, so it didn’t hurt at all. It was just very pretty!
My friend smiled, took me to the sink, and put me out before the flames got started on my skin. We may be terrible influences on each other, but he’s eminently competent in a crisis.
We’re a little older now, but not very much wiser. Just this month we were talking about a tornado warning in my area, and we happened across some great storm-chasing footage that had been captured via RC drone.
Me: “You should totally do that. I’d go with you.”
Him, fifteen minutes later: “I just looked up storm chasing. We have to plan this in advance. When are you free between next April and June?”
Me: “I’ll have to check with my publicists.”
That weekend I asked a mutual friend of ours if she wanted to come with us. She disassembles bombs for a living and rides motorcycles. “Uh . . . NO THANKS,” she said. “You guys have fun.”
I have many excellent friends. It’s either very good or very bad for me that one of them is also an excellent partner in mayhem!
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