Women Are From Venus, Men Are Just Arsons


In the summers of my youth, campfires were rite of passage places where one’s physical celebration of the day could not consecrated until flames flickered and chased away the final shades of twilight lupine sky.  It was a sacred time where a boy could poke a stick into burning embers and experience the raw power of Prometheus and Zeus.

Greek mythology teaches us about the dawn of man, when life was an epic struggle for survival.  Mortals were at the whim of Gods whose capricious acts often visited disaster and plunged them into darkness.  Humans needed divine allies in the heavens and there was no better friend than crafty Prometheus. Driven to return fire to the hands of man, The Titan trickster deceived all-omnipotent Olympian, Zeus, stealing the secret of combustion and releasing the heavenly bounty to mortals.  In committing this celestial felony, Prometheus was condemned to have his liver eaten each day by a voracious eagle, only to have the liver grow back and be eaten again for eternity.   With his gift of fire, Prometheus was ensured a heroic place in our pantheon of Gods.  But he got burned in the process.

It seemed that fire has forever been both a blessing and a curse.  With Prometheus’ gift came fascination, chaos, destruction, warmth, romance and mythology.  As children, we learned some hard lessons and came to understand the risks filled euphemisms as “he likes to play with matches” and “that could easily become an uncontrolled burn”.  Yet, we are fascinated with fire.  We gaze into the bursts of swirling flames thrown from a bonfire on a clement summer’s night, we can almost sense something in the air – a magical confluence of charged ions, created out of combustion, smoke and an electric night.  For a moment, we are at the warm center of a safe universe while all around us swirls ebony unknown.

From an early age, men more than women, seem to be obsessed by fire.  Criminal profilers confirm that 90% of all arsonists are male.  Many of these unfortunates use fire to act out unfulfilled aggression and power. Most women would agree with this prognosis as they watch their husbands, boyfriends and significant others yield to uncontrolled pyromania when afforded the opportunity to build a fire.

For men, there are essentially two types of fire starters the pyro-purists and the anxious arsons.  The “pyro-purist” believes a fire is like a slow kiss.   In the pyro-purist world, initial sparks should come from a flint and steel, flicked into a small hollowed log where it can be succored with gentle breath and fed like a baby chick — nurtured with small combustible pieces of cotton and rotted wood chips.  The purist is certain that in a past life he was an explorer or mountain man.  Near the fireplace are the tools of his trade – the building blocks of combustion : tinder dry kindling, paper, sticks and bone dry branches.  For this hearty pioneer, each fire is like conceiving and rearing a child.  He must give it confidence.  It must be coaxed and led through its adolescence until it bursts into a mature blaze that is finally worthy of a log.

The purist knows that the finest fires come from a slow, even burn – a fire that throws off extreme heat with only a wisp of light smoke.  These glowing works of art can only be achieved from hardwoods – ash, oak, hickory, dogwood and almond wood.  Each type of wood is like an exotic coffee throwing off its own unique aroma and flavor with earthy rich smoke and even fragrant burns. If you are hosting an outdoor party, perhaps a split pinion pine with its deep resins and occasional pops and crackles might be in order.  An intimate dinner for two requires a cedar, which offers a heat that slowly builds and throws off a seductive aroma.

A big-time burnmeister insists that all his logs be seasoned in a protected woodpile for six months.  These fanatics of flame understand the gift of combustion and that each log brings a certain thermal energy content.  It is not just a fire, it is homage to Prometheus.

At the other end of the spectrum is the “anxious arsonist”.  This impatient greenhorn does not grasp the concept of kindling and combustion.  After three frustrated attempts to get rain-soaked logs that are heavier than concrete sewer pipes, he retreats from the fire pit scouring the perimeter for anything flammable including his child’s favorite stuffed animal or perhaps his spouse’s ancient down jacket. The next phase of his helpless huffing and puffing might include hacking green branches from an adjacent tree which produce more smoke than an NYPD gas canister.  To this environmental disaster, he may add toilet paper, torn magazines and even the road map that helped him navigate to his godforsaken campsite.

The neophyte’s blaze begins and ends unceremoniously with a great-polluted gasp of smoke and sizzled hissing that leaves all family members with coughs similar to incurable tuberculosis. The anxious arsonist is undeterred and begins a frenetic search for highly flammable items including Mennen underarm deodorant, perfume and the lighter fluid that was intended for the morning pancake breakfast.  In one great mushroom cloud burst of incompetence, the fire ignites and the Dr Flamenstein is knocked back to the ground with singed eyebrows and a blackened face.  It does not matter.  He stands and proclaims, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”

Women witness this bizarre ritual every summer and shake their heads at the pathetic Groundhog Day behavior of the anxious arsonists and pyro-purists. It is simply a fact – men are obsessed with making fires.  But according to some sociologists, the more advanced the civilization, the more men grow up unable to shake the arson monkey off their backs. It seems the less we play with fire as kids, the less the need to burn leaves our psychological systems.  As anthropologist, Dr Daniel Fessler describes, western society is regressing.  We have moved from playing with matches and to anxious arsons.  Fessler writes:

The latter aspect ( man’s penchant for fire making) stands in contrast to results from a survey of ethnographers which reveals that, in societies in which fire is routinely used as a tool, children typically master control of fire by middle childhood, at which point interest in fire is already declining. This suggests that when fire learning is retarded in western children, arguably due to patterns of fire use in modern societies that are atypical when viewed from a broader cross-cultural perspective, fire repressed men will have a higher probability to become arsonists.”

It has been confirmed that we need to let our kids play with matches. If we don’t allow an occasional controlled burn, we are elevating the odds that years from now we may be paying for junior’s decision to torch a truck stop outside of Bishop, California. Psychologists further argue that the need to make fire grows and becomes a surrogate for latent sexual frustration playing out in a destructive behavior.  About this time, many men are saying, “I am not sure I like where this whole thing is going.”  Ok, I admit it.  I made all this stuff up because some kid paid me $20 to try to convince his Mom to let him shoot off some bottle rockets.

But, hey, it is summer time and a campfire remains one of life’s simple pleasures.  The fire you dig may rest deep into the cool sands of a beach, blazing recklessly – urging its audience to dance some pagan homage to the summer equinox or it is hidden – tucked carefully between large granite rocks by a lake, sheltered from high alpine winds that sweep down, tugging at the flames and dispersing curious smoke that seems to follow you wherever you choose to sit.  In the firelight, our shadows leave us and sway giving the illusions of shape shifting giants rising like great waves.

In the end, the fires we make are homages to the Gods. The fires we start allow us for a brief time to gather, share our mythology leaving only footprints and shadows. With the heat splashing our faces and our backs turned to the cold night, we come to better understand our physical world and chase away the things that go bump in the night.  And when our little ones grab a stick, igniting a broken branch and their imaginations, let them play a while.  It was, after all, a gift – – and anything worth receiving must be shared.

Hey T-Rex

Master Sergeant rank insignia for the United S...
Image via Wikipedia

Retired Marine Master Sergeant Thomas Rexwood recently found himself battling an enemy he could not vanquish – the economy. “The damn melt-down caught me with my scivvies down,” growled the decorated veteran of the Korean War. If you ask me, this whole thing is the Chinese and Russians up to their old tricks. They could not beat us on the battlefield so they figured out a way to lend us a rope so we could hang ourselves.

An active 85 year-old father of six and grandfather to fourteen, Rexwood remains an avid outdoorsman –choosing to hunt with the bow and arrow. “The kill is purer with a bow. It’s silent and is the way God meant for us to kill game – and we always eat what we kill, don’t we?” He is nodding in the direction of his eldest son who shakes his head and retells the story of how his father made him eat a city pigeon that he had intentionally shot with a BB gun. “Dad always said, you kill it. You eat it. I just did not think he meant it. That was the most disgusting thing I have ever put in my mouth. But, I never shot anything again with that gun.”

Known as “T-Rex” to his friends and family, the former cop, youth football coach and bar owner needed a job. His popularity among some of his town’s most prominent senior citizens, including the editor of the local paper, landed him in the most unlikely of all positions, giving advice to a new generation of parents on how to raise kids. T-Rex’s conservative, stone-aged style has been nothing short of a sensation in a time of political correctness and kids secretly screaming out for tighter boundaries. Overnight, T-Rex has become the bane of teens and a blue print for beleaguered parents. His throw-back style handbook on parenting, We Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists has sold over 4m copies and earned him a syndicated column where he dishes out advice and insults to the emasculated and overwhelmed. His column is simply entitled “Hey T-Rex”.

“Hey T-Rex, my children are consumed by electronics – iPods, cell phones and personal computers. They literally shut themselves out from the world. They do not come when I call them for dinner, they text their friends at meals and routinely charge music to my credit cards. On family trips, we don’t talk, they just plug in and check out. Signed No Respect

Dear No Respect, go to the hardware store and purchase a rubber headed mallet, a hand towel and a plastic hefty bag. Return home and place the hand towel over the cell phone. Grasp the mallet and smash the towel. Repeat the procedure ten times – all the while smiling at your child and not breaking eye contact. Sweep the shattered electronics into the hefty bag. Next, cover the iPod with the hand towel and ask your child if they would prefer to come to dinner the first time they are called or watch you repeat the procedure. T-Rex

Hey T-Rex, I am pretty certain my 10 year old son is viewing adult images on the Web. What should I do? He seems to always erase his history file and browser cache but I know he is up to something. I recognize he is curious but this is so inappropriate. Gratefully, For Adults Only

Adults Only, go on eBay and order some back issues of the 1971 National Geographic magazine – Lost in Borneo. Give it to your son with the appropriate pages of naked natives earmarked – and tell him that this is how real naked people look. Explain that the first pornographic postcards were Moulin Rouge dance girls created by the WWI French army to be distributed to their soldiers – trying to show them there was actually something worth defending in Paris. It actually had the opposite effect. The entire French First Army deserted on the same night and tried to force their way into the burlesque show.  Explain that when the Visigoths invaded Rome, the Centurions did not hear them coming because they were looking at pornography. Tell him his brain will turn to jello and that he will end up in an insane asylum. Lie to him. Scare him. Humiliate him. Rome rotted from within which is what he will do if he is not careful. First the body parts fall off and then you begin to act like a rabid dog. You know what the authorities do with mad dogs don’t you? T-Rex

Hey T-Rex, My son was caught playing with matches and started a small brushfire in the back of the school. My husband says it is no big deal but I am terrified he could have burned himself or something else. He was experimenting with gasoline, aerosol cans and paint thinner. He could have ended up in the ER with third degree burns. Still Simmering, Burning with Anger

Dear Burning with Anger, build a fire pit in the back yard away from low hanging trees and brush and let him play “Arson Welles” all he wants. Tell him to burn everything he can lay his hands on – starting with all those stupid video games that he no longer plays. Explain that fire is like a wild horse and that it can be domesticated with practice and a garden hose. Teach him to make a molotav cocktail. In the event he is ever involved in urban warfare, it will come in handy. Leave him inside the ring of fire as long as he wants. If you do not catch him playing with matches, then you should be worried. He is a boy and boys are genetically predisposed to pyromania. T-Rex

Hey T-Rex, I cannot seem to get my kids to do any chores around the house. I made the mistake of giving them an allowance but they rarely do the jobs that they are purportedly paid for. They are constantly without money and when they have it, I am worried they have stolen it from one another or from my wallet. When I grew up, I had to get my chores done (for free) before I could leave the property. Is it me or is it this generation? Yours Truly, Spineless

Spineless, sorry it took me a while to write back. I was THROWING UP. I don’t even have to meet you to know who you voted for. Allowance is a form of welfare. Cease and desist all forms of payment. That safety net you think you are constructing will become tomorrow’s hammock. Create a list of chores and attach a dollar value to each task. Set a 40% escrow account for all monies earned to help them fund their college education. This gets them used to the notion of no free rides and perhaps they will then value a higher education more. It also gets them used to being in higher income tax brackets which are here to stay. Inspect every job they perform and do not pay for poor performance. Hide your wallet and loose change as a “broke” teen is a criminal in waiting. Tell them if you hear that they are “mooching “ money off of their friends, they will be fined $ 20 to help fund a charity that helps people who really want to work. T-Rex

Hey T-Rex, My son had the audacity to call a cab the other day to pick him up at our house. Apparently, I was not home fast enough for him to meet his friends in town. Aside from the optics of a 14 year old kid calling a cab, whatever happened to walking? Am I out of touch or is he living in a bubble that needs to be burst? Signed, Got Two Legs?

Hey Two Legs! You are missing something else. It is not you who is out of touch, it is your shoe – the shoe that should be wedged up that lazy maggot’s rear end! Cab? Tell “lazy boy” that he has a carbon footprint bigger than China and that by wasting fossil fuels, he is probably putting an RPG into the hands of some sick, twisted fundamentalist who is right now aiming at a US serviceman. He might as well be pulling the trigger, the little ingrate. Have him go upstairs and draw 100 pictures of the American flag and write underneath the star spangled banner: “I am not a traitor, I am not a traitor.” In this man’s army, soldiers first learn to walk. While you’re at it, why don’t you walk to town with him just to show him that you know the way. T-Rex

Hey T-Rex, my son is bringing home straight A’s but he has no social life. He spends the day on Xbox360 with a head set talking to, for all I know, other shut-in teens. He only comes out of his room at night and to go to school. I recently read about a Japanese teen that did not leave his room for two years. When we suggest he get out and see friends or play, he shouts that he just wants to be left alone. Do you think he is depressed? Nervous Nelly

Dear Nelly –  Depressed? Not leaving his room for two years? What kind of boot camp are you running? Sounds like another soft palmed, thin wristed, “mommy, I don’t get enough vitamin D”, suburban pencil neck, pansy. There is a Marine recruitment center off Old Norwalk Rd. I suggest you go down to the basement and grab ol’ Boo Radley and sign his rear end up for the Corps. If we don’t make a man out of him, we will at least show him how to operate heavy machinery with night vision goggles. Tell him that the real world begins at 18 when he is no longer able to live like a leech attached to your apron strings, home cooking and healthcare coverage to age 26. Throw him a party and then throw his clothes out on the lawn. Now I’m depressed! – T-Rex

Thomas Rexford can be reached at T-Rex@Jurrasic.com. His second book, What Did You Just Say? – Ten Ways To Discipline Your Kid is due out in time for Christmas.