thumb-1aI was not always the brilliant, acerbic genius I am today. There was a time when I was, in fact, a complete moron. I refer to this period as “all the times before right now”. So, just a second ago when I wrote that I was brilliant, I was just being stupid again. I was a fool back then, three seconds ago. I hate that person.

Of course, there are varying depths to my stupidity, and the farther to the left you go on the Timeline of Me, the deeper the waters get. Sometimes, there are sharks.

There was this one time, for example, when I was but a wee little tyke happily riding in the backseat of the giant green monstrosity my parents called a car. Its scientific name was the Mercury Grand Marquis, which I believe was from the late Cretaceous period, if I’m not mistaken. Or maybe sometime around 1980. I’m bad with time.

Basically, it was a giant green land whale with wheels, because compact cars hadn’t been invented yet. Or maybe they had, but they just hadn’t yet migrated south for the winter, so no one in Texas had ever heard of them. At any rate, I was bouncing around the backseat one summer’s day while my mom was running errands.

At least, I think it was summer. But my older sister wasn’t in the car at the time, which means she could’ve been at school or maybe off at some secret Big Sister terrorist training camp somewhere, learning new and terrible ways to extract information from me when she got home. Maybe both. I dunno.

Behold its glory!

Behold its glory!

Anyway, I had the whole backseat to myself because car seats also hadn’t been invented yet. Or, if they were around, nobody much cared about them. I was around five years old, so I definitely should’ve been strapped into some kind of child safety device, but this was 1980-something, back when parents and car manufacturers still believed in the concept of natural selection.

For instance, the backseat windows rolled ALL the way down in those days, which is something that I guess changed after overexcited kids were getting too worked up over maybe, like, a McDonald’s sign or something and just started leaping from backseat windows after their parents refused to buy them Happy Meals. McDonald’s used to fry in lard and beef fat back then and the allure of their french fries was pretty strong, so you can just imagine the carnage. I don’t have any concrete statistics on how many children leapt to their deaths from the backseats of cars with fully rolled-down windows in the early ’80s, but it was probably somewhere around 10 bazillion kids, even though the speed limit was only 55 miles per hour (because the higher speed limits of today wouldn’t be invented until Sammy Hagar went on to write his haunting protest ballad on the subject years later).

Cars also had cigarette lighters back in the olden times. If you don’t know what a car cigarette lighter is, it’s the thing that used to go in what you probably call the phone charging hole. It was a little magic wand that you would push down, then wait for it to pop back up all hot and ready to start fires, like some kind of Promethean wonder.

thumb-3The tip was a little coil of nichrome wire through which high electrical current would run until the nichrome coil became orange-hot and roughly the temperature of the inner core of the sun. Also, I have no idea what nichrome is, but it’s what Wikipedia says the things were made of. It’s also kind of fun to say. Nichrome!

Anyway, from what I remember, they were just made up of a bunch of concentric circles with a little dot in the middle that looked a lot like a fingerprint.

Like, seriously a lot like a fingerprint.

In fact, to the confused mind of a somewhere-around-five-year-old child, they looked exactly like a fingerprint.

You might be able to see where this is going…

We were waiting in the drive-thru line of the bank, which consisted of exactly one line at the time because the idea of multiple lines manned by several tellers had probably been invented, but this was a small Texas town and people only ever went to the bank when they needed to, I dunno, convert their cow pies to US currency or something. So there was a wait.

And I was (still am) easily bored.

  • I looked at the cigarette lighter.
  • I looked at my hand.
  • I looked back at the cigarette lighter.
  • I looked back at my hand.
  • Cigarette lighter.
  • Hand.
  • Cigarette lighter.
  • Finger.
  • Cigaretter lighter.
  • Thumb.

That’s when the light bulb went off – and I don’t mean that in the way that you might think. I meant, it actually switched OFF. My brain shut down and, while it was rebooting, some kind of catastrophic redundancy subroutine ran in its place which convinced me that cigarette lighters were probably how fingerprints were made.

Let’s just stop and think about that for a second.

Here I am, sitting in the backseat of the car, staring at my own fingers – which clearly already contained fingerprints that I somehow could not see – and a cigarette lighter. I don’t know why I didn’t think I already had fingerprints, but it might be because the Satanic Panic hadn’t hit yet and parents hadn’t started having their kids basically booked and processed down at the county jail just in case some goat-horned devil worshiper ever kidnapped them one day and somebody needed to identify the body. So I had no experience with fingerprinting, and was left to wander in darkness on the subject. But whatever the reason, I was convinced that I did not, in fact, have fingerprints.

So I looked back at the cigarette lighter.

A plan was forming.

I was not a smart child.

I was not a smart child.

I stuck the branding iron back into the socket and pushed it down. I remember very clearly knowing on some level that what I was about to do was very wrong and would likely get me in trouble if my mom were to find out what I was up to, so I gently rested one finger on the lighter’s handle. The little bastards would eventually pop up when they were hot enough to melt tungsten steel, and there would be a very audible click when it happened that I had to suppress.

So I did.

A few seconds later, I felt it try to pop up. Naturally, I held it down a little longer. You know, just to be sure.

I slowly lifted my finger from the handle and allowed it to gently spring up with nary a whisper. Then, I pulled it out of the socket and turned it around.

Its hypnotic orange glow held me entranced for a moment. Then, I lifted my left hand and stuck out my thumb…

That’s when the world went dark.

I don’t know why I didn’t expect it to hurt, but it probably had something to do with how I was an idiot. Pressing superheated death metal directly against tender, somewhere-around-five-year-old flesh was always going to lead to tears, but I didn’t care. I didn’t even consider it, because I wanted my dang fingers to have fingerprints JUST THAT BAD. Like all the cool kids or whatever.

It should be noted here that at the very instant I touched the lighter to my skin, I knew I had made a huge mistake – and one that I’d undoubtedly be punished for. Seeing as how I was already being punished enough by the fundamental laws of the universe and various paingods, I didn’t think getting grounded would be very fair, so I remained silent.

I, as a small child, probably with at least a second degree burn on his thumb somehow remained quiet through the ordeal. I don’t remember how I didn’t cry out, but I do remember that there was a very distinctive smell coming from the end of the lighter and my thumb that distracted me. I couldn’t let my mom catch a whiff of it, lest she instantly recognize the smell of burning kinderflesh. Which is when those fully roll-downable windows came in handy…



My thumb eventually recovered, and I still have a thumbprint, so those scenes in movies where spies and criminals burn them off are probably a bunch of crap, which I guess you could take as your learning experience from this story.

If you look really closely, you can see a bit of a splotchiness to my left thumb to this day, where bits of it are a little, I dunno, shinier than others. I assume this is scar tissue from the burn or something, because my right thumb remains splotch-free. Then again, maybe I just have thumb cancer.

Is that a thing?

© 2015 – 2016, Kristian Bland. All rights reserved.