Saturday night there was supposed to be a meteor shower visible in the Memphis sky. It was predicted to be clear and cool all night. It was a perfect night to sit out under the stars and watch.

My Wife and I bought a chiminea for the occasion, a clay fireplace that goes outside on your back porch. We were hauling it home in my truck when my wife observed the "kung fu of trucks" in the parking lot.

Once we had it home we pulled out the instructions and set it up.

"Place approximately 3 inches of rocks in the bottom of the chiminea to prevent the fire from coming in direct contact with the surface of the bowl. Then place firewood on top of rocks and start your fire. Do not let flames reach up above the top of the chiminea chimney."

We had bought 2 bags of pretty rocks to place into the bottom, as instructed. There was no mention of specifically what kind of rocks to buy, so we bought nice round river rocks.

After dark we went outside and began gathering firewood from the woodpile. We placed 2 logs into the chiminea along with some kindling and some pine cones to get the fire started.

It was much windier than the weatherman had predicted and this made it harder to get the fire going. It also made it harder to keep it going once it was started. It was colder than predicted, and cloudy as hell. But we were confident that the clouds would clear out in time for the meteor shower, as predicted. Also, we just wanted to start a fire in our new toy.

The cats were excited to be outside with us. They always enjoy being in the backyard with 2 giant humans to chase away the Toms and the raccoons, giving them complete control of their domain with nothing to worry about. They began running like lunatics around in the darkness.

My Wife, having inherited control-freak tendencies from her mother and her mother's mother, was fighting me for control of the fire starting. I would light something and she would immediately argue with me that I was doing it wrong. Then she'd light something else. Then it would die down in the wind and we'd curse.

My Wife, confident that she is the world's greatest fire starter, went into the garage to get our official bucket of kindling and dried pinecones. While she was out of my way I ran across the yard and gathered up an armload of pine needles, courtesy of my neighbors damned pine trees that bomb our home with flammable shit year round. I raced back to the chiminea and carefully stuffed some pine needles behind the firewood. I put the rest on the ground where My Wife wouldn't see it. This was easy to do considering how dark it was outside. All I had to do was throw it about a foot from the chiminea, slightly behind it, and the whole pile magically was covered in darkness.

My Wife came out with her magic bucket, threw in 2 or 3 pine cones, and began trying to light them. As always, she held the match with the tip upwards, allowing it to burn out way too fast. And I, having been married long enough to know better, said nothing about it. I figured as long as she threw the wasted match stick into the fire it was all the same to me. Eventually she managed to get the pine cone to light. She sat back satisfied. I sat back and waited.

WHOOOOOOSHH! Suddenly the pine needles caught.

"What the hell?!" My Wife exclaimed excitedly. "What did you put in there?"

Now I must warn you, all of you who are not fire experts, never to put pine needles or pine wood into your indoor fireplaces. First of all, most indoor fireplaces built these days are gas. Putting real wood into them might cause you some real problems. But aside from that, even if you have a REAL fireplace that burns real wood, pine covers your entire fireplace and chimney with a flammable substance which, over time, builds up and will eventually cause a chimney fire. Chimney fires are bad. They burn houses down. But this was not a chimney and it was not inside my house. This was a stupid clay chiminea, made in Mexico by people who have long since crossed over illegally into California and Texas, and I didn't give a damn if it gets coated in pine crap and one day has a chimney fire. Let's get this party started. So I cheated. I used pine needles, of which we have no shortage.

The fire, now burning brightly, was blazing along, sending burning bits of pine up the chimney and into the air. We watched the fire floating above us somewhat nervously, but as the wind was so strong it quickly blew out the heavenly flames, giving us little to worry about. The wind was blowing straight in through the front of the chiminea and out the top, making the flames burn fast and furious. I threw in another log. The fire quickly climbed in the wind, briefly flickering up above the top of the chimney.

"It's not supposed to burn that high," My Wife gladly informed me.

"Yes, I know," I agreed. "It'll die down soon enough."

"Once we have some hot coals in the bottom we can put in less wood and it should keep burning without so much help," My Wife said.


We waited for the wood to get thoroughly scorched and begin dropping off burning bits to form some hot coals in the bottom. Slowly the glowing coals began to appear, forming a hot base to our lovely Mexican fire.

And that's when the fun started.


"What the hell?" My Wife exlaimed.


The cats immediately wanted to go inside the house RIGHT NOW.


The chiminea was machine gunning us!

Bits of glowing red something or other began shooting both of us like bullets.

"Ow, what the hell is hitting me?" I asked My Wife as I peeled a now cooling projectile the size of a half dollar off my chest. "It's a ROCK!"

Now I want all of you to recall that nothing in the instructions said anything about what kind of rocks to line the bottom with. We had even discussed this beforehand, wondering if one type of rock was better than another for this sort of thing. Nothing was said about river rock.

Apparently something SHOULD have been said, as it turns out that river rocks will explode when exposed to glowing red heat, perhaps due to trapped deposits of water deep inside of them. I'm guessing, as I haven't had geology since high school. Searching the web I now find a few sites recommending "volanic rock" while most other sites simply say "rocks." So, as my public service to all of you, I'm letting you know now not to use pretty, round, smooth river rocks.

The fire machine-gunned us for hours, periodically dying back and seeming calm before the wood would shift and fall closer to the rocks, beginning the cycle of molten death all over again. We eventually had to put gloves on and turn the chiminea, still burning, away from our house to protect our windows. I say 'we' but I mean, of course, me. I had to put gloves on and then wrap my arms around this glowing hot machine gun to turn it away from the house. We just bought these new windows and we don't care to have to replace them just yet. Also, we have a glass door in the back which shatters nicely.

So there we were, shivering in the cold as the wind stole all the heat from the fire before any of it could reach us, unable to see any stars due to the heavy cloud cover, with our two cats sitting all warm and cozy inside the house while looking out the windows at us, who were freezing out in the yard. The roles had reversed. We weren't used to this. Usually we were the ones inside looking out at the poor, freezing cats, who needed to go pee and poo in My Wife's carefully cultivated garden. It was freezing, but by God we were going to enjoy our new chiminea even if it killed us. So we stayed and watched it burn, shivering, cold, and bullet-riddled.

"Ah, what a lovely night," I observed oh so cleverly.

"I'll bet the neighbors hate us," My Wife said. "This thing sounds like we're shooting fireworks and people are trying to sleep."

"Yeah, well, they'll get over it."

So, the lesson here is simply this: when your pets are inside the house, all warm and cozy, and you and your spouse are outside freezing your asses off while being machine gunned with blazing bits of rock, something is wrong. Go inside the house and let it burn itself out. And don't ever use river rocks in your chiminea.
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