An Instance of the Physio/Psychological Impact of the Double-Dip, Strike-Anywhere Kitchen Match   By  W. Bruce Watson

     In a seminal experiment conducted by the author, it has been determined that the double-dip, strike-anywhere, common kitchen match of Diamond National Corporation (Diamond Match Company) is easily manipulated and operated by a four-year-old child. Evidence is presented which strongly suggests that chickens can and will eat flame, although just exactly how and why is not yet known or shown.

    Secondary results from the related work of the author's mother are presented, suggesting a mechanism for the existentialist's moment d'accouchement via the premature, abrupt and possibly irremediable severing of mother-son attachment.


     The ubiquitous match, whose presence and usefulness is so taken for granted now, consisted in olden times of nothing more than sulphur-tipped pine or aspen splinters which were ignited with sparks from steel upon flint. In 1669, Brandt of Hamburg, Germany, discovered the element phosphorus while attempting to make gold out of silver in daring but futile transmutation experiments. However, Haukwitz and Boyle did successfully transform paper into copper eleven years later, by capitalizing on phosphorus' property of spontaneously igniting in contact with air. That is, they invented and marketed a primitive version of the safety match in which the extant 'match', the sulphur tipped splint, was ignited by being dragged across a phosphorus-coated sheet of paper. Civilization scraped along in this manner for about a century. One can't help but wonder how many homes, buildings, cities and lives were lost in fires caused by the spontaneous combustion of these phosphorus-coated pages. Further, one is tempted to speculate that the widespread presence and use of this invention possibly originated the myth of the spontaneous combustion of people, in which a person quite suddenly and unexpectedly bursts into flame—fingers and toes, arms and legs, and body up in smoke with nothing left but a smudge of ash or two.

      Today, the most common use of the modern match is likely to be the lighting of cigarettes, but given the awkwardness of the early primitive 'safety matches', it is not surprising there was no serious interest in tobacco in olden times, and that they were seldom used for this purpose, since the sulphur flame undoubtedly imparted a disagreeable if not lethal quality to the igniting drag.

1 Colliers Encyclopedia (New York, MacMillan, 1980) Volume 15, pp. 537-540.
2 Ibid, p. 537

     The strike-anywhere match appeared in London, first in 1827 (friction lights by Walker3 ) and again in 1829 (lucifers by Jones4 ). While it was non-toxic (non-phosphoric), it barely qualifies as the first strike-anywhere match since its ignition required frustratingly furious and rapid scraping upon a sandpaper surface. Actually, it was a Frenchman, a chemistry student in fact, who in 18305 invented the first true, phosphorus-tipped, toxic, strike anywhere friction light. However, it died for lack of interest, only to be reinvented by Germans a few years later6 .

     From Germany, its use spread through all of Europe and America, but due to its toxicity, it was eventually abandoned everywhere by the end of the 19th century, except in the United States7 . In the U.S., the use and development of phosphorus tapers, blazers, vesuvians, and wax vestas continued unabated, culminating in the parlor match (Swift and Company) and the nonpareil, double-dip, strike-anywhere, kitchen match (Diamond Match Company 8) .

     Man's proclivity to the experimental and his fascination with things alight have transformed these ancient, Promethean tapers into the ubiquitous kitchen match. Its origins shrouded in alchemist tradition—the mystical transmutation of metal into metal—the common kitchen match, Paracelsus' Pallas Athena, is the subject of this paper.

3 Ibid
4 Ibid
5 Ibid
6 Ibid
7 Ibid. p. 539
8 Ibid. p. 540

Experiment I

     In a glowing, spring dawn in 1941 in Los Angeles, a small boy is crouching midst hens. In his hand is a Blue Diamond kitchen match. He doesn't now remember how he came to have it, and it is lighted. The flame waxes and wanes in the quiet morning air, hovers just beyond the reach of his fingers, but seeps ever closer down the slender, pine splint. The motion of these small hands and the glitter of the flame catches the attention and interest of one hen.

     Approaching the crouching boy, the hen inspects the proffered flame reflected in her yellow-yolk eye, which dilates and contracts, and blinks in counter rhythm with the flicker. Quite close now, the flame is mere inches away from her peering eyes, mere inches away from his posing fingers. Lambent flame and flame's reflection merge. Yellow tipped orange and iridescent blue of flame and feather flatten and mix upon the palette of that instant. Flame becomes feather becomes hen of flame-reflecting eye.

     Something to eat? Head cocked first to one side and then the other, she pecks at the flame, and it is suddenly gone. Silver wisps, a gossamer tissue of smoke spirals out of the taper's blackened tip. Is the flame now inside the hen? Baffled child and puzzled hen reflect upon this transcendent possibility.

Experiment II

     Behind and through the glare of the rising sun's reflection in the kitchen window, she peers, the pupil in a great shining eye. She gazes outward from the kitchen wherein are kept those tapers, those strike-anywhere, double-dip, friction blazers. Remotely, she watches. She herself holds a match aflame half raised to the cigarette drooping from her lips and is distracted by the sight of a small, small boy crouching amongst the hens. Its yellow flicker reflects dimly in the glare of the intervening pane and distantly in the darkness of her witch's eyes. Less remote now, she perceives him to be absorbed in some kind of passion. Struck by the juxtaposition of finger, flame and eye of hen, she is frightened by the severity of his needs.

     She wonders how he came to have the match. She observes that he is playing at fire again, and thinks that this time he must somehow be taught, thinks that there must be some way to stop him, that he will burn himself, that he will set himself afire, that combustion occurs when you least expect it. Babayaga lives in a chicken when she's at home.

     Holding him in her lap and hugging him with trembling arms, his back pressed tightly to her breasts, mother and son are one again for this last time. A slender, white finger, his finger, is held in mother's hand—a cigarette compressed between unfeeling lips. He had been warned, and now the flame reflects in both their eyes. The tiny trembling finger blistering in the trembling flame, recoils and blackens, embraced in that other trembling hand. His eyes opening wide and wider look upward to see back, to see behind, to look, and opening wider, roll backward finally to look within, and ever and only within, while other eyes roll up from the bottom taking their place.

     A universe darkens, disappears and never was. The estranged one awakes numbly, fixing the scene in his mind, never to sleep again, never again in those or any arms.


     Alone now and pondering what she has done, she breathes smoke in heavy breaths, and the smoke from her cigarette has brought tears to her eyes as it curls around her nose and brows. The little man alone in stunned and stunted silence is sitting. Though his finger is only barely blistered really, he knows now that anything can happen, that what is is all that is. He has struggled free but does not flee.


     The work reported in this paper was performed under the auspices of the U. S. Department of Interior under contract No. W-7405-Eng-48, and partially funded with a matching grant from the Fireman’s Fund Mutual Assurance Corporation.

The truth is, after much furrowing of brow, I can't think of anything to say by way of preface to my blog. Along the way I wondered what it's purpose might be and maybe I should say a few words about that and would, except that I don't know what its purpose is, or could be, or should be. I only know that my clock is winding down and I'm so desperate to have my mind known that I could just spit! Maybe my blog could be about that. But how depressing and pretentious that could be! But hold on a second, maybe not—my therapist commented the other day how in late adulthood (AKA elder years), one is forced to deal with the sense of loss, all the time, it's always there, and it's painful, it takes great faith to live on even though one knows it's going to end and that whatever they accomplish, if anything, is not going to matter all that much. How does one find meaning or a sense of fulfillment in life knowing that it’s coming to an end? Psychologists have not written much about this if anything. It's sort of an unexamined part of adult life. It takes a lot of self-discipline to function in spite of this sense of loss—it's so easy to give up on the constant struggle, on life. A lot of people do—drinking, TV, drugs, electrosex, So, if you'll bear with me, let us examine this unexamined part of adult life.
Copyright © 2011 W. Bruce Watson, Inc. All rights reserved.  
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