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Subject: ASSM: Flaming Love (FM romance caution)
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	Aaron's glossy black lighter was the size of a deck of playing 
cards, and had someone else's initials inscribed at its base.  He said
that he had to refuel it every two days, on average, and I wasn't 
surprised to hear this: whenever he flipped back the lid and struck 
the flint, the flame almost barbecued his nose.  
	"Are you a pyromaniac?"  I asked him once.
	"Is your livingroom one big fireplace?"
	"Ha.  No."
	Several times he came close to accidentally immolating people 
at bars.  On one occasion, a cocktail waitress threatened to call the
fire department on him.  Whenever he was drunk and I saw him reaching 
for his cigarettes, I instantly whipped out my puny plastic disposable
lighter so that he wouldn't need to energize his silly flame-thrower.
	Some people made assumptions about him based on his pocket
inferno.  One of my friends asked if he was some sort of satanist.
	"Satanist?  Because of the lighter?"
	"They baptize babies in fire, don't they?"
	"  I think they use blood."
	"Oh.  So he's, what, a gang member or something?"
	"Actually, I think he's with the A.T.F."
	"What?  Oh, the Waco blaze.  I get it.  Funny."  
	Aaron's insistence that he was not a pyromaniac seemed 
sincere.  Several times when we were watching CNN together we
saw clips of enormous fires devouring apartment complexes, or 
charring California hills.  His expression did not changed while
he watched this stuff; he seemed unaffected. 
	Later, when we had been friends for a while, he divulged
that while he was not a pyromaniac, his lighter did in fact signal
an idiosyncrasy of his.  He said that he was a pyrophiliac.
	"What's that mean?"
	"Well, actually it would mean that I love fire, so it's
not a perfectly apt term, but it's the closest I could think of
to describe...what I do."
	"What's that?"
	"I set women's hair on fire while we're making love."
	He meant it literally: He'd lie udnerneath them on his 
back; they'd mount his penis, and, when he was approaching climax,
he'd put his lighter to their hair.  
	"I sometimes have them spray with Sciflow before we get
close; it makes the flame spread more rapidly.  One instantaneous,
dazzling burst.  When I'm right about to climax, the whole room
floods with fire-light.  I come, and then...darkness."
	This apparently explained why Aaron always seemed to be drawn 
to women with long, airy hair styles.  
	I assumed that he must have had some traumatic childhood
experience with fire that had created deep, troubled feelings about
it, and that he was trying to tame those feelings with his
sex-fries.  He denied this.
	"Then why do you have this perversion?"  
	I asked the question amicably enough, I thought; he knew that 
I was not judgemental about people because of their odd sexual 
activities; my conviction was, and still is, that everyone has some
sexual peculiarity about them and that as long as nothing is done 
non-consensually there's nothing to be ashamed of.  But he spoke 
	"It's not a goddam perversion.  It's a kink.  And don't
cast aspersions on my kink; that's really hypocritical of you.  And it
bothers me a lot, you know?  It's like mainstream society, or should I 
say repressed society, fears and detests people who have the usual
kinks: sado-masochism, fetishes, et cetera.  And even though those
people are judged so mindlessly by mainstream society, they go on to 
judge anyone who doesn't happen to have the usual, common kinks.  
Their own marginality should make them more sensitive, but it 
usually doesn't.  Instead they're just hypocrites, agonizing about
society's brutality towards sexual unusualness, and then scorning
people who are -- in their eyes -- really usual.  A kink is a goddam 
kink.  If you live yours out, congratulations: you've got some courage,
and relief.  But if you then try to berate other people for theirs,
you're every bit as cowardly and un-free-thinking as mainstream
	For a while after that I saw women in a different light.  
I noticed that red hair seemed to be all the rage, and that some
women seemed to dye their hair to make it look like flame.  I 
realized that fire is symbolic of change; and of knowledge, though
usually not carnal knowledge; and I remembered reading somewhere
that when things are burned ritually and their smoke rises to the 
heavens, it's thought that the essence of the thing is received by
the gods.  In a way, Aaron might have been trying to bring his 
sexual union with women to a divine level.  
	"But isn't there real danger to the women?  I mean, come 
on, you're setting their heads on fire."  
	"I don't hurt them," he said.  "I take very careful
precautions.  For example, I use fire-proof blankets and make
sure everything flammable is safely away from the bed.  I used to
keep a fire-extinguisher by the pillow, but one night this really
evil bitch got pissed and sprayed me with it.  So now I just keep
a big basin of water by the bed to dunk her head in."
	Aaron said that he had the best conversations of his life
after these erotic conflagrations.  
	"The feelings that come up are extraordinary.  In her 
experience she's come close to death, and surviving it makes her love 
of life amazingly heightened.  It's really intimate, too; me rubbing 
first-aid cream all over her smooth head while we talk.  She's given
me enormous pleasure; I've given her a totally unique adventure.
We're both so grateful to each other."	
	Aaron told me about one woman who loved it so much that
she wanted to repeat the experience.  
	"But she didn't have any hair left to burn, obviously.  
We tried it with a wig, but it just wasn't the same.  She volunteered
to make her pubic hair a burnt offering to my erotic muse, but I said,
Lookit, I'm not a hotdog.  So she grew her hair out, it took a few
months, and we did it again.  It was even more amazing.  Next time, she
says, she wants to be lying on a grassy hillside when we do it, so 
that our love-making sets the hills on fire.  I'm not sure what I think
about that, but it's a pretty image."
	"A darling image," I said.  
	"Yeah.  She's really evolved."
	"So what about masturbation?  Have you ever set your own
hair on fire when you were jerking off?"
	"Ha!  I'd probably die during the post-orgasmic bliss.  
Probably be too dazed to extinguish it on time."
	Naturally I wondered what attracted some women to sex flambe.
I remembered seeing him a few times with a woman wearing a colorful 
knit cap which covered her entire head.  They had been openly 
affectionate, and I assumed correctly that this must be the woman 
who had come to love having her head roasted.  One afternoon I got 
coffee with her, and asked her to explain.
	"Why do I do it?  You mean it's not obvious?"
	I shook my head, so she urged me to speculate.  
	"It drives him crazy; you like being able to fulfill his
pleasure completely."  
	"Nah."  She thought for a minute.  "Well, sure, that's part 
of it."
	"It makes you feel courageous that you're doing something few 
other people would even attempt?"
	"Maybe partly.  But mostly it's the intensity of my experience."
	"Can you describe it?"
	She hesitated at first, but then she leaned toward me, her 
eyes narrow, her voice tense.  
	"His penis is inside me, he's thrusting harder and harder, my
he's goaning wildly, then...boom!  My whole world is ablaze; my mind 
explodes, bits of it flying everywhere.  I can feel him surging 
inside me, thrashing like an animal in a deadly trap, and I'm riding
his mania like a sled through collapsing dimensional gates.  It's like 
for an instant you become other-worldly in this wild electric charge.  
It's incredible."  
	Recalling the experience had made her vibrant; one of her 
hands gripped her coffee cup, and it rattled against the saucer; her 
other began rapidly smoothing out her cap, as if patting down the fire
of her imagination.  
	For several days I was unable to reach Aaron on the phone, and
then I received a call from his public defender.  As soon as I could
I visited Aaron in jail.
	"Aggravated assault," he said, shaking his head as if it were
the most ridiculous thing in the world.  "Can you believe it?  What
a load of hogwash.  This is nothing but sexual persecution.  They 
don't approve of how my libido expresses itself, so they're trying 
to roast me.  It's that simple."
	"How'd the police find out?"
	Aaron sank back in his chair.  
	"It's fucking awful.  I was with this girl, right, and she knew 
exactly what I was intending, but then she just freaked out."
	"So she knew in advance that you were going to set her on
	"She just couldn't handle her own erotic energy.  She
got frightened by it.  She didn't want to think that all those 
feelings were really coming from her, so she lashed out at me by
calling the cops."
	He seemed unable to continue.  His grief was palpable,
overwhelming, and for a moment I thought he was going to cry.  
	"I think they'll find some way to acquit me, but I'm not 
counting on it; our society is incredibly hostile toward any forms
of experience that don't reinforce the idiotically frightened judeo-
christian attitude toward sex.  Look, would you do me a favor?"
	"Of course."
	"Keep my lighter until I get out.  I don't want the authorities
to confiscate it.  They're going to try to hold it as evidence, but I 
know that if they do I'll never see it again.  Look, it's in the top 
drawer of my dresser.  As soon as you leave her, go to my apartment -- 
you can get in through the window -- and get my lighter."
	"Well, if it's supposed to be evidence..."
	"And when you get it?"  He leaned forward and lowered his
voice to an urgent whisper.  "When you get it, use it."
	"Use it.  Just like I told you.  Jeanette -- that girl you
met -- her hair will be long enough to do it again soon.  I want
you to have the honors.  Okay?  Do it.  And write about it; tell me
exactly what it's like for you, everything that happens.  Then send
me the pages in a letter.  Would you do that?"
	"Aaron, I'm not sure.  I mean, it's your kink; I don't
really think I have any interest in doing it myself."
	Aaron stared at me unbelievingly; shocked, betrayed.  Then
he began cursing me; accusing me of being a mindless minion, a 
hapless Christian robot, craven yuppy scum.  Astounded by his 
outburst, I suddenly doubted whether he really had told his female
accuser what he was planning to do to her.  
	"Forget it," I said against his barrage of insults, "I've
had it."  
	I rose to my feet.
	"You'll do it?"  He said, his voice suddenly full of hope.  
"Will you do it for me?  Please?"
	"No!  No, I won't."  I walked out.
	Aaron was convicted, and sentenced to three years with 
parole.  After the conclusion of his trial, about two months after
out last conversation, I ran into the his pyrophiliac playmate, 
Jeanette, at the same cafe where we had met before.  I was sitting 
alone drinking espresso and reading a textbook.
	"Hey, wimpy."
	I looked around my shoulder and saw her glaring at me.  Her
hair was longer now, forming short brown bangs.  She wore a black
jacket with the zipper open, and underneath a tight striped shirt that
displayed her large breasts.  If I hadn't been perplexed by
her hostile greeting, I would have relished her sexiness.   
	"What did you say?"  I asked her.
	"You're a wimp."
	"What are you talking about?"
	"I know; Aaron told me.  You're afraid to do it with me."
	"Afraid?  No, I just choose not to."
	"You're chicken."
	"Wait a minute, Jeanette.  Look--"
	"You're not a real man; you won't set my head on fire."  
	As she walked away from me I gestured after her angrily, 
stammered and stuttered.  And for a brief moment as I struggled 
with my frustration, I felt all the old adolescent self-doubt 
resurface in me: Was I not a real man?  Did I even know what 
consituted true manliness?  Was it unmanly of me to shy away from any 
sexual experience, no matter how exotic it seemed?  Wasn't the 
essence of manliness courage and strength in the face of challenge?
As Jeanette walked away with her look of disgusted pity, I felt myself 
shrinking, melting into a puddle.  Her insult had hit its target; just 
by denying my manhood, she had sent me into an emotional skid.  And if
my confidence was so weak that she could affect me that deeply with a 
simple insult, surely she was right to discount my manliness.  
	As I rose from my table a few minutes later I remembered how
enlivened Jeanette had been talking about her experiences with Aaron, and 
I admit I felt deeply envious of his ability to give her such earth-
shattering ecstasy.  But no one else does it that way, I consoled myself,
walking dejectedly to the crowded sidewalk.  Into the pedestrian flow.  
The flood of wimps.	

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