In January 1965, I returned to Houston after my year-long “Walk on the Wild Side” in New Orleans. I was able to get a job at a company called Triangle Reproductions. I did not have the skill of using special equipment to make blueprints or wall-sized photographic projects, but I had some experience transcribing seismic records from paper to digital. Seismic records are the recordings of artificial explosions used to forecast oil deposits below the earth’s surface. This company occasionally got jobs from geophysicists who wanted their records converted to digital, so they could be processed by something new called a “computer”. Well, I knew how to align the records side by side, so they could be photographed by an overhead camera. They had a geophysicist on staff who had the owner convinced that he was over-qualified for the job and who wanted to return to work for the oil companies. So, I got the job!
I didn’t have an office, I had a desk in a large room which I shared with the overhead camera and a co-worker by the name of Tom. We got along well, and we would while away the days sandwiching my geophysical jobs between his regular jobs, based on the priorities of the day. All of the work spaces in the building were a warehouse-type atmosphere, with only the front sales office suitable for human habitation. Well, it wasn’t that bad, but you get the idea. The guy that ran the sales floor had to wear a tie, so we considered ourselves lucky to be dressed casually. The dispatching of our pickup/delivery trucks was handled by our receptionist who also greeted customers. Over time we began spending just our lunch hours together, but eventually it became much more. But that’s another blog for another day.
One day, business was slower than normal. Tom and I were just chewing the fat in the camera room and listening to tunes. In the business we used quite a bit of rubber cement. It came in a big brown jar with a brush attached to the lid. We used this stuff for layouts prior to shooting. We often joked about it looking just like a booger when peeled from the layout table. Sometimes when we were bored, we would pour some on the table and then form round rubber balls for layups into the trash can. Well, on this particular day, Tom decided that he would make the “world’s biggest booger”.
He poured out a generous amount of rubber cement on the table and we waited for it to dry a little before he started handling it. Then he got the bright idea that this would be a great time for a smoke. Bear in mind that this took place in the sixties so it was not unusual for people to smoke at their desks at work. After he lit his cigarette, he said “I wonder if this stuff really is flammable”. He waved his lighter at the lake of liquid on the table. The next thing we heard was an explosion as the rubber cement burst into flames. I grabbed a nearby smock and started beating the flames in an effort to put out the fire. Some of the flames jumped the smock and landed on my pants. I am now doing everything in my power to get my pants off when Tom suddenly jumps in with a fire extinguisher. He quickly put out the fire, first on my pants and then on the layout table.
Well, our screams, first of laughter and then of panic, drew quite an audience. I was standing there with huge holes burned into my pant legs. You could see my now hairless legs and my tidy whities. The receptionist thankfully provided me with another smock which I tied around my waist enough to cover myself. By now the owner was in the room and once appraised of what had happened, recommended that I take the rest of the day off. The rest of the crew went back to work and I went home. For the rest of my time at Triangle, the legend survived. The legend of how the “world’s largest booger” became the “world’s largest table-top bonfire”. Neither Tom nor I ever played with rubber cement again. We were officially retired from the booger business.