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Danehy

Tom is planning on living for a while, unless he's swallowed by a molasses spill

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On Jan. 15, 1919, an unseasonable warm-up caused carbon dioxide to accumulate inside a giant storage tank full of molasses in Boston's North End neighborhood. The tank exploded, sending a 15-foot-high wall of molasses roaring down the street at more than 35 miles per hour, which is, ironically, much faster than molasses in January. Twenty-one people died and more than 150 were injured by the blast and the subsequent flood, which is referred to as the Boston Molasses Disaster, the Great Molasses Flood, or the Great Boston Molasses Tragedy. Take your pick, but whichever you choose, you have to agree that it's a dumbass way to die.

Molasses was the No. 1 sweetener in America in those days and was also used in the manufacture of rum and ethyl alcohol, a main ingredient in many types of alcoholic beverages. What many don't know is that it was also an ingredient in a highly explosive form of munitions involving a mixture of ammonium nitrate, molasses and water.

There had been a huge demand for molasses during World War I and the storage tank had been hurriedly and badly constructed. The builder, a man named Arthur Jell, had been in such a hurry, he hadn't even taken the time to fill the tank with water to see if there were any leaks. As it turned out, it leaked so badly that people in the neighborhood would come by and scoop molasses off the outer wall for their own use. Instead of fixing the leaks, Jell had the tank painted brown so that the leaks wouldn't be so obvious to passers-by.

A rumor that persists today is that the tank was filled past capacity because of the impending Prohibition. However, the company that owned the tank, Purity Distilling Co., did not make rum or other spirits, but rather industrial alcohol, which was exempt from the Volstead Act. (Some theorize that company officials were concerned that the act would be expanded to include a ban on industrial alcohol as well.)

Whatever the case, the tank was straining under the load. The temperature in Boston had gone from two degrees Fahrenheit to more than 40 degrees in just a few days, causing carbon dioxide to build up inside the structure. Witnesses recall hearing a low rumbling and then several popping sounds (probably rivets being blown outward). More than two million gallons of molasses rushed out, knocking a train off its tracks, toppling several buildings and killing the 21 people and several horses.

(I'm sorry, but I can't help but think of the slow-motion chase scene in Austin Powers.)

It took quite a while to clean it up and Boston Harbor was brown with molasses through the following summer. According to local legend, some people claim that on hot summer days they can still smell molasses in that area.

My mother told me that story when I was a kid because one of the people killed was a 10-year-old boy named Pasquale Iantosca, whose family was possibly distantly related to my mother's. I remember thinking at the time that, while memorable, I didn't want to die like that.

I thought of that the other day when a friend pointed out that I'm probably past the midway point of my life and she was wondering how I would not want to die. Actually, being stuck in molasses like a bug on flypaper might not even be in my top (or bottom) 10.

Considering my girth, most people probably assume that I will eventually die of a heart attack. Indeed, most would have assumed that I would have met that fate several years back, but I'm in pretty good shape for a fat guy. Plus, there's no heart disease in my family.

A long, long time ago, I was a lifeguard on the beach near L.A. (I know, I know—what happened?) I was always a pretty good (but not great) swimmer. I could tread water for a long time and, through sheer determination, could get from point A to point B, albeit not in any sort of record time. Still, while I'm never afraid in water, I think that drowning would be a horrible way to go. Same with fire.

I hear that being stabbed hurts a lot and getting shot is no fun, either.

I was watching Midnight In Paris the other night and was constantly laughing at how the Ernest Hemingway character kept using "brave" and "courage" in every sentence. Then, when Ernest Hemingway got old in real life, he killed himself. I know one thing: I'm not going out like a chump.

Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once said, "I have a lifetime appointment and I intend to serve it. I intend to die at 110, shot by a jealous husband." (He made it to 84 and died of heart failure.)

I don't want to waste a lot of time worrying about this, so I've made a decision. I want to die on my 100th birthday while performing a heroic act in which I save the life of a young Zefram Cochrane, who will go on to invent warp drive in 2063.

OK, now that I've got that out of the way, I can go back to living the final four or five decades of my life.

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