110. That Time I Melted a Screwdriver

I like fireworks, except when they’re unexpected and burst out of light switches. Then they’re scary.

You see, I once melted the tip of a screwdriver. With electricity. By accident. There were fireworks, and not the good kind.

I spent a few summers during my college years painting walls, doors and miscellaneous fixtures on campus. Before painting a wall, I had to remove the plastic covers from light switches and electrical outlets. These plastic covers sometimes adhered to the wall after the screws had been removed, so I tapped them gently with the tip of the screwdriver to knock them loose.

In a bathroom in the dining commons, there was a particular light switch. The Light Switch of Death. I gave the plastic cover a gentle tap with the tip of the screwdriver, and—fireworks.

A blinding flash! A shower of sparks!

I reeled backward, blinking and clutching my screwdriver. Once my eyes had refocused, I noted with detached interest that the tip of the screwdriver had melted. A few moments passed. Then, gathering my courage, I examined the Light Switch of Death. I expected to find a blackened crater or some other kind of damage.

The plastic cover had fallen off. That was all. Apart from the missing cover, the light switch seemed unaltered in any way. Later, when the screwdriver’s tip had cooled and I had regained my composure, I cautiously flipped the switch. The lights turned off. I turned on the lights. There were no problems.

The screwdriver’s tip, which had hardened into a misshapen mess, was eventually filed down in order to make the tool usable again. As far as I know, the Light Switch of Death never gave anyone further trouble. It’s there to this day, lurking in a bathroom in the dining commons, concealing its menace behind an immaculate plastic mask.

I’m still not sure what happened. I think the tip of the screwdriver must have slipped behind the plastic cover and touched an exposed wire or something. Fortunately, the handle of the screwdriver was made of plastic. Had I been touching the metal part of the tool, I’m not sure how much damage I may have sustained.

As much as I wanted to end this post with a clever electricity-related pun, I can’t think of any. (If one occurs to you, feel free to leave it in the comments.) I’ll conclude with a word of warning. Be cautious when removing the covers of light switches and electrical outlets. If you’re careless, fireworks may ensue.

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