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Pandora's Matchbox

(Cabin Inn, City Museum)

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The breeze kicked up the flames magnificently as the spinners twirled and performed acrobatics outside the Cabin Inn. One guy, who swallowed flames and breathed fire, demonstrated for Dave and me how he did it.

The flame-swallowing was an illusion, more or less, involving a tricky breathing method -- something about pushing the fire out of the mouth with your breath while dropping the flame to your lips, creating the illusion of swallowing the flame. I didn't get it, but it worked incredibly well when he enacted it.

"It's the same with anything: You have to practice," he said. "You can't learn to juggle without dropping a few balls." Only dropping balls hurts less than burning your mouth, I thought.

Then he walked out to a streetlamp in the parking lot, took a pull from his beer and spat it into the light. You could see the spray of beer, illuminated and misty. He did it again and then again, producing the identical spray each time. This is how a fire-breather creates the illusion of breathing fire, he explained: tiny pellets of lamp liquid bursting into flame.

The mist looked like something Godzilla would produce. That was the point of the demonstration. But to anyone not aware of what was going on, it looked like a man spitting beer into the night.

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