In my junior year of high school, I had to take chemistry. I was a bright student, but I came extremely close to failing that class, mostly because I hated the teacher so much. When the year was finally over, I was so exuberant at the thought of never having to deal with that class or Mr. Critchell again, that I decided to burn my chemistry textbook.

My dad had a burn barrel out in the backyard, in which we used to burn paper instead of throwing it out. Yes, I know it's not very eco-friendly, but we lived in a very small town, and there were no recycling facilities for paper. We decided that rather than contribute to the town landfill, if we couldn't recycle paper, we'd just burn it. So I took my chemistry book out back, and tossed it in the burn barrel on top of the ashes. Of course, being 15 and a stupid teenager, just lighting a match and setting the book on fire wouldn't be enough -- I needed to douse the tome in lighter fluid.

The book went up in a huge burst of flame, fire leaping out of the barrel, red-hot tongues licking the sky, the ground ... I was lucky. I didn't set myself on fire. But when my father found out what I'd done, I wished that I had been consumed by the flames. He was so furious. Just incensed. It was a stupid thing for a kid to do, and he let me know that in no uncertain terms. In fact, he actually made me write an essay on "The Dangers of Using Unknown Chemicals" ... although I was perfectly familiar with what lighter fluid was, Dad insisted that I was not sufficiently schooled in its use, otherwise I never would have drenched a book in it and set it on fire. Lighter fluid was to be used to help start a barbecue, or for other sanctioned purposes. Burning books was not an acceptable use of such a dangerous chemical.

I still have that essay, on a disk of old files from high school. It was very tongue-in-cheek, and actually quite well researched. I don't think my father expected that I would delve into research on hazardous materials, or outline how dangerous it is to use chemicals with which one is unfamiliar. I think I may even have given him some trouble with a few of the more verbose, pedantic sections.

Did I learn my lesson? Yes. Nevertheless, I've done incredibly stupid things since then, as most of us have. But at least my dad hasn't made me write any more stupid essays.