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More BMR Authors' Books:

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by Thom Ward

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by Richard Cumyn

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by Aaron Roy Even

The Blue Moon Review

16 Hours in Bradford, Pennsylvania
by Jesse Lee Kercheval


My host points out the Zippo factory
on our way from the airport.
If you have time she says,
you should go to the museum
and I nod, not admitting

I didn't know:
a. Zippo lighters were made in Bradford, PA.
b. Zippo lighters were still made in America.
c. Zippo lighters were still made.

But they are. The biggest industry in town.

The other is the federal prison. No tours of that.

Bradford, it turns out, was a boom town
when the first oil rush hit 1870s America
--men made rich just by tossing dynamite
down a well and watching the black wet
rip a hole in the sky. More millionaires
per mile than anywhere in America.
Not now. The mansions sag, their windows
dark with signs: Apt For Rent. For Sale By Owner.
Though there are still pumping wells--
we pass them, greasy teeter totters.
The oldest, Cline #1, my host tells me,
is in the parking lot of the McDonalds.
We drive through the drive thru--pick up
a pair of Happy Meals--just to see it.

You have to see the Zippo Museum, she said, and I do go there. My host lends me
her car, which I drive very carefully, following her neatly penned directions.
If you get lost, just stop the car and ask, she tells me. Everyone knows Zippo.

A clear clue where to turn--
a street called Zippo Drive lined
with "Street Lighters," giant Zippos
on poles spouting neon flames.

Inside the Zippo Visitors Center is the Zippo Museum, where the history of 20th
Century America is told through the story of a cigarette lighter invented in 1932
by George S. Blaisdell, and named in honor of his obsession with the word zipper.

On display:

The engraved silver and gold Zippo carried by General Douglas MacArthur.

On the ten seater plane into Bradford,
my sole fellow passenger was an old man
in a Valentine red satin jacket.
On the back, stitched in letters white
as his hair, were the words
With the Help of A Few Marines,
MacArthur Retook The Philippines.

MacArthur also had his trusty Zippo.

Also on display:

A 7 by 11 foot American flag made
of 3,400 red, white and blue Zippos.

Film clips of stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger,
Donna Reed, Errol Flynn--lighting cigarettes
with Zippos. Also sticks of TNT.

A case full of damaged Zippos, melted,
flattened by what--tanks? Hard to believe
their owners survived these cataclysms.
All sent back to take advantage of Zippo's
life-time guarantee--"It works or we fix it free."
Behind the case, a plate glass window
into the Zippo Repair Clinic, where skilled
technicians repair the injured Zippos
at long white tables. Today only two
technicians, women, none too busy.

I want to ask--who carries a Zippo anymore?

In these days of non-smoking flights, restaurants, hotel rooms, office buildings, universities, when was the last time I saw a Zippo for sale? But these are not questions to ask in the Zippo Gift Store, where there are hundreds of Zippos for sale--screen-painted for every sports team, every make of car or motorcycle. There are Zippos in commemorative boxes. Zippos that clip into specially designed belt buckles. Fat books giving collectors the prices of old Zippos. Also a list of uses for Zippos besides lighting cigarettes. Like lighting barbecue grills, birthday candles, finding your car at night in an unlit parking lot.

In the Zippo Museum, vintage posters
advertise Zippo as windproof,
show men holding them, flaming,
in front of whirling store fans
as astonished sales clerks look on.
The men say, "I just wanted
to be sure it was a Zippo."

President Kennedy was assassinated
when I was six. On the news,
they showed pictures of his grave
in Arlington. Soon, they said,
to be marked by an eternal flame.
Eternal flame--I imagined something
mystically Catholic,
like that business with the wine
turning into blood, those
light round crackers
into the tender white of human flesh.

When I visited the grave,
I was stunned, the eternal flame
a mere bunsen burner, pale
in the bright December sun. Now,
I see it was a kind of Zippo. One
with a more-than-lifetime guarantee.

But in the end, what cannot be extinguished? The life of a company, a town, my life, flying out of Bradford after a day of sleet and freezing rain, praying that the ground crew remembered to de-ice the wings?

See you in Pittsburgh, the co-pilot said after demonstrating how to use a simple seat belt. And I thought--What, are you driving down to meet us?

Zippo--"Use one to start something."
Zippo--"The lighter that works."
Zippo--the streetlighters glow their unquenchable red as we circle the town,
then head over the tree-clad hills for Pittsburgh.

Zippo Fact: If all of the 300,000,000 Zippo lighters ever sold were laid side
by side they would pave the streets of Bradford, PA 1.8 times.

Which would certainly help with the pot holes

Zippo Fact: 200,000 Zippo lighters were used by Americans in Vietnam, a war

with 50,000 U.S. casualties.

I think about this as we fly into the bank of icy clouds.

But the plane does not crash. Instead,
it lands on time, as do
my two other planes. A minor aviation
miracle that teaches,
again, the power of prayer.

Pennsylvania, I tell my two-year-old, when he asks where I have been.

He laughs, Pencil vania??

I think of the sharp, bare trees, ready to write their deciduous life stories
on the blank white of the hills. I'm kidding, I say. I went to Bradford.

He nods. That's a name he can believe in.

Bradford. Where every Zippo comes with a lifetime guarantee. Where the Zippo
Clinic is open for free repairs every day from 9-3.

Zippo Fact: Amount spent on repairs of Zippo lighters since 1932. Not one red cent.

In 1952, a Zippo was taken from the belly of a fish.

It lit on the first try.

Zippo Fact: Eternal flame.

Jesse Lee Kercheval was born in France and raised in Florida. She is the author of the novel The Museum of Happiness and the poetry collection World as Dictionary. Her second poetry collection Dog Angel is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press.

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