Dry ice's spooky airs

When Halloween calls for a scary atmosphere, you can buy one, cheap. Tom Fleet tells us everything we need to know about dry ice.

It's like Tom Fleet doesn't know what he's got in his hot little hands.

Or maybe it's that dry ice---the must-have of heavy-metal roadies and scary-movie set decorators---is just so been-there-done-that for Fleet that he simply can't share the enthusiasm we everyday Halloween-lovin' schmucks feel about the stuff.

"Yeah, I sometimes use it at Halloween," he says. "I haven't for a bit. I don't have young kids anymore."

Fleet is sales manager at Praxair. No, of course you've never heard of it. Because it's one of those businesses burrowed away in Dartmouth's Burnside Industrial Park that supplies the kinds of things you never need to think about---namely, atmospheric gases like oxygen, nitrogen, argon and helium.

And, as it happens, carbon dioxide.

Big deal, you say. I make it every day. I just breeeeathe it out of my cakehole.

True enough. But you don't have it in liquid form, and you can't compress it into solid 50-pound hunks then custom slice it into one-inch nuggets for people to stick into cauldrons or pumpkins or whatever else they feel like making look like the "Thriller" video.

That's the exciting part of dry ice: When you put it in water and it starts to sublimate, which, Fleet explains, "is when it boils off from the block and it turns into a gas." (Not to be confused with the decidedly un-exciting part of dry ice, which is its use in labs and hospitals for preserving samples. It also gets stuffed into dry ice blasters and propelled at walls to remove mould or soot, which I find slightly more interesting than sample-shipping, but nowhere near as awesome as chucking a few---oven-mitted---handfuls of it into a water-filled lobster pot on my front lawn and watching my yard turn into creepy-town. Preferred pre-creepification activity: a screening of John Carpenter's sublime 1980 horror film The Fog.)

Of course, Tom Fleet probably won't do any of that.

Sure, he knows a lot about it: "Here's a little interesting tidbit," he offers. "It exists in three states, that would be liquid, solid and gas.... Kind of like water, although there's no residue---as opposed to water where there is a puddle, right? With dry ice there's nothing left."

But Fleet's been at Praxair 15 years and he sells the stuff every day. Ho-hum.

"Seems for the most part to be keeners," he says, "people who have parties on a Friday night."

How many zombies-to-be will descend on his door, Fleet says, depends on what day of the week Halloween falls. This year, with Allhallows on a Saturday and Praxair closed on the weekend, it's anyone's guess.

The company doesn't advertise at Halloween, and if Fleet is worried about those $60 Canadian Tire fog machines with their separately sold liquid "fog juice" taking away his business, he's not letting it show: "I'm not actually familiar with what they have going there at all."

And who needs non-toxic fog juice anyway? Don't you want a little danger in your Halloween?

Dry ice is -78 degrees Celsius. You need gloves to handle it, and putting it into a drink, Fleet says, "is definitely a no-no." And there's not only esophageal frostbite to consider if you accidentally swallow a piece. "Because it's so cold it could shatter the glass. Things get really brittle when they get that cold."

Fleet suggests the front-yard cauldron set-up or carving a pumpkin and putting a small container of water and dry ice inside.

He also suggests partiers probably shouldn't inhale too much of the vapour. "It displaces oxygen," Fleet says. "If you were in a confined space and you had a big, big quantity, that would be a problem."

Still game? Toss a cooler in the trunk (simple Styrofoam will do) and brave the Burnside maze. No need to call ahead. Praxair can compress and slice a 50-pound block in 10 minutes. Er, wait---"maybe less than that," says Fleet. It's a buck a pound with a 10-pound minimum.

That's probably not enough for KISS (whose Halifax concert Praxair supplied), but it's enough for a party. Go for 20 pounds if you're the better-safe-than-sorry type, but you'll probably be waking up November 1 hungover and worried your apartment has been transported to the surface of Venus.

Which, if you think about it, is pretty friggin' cool.

Just imagine...Tom Fleet could wake up that way every day if he wanted to.

Contact Praxair
40 Gurholt Dr
Halifax, NS B3B
(902) 468-1666
(yeah, that's right one-6-6-6)

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