Dust-Off is a compressed air product that used to be mainly used to blow away grit and dust from film negatives. Today you use mainly Dust-Off to blow away grit and dust from computers. The Dust-Off danger is real and not new.
Dust-Off is easy to misuse and we must all come together to remove the Dust-Off temptation from feeble minds not strong enough to resist fleeting temptation with everlasting aftereffects. I was one of the feebleminded.
I was one of those who naively gave in to the Dust-Off temptation. I lived to tell you this story. When I was in high school around 1982 or so huffing Dust-Off — today the kids call it “dusting” while back then we called it… “inhaling Dust-Off” — was the fad of the day and my friends and I were into it for about three weeks until the little voice in my head started to die and I realized my life was fading away.
As a member of the high school journalism squad we had full access to a large darkroom that we could lock from the inside. We were practicing “old-style” journalism before the rise of digital media so if we needed to create prints or develop film — or do some other dastardly teenaged deeds like mixing 7-Up with rotgut whiskey like Ancient Age
— or suck in some Dust-Off — we’d simply lock the door and if anyone tried to get in we’d scream “we’re developing film in here, if we open the door the film will be ruined, come back later!” and the intruder would go away for a half hour.
I don’t think that sort of darkroom cry would work today: “We’re formatting Compact Flash cards in here, come back in five seconds!” just doesn’t have the same ring of urgency as the possibility of ruining an entire roll of film of cheerleaders doing the splits.
The school purchased Dust-Off for the school newspaper photographers and we, as a staff, drew a lot of it down into our lungs instead of using it to clean negatives. You’d pinch your lips over the nozzle, gently pull the trigger to release the horrible stuff and then you’d try to let it sink into your lungs and hold it there until you couldn’t anymore.
You always got dizzy. Sometimes you couldn’t move for a little bit. A few people threw up in the developing sink. You didn’t want to do a full-on Dust-Off blast because it might overload your lungs or — as Chad warned us after finding out — it would freeze your tongue. Soon we were purchasing our own “personal” canisters of Dust-Off for use outside of school. We didn’t buy the big, industrial version with the metal nozzle that the school provided because that was too expensive.
We went for the pocket-size Dust-Off that came with a silly red “straw” that you stuck in a tiny nozzle to give you a specific spray. We used that red straw to specifically drink in freezing lungsful of death. I did Dust-Off by myself at home three times. The first two times I started on the floor in case I got dizzy.
The awful sound of blood throbbing in my head coupled with intensely flashing spots of light put me in netherworld of the Dust-Off dying where the living were lucky to escape alive. Suckling Dust-Off was a dark feeling and I remember wondering why we all pretended to enjoy it so much when we were together.
The last time I did Dust-Off was the day after the first two attempts. I remember standing on the landing above the stairs. The next thing I remember was being upside down and groggy at the foot of the stairs. I was flat on my back with my feet up the stairs and my head was resting on the bottom step. My eyes were stuck open.
My head felt cracked open.
I tried to remember who I was and where I was and I could not think of anything other than trying to breathe. I was stuck there, upside down with blood pooling in my head, for a good hour before my body came back to me and I was able to move.
When I saw the can of Dust-Off on the floor next to me I realized how I had nearly met my death and probably should have become my quadriplegic doppelganger since I had obviously blacked out and tumbled down the stairs upside down. I threw the Dust-Off in the garbage. I knew I had escaped with my life relatively intact and today, 23 year later, I still shudder at the great stupidity and incredible luck that are the hallmarks of privileged youth.
Only the fortunate are able to peer back into the tender abyss of the young, from which some never escape, to tell a tale. Dust-Off, like many fine tools in the world, can kill you if you use it as an implement to cheapen your life and tempt death. My head still hurts from the remembering.