Ask a Stupid Question, Get a Stupid Answer

You'd think the question "What color is the inside of a coal mine?" wouldn't need asking, but -- according to Jeanne Marie Laskas in her new book Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make the Country Work -- the inside of a coal mine is bright white (when you're shining your torch, of course . . . which you should never shine in another miner's eyes) because coal dust is highly explosive, especially when mixed with methane gas -- which naturally leaks from excavations deep beneath the earth -- and so the coal face needs to be coated with crushed limestone, which is the opposite color of coal and gives the mine a much more cheerful appearance than if it were all dark black . . . but this belies the fact that every time you go down there, you are taking your life into your hands . . . a fact that the miners deal with in a cavalier fashion, like the tone of that Jim Carroll song "People Who Died."

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