I was very attached to my thermometer -- it was the old-fashioned kind, a hollow glass column containing a bead of mercury, a hand-and-mouth-made precision lab instrument which I had purchased for a song thirty years ago at "China Products". China Products is where Hong Kongers went if they needed to buy something functional, rather than stylish. It was a little piece of mainland China right in Hong Kong -- a place to buy sensible clothing and kitchenware. Browsing was not encouraged. On entering the store, an attendant would greet you with aggressive cheer to ask you what you were looking for, then follow you around until you had paid for your purchases.
Back to the varnish cooking. I was at that most delicate stage of having to add the turpentine, where obtaining accurate temperature measurements is vital, and I had a patio full of mercury. Thank God for google! It reassured me about the dangers of mercury on the loose (not as bad as I thought it was) and told me how to safely collect it. I got to work with shaving foam and a little brush, patiently picking up ever-smaller droplets of mercury, wiping them off on a damp paper towel, sealing everything inside many plastic bags. But then google directed me to check with the local fire department about where to dispose of the lot.
I figured the local fire department might have an interest in someone cooking varnish on their patio, but my conscience won out, so I made my way over there. It was evening and all was dark, but when I rang the doorbell, a young firefighter came out. I told her I had been cooking … something … on the patio, and had broken my thermometer, and google had directed me to her. She scratched her head and invited me inside, where she called the captain. "Captain, there is a citizen here who broke her thermometer when she was grilling …"
When I told the Captain that the government website had referred me to the fire department, he quipped "Well, I would just refer you to the nearest trash can!" Then apologized a thousand times, saying "we didn't get any training on mercury."
In the end, he gave me a couple of suggestions for where to ispose of my "hazmats". It made my job sound so high-stakes and adventurous.