It isn't obvious from my other "disaster" posts, but the place I lived in that burned down was a townhouse. This is significant because three condos were burned up by the fire.
The fire inspector guy said that the cause of the fire was either someone's smouldering cigarette, or possibly a citronella candle. It doesn't matter either way, I guess. The place is burned up. Who cared how it was caused? Dumb as it sounds, all I wanted to do was go home, but it was impossible to do that.
Thank goodness for insurance. I should be getting reimbursed for most of my stuff, but some things, like guitars and books, are really irreplacable, memorabilia, and took years to collect. And stuff I wrote down, valueless from the perspective of money, is gone for good. I wouldn't wish this experience on anyone.
Let me tell you - it was the surprise of my life to wake up last week to discover the house on fire. One second I was dreaming (I still remember it - I was dreaming I was eating a pizza) and then the next, I had sprung from my bed, standing in the middle of the floor, because my cousin had just shouted in my room, "HOLY SHIT! THE FUCKING HOUSE IS ON FIRE!" Anything else I've experienced rates a distant second on my personal “Shocks of a Lifetime” all-time list. What else has happened to me? A speeding ticket? Nothing like this.
Thank god I had been sleeping in a pair of shorts, or else I would have suffered the indignity of escaping my burning house in front of dozens of neighbors in a set of underwear - or worse. Put it this way, the weather was very hot last week.
It's funny, even though waking up to a burning house was a total shock, I was strangely prepared for the evacuation. It's because I've always asked myself the question: If there was a fire, what would I do? I'm sure everybody has thought of questions like that at one time or another. Like, pop-quiz, hotshot: if a burglar broke in, what would you do? Or if a guy poked a gun in your face, what would you do? You know. So for a period that couldn't have lasted any longer than a minute, everything happened automatically:
I dialed 9-11:
Operator (bored to tears): 9-11 Emergency.
Me (freaking out): My house is on fire!
Operator: Please hold the line, I'm transferring you to our fire department.
Fire Department: 9-11 Fire Response.
Me: My HOUSE is on FIRE!
Fire Response: What is your address, sir?
Me: (address) Ok, do you have it?
Fire Response: Yes, we have it. I'm going to ask you to stay on the line, sir.
Me: No way! I gotta go! (dropping phone to the floor, but not hanging up)
Now, I'd arrived at the question I alluded to earlier: What do I take? Keep in mind my bedroom was rapidly filling with smoke, so there was some urgency to the question. And, I'd inhaled whooping gusts of burning house that had disoriented me and left me feeling high for the rest of the day. Turns out that breathing a houseful of burning books, guitars, computers and LP's is a great way to get a buzz. Who knew? Next time you have some pals over, whip out some matches and go to town.
So - I was standing in front of my desk, and that made the first thing to grab obvious to me - my watch, a $500 Bulova. Next, on my bookshelf above it, my copy of Catcher in the Rye - I'd left about $800 stuffed between the pages (rent money, from my cousin - I'm not some kind of money-hoarding lunatic or anything). I waved my hand around on the shelf, desperate to snatch another book I had up there with money in it, but it was so smoky by now I couldn't see anything at all, never mind the book - and plus, that high feeling I just told you about started to feel a lot like drowning. I had to forget about the second book.
One more thing to get.
I sent an instantaneous prayer, dropped to my knees under the smoke, and looked under the bed. Hiding in the corner was my cat, Pepper. She mewled piteously. I grabbed her leg and dragged her out, which caused her pity-inducing mewling to ramp up into full-bore bitching.
"Let's go!" I told Pepper.
I staggered out of the bedroom, suddenly unable to breathe without coughing. I remember that it was like wintertime, sort of - only when I breathed out, I could see my breath was black instead of white. I made my way to the stairs, and there I found some guy, a total stranger, charging up by threes.
"Hey!" his eyes bugged. "Come on, man!" He grabbed my arm - my money arm - and yanked on me, which caused us both to fall down the staircase. I discovered the credit-card sized patches of erased skin later on. We landed at the bottom, in front of the door, and that's when I found my feet again and ran outside into the light.
Dozens of people were staring at the spectacle of the burning houses, and I could hear moaning sirens approaching, probably needing no direction to the fire, thanks to the billowing mushroom cloud drifting off into the sky.
This was 8:50, last Sunday morning. Sunny, and not humid at all.
Other than the burning house, it looked like it was going to be a nice day.