“Oh, they didn’t take the stove out too?” she asked.
Greg and I looked at each other quizzically.
“Who didn’t take the stove out?” I asked.
It’s an honest mistake, I guess. After a fire, I suppose people do have instances of extremely mild PTSD. Although so far, I was handling it all with a semblance of Zen calm about the whole affair. I had no choice really. You can’t un-set a fire. You can’t un-total the stove. You can’t un-torch your gym bag and its contents. That would mean un-burning to a large pile of ash a library book, a pair of glasses, all my toiletries, running shoes, attire, and who-even-knows what all else was in my binder. Birth certificate? Social Security Card? The list goes on.
“Um, the firefighters come and put out the fire. The rest is on me,” I said.
“Oh. Yeah. Right” My roommate’s girlfriend averted her eyes sheepishly.
My roommate and I assessed all the damage. His suite in the attic of our place was fine as there is only one door leading up to it and that was almost entirely closed. And since smoke rises and disperses according to available avenues, the kitchen got the worst of it, The bathroom, which is right next to the kitchen, got it next. My room, which is next to the bathroom, was third in line. Smoke damage on the walls of my room. More in the bathroom The bathtub looked like a chimney sweep took a crap in it. The kitchen looked like someone had thrown a Molotov cocktail at the stove top at point blank range. I wondered at first about the shattered glass on the floor, then noticed the underside of the handle on the stove had a frame with shards of glass jutting out. There was a Rohrschach test of smoke and melted paint on the wall above the stove where the over mutt had been hanging over the light switch. A pretty grim scene, too be sure. But it could have been a whole helluva lot worse.
The fire marshal that had taken the report asked me the standard questions. How long had the house been empty. What time did I leave. What time did Greg leave. He motioned to a spot on the front lawn where the remains of what caused the inferno lay. Rubble. No, more than rubble. A big pile of ash with the corner of a binder sticking out of it. It seems as though in preparation to go to my pet-sitting gig after work, I had put my gym bag with a couple notebooks on top of the stove. On the notebooks were the words “Lunch!” and “Dinner!” Reminders for me to get my Dinner! for that night and my Lunch! for the next day out of the fridge before I went to stay at Tim’s to care for the lovable Jude. Oh Judy judy judy judy judy did I make it bad. It seems that in my haste to get ready for work after going to the gym for a nice refreshing swim that morning, I had placed the gym bag and the notebooks on top of the burner I had used to make eggs only a short time before.
Now, what I’ve decided to tell myself is one should never place anything flammable on top of a stove even 30 minutes after they used the burners because the burner must be cool to the touch before it is safe. The more likely explanation is I was in a rush to get my meals squared away, my shirt ironed, and other last minute household chores done before departing for the weekend. Then I would meditate for 15 minutes before I left for the weekend, stopping only to retrieve my things after work and before Jude-time. Oh how I wish I did have time to meditate before I left. I might have had the Zen calm to take this sad song and make it better. As it was, I had screwed up. Big time.
Greg was amazingly calm about the entire affair. His room was fine. The bathroom and kitchen had sustained some significant smoke damage. But the only casualty was the stove. He even joked a little with me after the firemen left, indicating he had already moved past the stage in which he might have blown up and moved right into acceptance.
“Goddammit Andy! I invite you to come and live in my house and you almost burn it down?!?!” He said. “I mean, is that what you want me to say?”
“No,” I chuckled. “Not really. But I’m going to apologize another 5 or 6 times nonetheless.” He brushed this off absently.
The next week at my job as a wheelchair pusher at Eppley, the regional manager of my company was visiting to check on the operation. When my manager asked me about the fire in his presence, he told me about the employee assistance program that might very well help pay for my minor disaster. When word got out of this, fellow employees joked about what they may be able to get the company to help them out with. To one musing about a home stereo system, I mused, “They may very well help you out with something like that. Only problem is you have to damn near burn your house down and deal with the aftermath. Good luck with that.”
There’s a Chris Rock bit in which he jokes that they should just call insurance coverage “In case shit.” When I obtained my new car, my father admonished me to get comprehensive insurance coverage on my car because, well, it’s the first car I’ve had in 5 years that is worth a damn. So I did. In the wake of the fire, the first words out of every, single, person’s mouth, from my mother to my boss to the fire marshal to the dog across the street who seemed to shoot me a disapproving look when I first rolled up on the scene, was “Do you have renter’s insurance?” I did not.
But I’m looking into it.