And The House Burned Down
Let the Games Begin
It had been a guy day. I don't have them often anymore. Just guys being guys, doing things that guys do, and this one came at a time when I really needed it. We had gathered at a friends garage – of course in the garage - with 3 color televisions hooked up to cable and each tuned to a different sporting event. Some of us were just hanging out, watching sports, cracking jokes, and drinking cold beer. Two of the guys were putting a new transmission in an old mustang, and it doesn't get any more guy than that.
I don't know squat about cars, yet I was transfixed by the car repair. The air smelled of gas and oil and grease and machinery, and when they opened a new part it was clean steel and shiny chrome, catching the sun's rays and sending them off in a million directions. I didn't know what the parts were for, but I knew they were guy things and without them the old mustang was just a fancy piece of junk.
Cut the Grass, Cook the Ribs
When I returned home in the late afternoon, I cut the grass. More oil and gas and machinery and sweat, and the guy things weren't done yet. Not by a long shot. Inside, I started the ribs, and cooking ribs is certainly a guy thing. First came the hunt, and then came the meat, slow cooked over a low fire. Never mind that the hunt was at the supermarket, searching for the finest ribs available amid 20 other packages of ribs, it was still a hunt.
My work completed for the time being, I showered, put on fresh clothes, grabbed a cold drink, and sat in my easy chair. I was feeling smugly satisfied with my day, a most pleasant diversion from my usual all work and no play life, at which point my wife came bursting through the front door exclaiming, “We have to call 911!” “What?” say I, being jerked from my smugness. Perhaps I would be required to do another guy thing: rush to a damsel in distress, I hope I hope, or save a dog hit by a car.
“We have to call 911,” my wife repeated, adding, “The house next door is on fire!” Oh. Did she say “fire?” Nope. No thanks. Fire isn't my bag. I don't do “fire.” My wife grabbed her phone and we went out into the yard to look at the house. The smoke, thick and black, poured out of the side up near the eaves. No fire was visible yet, but the nature of the smoke told me that the interior was a fiery fury. “That house is a goner,” I said. You could just tell. My wife finished up the call as neighbors began to gather across the street. Now it was just a matter of waiting.
And we waited. A couple of guys came screeching up in their trucks and jumped out, hastily putting on their firefighting clothes. In my fifteen years of living in this town, that was the first time I realized we had a volunteer fire department. No offense against them – they do a fine job – but really, this place is well to this side of real fire department size, with guys on duty and a pole they slide down when the alarm goes off. No wonder they still call it a village. Saves them money on a fire department.
Hurry Up and Wait
And still we waited for the truck, along with the guys in their fire gear. The flames were outside of the building now, licking the roof, and the wind was blowing towards my house, naturally. “That's gonna end up setting my house on fire,” I said to the fireman next to me. “They'll be here in a minute,” he said, but there were no sirens, and they were not there in a minute. Or two. Or three.
Now the fire was burning the grass between our houses. “See,” I said to the fireman. “They're coming,” he said, but he had a look of doubt that was unsettling. I bent over at the waist with my arms wrapped around my stomach, staring at the ground for a moment, gathering myself, preparing for the worst.
The flames coming out of the rooftop were tall and angry now, and with each gust of wind they reached for my home, taunting me. And then it happened. The flames seemed to leap across the gap, my espaliered pear trees - which I had spent 6 hours just the day before pruning down into their final shape – went up in flames in the blink of an eye. Almost in unison, several people in the visitors section yelled, “Your house is on fire!” I remained silent, but I wanted to turn around and yell across the street, “Yeah! I can fucking see it's on fire. I'm standing right fucking here!” What did they expect me to do? Run into my house and come back out wearing blue tights and a cape? Super Fire Boy to the rescue!
The eaves and the soffit on that side of my house was burning now, and the flames were licking my roof. A neighbor came rushing up to me. “You got any animals in there?” “No,” I said. Apparently the cat didn't count. “Just my cat,” I added. “We'd better go in and get him,” he said, and then made ready, like we were going to rush into the house, find the cat, and come back out to applause as instant heroes. “Man,” I said to him, “If I go into that house I sure as hell ain't comin' out with a cat.”
Thankfully, the fire engine arrived just then, and they did their business, unrolling hoses, hooking them up to the truck and the hydrant down the street, and the water of course, first directed on the flames on my house, quenching its thirst quickly, and then to the inferno next door, already a lost cause. The task became controlling the fire more than putting it out, and once it was done, little remained but a hulking mass of blackened bones and ribs in a ravaged skeleton.
All's Well that Burns Well
My house made out all right. The pear trees were history and the side of the house, the eaves and the soffit were burned. Two storm windows had gotten so hot that when the cold water hit them they exploded. The central air conditioning unit was destroyed and the cable line was melted. What it amounted to was no air conditioning, no television, no telephone, and no Internet. I spent the evening reading a novel, something I haven't done for at least a year and I realized how much I missed it. Everything was repaired the next day, except the air conditioner, and two weeks later that too was replaced.
The firemen hung around outside for awhile, maybe to be sure the house was really out, or maybe just catching up. “Hey, Bill, how are things down at the hardware store?” “Fine, Josh. Are there enough backed up sewers to keep you busy?” Later one of them knocked on the door to ask me some questions. I had thought that being a fireman was a guy thing, but at the door was a woman. I hadn't noticed her before. Her face was kind of cute and I stood a little closer to her than I should have when answering her questions, and that was a different kind of guy thing.
I went back to my easy chair, opened my book, sipped from my cold drink, and again felt the familiar smugness. The day had been a smorgasboard of flavors and tastes and I was satiated. I was at peace even. I guess it was a guy thing.