March 28, 2005

The Roof, The Roof, The Roof is on -- Hey! That's My House!

OK, SO DIG THIS -- I get into work this morning as I usually do, and there's a bit of commotion surrounding some chatter on the police/fire scanner, something about "smoke showing from an apartment building."

Uh oh.

Did you ever have one of those gut feelings where you instantly know something is going to prove unpleasant? I don't know why, but that's the kind of feeling I had at that very moment -- that icy, queasy, pit-in-the-stomach kind of feeling. Maybe it was because I had left the house in such a rush this morning. But I'm sorry to say that as I kept asking questions about the scanner reports, that feeling seemed more prescient as the seconds ticked by:

"What street is it on?"

"Oh. Hey, that's my street -- that's my apartment complex! What building?"


I don't want to say that I panicked. After all, the last thing I'm supposed to do in my line of work is panic. So it was merely ... um ... concern which prompted me to rush around my office -- which has an open floorplan -- shouting about the fact my apartment building was apparently heading for the Great Building Lot in the Sky.

It was also this concern which prompted my hyster ... um, expressions of concern ... to include rather nasty obscenities. For me, it wasn't so much the potential economic loss that was troubling -- as a young bachelor, I have few things of value in my home -- but rather the potential loss of my writing.

That really frightened me. I've got all sorts of half-finished ideas floating about on my computer, and the thought the hard drive AND the backup disk could go bye-bye was terrifying. Plus, what about all the time it would take to set up a new life in a new apartment? My God -- I saw months of my life passing before me. Surely I was destined to spend them in an endless bureaucratic maze where functionaries kept asking me for my present utility bills and other semi-essential documents I no longer had. Oh God oh God oh God ...

There was a spot of hopeful news, though -- the smoke wasn't coming from my apartment. It was coming from a higher floor. That meant it wasn't my fault.

Not that it would be, of course. I have downright ancient views when it comes to preventing fires. I am super-careful about turning off the stove, and double-checking things before I go to bed, and I always douse my cigarettes as opposed to just stubbing them out in an ashtray. Still, as odd as it may sound, that news came as a big relief.

For as all apartment dwellers know, there's only one thing worse than having your own apartment burned to a crisp. That's the knowledge that the fire which burned out your own apartment also caused others to end up out on the street. For not only would they hate you and hope you contacted typhus and diptheria and the gout, such a happening could also put you in the horrible position of being liable for their losses. And that could take years to settle up.

Besides, how fricking embarrassing would it be to have caused the fire in the first place? Holy smoke -- I mean, you'd all be out on the sidewalk waiting for the fire department, and everyone else in the building would be staring at you because you were the schmoe who left the candle unattended, the iron on, the stove on, etc. And there are families that live in this building, for God's sake -- what would they do? It's one thing for a single guy to end up temporarily homeless, but a family? God. And all that trouble, of course, would pale next to what would happen if someone actually got hurt or worse because of the fire.

But I couldn't just stand there running these things through my head. So I grabbed my overcoat and a notebook and rushed out the door. I was rushing down the hall when I heard a repeated shout of "BEN! BEN! BEN!"

It was bad cooking? Someone burnt beans on the stove? The building isn't on fire? There was nothing to it? Oh. Thank God, and never mind. That was great news to hear but it took a long time for me to settle down afterwards. A long time.

It was such a jolt to begin with, and then, when the adrenaline finally faded from my system, I just felt drained. That, combined with not sleeping well the previous night, meant the rest of my day was a struggle to get through. I had this irrational urge to go home -- to make sure everything was all right and soothe my nerves, even though I knew everything was all right. Still, I forced myself to overcome that -- and even used my lunch break to eat lunch.

When I got home tonight, the fact that everything was all right made things even more surreal. I knew they would be, of course -- when you have bad cooking or some other non-event, all the fire department usually does is put fans in the corridors and doorways to air out the place. But to arrive home and find things just as they were when I left felt downright strange. The entire day just felt like a bad dream.

Yet it was, of course, real -- the scanner does not lie, and as I walked to my building through the late March gloom, I caught the faintest odor of acrid smoke hanging in the air. It was there for a second, and then it was gone. And so, I went inside, kicked off my shoes, and listened to the rain.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at March 28, 2005 09:03 PM | TrackBack

Welcome to the club. Why it was less than a year ago that some damn hippies almost burned down my apartment complex with a four alarm fire. Actually, they only burned down about 5 or 6 units in the building about 100 feet away. So many firetrucks.....thank God your place is safe, and that your intellectual property is still in your control.

Posted by: simon from jersey at March 28, 2005 11:19 PM

Yeah, it was quite a relief to find out there was nothing to it. If I recall right though, wasn't the Big Issue regarding the fire at your complex about your car, which was perilously close to the flames?

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at March 29, 2005 09:19 AM

Dear God in Heaven, do mine eyes deceive me?? Did Master Kepple actually fall into the first person for that post??!

Glad your apartment isn't rubble. Now that you have a Second Chance, as it were, are you going to get to work on those half-finished ideas that didn't go bye-bye? :-)

Posted by: Matthew S. Schwartz at March 30, 2005 03:00 AM

Yeah, I'm planning to!

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at March 30, 2005 10:19 PM